GM Opens Door to Organized Labor at Two New EV Battery Plants

General Motors Co. is bending to pressure from its largest union to allow organized labor into new battery factories as it races to build out capacity for a slew of planned electric-powered models.

The company, which plans two new battery plants in Ohio and Tennessee in a joint venture with a unit of LG Chem Ltd., said Tuesday it would be open to discussions with the United Auto Workers over its demand for collective bargaining rights.

“We believe the UAW, given their historic and constructive relationship in the automotive industry, would be well positioned to represent the workforce,” GM said in an emailed statement. LG Chem had no immediate comment.

GM Opens Door to Organized Labor at Two New EV Battery Plants

The two companies said last month that they would invest $2.3 billion in a Tennessee plant that will hire 1,300 workers when it opens in 2023. They are building another battery factory in Lordstown, Ohio, that’s expected to employ more than 1,000 workers once completed next year. The joint venture, known as Ultium Cells LLC, has yet to begin hiring workers at either plant.

The UAW, which had pressured GM and other automakers to allow it to represent workers at these new facilities, welcomed the announcement. “We in the UAW look forward to starting discussions with General Motors regarding their joint venture to produce batteries in Ohio and Tennessee,” Terry Dittes, the union’s vice president in charge of negotiations with GM, said in a statement.

GM has pledged $27 billion to make 30 plug-in models using its Ultium battery pack by 2025 as part of its goal to become an all-electric carmaker by 2035. LG Energy Solution, which currently operates a non-unionized EV battery plant in Holland, Michigan, said in March that it will invest $4.5 billion in the U.S. by 2025 and hire 10,000 workers to expand battery capacity.

President Joe Biden has repeatedly called for new energy employment to be “good-paying union jobs,” as he did during a visit to a Ford Motor Co. factory in Dearborn, Michigan, last week that is building the electric F-150 Lightning pickup.

“I’m a union guy,” Biden said May 18 at Ford’s Rouge electric vehicle factory. “I think jobs when I think climate change — good-paying union jobs. I think about the UAW workers here today.”

GM’s crosstown rival also plans to make batteries with a South Korean partner. Ford has joined forces with SK Innovation Co. to build two electric-vehicle battery plants in the U.S. by mid-decade, the companies announced May 20. At the announcement, Ford’s North American Chief Operating Officer Lisa Drake would not commit to unionizing the plants.

“We don’t have our labor strategy defined yet,” Drake said.

The UAW said Ford had a “moral obligation” to ensure the battery making jobs are “good-paying union jobs.”

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