Layoff by email: Ford's latest innovation
Paul Miller, NDP economic critic at Queen's Park, is having a sour last laugh today on the province's development minister — one he doesn't particularly relish. It's over the latest 500 layoffs to hit the auto industry in Ontario, this time at Ford's plant in Oakville. I guess they're not technically layoffs because the new employees weren't scheduled to begin work until this morning. With three days to go, Ford informed the staffers-to-be their jobs no longer existed, with some getting the news by email.
Sadly, Miller is not surprised the jobs fell through. He stood up in the Legislature on June 4 to criticize the government's investment strategy in the auto industry. He could already see a grim summer of rolling layoffs looming for Ontario's auto sector and couldn't understand why Dalton McGuinty's Liberal government continued to pump money into the industry without having the ironclad job guarantees Miller sees as essential. Economic Development Minister Sandra Pupatello quickly put him in his place.
In her response, she stressed the government was working on a 20-year plan, in which industry could "shift on a dime" with changing events. Then she delivered a clincher as proof the auto strategy was working:
"We should use Ford Oakville as a very good example. Yesterday, they launched their new Flex. That is a new model that they could put in on a Flex line made possible by the Ontario government and by support from the federal government. That is why we saw an ad for the hiring of 500 jobs at the Oakville plant. I'd like this member to stand up and say that that is a failure."
"Failure," Miller told the Decoder this afternoon.
As he sees it, 500 "hardworking men and women" gave up good jobs for the opportunity with Ford, only to be kicked in the teeth. "You don't do that to people." Moreover, he says taxpayers are watching Ford walk away with $100 million in public money.
Why hasn't Ford turned on Pupatello's proverbial dime, asks Miller. Why aren't they using these workers to retrofit the plant?
It's been a tough slog for Miller to get his hands on specific information about the public sector grants to the auto industry. He says he learned that GM pledged to maintain 16,000 jobs in Ontario for its $250 million only by filing an Access to Information request for the contract. "Have those jobs been maintained? No."
He's listened to the government argue it will get money back at the end of the life of the contract in cases where a company doesn't deliver. He asks skeptically: "When has that ever happened?" Besides, he stresses the government has a "moral obligation" to provide for these workers.
He argues the Legislature should be in emergency session to deal with these dark weeks of layoffs in the summer of 2008. "That won't happen but the bottom line is that we (the NDP caucus) are not going to keep quiet about this. Sandra Pupatello and (Finance Minister) Dwight Duncan can pretend everything is hunky-dory, but people can see what's going on."