Voting opens in key UAW test to organize U.S. battery plants

WASHINGTON, Dec 7 (Reuters) – Workers begin two days of voting on Wednesday to decide whether to unionize at a General Motors (GM.N)-LG Energy (373220.KS) battery cell manufacturing joint venture in Ohio.

Workers at an Ultium Cells plant near Cleveland are voting on Wednesday and Thursday after the United Auto Workers (UAW) union petitioned to represent about 900 workers. Results of the election overseen by the National Labor Relations Board are expected on Friday.

The vote is a crucial test of the UAW’s ability to organize workers in the growing electric vehicle supply chain.

The UAW petition sought the election after a majority of employees signed cards authorizing the union to represent them.

UAW President Ray Curry said in October that “by refusing to recognize their majority will” Ultium “has decided to ignore democracy and delay the recognition process.”

An Ultium spokesperson said the venture “respects workers’ right to choose union representation and the efforts of the UAW to organize battery cell manufacturing workers at our Ohio manufacturing site.”

Last week, GM CEO Mary Barra told Bloomberg TV the company is “very supportive of the plant being unionized … The employees are going to be voting, but we’re very supportive.”

In a trip to South Korea in May, President Joe Biden expressed support for workers seeking to unionize JV battery plants. The Detroit Three automakers all have battery plants in the works with South Korean partners.

In August, the Ohio plant began production, the first of at least four planned Ultium U.S. battery factories.

GM and LG Energy are considering an Indiana site for a fourth U.S. battery plant. They are building a $2.6 billion plant in Michigan, set to open in 2024. Last week, Ultium said it would boost its planned investment in a $2.3 billion Tennessee plant by another $275 million.

In July, the U.S. Energy Department said it intends to loan Ultium $2.5 billion to help finance new manufacturing facilities including the Ohio plant. Sources told Reuters the loan could be finalized as soon as next week.

Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Robert Birsel