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UAW, Ultium to start bargaining later this month on Ohio contract

Flint — The United Auto Workers will start negotiating a contract for its first represented battery cell manufacturing plant later this month, union President Ray Curry said at a General Motors Co. investment announcement Friday at the Flint Engine plant.

More than 700 workers at the GM and LG Energy Solution joint-venture Ultium Cells LLC plant in Warren, Ohio, overwhelmingly voted for UAW representation in late December.

"We actually just selected the bargaining committee at Ultium Cells," Curry said in an interview. "We're going to be meeting with the corporation in the coming week, and then we're going to be starting bargaining in late January."

During negotiations, the UAW will seek to establish health and safety standards for its Ultium members as well as pay increases for the battery cell plant workers who make just over $16.20 an hour, about half of what a GM assembly plant worker makes. These negotiations are crucial for the UAW as GM, Ford Motor Co. and Stellantis NV all add more electric products, leaving union members to fear how their jobs will be affected and the UAW pushing to stay relevant in a new powertrain world.

"Our powertrain members right now make $32-plus, so we'd like to see a powertrain rate," Curry said. "We would like to see your powertrain package of compensation and benefits for our membership."

In a statement, Ultium spokesperson Brooke Waid said the company "looks forward to a positive working relationship with the UAW. Ultium Cells 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."

Experts say the organizing win in northeast Ohio will help the UAW it its fight to represent workers at other coming U.S. Ultium Cells plants. An Ultium Cells plant in Spring Hill, Tennessee, will open later this year and a third plant under construction in Delta Township near Lansing will open in 2024. GM and LG have been considering a site in New Carlisle, Indiana, for the location of another Ultium plant, though the Wall Street Journal reported Friday that the companies have dropped plans to develop a fourth joint battery site.

The union will again try to use a card-check process to organize the other plants even though Ultium pushed back on using that method during the union's organization effort at the Warren plant. Ultium instead sought to have an election certified by the National Labor Relations Board for the union to be recognized.

"We believe that this was a one-off with Lordstown," Curry said. "We didn't have an anti-campaign by the employer take place. And we believe that because we're in a relationship ... we will be successful in achieving card-check at the other locations."

Curry, who's in a runoff election to stay president of the union, is also looking at what needs to be done in the national contract negotiations with the Detroit Three automakers taking place later this year. The current agreement established in 2019 expires in September.

"Two key components that are not part of the current '19 to' 23 agreement are one: we don't have any coverage with regard to a global pandemic ... and also while we have language in national agreements regarding new technology, we specifically do not spell out electric vehicles," he said. "So that will be a key piece for bargaining for this fall."

Twitter: @bykaleahall

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