UAW President Shawn Fain has called on President Joe Biden and Democrats to give more support to the United Auto Workers (UAW) fight for higher wages at battery plants. Fain warns that without this support, the claim that electric vehicles will destroy high-paying auto industry jobs will gain traction. Former President Donald Trump has previously criticized Biden’s electric vehicle agenda, arguing that it will lead to job losses in the auto industry.
The UAW is currently in contract negotiations with General Motors, Ford and Stellantis, the maker of Jeep and Chrysler models. A key question in these negotiations is whether workers in battery factories receive wages comparable to those in traditional vehicle assembly plants. Employees at Ultium Cells LLC, the GM and LG Energy Solution joint venture, currently make just $15.50 an hour, half the top wage in assembly plants.
Fain, who this year became the UAW’s first directly elected president, is determined to restore benefits lost during the financial crisis to save the auto companies. He has even hinted at the possibility of a strike at all three automakers if no agreement is reached by September 14, the date the current contract expires.
These negotiations and the broader transition to electric vehicles pose a political challenge for Biden.
Despite proclaiming himself the most pro-union president in history, his commitment to a clean energy economy is sometimes at odds with his support for organized labor. Biden has urged Detroit’s “Big Three” to prevent plant closures, but his efforts to promote union-built electric vehicles and set worker-friendly standards have met with obstacles.
Also, much of the investment in electric vehicles and batteries is in the southern states, where labor laws favor non-union employment. Biden’s Department of Energy caused controversy within the UAW when it gave Ford and its South Korean partner SK On a $9.2 billion loan for three battery plants in Tennessee and Kentucky.
The UAW has not yet endorsed a candidate for the 2024 election, although it did endorse Biden in 2020. Fain emphasizes that support for the UAW will be based on the candidate’s actions, not party affiliation.
In short, UAW President Shawn Fain is asking President Biden and the Democrats for more support for the UAW fight for higher battery factory wages. Negotiations with automakers, as well as the wider transition to electric vehicles, present Biden with political challenges as he tries to balance his support for a clean energy economy with his pro-union stance.