Can greener strategies like a Lucas Plan work for GM Oshawa?

gm oshawaReaction to the November 2018 announcement by GM that  it was closing five production plants in North America has been ongoing – as the WCR last reported in December in “GM Oshawa closing – A sign of the disruption to auto manufacturing”.  Unifor, the union representing most of the affected auto workers, has organized a vigorous  Save Oshawa GM campaign , involving demonstrations and rallies; a plant walkout on January 8;  a boycott of GM products, including a boycott of GM cars made in Mexico    (launched on January 24); and a television ad campaign which will include air time on the Super Bowl broadcast.  Unifor also  commissioned an independent economic impact study which found that the closure of GM would  result in an immediate decline of $5 billion in Ontario’s GDP and a subsequent loss of $4 billion per year to 2030.  Both federal and provincial revenues would shrink, and  job losses are projected to reach 14,000 in Ontario and a further 10,000 elsewhere across Canada by 2025.  Unifor President Jerry Diaz has met with Ontario Premier Doug Ford, but Premier Ford’s January 14 press release , “Ontario Advocates for Auto Sector Jobs and Investment”, is silent on the GM closure. Federal Economic Development Minister Navdeep Bains and Premier Ford both met in separate meetings with GM executives during the Detroit Auto Show in January, but did not soften the company’s position .

What role can greener strategies play? :  High time for a green jobs strategy in Ontario” in the National Observer (Dec.24) states: “Ontario is correct in supporting the transition of Oshawa plant employees with unemployment and retraining measures, accelerating the return to work of displaced workers. A more strategic approach by Ontario would have been an early response to GM’s prior suggestion that its Oshawa production was guaranteed only until 2020, for example, by creating strategic retraining opportunities in alignment with emerging industries.”

Several newspaper columnists have taken up the idea of re-tooling the Oshawa plant- beginning with David Olive’s immediate reaction to the announcement  in the Toronto Star in November, “It’s time for a truly Canadian automaker”;  Linda McQuaig  in the Toronto Star with  “Trudeau should consider buying GM and making electric cars”; and most notably, Jennifer Wells in the Toronto Star on January 15, “For the GM Oshawa plant, hope is not a strategy” .

Wells has based her brief article on a much more thorough piece by Sam Gindin “GM Oshawa: Making Hope Possible , which appeared in the Socialist Project newsletter, The Bullet, on December 13.  Gindin is a veteran of the labour movement and Ontario’s auto industry, having served as the CAW’s Research Director from 1974 to 2000. He argues that the current reactions are a dead end, and  “larger, more radical aspirations [are]the only practical way out.” He proposes a “Plan B”, under which “the facility and its equipment should be placed under public ownership with no further compensation – the plant and its equipment have already been paid for by the sweat of workers and the $3-billion in unpaid subsidies from taxpayers.” Workers could stage “periodic industrial actions”, including “days of action” and possibly occupation of the plant, to prevent GM from removing its equipment.  And what to do with the plant in the future?  Gindin proposes a New Lucas Plan , following the model of the famous industrial conversion project in the 1970’s, when U.K. labour unions met management’s plans to restructure and cut jobs at Lucas Aerospace with worker-generated proposals to re-tool and produce socially-useful products, using their existing skills.  Among the unions’ proposed products – in the 1970’s !! – were heat pumps, solar cell technology, wind turbines and fuel cell technology.  Gindin’s 2019  list of socially-useful products includes the energy-related products that our current climate change crisis requires.

In the U.S.,  some of these same ideas appear under the “Green New Deal” label. The Detroit Green New Deal is a coalition of labor, environmental, and community groups protesting the GM  plant closures; participants include the Democratic Socialists of America, two groups from Unifor Local 222 (the Oshawa local), Sunrise Michigan, Good Jobs Now, and many others.   Their “rallying cry” is “Make Detroit the Engine of Green New Deal”, and their Official Statement   calls for  GM to honour its labour contracts and its legal and moral commitments by keeping all the plants open, creating more union jobs, and contributing to the building of a green economy.  If GM does not agree to keep the plants open, Detroit Green New Deal demands that the plants be seized and put to public use (similar to Gindin’s “socially- useful products”).

Looking beyond the GM workers and their immediate predicament, the Detroit Green New Deal coalition demands “a Green New Deal that takes us on a path to rapid decarbonization of the economy, implements a federal union jobs guarantee, and ensures a just transition for workers, people of color, the poor, and other marginalized groups.”  These demands are more focussed , but reflect the social justice principles behind Sam Gindin’s closing argument: “…thinking outside the box, engaging in larger struggles and actively involving our members in the discussions and strategizing over what to do and how to do it, carries the promise – or at least the potential – to revive our movement. There is no other way to overcome the demoralization of so many of our members, move to set aside the destructive divisions between unions that are such a barrier, and play the kind of social role that can excite a new generation of leaders and activists.”

