YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The targeted strike by the United Auto Workers against the Detroit 3 puts the Mahoning Valley (or, as recently rebranded, Voltage Valley) in a familiar space – if not quite at the center of a labor confrontation drawing national attention, certainly close to it.
The strike is symptomatic of broader tangential issues, not the least of which is how automakers will compensate workers in their new battery plants.
Economic concerns are at the forefront of the dispute. At a time when labor is in high demand and inflation has eroded consumers’ purchasing power, UAW members point to the sacrifices they made when the auto industry nearly collapsed in 2008. The union is seeking a 40% raise over four years, other wage enhancements and reduced work hours.
Amid record profits for car companies and sky high salaries and bonuses for top auto executives, the UAW argues the people who put the cars together deserve a greater share of the profits. Unions representing workers in other industries have secured significant wage increases for their members in recent months.
But this work stoppage also is about fear of the changes that the advancement of electric vehicles will bring. Building such vehicles will require fewer workers and the rapid adoption of EVs by consumers is uncertain. The price point to buy an EV remains out of reach for many Americans. And the EV charging infrastructure is just being built.
The major domestic automakers have committed to a shift to all-EV fleets in the coming years. This advance is inexorable and vital because overseas manufacturers similarly have committed billions of dollars to develop EV technologies. (Ultium Cells, in fact, is a joint venture by General Motors and Seoul-based LG Energy Solution.)
Here, we have seen examples of the EV industry’s successes (Exhibit A: Ultium Cells) and failures (Exhibit B: Lordstown Motors). We have seen up close that EVs are expensive to manufacture and don’t always work as designed and engineered. Recall the instances in which Lordstown Motors prototypes caught fire during test runs.
The auto industry and its UAW workforce face a reckoning that can’t be avoided. And regardless of when and how the strike is resolved, the U.S. auto industry’s challenges will remain.