UAW and GM Forge Historic Deal on Electric Vehicle Battery Plant Unionization

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Filed under Automotive, EV News, GM, News

General Motors (GM) has made a major move in the ongoing negotiations with the United Auto Workers (UAW) union, potentially changing the landscape of the union’s influence in the electric vehicle (EV) sector. The UAW announced on Friday that it would not expand its strikes against Detroit’s automakers, which include GM, Ford, and Stellantis, following a breakthrough concession made by GM regarding the unionization of EV battery plants.

This development marks a significant turning point in the negotiations, as GM has agreed to incorporate workers at battery factories under the UAW’s national contract. This agreement effectively ensures that these workers will be represented by the union in their employment terms and conditions.

Union President Shawn Fain expressed enthusiasm for this breakthrough, emphasizing its potential impact on the future of both the UAW and the automotive industry as a whole. Fain asserted that the UAW’s efforts were gaining traction at GM and expressed optimism about similar outcomes at Ford and Stellantis.

While GM has explicitly acknowledged this unionization of battery factories, neither Ford nor Stellantis has made direct comments on the matter. Ford reiterated its stance that workers would have the choice to unionize once they were hired at yet-to-be-constructed plants. Ford emphasized the importance of maintaining competitive operations in the context of multibillion-dollar investments.

Fain hinted that additional plants might be included in the strikes at a later stage. He credited GM’s decision to the union’s threat of a strike at the Arlington, Texas plant, which produces highly profitable large SUVs. This move, Fain stated, demonstrated GM’s commitment to transitioning from combustion engines to electric vehicles, particularly in the face of a potential financial setback.

Negotiations with all three automakers have seen progress, with Ford’s general wage offer increasing to 23% over four years, GM and Stellantis standing at 20%. While these wage increases are deemed insufficient by the union, they represent forward momentum in the discussions.

Additionally, Ford and Stellantis have agreed to return to a cost-of-living pay raise formula that the union had relinquished in 2007 during the automakers’ financial difficulties. However, substantial disparities persist regarding pension increases for pre-2007 hires and the shift from defined-contribution to defined-benefit pensions for later hires.

The union’s broader concerns include ensuring representation for workers at ten proposed U.S. battery factories by automakers, many of which are joint ventures with South Korean battery manufacturers. GM’s decision to include its four U.S. battery plants under the union’s master agreement signifies a monumental development.

Industry experts believe that GM’s willingness to make this concession may reflect an expectation of reciprocity from the UAW on economic matters. The stock prices of all three automakers rose following the announcement, indicating optimism in the market regarding potential labor agreements.

The automakers have been resistant to including battery plants in the national UAW contracts, citing the challenge of representing workers who are not yet hired and the need for joint venture partners to be involved in negotiations. Furthermore, they are concerned that extensive union contracts could raise the prices of their electric vehicles, making them less competitive against nonunion competitors like Tesla.

Over the past two weeks, the UAW has expanded its strikes, initially targeting one assembly plant from each automaker. The strikes then extended to 38 parts-distribution centers operated by GM and Stellantis. Ford was exempt from these expansions due to positive progress in their negotiations. The union’s position is that labor costs account for only 4% to 5% of vehicle expenses, and with automakers reporting significant profits, they should be able to provide substantial raises to their workers.

In a departure from past practices, this year’s negotiations have taken a unique approach, with the UAW targeting a limited number of facilities at all three automakers simultaneously. Currently, approximately 25,000, or about 17%, of the union’s 146,000 workers at the three automakers are on strike, reflecting the magnitude of these negotiations and their potential impact on the automotive industry.


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