Bringing these arguments home to the issue of climate change and work, and the tensions of the green economy,  is the 2010 article, “Can trade unions become environmental innovators?: Learning from the Lucas Aerospace workers” . Authors Nora Räthzel, David Uzzell, and Dave Elliott  concluded with: “We believe that drawing on the Lucas experience – trusting in and building on workers’ skills and desire to produce something useful for themselves and the environment, developing strategies with workers (technicians, and academics), instead of for them – would create a greater chance for the realisation of socially and environmentally just policies.”

GM Oshawa closure – a sign of the disruption to auto manufacturing

chevy boltAfter the November 26 bombshell announcement that the GM plant in Oshawa will close at the end of December 2019, Unifor President Jerry Diaz has demanded that GM allocate product to the Oshawa plant, putting his faith in the newly-signed USMCA trade agreement and stating  “Oshawa has been in this situation before with no product on the horizon and we were able to successfully make the case for continued operations.”  But in a CBC interview, “Why can’t they make the future in Oshawa?‘”(Nov. 27),  the Canadian Vice President for Corporate and Environmental Affairs states firmly that there is no hope for further production in Oshawa.  “This decision has to do with simply being able to make the transition to the future and reallocate capital into the massive investments that are needed for electric vehicles and autonomous vehicles.” He forecasts that about half of the existing Oshawa workers will be eligible to retire with enhanced full pensions, some (but not all) others may find work at GM plants in Ingersoll or St. Catharines, and the rest will be covered by whatever compensation, benefits and timing is negotiated with their union, Unifor.  In a more recent CBC article, “GM Canada president says electric vehicles are the future — but they won’t be made in Oshawa” (Dec. 4), the president reiterates that there are no changes planned for the CAMI plant in Ingersoll or the St. Catharines facility, and points to the growth of the new GM Canadian Technology Centre opened in Markham in January 2018, which has already hired approximately 450 software engineers and coders, with plans to hire more.

Although Ontario Premier Ford somehow blamed the previous government’s cap and trade policies for GM’s decision, others are recognizing the GM closure as part of the disruption and transformation of the auto industry.   From the Energy Mix, “GM Plant Closure Shows Industry Transition Catching Canada, Ontario Flat-Footed” (Nov. 30) ; (also of interest: “Lost Opportunities Show Cost of Canada’s Moribund Cleantech Manufacturing Strategy”   (Nov. 30), which discusses the dilemma of electric bus manufacturers in Canada).  In “GM and Canada’s transition to a zero-emissions fleet”  in IRPP Policy Options (Dec. 3) , author  Ryan Katz-Rosene of the University of Ottawa  states that  “ the 20th-century auto-sector model (in which a handful of global automakers commanded the market and much of the supply chain associated with it) is pretty much dead now.” The article asks, “Where does this leave Canada in terms of its preparedness to participate in the 21st century automobile sector, which is largely centred on electric and autonomous vehicles? And, what role (if any) should governments, at all levels, play to improve Canada’s industrial positioning in that sector?”   And Barry Cross of Queen’s University asks “Have we reached peak car?” in The Conversation (Dec. 2) – a quick view of the future of autonomous vehicles and car sharing.

Good news and bad news about electric vehicles: B.C. mandates, Oshawa plant closing

Electric vehicles Wikimedia Commons 768x512The Good News: British Columbia:   In the latest encouragement to electric vehicle ownership in British Columbia, the Premier announced on November 20  that he will introduce legislation in Spring 2019 to phase in targets for the sale of zero-emission vehicles in the province –  10% ZEV sales by 2025, 30% by 2030, and 100% by 2040.  This will be accompanied by funding to expand charging infrastructure, and for consumer incentives in addition to the existing incentives under the Clean Energy Vehicle program . The new policies are  in line with the Intentions Paper on Transportation,  part of a public consultation in Summer 2018.  (For background, read  “Fuelled by strong demand, B.C. adds $10 million to electric vehicle incentive program” (Sept 27) and “B.C. proposes mandate for electric vehicles”  (July 27), both in the National Observer.) Mandates for EV sales are already in place in Quebec, California, and other U.S. states.

gm oshawaThe Bad news: Ontario:  Mandates for EV sales in the U.S. was part of the modernization strategy  by General Motors in its comments  to the U.S. government under the  Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient (SAFE) Vehicles Rule on October 26, 2018.  According to the  National Observer  at the time, “Transport Canada welcomes GM’s electric car plan”. Apparently, Transport Canada didn’t know what was in store.  As of November 26, GM’s  global modernization strategy came crashing down on Ontario auto workers – announced in the November 26 corporate press release:  GM Accelerates Transformation . The brief and unexpected press release names the GM Assembly plant in Oshawa Ontario as one which will be “unallocated” in 2019, along with  Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly ( Detroit) and Lordstown Assembly (Warren, Ohio). The Toronto Star makes the connections in “GM plant closure in Oshawa part of company’s shift to electric, self-driving autos”   (Nov. 26) .

