UAW Chief Alleges Ultium Workers Paid ‘Poverty Wages’
YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – United Auto Workers International President Shawn Fain alleged Friday that workers at Ultium Cells LLC’s electric-vehicle battery plant in Lordstown are paid “poverty wages” while being subjected to dangerous working conditions.
“U.S. taxpayers have, and will continue to, funnel over a billion dollars a year to Ultium despite their paying poverty wages and having horrifying health and safety conditions,” Fain said during a Facebook Live address from Detroit to UAW members.
Fain said union bargainers negotiating to represent workers at Ultium’s Lordstown plant recently visited legislators in Washington, D.C., where they relayed concerns about low pay and a hazardous work environment.
“They talked about issues such as exposure to chemicals that aren’t yet regulated by OSHA [Occupational Safety and Health Administration] and how employees were getting sick and passing out,” Fain said in his address.
Ultium spokesperson Dallis Tripoulas said in a statement Friday that the company is in compliance with all safety regulations.
“In our state-of-the-art plant operations, safety is a priority. Plant processes comply with all safety regulations, including the safe use of chemicals in our plant,” she said.
Ultium is also “committed to the active collective bargaining process and will work in good faith with the UAW to reach a competitive agreement that positions our employees and our Ohio battery cell manufacturing facility for success.”
Ultium is a joint venture between General Motors Co. and Korea-based LG Energy Solution. Ultium began production of EV battery cells at 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.
The company is building two other plants, one in Spring Hill, Tennessee, and the other in Lansing, Michigan.
Since Ultium is a separate venture from GM, workers there do not fall under an existing UAW contract.
In December, employees at the Lordstown complex voted overwhelmingly to join the UAW during an election administered by the National Labor Relations Board.
Representatives from the union and Ultium have been negotiating toward a collective bargaining agreement since January.
Fain met with Ultium’s Lordstown workers over two days in early May and broadcast a live Facebook address from the UAW 1112’s union hall in North Jackson.
“These workers start out at $16.50 an hour with a seven-year progression to $20 per hour,” Fain said in May.
During his address Friday, Fain struck a combative tone toward the Big Three domestic automakers – GM, Ford Motor Co. and Stellantis (formerly Chrysler) – saying these corporations have raked in enormous profits while ignoring the welfare of the hourly workforce.
“Ford, GM and Stellantis have made a quarter-trillion dollars in the past decade,” he said. “Those profits are made off the work and sacrifice that our members deliver every day.”
Fain, who was elected UAW president in March, emphasized that its members have taken pay cuts and made sacrifices during difficult economic times that led to plant closures and the loss of jobs.
He referenced the closure of GM’s Lordstown Assembly complex in 2019, which created hardships on those workers who had to secure employment in GM plants in other cities.
“Now, business is booming, so it’s time we set things right,” he said. “We’re in the process of changing the culture of this union from a reactionary, defensive union to an aggressive, offensive-minded union,” he said.
Pictured at top: A screenshot from Shawn Fain’s address on Facebook Live. (Facebook | UAW International Union)
Copyright 2023 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.