A recent article in durhamregion.com reported on an alliance between the Canadian Auto Workers (the Canadian counterpart of the United Auto Workers) and the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE). CAW/CAPE held a joint press conference warning of the loss of 5,000 jobs if wind and solar projects under the Ontario FIT program are cancelled.
Assuming that the 5,000 figure is even correct (which is dubious), are those union jobs? Are they even full-time?
Perhaps the manufacturing jobs would be, for example, in solar panel plants and in wind turbine manufacturing plants. But how viable are these as a source of long-term, stable employment?
Wind turbine and solar photovoltaic device manufacturing appears to be undergoing a recession in North America, in spite of heavy government subsidies to prop up wind and solar energy all along their value chains. Consider the following very recent examples:
- Eclipsall Energy Corp., a solar panel manufacturer, which laid off employees at its Scarborough manufacturing plant on September 16, only days after a visit from the Ontario premier.
- DMI Industries, a wind turbine maker in Fort Erie, Ontario, which laid off 50 workers on September 21st.
- Evergreen Solar, a Massachusetts-based solar panel maker, which laid off 65 people when it announced in August it was bankrupt.
- And of course the king of them all, Solyndra, a solar PV device maker in California, which in early September filed for bankruptcy, laid off 1,100 employees, defaulted on a half billion dollar government-guaranteed loan, and embarrassed the president of the United States, who had touted the company as an example of job creation in the new green economy.
Even if turbine/panel manufacturing creates union jobs, I strongly doubt that the operator jobs at solar and wind farms would be unionized. Owners of these plants desperately need to keep costs down, as is evidenced by their requirement that the government force rate-payers to pay exorbitant prices for their paltry output. Without such rates, wind and solar farms would go bankrupt.
Regardless. The CAW, along with its U.S. counterpart the UAW, only two years ago took part in an excruciating and very public taxpayer rescue of the North American auto industry. During that exercise, the auto unions were forced to give wage concessions that reflected their employers’ plummeting sales revenues. Why would the union lobby the public and media to support energy sources that will cause electricity prices to go up? The CAW’s main employers are auto manufacturers. Auto manufacturing is an electricity-intensive industry. Why would the CAW deliberately advocate for increasing its employers’ other, non-labour, operating costs? Wouldn’t that put downward pressure on employee wages?
If I were a negotiator for one of the auto companies, that’s what I would ask during collective bargaining negotiations.
There is of course a form of power generation that the CAW could support. This form of generation actually employs thousands of unionized workers in Ontario. I’m speaking of course about nuclear power.
In fact, the very region in which CAW/CAPE held their press conference is home to two of the biggest nuclear plants in the world—Pickering, west of Oshawa, and Darlington, east of Oshawa. Thousands of unionized workers are employed at these plants.
The CAW’s soapbox partner at the “green jobs” press conference, CAPE, is a collection of quacks whose main activity appears to be to oppose nuclear-generated electricity in Ontario. CAPE’s modus operandi is trot out bogus statistics in an effort to frighten people into accepting an enormous increase in gas-fired power generation in Ontario. Their position on the use of nuclear medicine—they are physicians, after all, and allegedly concerned for their patients’ health and well-being—is something on which they are less vocal. I assume they are against it. They should explain this position to the parents of an infant who needs a blood transfusion. If the blood going into that infant has not been treated with 25 grays of radiation from either cobalt-60 or cesium-137—isotopes are are made in the very nuclear reactors that CAPE opposes—the infant is at risk of contracting a transfusion-related blood disease that is fatal nine times out of ten.
Nuclear plants in Ontario produce the province’s second-cheapest electricity. CAW members work in auto plants whose very economic basis is cheap nuclear-generated electricity.
Why the CAW would gobble along with an innumerate, economy-hostile energy policy and join forces with an outfit that wants to destroy thousands of union jobs is simply beyond me.
Before CAW representatives complain in public about the decline of the union movement in Canada, or about the efforts of employers to erode the power of unions in Canada, they should look in the mirror first.
I say this with a considerable amount of bitterness, because all my life I have defended the union movement. I have always felt it has been generally a progressive force in society. I have belonged to two unions—the International Woodworkers of America and the Public Service Alliance of Canada—and felt generally well served by them when they represented me.
But that was back in the days when big unions in Canada supported, as a matter of principle, union jobs in other industries. My parents in the early 1970s belonged to a very left-wing offshoot of the New Democratic Party. At party functions, everybody used to sing “Solidarity Forever,” the famous union anthem; I still get goosebumps when I listen to Pete Seeger singing it (even though Pete Seeger is an avowed anti-nuke). Solidarity Forever wasn’t just a slogan. Union people were supposed to support workers in other industries.
Somewhere along the line, the CAW started treating Solidarity Forever as just another slogan. Hence the union’s alliance with CAPE, which wants to shut down unionized nuclear plants. What has happened to the union movement in Canada?