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UAW hopes to set new precedent for EV battery sector with new Ultium Cells agreement

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The United Auto Workers reached a tentative agreement on a contract for workers at an Ohio battery plant—a milestone the union hopes will help establish a precedent for the EV battery sector.

Earlier this week, the union announced a deal with Ultium Cells, the GM and LG Energy Solution joint venture that makes batteries for GM’s EVs.

In a statement, UAW Local 1112 Shop Chairman Josh Ayers said that workers at the Lordstown, Ohio, plant “want this agreement to become a cornerstone for current and future battery plants across the nation.”

The agreement, which must be ratified by members, covers about 1,600 workers. It would give many a 30% raise over three years, a $3,000 ratification bonus, time and a half pay after 10 hours, and additional staff focused on health and safety, per the union. In a letter to workers, UAW President Shawn Fain said most would see an immediate raise of $3.59 per hour.

“This agreement is a gamechanger for the electric vehicle battery industry,” he wrote, “and for the future of Lordstown and towns like it all across this country.”

In a statement, GM said it’s “pleased” about the tentative agreement.

The Lordstown workers now are the first in the US EV battery industry with a local contract. During a six-week strike by Detroit automakers last fall, GM agreed to include Ultium Cells workers in its national agreement with the UAW.

The UAW has made unionizing EV battery plants, as well as nonunion car plants, a priority as it attempts to expand membership and shore up jobs amid the electric transition. Results so far have been mixed: It won an election at a Tennessee Volkswagen plant, but lost at an Alabama Mercedes-Benz plant.

Art Wheaton, director of labor studies at the Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations, told Tech Brew that securing a contract would likely have had a greater impact on the rest of the sector had it come earlier, before cooling demand prompted automakers to pull back on their electrification plans.

Still, he said it’s impressive that the union secured a first contract, especially one with “significant gains”—and that if other battery plant workers unionize, they’ll almost certainly try to use this agreement as a template.

“It may not have the snowball effect that we were hoping for,” he said, “but it certainly is a good step in the right direction.”

Keep up with the innovative tech transforming business

Tech Brew keeps business leaders up-to-date on the latest innovations, automation advances, policy shifts, and more, so they can make informed decisions about tech.