Auto workers union, Sanders blast GM for wages at US battery plant

Auto workers union, Sanders blast GM for wages at US battery plant
© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) holds a press conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., March 7, 2023. REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – United Auto Workers (UAW) union President Shawn Fain and U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders on Thursday criticized a General Motors (NYSE:GM) joint venture battery plant for paying workers much less than assembly plant employees even though it benefits from hefty U.S. government tax credits.

Workers at the Warren, Ohio, joint venture Ultium Cells LLC plant start at $16.50 an hour rising to $20 an hour after seven years while union workers at a nearby Ohio GM assembly plant that closed in 2019 made $32 an hour or more.

“That is to say the least going in absolutely the wrong direction,” Sanders said in a video posted Thursday after meeting with Fain in Washington. “The government is putting a lot of money into transitioning our economy to a non-fossil fuel economy… We want to see workers get a fair shake, not just the CEOs of the companies.”

Fain, who won election as UAW president last month, said the Ultium plant at full production will receive more than $1.2 billion a year in U.S. battery production tax credits under the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). GM CEO Mary Barra said on an earnings call Tuesday the plant should be at full capacity at the end of the year.

“It is absolutely not acceptable,” said Sanders, a former Democratic presidential candidate and Vermont independent who chairs the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions committee.

The IRA creates a $45 per kilowatt battery production tax credit.

GM closed its Lordstown Assembly plant in March 2019. It opened with partner LG Energy Solution the Ultium battery manufacturing plant in August 2022 in nearby Warren, Ohio. The pair are building two other JV battery plants in Michigan and Tennessee.

Workers at Warren voted to join the UAW but have not yet reached a first contract agreement.

Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown met with Fain and said on Twitter “as we develop the electric vehicles of the future, those jobs must be Ohio jobs and they must be union jobs.”

GM did not immediately comment on Sanders criticism. Ultium said in a statement last week it “is committed to the collective bargaining process, and will work in good faith with the UAW to reach a competitive agreement that positions our employees and our Ohio battery cell manufacturing facility for success.”

Fain met with more than a dozen lawmakers during his Washington trip as well as White House chief of staff Jeff Zients. He criticized the decision of Chrysler-parent Stellantis to offer voluntary buyouts to 33,500 workers.

Source: Reuters