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How will electrification of vehicles impact auto workers?

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, February 23, 2021

Threats to traditional auto manufacturers are outlined in “The top trends killing the auto industry” in Corporate Knights (Feb. 3), including the climate crisis, the fall of fossil fuels, electrification and autonomous EV fleets, unfunded pension liabilities (US$14.4 billion for G.M., US$10.2 billion for Ford), as well as shifting government policies, and dampened demand in general. All the more reason to celebrate the good news about investment in EV production in Canada by GM, Ford and Fiat-Chrysler , as well as GM’s January 2021 announcement that it will sell only zero emissions vehicles by 2035. In February, Ford announced its target to sell EV’s only in Europe. But the good news is complicated, as described in “Auto industry peers into an electric future and sees bumps ahead” (Washington Post, Feb. 6) , and by “Canada and the U.S. auto sector’s abrupt pivot to electric vehicles” (National Observer, Feb. 15) . For Canada, the challenges include competition for the development of battery technology and the policy challenge of the new “Made in America” Executive Order by President Biden on January 25. Despite the brief and optimistic overview presented in “Jerry on the Job: How the president of Canada’s largest union, Jerry Dias, is driving the country’s electric vehicle push” (Corporate Knights, Feb. 4), our highly integrated North American auto industry has a complicated path forward. 

One of the most important issues ahead is how the conversion to electric vehicles will impact the jobs of current auto workers. In late 2020, Germany’s Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Engineering conducted a detailed study of this issue on behalf of the Sustainability Council of the Volkswagen Group. Employment 2030 Effects Of Electric Mobility And Digitalisation on the Quality and Quantity of Employment at Volkswagen (Nov. 2020) is an English-language summary of the full, detailed study, which modelled the impacts of digitization and electrification in the industry. Although the study is specific to VW production in Germany, its findings are instructive, and include that job losses will be less than anticipated, ( a decrease of 12 percent in this decade, mainly due to planned output volumes and higher productivity). Digitization will result in a need for new skills, “will necessitate a profound change in corporate culture”, and will include higher employee expectations for job flexibility. A summary appearing in Clean Energy Wire states: “ …. there is no uniform employment trend in the ‘transformation corridor’ over the coming decade. Instead, there will be a complex, interconnected mixture of job creation, job upgrading and job cuts. It argues that it will be vital to ensure that small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) do not fall victim to this reorganisation, and warns that Germany’s automotive sector must establish new forms of cooperation so as not to “recklessly surrender the field of mobility to new market players.” The study is also summarized in a press release by VW (with links to the full study in German).

GM and Unifor agreement brings production of electric commercial vans to Ingersoll Ontario

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, January 19, 2021

The 1,900 workers at the CAMI auto plant in Ingersoll Ontario had been facing an uncertain future, as production of the Chevrolet Equinox was due to be phased out in 2023. Yet on January 18, 91% of Unifor Local 88 members voted to ratify a new agreement with General Motors , and as a result, GM will invest in the large scale production of EV600’s, a zero-emissions, battery-powered commercial van said to be the cornerstone of a new GM business unit called BrightDrop, itself only just unveiled in January at the Computer and Electronics (CES) Trade Show.

The official Unifor CAMI Agreement Summary provides details of the terms of the three-year CAMI agreement , and includes a GM Product and Investment Commitment Letter. It states: “the investments described below underscore GM’s commitment to our customers and employees; and are conditional on stable demand, business and market conditions; the ability to continue producing profitably; and the full execution of GMS. Subject to ratification of a tentative 2021 labour agreement reached with Unifor and confirmation of government support, General Motors plans to bring production of its recently announced BrightDrop electric light commercial vehicle (EV600) to CAMI Assembly. In addition, there are other variants of the electric light commercial vehicle program which are currently under study. This investment at CAMI Assembly will enable General Motors to start work immediately and begin production at the plant in 2021, making this the first large scale production of electric vehicles by a major automotive company in Canada. This will support jobs and transform work at the plant over the life of this agreement from the current two shifts of Chevrolet Equinox production to a new focus on the production of the all new EV600 to serve the growing North American market for electric delivery solutions.” GM pledges a total of C$1.0 Billion capital investments for facilities, tools, M&E and supplier tooling. It also states: “…….This investment is contingent upon full acceptance of all elements contained within this Settlement Agreement and the Competitive Operating Agreement.” (which has not been made public).

The GM Canada press release summarizes the recent progress at other GM locations: “C$1.3 billion Oshawa Assembly Pickup investments; a C$109 million product and C$28 million Renewable Energy Cogeneration project at St. Catharines; a C$170 million investment in an after-market parts operation in Oshawa; expansion of GM’s Canadian Technology Centre including investments in the new 55-acre CTC McLaughlin Advanced Technology Track” in Oshawa. As previously reported in the WCR , Unifor has also negotiated historic agreements to produce electric vehicles in the 2020 Big Three Round of Bargaining. As Heather Scoffield wrote in an Opinion piece in the Toronto Star on January 18, “Never mind pipelines: Ontario automakers are showing us a greener way to create jobs now”.

