Just Transition and Green New Deal as policy and bargaining issues for Unifor

unifor logoAccording to their website, “Unifor is Canada’s largest oil, gas and chemical sector union, representing over 11,800 members in nearly every province, from offshore platforms off Newfoundland’s outer banks to Suncor in Alberta’s oil sands; from energy crown corporations in Saskatchewan to private refineries in every region of Canada.”

The union’s 3rd Constitutional Convention was held in Quebec City in August , gathering delegates to debate Resolutions , including Resolution #5, submitted by the autoworkers of  Local 222 in the Oshawa area regarding a Worker’s Green New Deal…“defined as “a massive government jobs program and investment in clean energy, green technology and electrification.” A Workers’ Green New Deal must include just transition protection for workers whose jobs are affected and fair labour standards. BECAUSE: • This program meets the needs of and has the potential to unite the labour movement, environmentalists and all those who have been the victims of inequality, discrimination, racism and now, climate change. ….”

and Resolution #21 regarding Just Transition, submitted by the energy workers of Local 707A from Fort McMurray, Alberta:  “…..UNIFOR NATIONAL WILL: 1. Launch and promote a nationally-coordinated awareness and action campaign that will include: a. Awareness materials to the attention of Unifor members explaining the idea of just transition and how it can apply to workers in Canada today to build a more sustainable, fair future for working people with workers at the table when planning for a Just Transition to a regenerative economy. b. A call to all levels of governments to: i. support strategic investments in infrastructure, ii. A recognition of climate change needs and a commitment to meeting international greenhouse gas emission reduction targets, iii. A national strategy on Just Transition for workers c. Unifor’s inaugural Just Transition Conference scheduled for September, 2019 in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. 2. Encourage all local unions to take part in the campaign in solidarity with Unifor’s energy workers in all provinces…”

Just as the resolutions regarding Green New Deal and Just Transition call for advocacy and action campaigns, the 50-page Collective Bargaining Program approved at the Convention deals with these issues not as bargaining priorities, but as policy challenges: “…we demand that governments: • Bolster our public health care and education systems; • Secure industries and workplaces most vulnerable to ongoing trade disputes; • Establish more rigorous income assistance and just transition supports for workers adjusting to labour market changes (including those that are climate-related) (italics added by WCR); • Invest in public and social infrastructure, including long-overdue universal public Pharmacare and Child Care programs; • Develop a coordinated national, sustainable industrial development strategy.”

The National Unifor Just Transition Conference   is scheduled for September 22 -24 in Saskatoon, and is described in this July letter  from the  National Health, Safety and Environment Director .  “The Conference plenaries, workshops and discussions will focus on the importance of climate policies aimed at reducing emissions along with those aimed at building resilience and adaptive capacity. These large table discussions that will take place at the conference will set the tone for Unifor’s position on carbon footprint reduction and job security as the entire country moves forward to address the need for climate change initiatives.”  Unifor’s previous lobby document,  The International Climate Crisis and Just Transition, from 2018, is here.

A June press release,  “Unifor energy workers ratify historic national agreement” announced a new pattern-setting four-year collective agreement with Suncor Energy, and highlights gains in wages, severance, and a new framework for addressing domestic violence. The Suncor agreement will set the pattern for all energy sector employers in Canada – the text is not  publicly available as of early September 2019.

Unifor’s Energy Council met in June, as summarized here , to discuss the new pattern bargaining and the union’s new promotional campaign for the sector, anchored around a YouTube video  produced by Unifor.

Canadian-made Pacifica van priced out of Electric Vehicle incentives in Budget 2019-Update: layoffs announced at Windsor van plant

Hybrid Pacifica 2019 modelUpdated March 29 re associated layoffs at Windsor plant

Canada’s federal Budget 2019 delivered on March 19, included a number of policies  aimed at speeding  up EV adoption: a 2040 deadline to phase out new internal combustion vehicle sales, $130 million over the next five years  to build electric vehicle charging stations,  and consumer rebates for purchases of electric and hybrid vehicles ($5000 for purchases under $45K).  On March 22, CTV Windsor reported on a protest rally by Unifor Local 444  and local  NDP politicans, who are  infuriated that the EV consumer incentives program carries a price limit set at $45K  – which excludes the Canadian-built Pacifica Hybrid, priced at $54,000.  The  CBC also reported  “Federal rebate on electric cars will push consumers to buy American, NDP says” .

Brian Masse, NDP Member of Parliament for Windsor-West is promoting a petition demanding to have all Canadian-built hybrids, including the Pacifica Hybrid, added to the list of incentive-eligible vehicles.

Update:  On March 28, the Windsor Star reported  “FCA Canada to stop third shift at Windsor Assembly Plant, cutting 1,500 jobs”.  The article quotes a company email which states: “In order to better align production with global demand at its Windsor Assembly Plant, FCA notified Unifor today that it intends to return the plant to a traditional two-shift operation, beginning Sept. 30, 2019….Retirement packages will be offered to eligible employees. The Company will make every effort to place indefinitely laid off hourly employees in open full-time positions as they become available based on seniority.”  The plant will also be on shutdown for the weeks of April 8 and 15.  Although Premier Ford is quoted as saying that the government will “fight tooth and nail” for the workers, there is no mention of restoring the electric vehicle purchase incentives which the Ford government discontinued in Summer 2018.

In further critiques of the electric vehicle incentive package:  Almost immediately, critics pointed out  that there were no sales mandates for auto manufacturers, despite previous findings that car dealers were failing to meet a high consumer  demand- for example, in Batteries Not Included (2018).

Stalled: why North American lags as China and Europe lead the way on electric vehiclesis an Opinion piece by Will Dubitsky in the National Observer (March 20), which calls the EV purchase incentives “a halfway measure offering less than the consumer rebate programs elsewhere,” and judging the $130 million over five years  for charging and refuelling stations “mediocre” compared to equivalent commitments in California and the EU.

Hadrian Mertins-Kirkwood calls the incentives “modest” in his overall analysis of Budget 2019, “Budget fiddles while climate crisis burns” (March 20).

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.”