(Editor’s note: This story has been updated with a statement from Ultium Cells LLC.)
In a sign of the escalating labor battle between General Motors’ new Ultium battery plant in Ohio and the United Auto Workers, the union filed a petition for election with the Cleveland office of the National Labor Relations Board on behalf of approximately 900 workers at Ultium Cells LLC in Warren Ohio.
“A majority of Ultium workers have signed cards authorizing the UAW to represent them,” said UAW President Ray Curry.
However, Ultium declined to accept the pro-union card check. The card check is a process used by the union that can allow it to skip the formality of an election, if an overwhelming majority of employees turn in a card saying they want UAW representation.
“By refusing to recognize their majority will, Ultium — which is a joint venture between General Motors and LG Energy Solution — has decided to ignore democracy and delay the recognition process. Make no mistake: whether it is by card check or union election, these workers will be members of the UAW,” said Curry.
According to the UAW, Ultium previously indicated a willingness to recognize the majority will of the workers based on authorization cards but has now backtracked. The process is important as GM and LG Energy are building three more plants for battery-cell production, including the next one set to come online in Spring Hill, Tennessee.
GM spokesman Dan Flores said in an email GM would not have any comment on the UAW petition.
“Ultium Cells respects workers’ freedom to choose union representation and the efforts of the UAW to organize battery cell manufacturing workers at our Ohio manufacturing site,” the company said in a statement to TheDetroitBureau.com.
“Ultium Cells will comply with the National Labor Relations Act, which protects our employees’ right to freely decide unionization through a voluntary election conducted by the NLRB (National Labor Relations Board). Ultium Cells believes the right to a personal and private vote is important.”
Slow ramp up pinching GM’s EV production
Last week, CEO Mary Barra said during a conference call with investors GM will miss its previously announced EV production targets by at least six months, GM had said it expected to build 400,000 EV units by the end of 2023 as production for the Lordstown battery plant ramped up.
But it has taken “a little longer than expected” to bring in the workers at the new battery plant in Warren, Ohio. complicating production of the Ultium batteries GM needs, Barra said.
The company and the union have engaged in a quiet tug of war over the plant for the past several months. The plant is located on a site once occupied by General Motors production facilities, and unions have long been part of the fabric of life throughout Northeastern Ohio where the plant is located.
The Lordstown assembly plant GM phased out in 2019 over the objections of the union is now occupied by fledgling Lordstown Motors, which is having its own challenges ramping up production.
During the past several months, the company participated in meetings and discussions with the UAW about a process for certifying the UAW’s majority status without going through an NLRB election, according to the union.
“We had hoped Ultium would have done the right thing so we can get on with the business of bargaining and addressing the serious health and safety issues in the plant,” said George Goranitis, a Lead in the Electrode Department and one of the Ultium employees supporting the union.
“This decision by Ultium reminds every one of us why we need to form our union as the company does not care about our interests. We are ready to win our election.”