Workers at an electric vehicle battery plant in northeastern Ohio have voted to unionize, creating the first formal union at a major American electric vehicle or component factory not wholly owned by a Detroit automaker. The vote’s result has been seen as both symbolic of the United Auto Workers’ (UAW) historical strength in the Midwest and how it might endure the transition to electric vehicle production.
Workers at an Ultium Cells battery manufacturing plant in Warren, Ohio, voted 710 to 16 in favor of joining the UAW after a two-day vote that began on Wednesday and ended on Thursday night. Ultium Cells is a joint venture between General Motors and South Korea’s LG Energy Solution. The Ultium facility is located adjacent to GM’s former Lordstown plant, now owned by start-up electric pickup maker Lordstown Motors.
The ultimate result in favor of unionization was largely expected. Erik Gordon, a University of Michigan business professor, told the Detroit Free Press:
“Lordstown is die-hard UAW country, so the surprise is that 16 voted ‘no.’ If the UAW had lost there, it would have signaled the end of the union. Lansing also is UAW territory. UAW wins in traditionally union territory shows that the UAW remains important to workers who were born pro-union.”
This victory is still significant for the United Auto Workers. While the union’s standing at existing plants has stayed intact during the transition to EV production, the UAW has had to effectively start from scratch with start-up EV manufacturers and at new facilities built by the Big Three outside of the Midwest. According to the UAW, hourly wages at non-union plants are nearly half of what’s offered at union facilities. Next fall, the UAW will be renegotiating its 2019 contract with Detroit’s Big Three automakers.