In ‘major’ development, GM to put battery plants under master contract with union, UAW says

UAW President Shawn Fain on Friday declared a “transformative win” with General Motors after the automaker agreed earlier in the day to include its battery plant workers in the union’s national labor agreement, thereby avoiding an expansion of the union’s strike to one of GM’s crucial assembly plants.

In fact, Fain, who wore an “EAT THE RICH” T-shirt during his now weekly Facebook Live updates on labor negotiations, held off on further strikes at the other two Detroit automakers, Ford Motor Co. and Stellantis. Fain did not strike Stellantis and Ford because they were ahead of GM on other issues, a person familiar with negotiations said. Some areas include gains for skilled trades, jobs security and cost-of-living adjustments. The person asked to not be named because they are not authorized to speak publicly on the issues.

The person said GM’s offer came about 30 minutes before Fain was set to go live on social media with a strike update. GM currently has one battery plant running, Ultium Cells LLC in northeast Ohio, which is a joint venture with LG Energy Solution. The details of how those battery plant workers will be paid and other benefits they will get under a new master contract are still being worked out, this person said.

The GM development, which Fain called a “major breakthrough,” is a win for the automaker and for the union, labor experts said. Fain told some 52,000 viewers tuned into his live update that he had planned to call for strike action Friday at GM’s Arlington Assembly plant in Texas, where GM makes its full-size SUVs. Those are some of GM’s most profitable vehicles and to lose that production would have been costly.

For the union, it ratchets up the pressure on Ford to have workers at its future battery plants be included in the UAW’s master contract, labor experts said.

“We were about to shut down GM’s largest moneymaker in Arlington, Texas,” Fain said. “The company knew those members were ready to walk immediately. Just that threat provided a transformative win. GM has now agreed, in writing, to place their electric battery manufacturing under our national master agreement.”

‘We’ve called their bluff’

When asked whether GM would confirm that it agreed to include battery plant employees in the master agreement, GM spokesman David Barnas declined to comment beyond a statement from GM that read: “Negotiations remain ongoing, and we will continue to work towards finding solutions to address outstanding issues. Our goal remains to reach an agreement that rewards our employees and allows GM to be successful into the future.”

Fain said the union had been told for “months” that putting the battery plants in the master agreement was “impossible” and “now we’ve called their bluff.”

The win for union members cannot be “understated,” Fain said, because the automakers’ plan was to eventually close engine and transmission plants and permanently replace them with “low wage battery jobs.” Fain said he now expects to win the same agreement at Ford and Stellantis, the parent company of Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep and Ram.

Labor experts said this win from GM positions the union to make the same gain with the other two.

“GM surely dodged a bullet and the other two will have little choice but to follow,” Harley Shaiken, professor emeritus at the University of California-Berkeley, told the Detroit Free Press. “This victory for the UAW could prove pivotal to new organizing, particularly of battery plants. It will still be tough but battery workers will be looking at the possibility of UAW wages rather than fast food wages as the model.”

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