Unifor, which represents approximately 2,500 GM Oshawa workers who will lose their jobs, was only informed of the decision one day ahead of the public announcement, and has stated  : “Based on commitments made during 2016 contract negotiations, Unifor does not accept this announcement and is immediately calling on GM to live up to the spirit of that agreement.”  Ontario’s Premier Ford issued a statement  saying: “As a first step, I will be authorizing Employment Ontario to deploy its Rapid Re-Employment and Training Services program to provide impacted local workers with targeted local training and jobs services to help them regain employment as quickly as possible….we are asking the federal government to immediately extend Employment Insurance (EI) eligibility to ensure impacted workers in the auto sector can fully access EI benefits when they need them most….We are also asking the federal government to work with their U.S. counterparts to remove all tariffs so that impacted auto parts suppliers can remain competitive after the Oshawa Assembly Plant closes its doors.”

 

 

Extended Producer Responsibility reduces waste and impacts the workplace

Cutting the wasteThe October 16  report from the Ecofiscal Commission ,  Cutting the Waste: How to save money while improving our solid waste systems  is a thorough examination of the issue of waste management in Canada, and while it discusses consumer behaviour (including single use plastics, briefly), the main focus is on municipal programs of disposal pricing ( tipping fees and  “pay as you throw”)  and Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR).

Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) programs shift the costs and responsibility for waste management from taxpayers and consumers to manufacturers.  Cutting the Waste  recommends expanding and harmonizing Canada’s EPR programs, stating…. “ “extended producer responsibility” programs … can improve the efficiency of recycling programs while also creating incentives to produce goods that generate less waste or goods that can more easily be recycled.”  The report provides a good overview of the history, structure, and efficiency of EPR programs in Canada, stating that there are over 120 such programs (both voluntary and legislated) in Canada, following an EPR Action Plan which was  developed through the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment (CCME) in 2009. Their most recent progress report on the Action Plan was conducted in 2014 .  The Ecofiscal Commission highlights British Columbia as having the most stringent and comprehensive plan, and states, “Alberta is the only province that does not have legislated extended producer responsibility (EPR) programs and is falling behind in its commitments under the Canada-wide Action Plan for EPR.”  EPR Canada , a non-profit association, also publishes Report Cards – their most recent was released in 2017.

How does waste management translate into a greener workplace?  The automobile manufacturing industry provides a Canadian example, and in its 2011 Fact Sheet  “Taking Back our Jobs – Taking Back our Environment “ , the Canadian Auto Workers endorsed EPR, with concise arguments,  stating “The future job creation potential is enormous. The motor vehicle industry is one of the best examples of EPR job creation.”   (The Fact Sheet was republished by Unifor in 2013,  here).  From the company, the GM Landfill-free Blueprint (2018) makes a business case for reducing waste and includes the concept of employee engagement.

In September 2018 , one of  Canada’s Clean50 awards for 2019 went to the General Motors Assembly plant in Oshawa Ontario for its “zero waste to landfill” project   .  The announcement states:   “At the core of the success of General Motors Landfill-Free Project at GM Oshawa Assembly Plant initiative lies the fact that the “team” for this project numbers approximately 3,000.  …. it was the employees at the plant who were directly and indirectly part of the successful implementation of their project.”

According to a GM press ( February 2018) ,GM is now diverting 100 per cent waste from landfills at all Canadian manufacturing facilities;  St. Catharines Propulsion facility since 2008,  and CAMI Assembly since 2014.  The St. Catharines facility is also the proposed site of  Ontario’s first complete renewable landfill gas industrial co-generation system, which will use landfill gas from an offsite source, delivered via pipeline, to generate electricity and  reduce the greenhouse gas emissions from the plant by more than 77 per cent. More details are here .  A caveat: although this project was projected to come online in mid-2019, it  was initiated under the previous Liberal government,  funded by cap and trade revenues through GreenON Industries, which is one of the programs cancelled by the current Conservative government.

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.