Union, automakers headed for fight over battery plant wages

The United Auto Workers union is calling on General Motors to pay full union wages at electric vehicle battery factories, thrusting what was a festering conflict into the spotlight because automakers want to pay less

Via AP news wire
Friday 16 April 2021 17:34
General Motors-Investigation
General Motors-Investigation

The United Auto Workers union is calling on General Motors to pay full union wages at electric vehicle battery factories, thrusting what a festering conflict into the spotlight.

The union, in a statement reacting to GM’s announcement Friday that it would build a second U.S. battery plant, said the company and its joint venture partner have a “moral obligation” to pay the higher wages at battery factories.

Automakers want to pay less than the wages paid after contract negotiations.

GM and LG Energy Solutions, its partner on the new plant in Spring Hill, Tennessee, and another under construction in Lordstown, Ohio, near Cleveland, should work with the UAW “to make sure these are good-paying union jobs like those of their brothers and sisters who make internal combustion engines,” the union statement said.

The statement sets the tone for the next round of contract talks in 2023 between GM, Ford and Stellantis (formerly Fiat Chrysler), all of which have plans to make significant numbers of battery-powered vehicles by then as they invest billions to transition from internal combustion engines.

It also could draw President Joe Biden into the fray, because he is pushing the transition to EVs, which he says will create “good-paying, union jobs of the future.”

Currently top-scale union production workers at internal combustion engine and transmission plants run by GM, Ford and Stellantis (formerly Fiat Chrysler) make more than $31 per hour. But when the Lordstown plant was announced in 2019, GM CEO Mary Barra said its worker pay would follow GM’s component manufacturing strategy, where workers are paid less than top union wages. She said the plant would have to be cost-competitive.

At a GM plant assembling batteries in Brownstown Township, Michigan, the union agreed in 2009 to $15 to $17 per hour wages to assemble battery cells into packs for the now-canceled Chevrolet Volt hybrid gas-electric vehicle. That's a little more than what Amazon pays at distribution centers and just above a proposed $15 per hour new federal minimum wage. GM also pays about $22.50 per hour at union-represented parts manufacturing plants.

GM said wages at the new plants would be determined by Ultium Cells LLC, the joint venture with LG Energy that's running the battery plants.

The union statement came just after GM announced plans to more than $2.3 billion to build the second U.S. electric vehicle battery factory in Spring Hill, Tennessee.

The 2.8-million-square-foot plant is expected to create 1,300 manufacturing jobs in Maury County when it opens in 2023.

The joint venture already is building the Ohio plant, which will employ about 1,100 people.

“We are taking bold steps necessary to accelerate toward an all-electric future and to support our vision of zero crashes, zero emissions and zero congestion,” said GM CEO Mary Barra at a news conference in Nashville

GM has previously announced that the Cadillac Lyriq electric SUV will be built at the Spring Hill complex. The SUV, due in showrooms during the first half of 2022, will go an estimated 300 miles (482 kilometers) per charge.

GM is likely to need far more battery capacity if it’s able to deliver on a goal of converting all of its new passenger vehicles from internal combustion engines to electricity by 2035.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee declared the new battery plant project “the largest single investment of economic activity in the state's history" while praising the project.

Lee, a Republican, and his top economic development chief declined to detail how much the state had provided in incentives but said that information would come out soon.

“We will accommodate the companies as they determine what strategies they're going to take for manufacturing," Lee told reporters. "The demand for their products is enormous, we think this is a very wise investment.”

Industry analysts have said automakers face a global shortage of batteries as the industry moves away from gasoline powered vehicles. Most of the world’s batteries are built in China and other countries.


Krisher reported from Detroit.