Sen. Brown Pushes Automakers to Include EV Battery Workers in UAW National Contract

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown said Thursday that he and 27 other Democrats in the senate have asked the Big Three automakers to include electric-vehicle battery facilities in any national United Auto Workers contract.

“Some of them are making only $16 an hour,” Brown said of battery plant workers during a videoconference with local reporters.  “These are highly skilled workers – they’ve put their time in, now they’re making barely minimum wage.”

In December, workers at Ultium Cells LLC’s plant in Lordstown voted overwhelmingly to join the UAW. However, Ultium is a separate joint venture between General Motors and Korea-based LG Energy Solution, and is therefore not part of the national UAW bargaining effort with GM.

Brown said he wants GM to now include those workers in any national contract it secures with the union, ensuring that these employees receive better wages and benefits.

“We know how to make cars in the Mahoning Valley, it’s ingrained in our history,” Brown said, referencing GM’s former assembly plant in Lordstown. GM closed the plant in 2019 and Ultium a $2.3 billion battery cell manufacturing plant nearby. “I want us to lead the country and lead the world in the entire electric-vehicle supply chain, but workers have to share in these benefits.”

This week, GM posted a 52% increase in earnings compared to a year ago. 

Negotiations are under way between the UAW and GM, Ford Motor Co. and Stellantis, formerly Chrysler.  The current national contract expires at 11:59 on Sept. 15.

“There’s no reason these workers should be excluded from the national UAW contract,” Brown told reporters.

He dismissed the notion GM’s argument that Ultium workers in particular are excluded because they are employed by a separate joint venture and not just the automaker.

“That’s the excuse GM uses,” Brown said, noting that the automaker selected LG Energy as a partner in Ultium. “There are no excuses in this one. This is a successful workforce in the Valley.”

The senator called it “insulting” that Ultium workers are paid between $16 and $17 per hour when the automakers are earning huge profits.

Brown and 27 other senate Democrats have signed on to a LETTER directed to the CEOs of the Big Three automakers and their respective EV battery joint ventures to announce that “all electric vehicle workers at these joint ventures will be folded into the national UAW contract” before that pact expires in September.

Brown said he wants at least a third of the senate to put pressure on the Big Three automakers to “do the right thing. They’re always coming to the government for help, they get huge tax breaks.”

Between 2013 and 2022, GM and Ford realized profits of $100 billion and $75 billion respectively.  Stellantis has recorded nearly $18 billion in profits in 2022 alone, the letter says.

“Profits should translate to gains for workers,” the letter says. “It is unacceptable that in the midst of extreme financial gains to the companies, executives and investors, the workers making the electric vehicle batteries that will enable a transition to clean energy vehicles are making poverty-level wages.”

In an op-ed published in The Business Journal June 19, Ultium Cells Vice President of Operations Tom Gallagher emphasized that the career opportunities at Ultium have generated more than 5,000 interested applicants and more than 80% of them have accepted employment offers.

“People enjoy working as a member of the Ultium Cells team,” the op-ed read. “In fact, more than 20 percent of team members have been promoted after six months. Employees are also investing in their future through continued education with the company’s tuition reimbursement program up to $8,000 per year.”  

Ultium began operations in Lordstown in August 2022. It is nearing completion of another plant in Spring Hill, Tenn., and is in the early stages of constructing a third plant in Lansing, Mich.

UAW President Shawn Fain has leveled harsh criticism on Ultium, alleging workers receive low pay but endure hazardous working conditions.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.