Facing pressure for its labor policy on two separate fronts, General Motors agreed to throw open the doors to its new battery plants in the United States to the United Auto Workers.
In a statement, GM said it was willing and ready to work with the UAW in the new battery plants.
“As we deliver on our plans to create an all-electric future, GM will build on a long history of supporting unions to promote safety, quality, training, and well-paying jobs for American workers,” the company said in a statement. “Both GM and Ultium Cells LLC respect workers’ right to unionize and the efforts of the UAW to organize battery cell-manufacturing workers in Ohio and Tennessee at our joint venture sites.
“When fully operational, these American battery facilities will employ more than 2,300 workers. We believe the UAW, given their historic and constructive relationship in the automotive industry, would be well positioned to represent the workforce.”
Union quickly accepts new plans
The UAW quickly seized on the statement and indicated it was prepared to move quickly to unionize the battery plants.
“We in the UAW look forward to starting discussions with General Motors regarding their joint venture to produce batteries in Ohio and Tennessee so workers will have a voice at the table in order to create good paying union jobs and benefits,” Terry Dittes, the UAW vice president in charge of the union’s GM Department and a member of the union’s executive board.
The UAW has lost several high-profile organizing drives in recent years at Fuyao Glass in Ohio, Volkswagen of America in Tennessee, and Nissan in Mississippi. The union blamed the losses in all three drives on anti-union drives launched by local management in each of the three locations.
UAW wants a neutral playing field
Thus, the UAW is insisting on strict neutrality by every member of the management team in the new battery plants, belonging to the Ultium Battery joint venture with South Korea’s LG Energy.
Until this week, GM maintained labor policy and practices at these facilities would be decided by the management of Ultium Battery, infuriating the UAW. The union suspected Ultium would try to block any UAW effort given LG’s history of opposition to organized labor.
The UAW also has staked out the jobs at a new venture joint venture being set up by the Ford Motor Company and SK Innovation. The venture could build two new battery plants in the U.S by the middle of the decade, according to Ford executives.
UAW staking out battery jobs at Ford
Gerald Kariem, the UAW vice president in charge of the union’s Ford Department, also moved to lay claim the union’s right to organize the employees of Ford’s newly introduced Blue Oval joint venture with SK Innovation in Georgia.
“UAW members believe that Ford has a moral obligation, regardless of any joint venture arrangement, to ensure that the battery jobs that replace gas engine and transmission jobs are the same good paying union jobs that have fueled this American economy for generations,” Kariem said in a statement.
He was quick to noted that President Joe Biden has repeatedly called for these new EV-related jobs to go to union workers — doing so again during his tour of the Ford Rouge facility last week.
“Technological changes have always been an integral part of the auto industry but those changes, which seek to improve all of our lives, should not diminish the lives of hard-working American men and women,” Kariem added. “We look forward to working with Ford and their joint venture partner in creating the good paying union jobs of the future that taxpayers are being asked to invest in.”
Union research shows change is coming
The UAW’s own research department, in a 2018 study that was updated last winter, acknowledged employment in downsized engine and transmission plants will be disrupted by the technological changes. At GM alone, the engine and transmission operations employ more than 8,000 workers, according to the company’s website.
Meanwhile, GM’s labor practices at its massive assembly complex in Silao, Mexico also are under investigation by Mexican authorities in response to a complaint by the Biden administration, which is seeking to ensure that the labor provisions of the USMCA trade agreement are enforced. GM employees is Silao complained to Mexican investigators they have been pressured by GM’s local management to accept sub-standard contracts that serve to keep wages low.