UAW Notches Win for EV Battery Workers with GM

The United Auto Workers announced on Friday that it had called off a planned walkout at a General Motors plant in Arlington, Texas.

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First, the Hollywood writers made peace, now it’s the auto workers’ turn.

The United Auto Workers announced on Friday that it had called off a planned walkout at a General Motors plant in Arlington, Texas, after GM ceded at the 11th hour to one of the union’s more far-sighted demands: that battery workers at still-to-be-built EV plants be included in the union’s national agreement. It’s a solid precedent the union can wield against Stellantis and Ford, but it does come with a slight wrinkle, as many planned EV plants are not solely owned by the Big Three.

I Took One Plant at a Time

The UAW went on strike on September 15, and steadily turned up the heat by gradually expanding the number of workers included in the strike action as the weeks wore on. GM’s concession means that the swelling number of striking workers has stopped for the first time. While the union is also focused on benefits like pay and pension raises, its demands that future EV plants employ union workers alters the industrial landscape as EVs eventually supplant gas-guzzlers.

Not that unions are absent in the EV industry. An Ohio factory that is jointly owned by GM and LG unionized last year, but without an agreement to include EV workers at a national level each individual new plant would have to organize its own union drive. On the other hand, while legacy automakers have long been acclimated to a unionized workforce, Tesla, the world’s most valuable EV-maker, is staunchly anti-union:

  • Tesla has historically resisted unionization, with CEO Elon Musk once being ordered to delete a 2021 tweet that was deemed to be threatening labor organizers.
  • The Big Three had until Friday resisted the UAW’s call to include battery-makers, arguing that it would hand Tesla a competitive advantage. “We have been told the EV future must be a race to the bottom. We called their bluff,” UAW President Shawn Fain said in a livestream.

While it’s true that Tesla can operate unimpeded by the strike, it’s possible a union deal that brings EV workers under the UAW umbrella could galvanize renewed union drives at the company.

Lucid Thinking: While UAW members strike to secure a financial future for themselves in the world of EVs, some EV companies might need to start thinking the same way. While Rivian is reportedly losing around $33,000 for each truck it makes, Bloomberg reports that EV-maker Lucid is on track to lose a whopping $338,000 per car it produces this year – more than twice as much as the most expensive car it ever sold.

– Isobel Asher Hamilton