Auto economist Jim Stanford leaving Unifor to join spouse in Australia Add to.
Australia is losing its auto industry, but it’s gaining one of the highest-profile economists in the auto sphere with Jim Stanford’s departure from Unifor.
Mr. Stanford, 54, has been an economist at Toronto-based Unifor and its predecessor union, the Canadian Auto Workers, since March 1994, when then-CAW president Buzz Hargrove hired him to bolster the union’s economics and research department.
He is moving to Australia in January to join his spouse, Donna Baines, who began a job as chair of social work and social policy at the University of Sydney earlier this year.
“It’s kind of one of those things about modern life,” he said in an interview. “You have two careers and there is also this idea of stirring it up at the mid-life point. It’s better than getting divorced and buying a sports car.”
His profile increased with his participation in a weekly business panel on CBC television’s The National and through columns in the comment pages of The Globe and Mail. As well, his Economics for Everyone: A Short Guide to the Economics of Capitalism. has just gone through its second printing.
Mr. Stanford was a key adviser to Mr. Hargrove and his successors Ken Lewenza and Jerry Dias during turbulent times in the auto industry.
That history includes numerous plant closings; a strike by CAW members against General Motors of Canada Ltd. in 1996; three separate sales of the automaker once known as Chrysler Corp. and its Canadian unit; and the recession of 2008-2009, which led to the bankruptcy of General Motors Corp. and Chrysler LLC and contributions by the federal and Ontario governments to the bailouts of those two companies.
The union also evolved, growing from an organization dominated by auto workers to one that now encompasses retail employees, health-care workers and people working in telecom and media after the 2013 merger with the Communications Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada that led to the creation of Unifor.
Mr. Stanford said he has based his career on trying to “kind of democratize economics” and make it more popular. “The great thing for me about working with the union was that it gave me the opportunity and authority to try and talk about economics in the way that an average worker could understand, and relate the issues to those workers’ lives rather than abstract theoretical models.”
That included his writing, video skits and music parodies that were shown at conventions and other CAW gatherings.
He entered one CAW council meeting riding on his daughter’s tricycle as the gathering prepared to discuss fuel efficiency, the environment and the impact of those two issues on the auto industry.
Mr. Hargrove said he wasn’t sure how the stunt would go over with hundreds of union members, but recalled that they roared their approval.
Mr. Stanford said he expects to work in policy research doing what he calls “progressive, labour-oriented research.” He has also landed a position with McMaster University in Hamilton to teach economic policy to graduate students. That will be done by three weeks or so of intense teaching in Hamilton and then remotely from Sydney. He will also continue to advise Mr. Dias, particularly as Unifor enters negotations with the Canadian units of the Detroit Three automakers next year on a new contract.