New UAW Chief Stops in Lordstown, Slams Ultium Workers’ Wages

LORDSTOWN, Ohio – United Auto Workers President Shawn Fain spent Wednesday and Thursday listening to concerns from workers at Ultium Cells LLC’s plant, emphasizing starting wages at the factory are inadequate.

“These workers start out at $16.50 an hour with a seven-year progression to $20 per hour,” Fain said during a live broadcast posted on the UAW’s Facebook page Thursday. 

He described it as “shameful” that workers at the new electric-vehicle battery plant earn such wages, when workers at a nearby Waffle House earn $18 per hour.

Ultium, a joint venture between General Motors Co. and Korea-based LG Energy Solution, began production of EV battery cells out of the Lordstown plant last August. The company invested $2.3 billion to build the new factory on land GM once owned near its former Lordstown Assembly plant.

Ultium has consistently said that workers at the plant earn between $16 and $22 per hour.

An email seeking comment from Ultium Cells was not returned as of this posting.

Fain’s live comments were broadcast from UAW Local 1112’s union hall in North Jackson.

The UAW and Ultium are in the midst of negotiations to reach a collective bargaining agreement to represent nearly 1,000 workers at the plant. Fain said he had six meetings with Ultium workers over the two-day period.

“The biggest thing we have to do with the union is we’ve got to get back to setting the standard again,” he said.

Fain said the automotive industry’s transition to EVs should be a “just” transition that contains protections and benefits for workers. In his opinion, major automakers created joint ventures with other entities to circumvent obligations to union members, plant workers and collective bargaining agreements.

Late last year, workers at Ultium overwhelmingly voted to join the UAW during an election administered by the National Labor Relations Board.

Negotiations between the company and UAW have been ongoing since January.

Fain also said workers at the former GM Lordstown Assembly plant – now owned by Foxconn – were uprooted and displaced as a result of that factory shutting down in March 2019. “It’s a shame that our members’ lives are uprooted and then the company turns around and forms a joint venture, puts a new plant up on the same property.”

These joint ventures, he added, hold no obligation to the UAW membership or an obligation to “pay a decent standard of living,” he said. “These have to be good-paying union jobs,” he reiterated.

He added that UAW workers need support from Washington, D.C., as well, and that it’s unfair that the government is spending billions of dollars in incentives for corporations that pay out “poverty wages.”

Workers, for example, at Ultium stand to receive raises of just 23 cents per hour annually over the next seven years under the current wage structure, he said.

“It’s criminal, some of the things going on,” Fain said.

The government, he emphasized, must include labor standards to these incentives packages. “These are our tax dollars, and we gotta fight for it, and we’re gonna fight for it.”

The UAW has held off endorsing President Joe Biden for another term, citing the administration’s EV policy.

Fain was elected UAW president in March and has taken an aggressive stance toward corporations – especially automakers – to win higher wages, reformed work rules and benefits for the union’s membership.

Fain said the union has launched its biggest contract drive in its history that stands to reverberate not just through the auto industry, but other disciplines the union represents.

“This is our generation’s defining moment,” Fain said.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.