Like GM, Ford and Stellantis have launched their own joint EV battery ventures with South Korean electronics companies. The UAW says the new companies will offer jobs with lower wages and lower safety benefits than at established, unionized auto plants. Last month, Ultium’s newly unionized workers signed an interim deal to raise wages by an average of 25 percent, but the union wants to bring battery factories up to par with the Big Three. Experts say this may be a tall order, but a strong contract could help retain new workers and reverse a decades-long decline in union membership. The future of U.S. auto jobs may depend on it.
“In the past, internal combustion engines were built within the Big Three,” says Harry Katz, a professor at Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations. “Now you have batteries that don’t come from the Big Three and are assembled and developed by workers who earn lower wages and benefits. That’s a real problem. The UAW needs to find a way to organize those domestic battery plants.”
Marick Masters, a professor at Wayne State University’s Mike Ilitch School of Business, calls the UAW’s fight to organize electric vehicle makers and their parts “existential” for the union, noting that about 60 percent of American automakers and parts suppliers were unionized. early eighties. Now that number hovers around 16 percent.
According to some reviews, the production of electric vehicles, which have fewer moving parts than gas-powered vehicles, requires fewer workers. Ford’s CEO said last year that electric vehicles require 40 percent less labor, while a recent study from Carnegie Mellon University found that battery-electric vehicles actually more labor due to the requirements of battery production.
Regardless, without significant growth in domestic EV production, U.S. auto jobs are likely to decline, especially if the White House achieves its goal of EVs accounting for 50 percent of new car sales by 2030. A 2021 analysis from the Economic Policy Institute, a pro-labor think tank, estimated that without policy intervention, achieving that goal would cost the U.S. auto industry 75,000 jobs, as the majority of EV powertrain components are produced and assembled elsewhere .
If policy measures led to a significant increase in U.S. market share in electric vehicle assembly and production, the industry could create 150,000 jobs, the researchers estimate. But many of those jobs won’t be in traditional UAW factories. Foreign transplants like Honda and Toyota and EV companies like Tesla have long resisted unionization. “I think this has provided a model for other EV manufacturers in this country who, even if they wanted to, couldn’t avoid looking to Elon Musk’s example,” said Jason Walsh, executive director of BlueGreen Alliance, a partnership between trade unions. and environmental groups.
The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) passed in the US last year offered billions of dollars in loans and tax breaks for ‘onshore’ and ‘reshore’ EV manufacturing jobs. But it did not include labor standards or wage requirements for recipients of those funds. “There has honestly never been more federal resources available to help automakers build the vehicles of the future,” Walsh said. “Automakers should not use this historic shift as a smokescreen to lower the quality of jobs.”