Retooling Our World for the Future

By staff - Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces to Respond to Climate Change - June 24, 2020

The Coalition of Black Trade Unionists joined Green Jobs Oshawa’s first “Retooling Our World for the Future” Summit; a summit for community leaders, environmentalists, labour and social justice advocates all working towards the common goal of public ownership and repurposing our world and jobs for socially beneficial manufacturing. Here is the link to the video of the summit and a description of the speakers on Youtube.

Taking the High Road: Strategies for a Fair EV Future

By staff - UAW Research Department, January 2020

The American automotive industry is constantly evolving and, throughout the union’s history, the United Auto Workers (UAW) has fought to ensure industry changes result in quality jobs that benefit workers and the economy.

The auto industry is facing a new shift in technology with the proliferation of electric vehicles (EVs). This shift is an opportunity to re-invest in U.S. manufacturing. But this opportunity will be lost if EVs or their components are imported or made by low-road suppliers who underpay workers. In order to preserve American jobs and work standards, what is needed is a proactive industrial policy that creates high-quality manufacturing jobs making EVs and their components.

Read the text (PDF).

Tesla Workers File Charges with National Labor Board as Battle with Elon Musk Intensifies

By David Dayen - American Prospect, April 20, 2017 (article copublished by Capital & Main)

Workers at Tesla’s Fremont, California, electric car factory have filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), accusing the company of illegal surveillance, coercion, intimidation, and prevention of worker communications. The employees, who have been attempting to organize the approximately 7,000 workers at the plant through the United Auto Workers, claim that Tesla violated multiple sections of the National Labor Relations Act, which protects the right to unionize.

“I know my rights, and I know that we acted within them,” said Jonathan Galescu, a body repair technician. Galescu and his colleagues have previously cited low pay, hazardous work conditions, and a culture of intimidation as motivations to unionize the plant.

On February 10, several Tesla employees passed out flyers to their colleagues during a shift change. The literature featured a blog post from Medium written by Jose Moran, a Tesla production associate on the body-line. Moran’s post was the first public acknowledgment that some workers at Tesla were interested in organizing a union.

According to the NLRB complaint obtained by Capital & Main, managers at Tesla “conduct[ed] surveillance” on the workers who passed out the literature, and those who received the flyers. A month later, on March 23, Tesla management held a meeting, telling workers “they were not allowed to pass out any literature unless it was pre-approved by the Employer,” the complaint reads.

“We should have the right to distribute information to our co-workers without intimidation,” said Michael Sanchez, who works on door panels at the factory and has joined the unionizing effort. “You can’t fix problems if you’re not allowed to talk about them.”

Employees also object in the complaint to a confidentiality agreement presented last November, which vowed consequences (including “loss of employment” and “possible criminal prosecution”) for speaking publicly or to the media regarding “everything that you work on, learn about, or observe in your work about Tesla”—including wages and working conditions. Confidentiality agreements are common in auto factories to protect trade secrets, but Tesla’s was so far-reaching that five members of the California legislature wrote to the company, warning that the agreement violated protected employee activity.

Can Autoworkers Save the Climate?

By Lars Henriksson - Jacobin, October 2, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

At the COP 19, the even-more-depressing-than-usual climate summit that took place in Warsaw in 2013, one small ray of light made it through the dark corporate clouds that were otherwise suffocating even the slightest effort to address the ongoing environmental disaster.

On the last day of the conference, an unusual alliance was formed as environmental organizations and trade unions together walked out of the venue under the banner of “Enough Is Enough.” Sick of the meaningless talks, they stated:

We are now focusing on mobilizing people to push our governments to take leadership for serious climate action. We will work to transform our food and energy systems at a national and global level and rebuild a broken economic system to create a sustainable and low-carbon economy with decent jobs and livelihoods for all. And we will put pressure on everyone to do more to realize this vision.

If not entirely unique, this action nevertheless promised a new hope for a climate movement that never recovered after its (greatly exaggerated) expectations cruelly disappointed at the summit in Copenhagen four years earlier. The relationship between trade unions and environmentalists has often been strained, if there has been one at all. More often than not, those claiming to defend the earth and workers’ rights are operating at a crossroads, sometimes colliding in head-to-head confrontation — especially when jobs are pitted against environmental interests.

I found myself in that squeeze when the financial crisis hit the auto industry in 2008. The previous year, Al Gore and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, and climate change topped worldwide headlines. But with the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers and the auto industry in free fall, the climate crisis quickly disappeared from general discussion, even more so among auto-industry workers. Profits (disguised as “jobs”) were the main issue, not the complicated and distant phenomenon of global warming.

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