The shift to electric vehicles poses a threat to the work of US trade unions

In the suburbs of Normal, Illinois, there are factories that illustrate the challenges facing the US labor movement as the automotive industry moves toward electrification.

Next month, at Mitsubishi’s former plant, electric vehicle startup Rivian will begin manufacturing pickup trucks and sport utility vehicles. We plan to hire 1,800 people by next month and increase to 2,500 by the end of the year.

Mitsubishi closed its factory in 2015 and fired 4,000 strong union members at its peak at the turn of the century. Rivian plans to purchase a factory from a liquidator for $ 16 million and launch the first product from there.

But despite hiring several of the same workers, the factory is no longer a union shop, and the normal situation shows the changing dynamics of the US automotive industry.

Electric vehicles are recognized as an undisputed future in the industry. Ford and General Motors are spending billions of dollars on plans to build EVs as they compete with Tesla, the leading US electric car maker.

The US automotive industry is the foundation of US manufacturing, employing approximately 390,000 automakers and an additional 539,000 in the supply chain.

However, electric vehicles increase the likelihood of unemployment for assembly workers and the vehicle supply chain. EVs require fewer components overall, requiring fewer personnel to manufacture parts and assemble vehicles.

In addition, EV jobs are unlikely to be union jobs that tend to provide better wages and benefits to workers. Rivian and Tesla are not integrated, and so are many companies in the EV supply chain.

Rivian Acquired Former Mitsubishi Plant in Normal, Illinois © SipaUS / Alamy

The 2020 report from the Left Institute for Economic Policy is Union workers earned 11.2 percent more Than unionized peers. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of members of the US Confederation of Automobile Workers has declined since hitting a high of 1.5 million in 1979, and real wages for car workers have fallen 17% since 1990. The unions still represent 400,000 workers, but according to a 2018 study by the UAW, 35,000 of these union jobs could go as a result of the transition to EVs.

“Given the fact that we need fewer people … Malik Masters, a business professor at Wayne State University in Detroit, said:

Rivian refused to comment on the unionization at the Illinois plant. “We look forward to these jobs coming back and giving UAW members the opportunity to reorganize,” the UAW said in January 2020, but normal Mayor Chris Coose said of Rivian and the UAW. He said he believed there was no discussion between them.

“Personally, I believe in the union,” Cooth said. “They bring a lot to the table … But in this situation, it’s a decision between Rivian and the workforce.”

Line graphs of inflation-adjusted wages (rate of change) since 1990 show delays in real wages for car workers

UAW President Rory Gamble says the need to organize workers in a new electric car maker is “natural”, but it’s not an easy task.

Workers at the Tesla factory in Fremont, California have long attempted to organize through the UAW. More than three years ago, Elon Musk’s company fired Richard Ortiz, who handed out union-friendly leaflets in the factory parking lot, and the U.S. Labor Relations Board ruled that his dismissal was illegal this year. It was just. The board ordered Tesla to rehire him on backpay.

Tesla also banned employees from talking to reporters, retaliated against other union activists, and broke the law when they “forced cross-examination” of other supporters, the board said.

He also criticized Mask directly, saying a tweet he sent in May 2018 was an illegal threat to the compensation of workers considering unionization. Musk wrote that workers could join the union if they wanted. “But why pay union fees and give up stock options for free?”

He was ordered to delete the tweet. As of May 7, it remained online.

In a conversation with Rivian executives, Mr. Kuth said Tesla seemed to be more open to union members.

The bigger hurdle may be a change in the supply chain. Decades ago, the UAW used its relationships with Ford, GM and Chrysler to consolidate its suppliers. Currently, the largest battery makers Panasonic and LG Chem are in Asia, making it unlikely that US EV suppliers will be integrated.

The GM and LG Chem units have a joint venture to build factories in Ohio and Tennessee. The Ohio factory will not initially be unionized. When GM announced its Tennessee plant last month, the UAW said automakers have a “moral obligation.” .. .. To make sure these are the jobs of high-paying unions like brothers and sisters who manufacture internal combustion engines. “

Tesla factory in Fremont, California. The UAW has been working on organizing workers for many years.

Tesla factory in Fremont, California. The UAW has been working on organizing workers for years © Justin Sullivan / Getty

“The UAW needs to be very active in organizing these facilities,” said the Masters. “Currently, it’s more responsive than aggressive … They have to look at the big picture of auto-produced parts and say,” What are the parts we don’t organize? ” And chase them. “

The UAW said the move to EVs would provide an opportunity to create high-quality manufacturing jobs, but the United States would need “strong and positive industrial policy” to get there.

The union is working on policies such as retraining evacuated workers, creating “quality jobs” in building nationwide EV charging infrastructure, and trade protection for “advanced vehicle technology.”

We also want to change the current law so that consumer subsidies only apply to electric vehicles assembled in the United States. The federal government is subsidizing the purchase of EVs to stimulate demand for products that currently account for 2% of the US automotive market. However, the Joe Biden administration has not commented on this idea so far, and the outlook for Congress is uncertain.

Meanwhile, the UAW praised the decision by US automakers to invest in US factories for EV technology and criticized the decision to move away from the US workforce.

Ford, for example, said last month that it plans a new opening. Battery R & D facility In Michigan, the union said it would “prosper Ford and UAW members and their families over the next few decades.”

Later that week, GM announced a $ 1 billion investment in manufacturing electric vehicles in Mexico. UAW Vice President Terry Dittes called union members and US taxpayers a “slap.”

“We need to tie government funding to labor standards so that work is done in the United States,” UAW legislative director Josh Nasser told the US House of Representatives subcommittee on May 5. Did. “If not … There is no guarantee that future car work will be a good job we are accustomed to.”

The shift to electric vehicles poses a threat to the work of US trade unions

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