GM’s Ultium battery plant votes overwhelmingly to unionize with UAW

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GM’s first Ultium battery plant in Lordstown, Ohio has voted to join the United Auto Workers, with 98% of workers voting in favor of union representation.

Ultium is GM’s battery joint venture with LG Energy. GM will establish at least four factories in the US to build the batteries for their upcoming EVs. Just today, GM announced an additional $275 million investment in the second plant in Spring Hill, Tennessee.

The Lordstown/Warren plant in Ohio is already up and running, though, and producing batteries for GM’s current and upcoming EVs. The Hummer EV already uses Ultium batteries, and the Ultium-powered Equinox, Blazer, Silverado and Cadillac Lyriq are all expected in the next year. GM’s other current EV, the Chevy Bolt – which we just named Electrek’s EV of the year – does not use Ultium cells as it came out before Ultium was developed.

While US companies have largely relied on foreign-supplied batteries until now, the recently-passed Inflation Reduction Act included measures to encourage onshoring of US EV production, which has led several companies to announce battery factories in the US. An early draft of the bill included an additional tax credit for union-built EVs, but that credit didn’t make it to the final bill.

Labor has been experiencing somewhat of a renaissance in the US in the past year or two, as COVID-related supply disruptions and general levels of discontent among the populace have led workers to demand better treatment from employers. Several industries have seen surges in unionization efforts, which have also been aided by pro-union comments from President Joe Biden.

But US battery production has heretofore mainly been non-unionized, as the largest US battery producer, Tesla, does not have a union either for battery manufacturing or for auto production. There have been a few spurts of unionization efforts at Tesla’s plants, though they met retaliation from Tesla CEO Elon Musk and were not successful.

So today’s union vote at GM’s first battery plant was closely watched, as it could set the tone not only for GM’s electrification efforts, but labor in the US battery supply industry as a whole. A positive vote was expected, though perhaps not as near-unanimous as today’s 98% result.

UAW is eyeing battery factories as the industry transitions to electric vehicles, which have fewer parts and take less labor to build than traditional gas vehicles. This would lead to fewer workers required to build cars, though targeting battery workers could help buoy union membership.

The UAW released a short statement about the vote, stating:

Our entire union welcomes our latest members from Ultium. 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. 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.

Ray Curry, UAW President

One potential sticking point in today’s union deal relates to pay. Previously, GM has held the position that battery suppliers should command similar pay to other auto supply factories, around $20/hr, which is what Ultium hourly workers currently make. But mainline auto workers can be paid closer to $30/hour, and battery workers may argue that due to how integral the battery is to an EV, that they should be paid closer to final assembly line workers.

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