UAW President: ‘No excuse’ for Detroit’s non-union EV operations

DETROIT, April 21 (Reuters) – United Auto Workers union President Shawn Fain said on Friday there is “no excuse” for Detroit’s automakers to set up electric vehicle operations and ventures that are not unionized.

Fain also told the Detroit Automotive Press Association that Stellantis NV’s decision to idle an assembly plant in Belvidere, Illinois, is “a flat-out violation” of the union’s contract with the UAW and is unacceptable.

He said the UAW “will do what we have to do” to achieve bargaining goals in contract talks late this year with Stellantis, Ford Motor Co (F.N) and General Motors Co (GM.N).

As he has before, Fain said the UAW wants to eliminate the two-tier wage system under which new hires earn as much as 25% less than veterans. The UAW will push to restore pay improvements tied to the cost of living and retiree benefits cut during the 2008-2009 Great Recession, he said.

Stellantis (STLAM.MI) had no comment in reply to Fain’s comments about Belvidere. The company has said the plant has been idled but not permanently shut. The current UAW-Stellantis contract prohibits permanent plant closures.

Detroit automakers have set up several U.S. joint venture battery factories that are not covered by their current agreements with the UAW.

Fain said workers at joint venture battery plants should earn higher wages than production workers at older Detroit Three factories. Proposals by Ultium, the GM and LG Energy Solutions joint venture, to pay starting wages of $16.50 an hour to workers at an Ohio plant are unacceptable, he said.

Ultium said in a statement 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.”

The 11,000 workers that will be hired by Ford for its Blue Oval City electric vehicle manufacturing complex in Tennessee should belong to the UAW, Fain said.

“I look forward to bring that work under the UAW,” Fain said. “With 11,000 jobs going in down there, I want a commitment to our workers.”

The UAW president said workers displaced as factories dedicated to combustion vehicle technology lose work should have a right to get jobs at joint venture factories. The Detroit automakers have said those ventures are legally separate employers and will have separate labor agreements if workers decide to join a union.

Reporting By Joe White