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UAW wins vote in U.S. EV battery plant

The United Auto Workers union won an election at a General Motors Co. and LG Energy Solution Ltd. electric-car battery plant in Lordstown, Ohio, giving the union its first win in a factory of that kind.

Workers at Ultium Cells LLC voted in favor of union representation with 710 employees for and 16 opposed, the union said. The plant will make battery cells for electric vehicles such as the Hummer electric pickup and Cadillac Lyriq SUV.

The UAW’s success in gaining support from the workers gives the union an important entry into the electric car business. The union plans to organize workers in future plants that are being planned or built across the US to support automakers making the switch to zero-emission vehicles.

“Liberated is the best work you can use for it,” said Tony Russo, an employee in the plant who voted in favor of joining the union. “I’m overjoyed. We look forward to working with the company on the next stage.”

Next, the union will set up a bargaining committee and start working on a contract for workers.

The union needs to organize factories making EV parts as automakers race to replace internal combustion engines with zero-emission vehicles. Plants making engines, transmissions and other parts for today’s conventional vehicles will eventually be phased out in favor of plants making batteries, electric motors and other components.

UAW leaders could use a victory like the organizing drive in Lordstown. President Ray Curry faces a run off against challenger Shawn Fain in January and other incumbent candidates lost.

“As the auto industry transitions to electric vehicles, new workers entering the auto sector at plants like Ultium are thinking about their value and worth,” Curry said in a statement. “This vote shows that they want to be a part of maintaining the high standards and wages that UAW members have built in the auto industry.”

The UAW has identified about 135,000 jobs — mostly nonunion right now — that are at risk of going away in favor of new work making EV batteries and parts.

GM Chief Executive Officer Mary Barra has said the company is “very supportive” of the unionization efforts.

Workers at Ultium start at $15.50 or $16.50 an hour, depending on the work they do. The victory allows UAW to negotiate a labor contract that pushes toward the $32-an-hour rate for workers at GM’s wholly owned auto-assembly plants. The union will push for similar elections at Ultium’s planned plants in Tennessee and Michigan and other joint-venture battery plants operated by other automakers.

Workers interviewed last week said they hope to make at least $24 an hour if the union organizes the plant. They also sought improvements in relations with management, better work scheduling and said they’d like to establish a safety committee to create better standards for workers who handle chemicals used in EV batteries and do other potentially dangerous jobs.

The Lordstown plant was built to make batteries for the electric trucks made in Detroit and other EVs made in Spring Hill, Tennessee. Next year, Ultium will open a second battery plant for Lyriqs and plans another plant in Michigan and a fourth in a U.S. location that hasn’t been announced yet. The union plans to hold organizing drives at those facilities and factories jointly owned by Ford Motor Co., Stellantis NV and their battery suppliers.

GM has a plan to build 1 million EVs in 2025. Ford wants to sell the same amount in 2026. Both automakers will need a supply of batteries to do it.

The union has tried to get into Tesla Inc. factories, so far unsuccessfully, and accused the electric-vehicle maker of unlawfully restricting organizing efforts. The National Labor Relations Board ruled that Tesla violated labor laws against promoting the union.

In a statement Friday, GM spokesman Daniel Flores called Ultium Cells “an important supplier to GM and for our EV future.”
 
“We are hopeful that Ultium Cells and the UAW can successfully establish a competitive and flexible labor agreement that helps ensure the future success of Ultium Cells’ business,” Flores said.
 
 GM CEO Mary Barra has said she welcomes the UAW at the new Ultium battery plants. She told the Automotive Press Association last week in Detroit that she would want to finalize a labor agreement “as soon as possible,” and that she doesn’t believe that a unionized battery work force would necessarily raise costs at the automaker.
 
“We have great knowledge on running our operations very efficiently, and there’s a lot of strategies. So I don’t just accept that if you’re union you’re more expensive,” Barra told the APA. “The message I’m always having, and I think people understand, is we’ve got to be competitive. We don’t have a right to exist. And so we have to be competitive to be able to reinvest in our business in the future to create that job security. When you have that conversation on the plant floor, they get it.”

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