U.A.W. Reaches Accord on Pay and Safety at E.V. Battery Plant

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U.A.W. Reaches Accord on Pay and Safety at E.V. Battery Plant

The United Automobile Workers union on Monday announced a tentative collective bargaining agreement at an Ohio factory that makes batteries for electric vehicles, calling the move a milestone in improving wages and safety in the electric vehicle supply chain.

The agreement applies to 1,600 workers at a plant in Lordstown operated by Ultium Cells, a joint venture between General Motors and South Korean partner LG Energy Solution. The plant produces batteries for GM's electric vehicles.

When the plant opened in 2022, workers were not yet unionized, but were admitted to the UAW under the national collective bargaining agreement the union negotiated with GM last fall. This new contract, which must be ratified by the plant's workers, defines site-specific wages and working conditions.

In a letter to union members, UAW President Shawn Fain said the agreement represents “a turning point for the electric vehicle battery industry.”

GM and Ultium expressed their satisfaction with the agreement in statements.

The union said it plans to use the Ultium Cells contract as a template when negotiating local agreements at other battery factories that GM and its competitors are building in Detroit. GM started production at a battery factory in Spring Hill, Tennessee, this year and another is under construction in Lansing, Michigan.

Ford Motor plans two battery factories in Kentucky, one in Tennessee and one in Michigan. Stellantis, the maker of Chrysler, Jeep, Dodge and Ram vehicles, plans two battery factories in Indiana. Except for one Ford site, those factories are joint ventures brought under the auspices of the UAW as part of the national contracts the union signed with Ford and Stellantis last fall.

Ultium Cells' contract calls for a new hourly wage of $30.50. Within three years, the wage will rise to $35. The national contract signed last fall had raised Ultium Cells' starting wage to $26.91, up from $16.50 when the plant opened.

This pay scale is slightly lower than that at GM's auto plants, where most workers will reach a top wage of more than $40 an hour over the next few years.

The contract with Ultium Cells also requires the plant to employ four UAW members as full-time safety officers and one full-time industrial hygienist. The union and Ultium workers have raised concerns about working with high voltage and potentially harmful compounds used in the manufacture of EV battery packs.

The Ohio plant is particularly significant because it is located next to the closed GM car plant in Lordstown, which once employed several thousand workers.

After GM permanently closed the Lordstown plant in 2019, the company came under criticism from President Donald J. Trump, and the plight of the laid-off workers became an issue in the 2020 election campaign.

Separately, the UAW said about 200 workers who formerly worked at the Lordstown plant and now work at other GM sites will soon transfer to the Ultium Cells plant so they can return to the region. About 40 workers will start work there next week, followed by additional groups of about 40 workers in the next few weeks, a union spokesman said.