labor Protect Workers in Electric Vehicle Transition
"The government should invest in U.S. manufacturing but money can't go to companies with no strings attached," said United Auto Workers President Shawn Fain. "There should be labor standards built in, this is the future of the car industry at stake."
The president of the United Auto Workers on Tuesday called on U.S. President Joe Biden to use his position of power to help ensure a just transition to electric vehicles—pushing for a major investment in green technology that would also guarantee that workers in the U.S. can earn a decent living in the evolving auto industry.
Biden's actions on the electric vehicle (EV) front, Shawn Fain toldThe Guardian, have been "disappointing."
It has been a year since the president signed his signature climate and jobs law, the Inflation Reduction Act, which includes incentives for car companies to ramp up manufacturing of EVs and for consumers to purchase them.
The law has paved the way for the "Big Three" automakers—Ford, Stellantis, and General Motors (GM)—to build EV battery plants in joint ventures with companies such as Samsung, SK On, and LG Energy Solution, but the federal incentives and loans have been given to the firms without the guarantee of fair pay and working conditions for the people who will work in the plants.
"We have to make sure endorsements are earned and not freely given. Politicians have to prove they are in the fight with us, which is the only way to win back the working class in the Midwest. We don't have to endorse anyone at all."
A $9.2 billion loan given to Ford and SK On last month for the construction of battery plants in Kentucky and Tennessee, for example, has left the UAW questioning Biden's self-identification as a "union man,"considering the states' union protections are not among the nation's strongest.
If Biden hands out incentives and subsidies to automakers who pay "poverty wages," like Fain has accused one joint venture plant built by GM and LG Energy Solutions of doing, the president will miss "our generation's defining moment with electric vehicles," the UAW president said.
"If the IRA continues to bring sweatshops and a continued race to the bottom it will be a tragedy,” Fain told The Guardian. "The government should invest in U.S. manufacturing but money can't go to companies with no strings attached. Labor needs a seat at the table. There should be labor standards built in, this is the future of the car industry at stake."
"You have workers at Ultium on $16.50 an hour, which is less than what you'd get working for Waffle House," he added, referring to the GM joint venture plant in Lordstown, Ohio. "It's criminal."
On Monday, the workers' rights-focused media organization More Perfect Union released a video detailing the conditions Ultium employees have worked in without the protections the UAW has called on the Biden administration to require at EV battery plants.
"It is not a great place to work if you are on the floor producing the product that they so rave about, that's so great and is the future," one worker named Tony told More Perfect Union. "There's a dirty, dirty behind-the-scenes that's going on here at Ultium to get to that future."
The video detailed worker injuries and illnesses suffered by nearly two dozen workers, air quality problems, and retaliation against employees who raise concerns about safety hazards.
"The electric vehicle revolution promised thousands of good union jobs. So far, that hasn't happened," said the outlet. "But now the UAW is calling on Biden to make this promise a reality."
The UAW is in the midst of contract negotiations with the Big Three manufacturers, and Fain has demanded significant wage increases for union auto workers that would reflect the companies' record profits and match the raises CEOs have gotten in recent years.
On Monday, Biden called on the two parties to reach an agreement that will "enable workers to make good wages and benefits to support their families, while leading us into a future where America is leading the way in reducing vehicle emissions."
"I'm asking all sides to work together to forge a fair agreement," said the president. "I support a fair transition to a clean energy future. That means ensuring that Big Three auto jobs are good jobs that can support a family; that auto companies should honor the right to organize; take every possible step to avoid painful plant closings; and ensure that when transitions are needed, the transitions are fair and look to retool, reboot, and rehire in the same factories and communities at comparable wages."
"The UAW deserves a contract that sustains the middle class," he added.
Fain toldPolitico that the union agrees "with the president that the Big Three's joint venture battery plants should have the same strong pay and safety standards that generations of UAW members have fought for," but the outlet noted that Biden did not speak about labor conditions and pay at the joint venture plants.
The UAW has so far withheld its endorsement of Biden, four months after he officially announced his campaign for reelection, and Fain made clear Tuesday that the union intends to use its strength in numbers to continue pressuring the president to push for fair wages and conditions in the burgeoning EV sector.
"I do believe the president's heart is in the right place but we have to make sure endorsements are earned and not freely given," Fain told The Guardian. "Politicians have to prove they are in the fight with us, which is the only way to win back the working class in the Midwest. We don't have to endorse anyone at all."