Layoffs in Oshawa underscore need to start Darlington project now

I was amazed to see the Canadian Auto Workers last September urging Ontarians to continue supporting the Ontario feed-in tariff program of heavy forced rate-payer subsidies of expensive and inefficient wind and solar energy. Wind energy fetches 13.5 cents per kilowatt-hour under FIT, more than double the rate of the most expensive nuclear. Plus, wind cannot operate without a fossil power source backing it up. In Ontario, where coal is being phased out, that other fossil source can only be natural gas. Running parallel fleets of power plants to back up inefficient ones only adds to the cost of electricity. The CAW is an auto union, and most of its members work in plants that are major users of electricity. So by supporting FIT, the CAW is supporting expensive electricity—essentially supporting increased operating costs for its employers, never mind higher costs of living for the working people of the province.

When the CAW announced its support for FIT, I wondered how that would go down with the union’s biggest employers, the three North American auto makers—General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler. Whatever your opinion is of these companies, you cannot argue that they employ a lot of people and generate a lot of wealth. GM, for example, employs about 4,000 people in its Oshawa operations. The CAW itself spells out that in 2007 the auto industry employed 10,400 people in Oshawa (down from more than 13,000 in 2002, and estimates that those 10,400 people paid $31 million in taxes to the municipality.

I wondered about how the CAW’s support for FIT would go down with employers who are always looking to cut costs. FIT simply adds to GM’s costs of operations. Employers like GM need reliable low cost power; wind is unreliable and expensive. During collective bargaining with the company, the CAW would of course be aiming to minimize wage and benefit concessions—that is a union’s job. Why then would the union publicly push for expensive, unreliable electricity? What kind of future does it see for the auto industry in jurisdictions where electricity—an essential commodity—is priced deliberately high, at the behest of phony “environmentalists”?

Whatever the answer is to that question, GM has announced it is going to shut down one of its manufacturing lines in Oshawa. That’s the line that makes the mighty Impala, a great car that I have rented many times (one that, along with the Ford Fusion, I always request when I rent a car, which is very frequently). The CAW has reacted with shock, which is understandable—two thousand of its members are going to lose their jobs.

I remarked at the time the CAW announced its support for FIT that wind farms and gas-fired power plants are, for the most part, not known as major employers of union labour. The CAW made its announcement in collaboration with the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, an anti-nuclear, anti-coal “environmental” lobby group which applauds the wholesale gasification of Ontario’s power system. Both nuclear and coal-fired power generation in Ontario are major employers of union labour.

Moreover, the Darlington B project, which is part of Ontario’s long-term energy plan, would be built in the Oshawa area (I know that some will say that technically it is in Clarington, and that is correct, but this is the Oshawa area). Darlington B will bring more high-paid, high-skilled union work to the area.

When it decided to publicly go full-bore in support of an expensive, undemocratic, non-union energy source, what was the CAW thinking?

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