Unifor calls for federal leadership in Just Transition and a role for collectively-bargained protections

unifor logoMore than sixty members of Unifor met federal Members of Parliament in Ottawa on May 24, to convey the union’s positions on four major issues: pharmacare, child care, public control of airports, and Just Transition.  The press release is here ; the four page Just Transition backgrounder is here . In it, the union expresses its broad support of the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change and carbon pricing, calls for federal policy leadership to ensure that workers do not bear the brunt of climate change-induced industrial restructuring, and offers specific recommendations.

Unifor’s Recommendations are noteworthy in that they explicitly call for a role for collective bargaining (or worker representation in non-unionized workplaces).  From the text:  “Unifor sees two potential avenues to finance Just Transition. The first means is through the new federal carbon tax, which need not be entirely revenue neutral. A portion of the proceeds could be used to create a ‘Green Economy Bank’ or some such fiscal mechanism. The second option is to bolster the Low Carbon Economy Fund, which is already explicitly committed to job creation, but should be geared towards good, green job creation, and widen its mission.” …..  Unifor calls for “Labour market impact assessments to monitor the emergent effects of climate related policy; Community benefit agreements, to support regions that are more heavily dependent on carbon-intensive economic activities; The promotion of green economy retraining and skills upgrading, through appropriate funding for postsecondary institutions. This includes mandatory apprenticeship ratio’s linked to college training programs and skills trades certification processes; Preferential hiring for carbon-displaced workers, including relocation assistance; Income support, employment insurance flexibility and pension bridging for workers in carbon-intensive economic regions and industries; Tax credits, accelerated depreciation, grants and/or investment support for firms and industries that bear an extraordinary burden of change; In unionized workplaces, there needs to be a role carved out for the bargaining agent in negotiating and facilitating workplace transition. In non-unionized workplaces we need to envisage a role for workers to provide input on adjustment processes and procedures.”

Unifor is Canada’s largest private sector union, with more than 315,000 members across the country in climate-vulnerable sectors such as energy, mining, fishing, as well as automobile and auto parts manufacturing.   Some of its existing collective agreements, compiled in the ACW database, have long-established workplace environment committees.

Workforce implications of innovation in Canada’s Forest Sector

On May 4th, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Natural Resources  released its report,    Value-added products in Canada’s forest sector : cultivating innovation for a competitve bioeconomy . The report  is the latest discussion of  advancing Canadian value-added forest products and a forest-sourced bioeconomy, and addresses five themes: (1) protecting Canadian forests and primary resources (which recognizes the threats of climate change and beetle infestation); (2) advancing industrial integration, innovation and talent development; (3) strengthening partnerships with Indigenous peoples; (4) maximizing market opportunities in Canada and abroad; and (5) a case study on building with wood, with a focus on advanced mass timber construction.

Discussion of the issue of training and talent development (beginning on page 18), calls for  more internships and employment opportunities for engineering and science students and highly trained post-graduates;  the need to develop a well-educated forest-sector workforce in rural areas; and the need for diversity and gender equity.  Employment implications are present in the discussion of wood-based construction of homes, where witnesses talk about transforming wood construction from a craft-based industry to a more mainstream manufacturing process, where “prefabrication in a factory environment would make wood construction more cost competitive and less wasteful, with greater potential for automation, customization and design accuracy.” The report also provides a case study of two Canadian examples of “tall wood buildings”: including Brock Commons, a new 18-storey student residence at the University of British Columbia , and Origine, a 13-storey building in Quebec City’s Pointe-auxLièvres eco-district.

The United Steelworkers , who represent over 18,000 forestry workers after their 2004 merger with the  Industrial, Wood and Allied Workers of Canada (IWA), presented a Brief to the Committee in November 2017.  The Brief identifies  the main challenges facing the sector, as low harvest volumes, insufficient infrastructure funding, and decreasing raw log exports, and concludes  that, although it’s a provincial jurisdiction,  “The Steelworkers submit that Canada needs a national forestry strategy that recognizes while the challenges within the lumber, pulp, paper, or value added sector are unique, … the whole sector is highly integrated, and dependent on each facet of the sector succeeding. “  The Brief also states  “The costs that the industry as a whole faces will further increase with the federal government’s plan to roll out a $50/tonne price on carbon by 2022. This new carbon pricing regime will not only risk further impacting tight margins in regions like Ontario, but also risks leading to carbon leakage. Canadian companies are now operating in the southern USA which does not have a carbon pricing regime.”

