UAW Steps Up Organizing Efforts at Ultium Plant

LORDSTOWN, Ohio – The United Auto Workers says Ultium Cells LLC has rejected the union’s proposal for a card-check agreement that could lead to organizing workers at the $2.3 billion plant under construction here.

Still, the union has vowed to step up its efforts to organize electric-vehicle battery cell manufacturers and other suppliers such as Ultium, UAW Vice President Terry Dittes said in a statement this morning.

“Our union remains committed to organizing Ultium along with every electric vehicle-component supplier and electric vehicle- joint venture,” Dittes said Wednesday.  “We continue to encourage all employers to recognize the majority will of their workers rather than to follow the counsel of anti-union consultants who want to put workers through the gauntlet of an anti-union campaign.”

In a letter dated May 31 to local UAW leaders obtained by The Business Journal, Dittes says that the International has received “many calls from the workers at Ultium in Lordstown” expressing a desire to join the union. According to the letter, which was first reported by the Detroit News and CNBC, the UAW presented a card-check proposal that would give the union access to the plant in an early effort to organize the factory.

“If the majority is established by an independent third party, the union would be recognized and negotiations would commence,” Dittes wrote. “This process has been agreed to by many employers for a smooth and peaceful recognition of the UAW. Ultium has flat out rejected those simple, basic features of a card-check recognition that we proposed.”

Under the card-check process, organizers are allowed access to a facility and ask workers there to sign cards as to whether they are interested in union representation. The cards are then submitted to the National Labor Relations Board. If at least 30% of workers sign up in support of a union, then the NLRB would hold a secret-ballot election.

Should more than 50% of employees sign cards authorizing union representation, the union would be recognized.

Absent a card-checking agreement with the company, employees could simply vote on whether they want union representation.  The election would be conducted under NLRB supervision.

Ultium Cells is a joint venture between General Motors and LG Energy Solution. Workers there are not covered under the national collective bargaining agreement between the UAW and GM.

Ultium Cells manufactures electric-vehicle battery cells for GM’s new line of EVs. The plant is scheduled to begin production in August.  Once operating at full capacity, the plant would employ more than 1,100 people.

“We have just kicked off our organizing drive at Ultium in Lordstown, Ohio,” Dittes’ letter says. “We will represent the employees there and all future Ultium sites currently under construction.” 

Dittes could not offer additional details at this time on the UAW’s organizing strategy.

Thus far, Ultium has announced it would construct four plants. A second plant is under construction in Spring Hill, Tenn., and a third is slated for Delta Township in Michigan.  A fourth plant is in the planning stages and a site has not been announced.

Ultium spokeswoman Brooke Waid confirmed to The Business Journal that the company and the UAW have discussed the matter.

“The UAW has expressed interest in representing a portion of the Ultium Cells workforce and we have had initial discussions around a Neutrality Agreement that could enable a card check process at our facility in Warren, Ohio,” she said in a statement.  “We are, and always have been, supportive of the process that allows our people to determine their own representation status, which is a matter of personal choice.”

In 2019, GM announced it would build a 2.8 million square-foot battery cell manufacturing plant in Lordstown near its former GM Lordstown Assembly complex, which it closed earlier that year.

The plant was sold in November 2019 to Lordstown Motors Corp., which last month sold it to Taiwan-based Foxconn.

Last year, GM expressed support for the UAW’s efforts to organize the new Ultium plant. 

“As we deliver on our plans to create an all-electric future, GM will build on a long history of supporting unions to promote safety, quality, training, and well-paying jobs for American workers,” the company said in a statement in May 2021.  “Both GM and Ultium Cells LLC respect workers’ right to unionize and the efforts of the UAW to organize battery cell manufacturing workers in Ohio and Tennessee at our joint venture sites.”

“We believe that the UAW, given their historic and constructive relationship in the automotive industry, would be well-positioned to represent the workforce,” the statement continued.

At the time, Dittes said the UAW looked forward to starting discussions with Ultium “so workers will have a voice at the table in order to create good-paying jobs and benefits.”

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.