U.A.W. Reaches Accord on Pay and Safety at E.V. Battery Plant

U.A.W. Reaches Accord on Pay and Safety at E.V. Battery Plant

The United Automobile Workers union announced a tentative contract agreement Monday at an Ohio factory that makes electric vehicle batteries, a move it called a milestone in improving pay and safety in the electric vehicle supply chain.

The agreement covers 1,600 workers at a Lordstown plant operated by Ultium Cells, a joint venture between General Motors and a South Korean partner, LG Energy Solution. It produces batteries for GM electric vehicles.

The workers were not yet unionized when the plant opened in 2022, but were brought into the UAW under the terms of the nationwide collective bargaining agreement the union negotiated with GM last fall. This new contract, which must be ratified by the plant’s workers, establishes the wages and working conditions applicable to each location.

Shawn Fain, the UAW president, said in a letter to union members that the agreement represents “a turning point for the electric vehicle battery industry.”

GM and Ultium issued statements saying they were satisfied with the agreement.

The union said it plans to use the Ultium Cells contract as a template for negotiating local agreements at other battery plants that GM and its rivals are building in Detroit. GM started production this year at a battery plant in Spring Hill, Tennessee, and another is under construction in Lansing, Michigan.

Ford Motor plans two battery plants in Kentucky, one in Tennessee and one in Michigan. Stellantis, the maker of Chrysler, Jeep, Dodge and Ram vehicles, is planning two battery factories in Indiana. Aside from a Ford site, these plants are joint ventures brought under the UAW umbrella as part of the nationwide contracts the union signed with Ford and Stellantis last fall.

The Ultium Cells contract calls for workers to receive a new wage of $30.50 per hour. Over three years, the wage will increase to $35 an hour. The nationwide contract signed last fall had raised starting wages at Ultium Cells to $26.91, up from $16.50 an hour when the plant opened.

That wage scale is slightly lower than that at GM auto plants, where most workers will reach a top wage of more than $40 an hour in the next few years.

The Ultium Cells contract also requires the plant to employ four UAW members as full-time safety officers and one full-time industrial hygienist. The union and Ultium employees have raised concerns about working with high-voltage electricity and potentially harmful compounds used in the manufacture of electric vehicle battery packs.

The Ohio plant is particularly significant because it sits next to the shuttered GM auto plant in Lordstown, which once employed several thousand workers.

After GM permanently closed the Lordstown plant in 2019, the company came under fire from President Donald J. Trump, and the plight of laid-off workers was cited in the 2020 election campaign.

Separately, the UAW said about 200 workers who once worked at the Lordstown plant and moved to other GM locations would soon transfer to the Ultium Cells factory so they could return to the area. About 40 workers will start work there next week, followed by additional groups of about 40 employees in the next few weeks, a union spokesman said.

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2024-06-10 21:06:31