Unifor, which represents approximately 24,000 forest workers, also issued a report (not submitted to the Committee)  in October 2017:  The Future of Forestry: A Workers Perspective for Successful, Sustainable and Just Forestry .  A key message from Unifor is the need to involve workers in a in  a national  policy-making process: “forestry ministers must lead efforts to bring together business, government, labour, Indigenous leaders, environmental organizations and community leaders in a reinstated National Forestry Council.”  Also on this topic, a 2017 report by the Innovation Committee of the Canadian Council of Forest Ministers,  A Forest Bioeconomy Framework for Canada . 

Unifor, Government visions for Sustainable Forestry

The Future of Forestry: A Workers Perspective for Successful, Sustainable and Just Forestry was released on October 16 by Unifor’s Forestry Industry Council, representing the union’s 24,000 members in the forestry sector.  The report provides an overview of the size and health of the forestry industry, and after the past several years of declining employment, asks, “What could lie ahead?” The answer given:  “Technologies that put forestry resources to uses never previously imagined; transformative innovations in building materials and green construction, and a sustained transition toward higher-value growth products and markets. There is also a coming wave of retirements that means the industry could need upward of 60,000 new workers within the decade.”

The report sets out Unifor’s aims for each of five focal points in an integrated forestry policy, involving the federal and provincial governments and prioritizing the role of First Nations.  The report calls for “ sustainable rules for wood harvesting that secure investments and jobs while meeting the highest environmental standards. There must be stable and appropriately priced hydro-electricity; as well, transportation infrastructure, pricing and access need to be modernized. Trade policies need to support high-value forestry exports, maintain stable access to key markets, while ensuring we are not the target of unfair trade measures. And we need to control the export of unprocessed raw logs.”  A key message is the need to involve workers in a sustained dialogue for  policy-making process: “forestry ministers must lead efforts to bring together business, government, labour, Indigenous leaders, environmental organizations and community leaders in a reinstated National Forestry Council.”

Related reading: In mid-September, Natural Resources Canada released the 2017 edition of The State of Canada’s Forests Annual Report and L’État des forêts au Canada.

At the September annual meeting of the Canadian Council of Forest Ministers (CCFM), their Innovation Committee released A Forest Bioeconomy Framework for Canada , with the vision to make Canada “a global leader in the use of forest bio-mass for advanced bioproducts and innovative solutions” including as a source of renewable energy.   Note the first of the 4 pillars of the framework: “Communities and Relationships. This section in the Framework advances policies towards  “creating green jobs, offering opportunities for rural communities through education and skills training, improving overall quality of life, and enhancing partnerships with Indigenous peoples.”

Also at the Canadian Council of Forest Ministers annual meeting, the Minister of Natural Resources announced a call for proposals   for the next wave of projects through the Investments in Forest Industry Transformation (IFIT) program, a federal grant program to encourage :

  • new or increased production of bioenergy, biomaterials, biochemicals and next-generation building products by the forest sector;
  • increased deployment and encouraging broader adoption of first-in-kind innovative technologies, particularly Canadian, across the industry; and
  • the creation of innovative partnerships with non-traditional forest sector partners as a way to develop new business models for the sector.

New green jobs policy adopted at the Canadian Labour Congress Convention-Updated with link to Policy document

clc-logoThe 28th Constitutional Convention of the Canadian Labour Congress was held in Toronto from May 8 to 12, 2017  under the theme “Together for a Fair Future”.  The agenda was packed – including  equity issues, younger workers, putting an end to precarious work, and the fight to implement a $15 minimum wage. Executive officers were elected, and Hassan Yussuff was acclaimed as President for a second mandate – all serving  from 2017 to 2020. On May 10th, the Convention addressed the issue of climate change, and heard from a Green Jobs Panel, consisting of  Sharan Burrow of the ITUC, Sheila Watt-Cloutier from Inuit Circumpolar Council, Matt Wayland of the IBEW, and Patrick Rondeau of the FTQ, with Rick Smith of the Broadbent Institute moderating.  Although no documents have been posted to the CLC website yet, a Unifor press release states:  ” … As one of the greatest challenges facing workers in Canada the Convention adopted a plan, outlined in the Green Jobs for a Fair Future policy, to guide the country through a necessary just transition to a green economy.  Unifor’s delegation voted overwhelmingly to support the position paper and delegates pledged to take action for just transition…The policy paper calls on the CLC to lobby and work towards green jobs in home and building retrofits, expand public transit, ensure responsible resource development, and at the core, just transition for workers whose lives are already dramatically changed by climate change.”

