Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility
The Future of Electric Vehicles Looms Over Negotiations in the US Autoworkers Strike
gvw_ap_news
By Associated Press
Published 6 months ago on
October 10, 2023

Share

WAYNE, Mich. — On the picket lines at a Ford factory west of Detroit, many striking workers don’t think the electric vehicle revolution is coming for their jobs — at least not in the near future.

But just in case, they’re backing United Auto Workers President Shawn Fain’s quest to unionize EV battery factories at Ford and Jeep maker Stellantis, matching a breakthrough concession made by General Motors last week.

So far, neither Ford nor Stellantis has agreed to the change, which would pull employees at all 10 U.S. battery factories proposed by Detroit automakers into national contracts with the UAW, all but assuring they’ll be unionized.

Fain also wants workers at the plants to make top UAW assembly plant wages, which now are $32 per hour.

With the UAW strike now in its fourth week, EVs and their potential impact on job security have become central to union negotiations with the automakers. Contract talks are likely to determine whether those plants — mostly joint ventures with South Korean battery companies — are union, which may have long-lasting consequences as the auto industry transforms itself.

“The battery plants are going to be the make-or-break issue,” said Sam Abuelsamid, a mobility analyst for Guidehouse Insights. “It’s going to be a critical factor for them to get good labor agreements at these plants.”

In short, if electric vehicles replace gas-powered ones, most UAW workers at engine and transmission plants will lose their jobs. And if lower-paying battery plants aren’t union, workers won’t have anywhere to get the same wages and benefits.

Ford and Stellantis thus far don’t want to pay top union wages, fearing that will push up their costs over Tesla and other competitors with nonunion battery plants mainly in the U.S. South. That could make Detroit’s EVs more expensive and harder to sell.

The issue, festering for months behind pay and cost-of-living increases, restoration of retirement benefits for new hires and even a 32-hour workweek, became huge Friday when GM agreed to unionization.

Stellantis didn’t comment directly on GM’s move, but Ford said workers will have to choose once they are hired at plants that haven’t been built yet. Although Ford said it’s willing to work with the union, the company said it’s investing billions in battery plants that have to operate “at sustainably competitive levels.”

Last month, Ford CEO Jim Farley accused the union of using the battery plant issue to hold a potential contract agreement hostage. Ford has decided to locate three of its four proposed battery plants in Kentucky and Tennessee, states where workers and politicians could be more hostile to the UAW. The company has put on hold a fourth plant to be built in Michigan by Ford itself.

Before GM changed its stance, the automakers said they have South Korean joint venture partners at nine of 10 battery factories, and those partners have to be at the bargaining table.

Automakers are telling workers their jobs are secure, but the union doesn’t see that in the transition to electric vehicles, Fain said. Instead, the companies want to pay “poverty wages” at the new plants and drive down pay in the industry, he said.

“It’s really hard to envision a future for us where we have no piece of the battery,” Fain said.

Union Says Fewer Parts Equals Fewer Workers

Farley and other auto executives have said that because EVs have fewer moving parts, they will require 30% to 40% fewer workers to assemble than gasoline vehicles. But GM CEO Mary Barra keeps saying there will be enough work to bring everyone along.

A study by Carnegie Mellon University backs her up, in part, finding that it will take more labor to build electric vehicle batteries, motors and drivelines than engines and transmissions for combustion engine vehicles.

On the picket line at the Ford plant in Wayne, Michigan, where Bronco SUVs and Ranger pickups are made, workers questioned whether people would buy EVs because of their limited travel range and lack of charging stations. But they also see a future where buyers could switch, and they think wages at the battery plants should match what they make.

“They’re part of Ford and should be unionized as well,” said Chris Jedrzejek, who has worked for the company 23 years. “I’m sure that Ford would rather not have their battery plants unionized, but with the actions of GM, they set the precedent.”

He doesn’t believe the company line that higher-wage union battery plants would make Detroit’s EVs too pricey. The pay at nonunion Toyota assembly plants, for instance, is similar to the top wage of UAW workers, he said, although Jedrzejek concedes that many Ford workers have better benefits such as pensions.

“I think it’s just a bunch of rhetoric just to try to scare us into signing a bad deal,” he said.

Worker Todd Lauerman, who has been with Ford a dozen years, said making the battery plants union is crucial because fewer workers may be needed to build EVs, and the issue has to be settled in this year’s talks because if the plants start running and aren’t union, “it’s going to be a lot harder to get it in the next contract.”

It’s likely GM agreed to unionize its four U.S. battery plants because workers probably would have voted for the union anyway, Abuelsamid said. The UAW, he said, will use this to try to organize other Korean-owned battery plants.

One GM plant in northeastern Ohio already has voted for the UAW, two more are right next to GM assembly plants in Tennessee and Michigan, and the fourth is near South Bend, Indiana, not far from other GM factories.

“They may have thought they were going to get unionized one way or another, let’s just get it done,” said Harry Katz, a professor of collective bargaining at Cornell University.