Updated on May 29:  By permission of the CLC, the 20-page policy statement is available here at the ACW Digital Library.  It lays out detailed proposals and establishes a Climate Change Task Force to carry the initiatives forward until 2020, with extensive lobbying for policy changes at the federal government level. Proposals include expansion of renewable energy, building retrofits, expanded transportation and transit infrastructure, and labour market policies to promote a Just Transition for workers and communities who are affected by the shift from oil and gas to clean energy. The document also announces an initiative for the CLC and local labour councils to create and train a network of environmental representatives at the workplace level, based on the occupational health and safety model.

Reaction from Canada, California as Trump attacks Obama fuel emissions standards

solar-power-1020194_1920The rest of the world is driving towards new technologies, but U.S. state governments are rolling back EV incentives   and  on March 15,  Donald Trump took the U.S. a further  step away from reducing  transportation emissions.  Following pressure from U.S. auto companies, and in the name of creating American jobs and reviving American manufacturing,  the White House announced that the EPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) will re-open the evaluation of the  Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) and greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) standards for light-duty vehicles manufactured in 2022- 2025 .  Never mind that the EPA, in the waning days of the Obama presidency in January 2017, had already issued its official  Determination  to leave the standards in place, stating that they  “are projected to reduce oil consumption by 50 billion gallons and to save U.S. consumers nearly $92 billion in fuel cost over the lifetime of MY2022-2025 vehicles”, with minimal employment impacts.  The New York Times   compiles some of the U.S. reaction to the announcement, quoting Harvard’s Robert Stavins, who states that rolling back the Obama-level regulations would make it  impossible for the United States to meet its obligations under the Paris Agreement.   A sample of  U.S. concerns appear in:   “Trump Fuel economy rollback would kill jobs and cost each car-buyer $1650 per year “ by Joe Romm in  Think Progress ; DeSmog BlogTrump Takes Aim at Fuel Efficiency Requirements, Prompting Concern US Automakers Will Lag on Innovation”   ; and the Detroit Free Press,  reporting on a lead-up Trump speech in Ypsilanti, Michigan ,  “Trump visit puts UAW politics in crosshairs”  http://www.freep.com/story/money/business/2017/03/14/trump-visit-puts-uaw-politics-crosshairs/99165906/    (March 14). The Detroit Free Press  states that autoworkers were bused in to the Trump event by their employers, with Fiat Chrysler and General Motors offering their workers a day’s pay as well.  No immediate reaction to the announcement came from the United Autoworkers union, although  the DFP article states: “UAW President Dennis Williams has repeatedly said he disagrees with Trump on health care, immigration, the environment and most other major issues. But Williams supports Trump’s desire to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) …..”

In Canada, where Unifor represents autoworkers,  president Jerry Dias spoke out  in “ Auto workers union takes aim at Trump’s examination of fuel standards ” in the Globe and Mail (March 16), and in a CTV News report . He  states that “ he would fight any attempt to roll back environmentally friendly regulations in the auto industry following Trump’s announcement”. Canada’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change was in Washington on March 15th,  meeting with EPA head Scott Pruitt, but her reaction was guarded and diplomatic,  as reported in “As Trump eyes reprieve for gas guzzlers, Canada looks to China  ”  in the National Observer and in “Trump targets fuel-efficiency standards” in the Globe and Mail  (March 16).  Traditionally, Canadian  fuel emissions standards have been harmonized with the U.S. , as a result of the strongly integrated auto industry.  For example, at the end of February, Canada released  its proposed regulations for heavy-duty vehicles, and according to the International Council on Clean Transportation, Canada continued to follow the  U.S. model.  Similarly,  Ontario announced a Memorandum of Understanding on auto manufacturing with the state of  Michigan on March 13, pledging cooperation on regulatory standards as well as technology  and supply chain management.

Harmonization will be more difficult after Trump’s announcement on March 15, just as Canada and Ontario are reviewing their own revisions to fuel emissions regulation . Ontario reacted to the Trump  announcement with a  pledge to continue to cooperate with California and Quebec in the Western Climate Initiative – read “Ontario plans to team up with California against Trump on climate change” in the National Observer (March 16). California won the right to set its own fuel emission standards in the 1970’s, and today, fifteen other states voluntarily follow  California’s tougher standards, including Georgia, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and the New York metropolitan area – translating into more than 40% of the U.S. population.  “The Coming Clean-Air war between Trump and California” in The Atlantic surveys this  latest conflict between California and the Trump administration .  A press release from Governor Gerry Brown called the fuel standards  announcement  “a cynical ploy” that puts politics ahead of science, and pledged that California will fight it in court.