Stellantis’ staying quiet may mean it’s willing to work a deal, but Ford’s public statements so far indicate it will fight bringing its plants into the national UAW contract.

Katz, though, thinks Ford will eventually have to agree to the template set by GM. “On a matter of principle like this, I don’t see them agreeing to anything other than the pattern,” he said.

Without organizing the battery plants, union wins on wages and benefits could be only temporary because membership would decline if the battery factories are nonunion, said Marick Masters, a business professor at Wayne State University.

“It could turn out to be a Pyrrhic victory if inroads aren’t also carved out at the nonunionized factories that will play a pivotal role in the industry’s future,” Masters said.

RELATED TOPICS:

DON'T MISS

How California Legislators Got More Than $1.4 Million in Travel and Gifts in 2023

DON'T MISS

‘Digital Democracy’ Project Penetrates California’s Opaque Political Processes

DON'T MISS

US Shoots Down Iran-Launched Attack Drones as Biden Team Pledges ‘Support’ for Israel

DON'T MISS

Sacramento Gave Homeless Camp a Lease as an Experiment. Here’s What Happened.

DON'T MISS

Merced Supervisors Accused of ‘Triple Crown Race’ of Failures Amid Talk of Closing Fire Stations

DON'T MISS

Teacher Appreciation Week Surprises That Educators Will Love

DON'T MISS

A Mission of Mercy, Then a Fatal Strike: How an Aid Convoy in Gaza Became Israel’s Target

DON'T MISS

Walberg Era Begins With a Charge to ‘Revolutionize’ Bulldogs Basketball

DON'T MISS

California Man Sentenced to 40 Years to Life for Fatal Freeway Shooting of 6-Year-Old Boy

DON'T MISS

16 Clovis Students Rewarded With Scholarships for Their Resilience

UP NEXT

US Shoots Down Iran-Launched Attack Drones as Biden Team Pledges ‘Support’ for Israel

UP NEXT

US Intelligence Finding Shows China Surging Equipment Sales to Russia to Help War Effort in Ukraine

UP NEXT

US Consumer Sentiment Falls Slightly as Outlook for Inflation Worsens

UP NEXT

Making Cement Is Very Damaging for the Climate. One Solution Is Opening in California

UP NEXT

Buyer Resistance Grows as EV Ownership Rises: Poll

UP NEXT

Court Upholds CA’s Authority to Set Nation-Leading Vehicle Emission Rules

UP NEXT

Expert Chris Kameir Sheds Light on Digital Finance on Crypto The WonderDog Show

UP NEXT

Fast Food Wage Hike Impacts Fresno Restaurateurs of All Menu Types and Sizes

UP NEXT

New EPA Rule Says 218 US Chemical Plants Must Reduce Toxic Emissions That Are Likely to Cause Cancer

UP NEXT

US Wildfires Are Getting Bigger and More Complex, Prompting Changes in Firefighting Workforce

Sacramento Gave Homeless Camp a Lease as an Experiment. Here’s What Happened.

2 days ago

Merced Supervisors Accused of ‘Triple Crown Race’ of Failures Amid Talk of Closing Fire Stations

2 days ago

Teacher Appreciation Week Surprises That Educators Will Love

2 days ago

A Mission of Mercy, Then a Fatal Strike: How an Aid Convoy in Gaza Became Israel’s Target

2 days ago

Walberg Era Begins With a Charge to ‘Revolutionize’ Bulldogs Basketball

2 days ago

California Man Sentenced to 40 Years to Life for Fatal Freeway Shooting of 6-Year-Old Boy

2 days ago

16 Clovis Students Rewarded With Scholarships for Their Resilience

2 days ago

Dr. Green Thumb’s Is Open. Sweet Flower Debuts Saturday in Fresno Cannabis Rollout.

2 days ago

Reacher Star Alan Ritchson Calls Donald Trump a ‘Rapist’

2 days ago

Community Leaders Call for Transparency in Fresno Superintendent Search

2 days ago

How California Legislators Got More Than $1.4 Million in Travel and Gifts in 2023

Last June, more than half of California’s lawmakers — Republicans and Democrats alike, with no particular ideological preference — attended ...

21 hours ago

21 hours ago

How California Legislators Got More Than $1.4 Million in Travel and Gifts in 2023

21 hours ago

‘Digital Democracy’ Project Penetrates California’s Opaque Political Processes

1 day ago

US Shoots Down Iran-Launched Attack Drones as Biden Team Pledges ‘Support’ for Israel

2 days ago

Sacramento Gave Homeless Camp a Lease as an Experiment. Here’s What Happened.

2 days ago

Merced Supervisors Accused of ‘Triple Crown Race’ of Failures Amid Talk of Closing Fire Stations

2 days ago

Teacher Appreciation Week Surprises That Educators Will Love

2 days ago

A Mission of Mercy, Then a Fatal Strike: How an Aid Convoy in Gaza Became Israel’s Target

2 days ago

Walberg Era Begins With a Charge to ‘Revolutionize’ Bulldogs Basketball

MENU

CONNECT WITH US

Search

Send this to a friend