Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden speaks in the parking lot outside the United Auto Workers Region 1 office on September 9, 2020 in Warren, Michigan.
Chip Somodevilla | Getty Images
DETROIT – With President Joe Biden as an ally, the United Auto Workers union is preparing to organize electric vehicle start-ups to maintain, if not expand, its current membership during the industry’s anticipated transition to electric vehicles.
Electric vehicles that Biden strongly supportscould usher in a new era of American manufacturing contracts for the UAW. But they are also damaging the labor movement and undermining Biden’s goal of creating 1 million new jobs in the US auto industry.
The vehicles require far fewer parts than internal combustion engine vehicles, which may mean fewer Factory assembly jobs. Many electric vehicle parts are manufactured outside of the US and for vehicle assembly – where workers get far lower wages. Lots of emerging EV startups including the industry leader Tesla, also did not openly support the organization of their employees.
This has led the UAW to push for a “more cautious approach” to EVs while planning to use their “seat at the table” Biden in other ways such as organizing, said UAW President Rory Gamble.
“I advocate everyone that we must use these times to fight for our members and for the American worker,” Gamble said in an interview with CNBC. “American workers earn more.”
Gamble said the union is not trying to prevent the introduction of electric vehicles but rather to ensure that the transition is fair for American workers, including their 250,000 auto workers. A 2018 study by the union found that the mass adoption of electric vehicles could cost the UAW 35,000 jobs. However, Gamble said the union believes the number could be lower now.
The UAW’s total membership of 397,000 has grown over the past decade as it diversified its membership outside of the automotive industry into areas such as higher education and gambling. But it remains well below its high of 1.5 million in the late 1970s.
The UAW laid the groundwork for organizing workers in companies with new plants in the US, including Rivian, Lucid, and even Tesla – an extremely difficult task. This is one of the ways to potentially offset the need for fewer workers.
“It goes without saying. We are making plans to go to all of these startups to give these workers a voice,” Gamble said, declining to discuss the union’s specific plans. “In today’s world, you have to think outside the box about how to reach people. We really need to bring home the benefits of union membership.”
In recent years, the UAW has largely failed to organize the efforts of foreign automakers into US auto plants Volkswagen.
Outside the auto industry, the union organization experienced a major setback earlier this month when Amazon Workers in an Alabama warehouse overwhelmingly opposed to union formation. The union that ran the organization last week Appealed to National Labor Relations Boardand accused Amazon of meddling in its efforts.
Non-unionized companies have largely failed to support organizing employees as it can increase wage and benefit costs and have established long-term employment contracts. The NLRB recently decided that Tesla violate labor laws when it fired a union activist and as CEO Elon Musk tweeted discouraging remarks in 2018 about paying union dues and giving up the company’s stock options “for nothing”.
Tesla, Rivian, and Lucid declined to comment or did not respond to requests for comment.
To have a “seat at the table” with Biden, that promised “Being the most union-friendly president you’ve ever seen” has already paid off for the UAW, according to Gamble. The long-time union leader said he was in regular contact with members of the administration and had attended at least two meetings with Biden.
The last meeting with Biden in late February included executives from several automakers, including Teslas Musk and Ford engine CEO Jim Farley. Gamble described the conversation as “a very good open, honest, transparent discussion about American automobile manufacturing”.
UAW President Rory Gamble speaks during a press conference with the U.S. Department of Justice about an agreement with the union on a federal corruption investigation in Detroit on December 14, 2020.
Michael Wayland / CNBC
“This open door policy is a boon to us,” said Gamble, adding that the UAW did not do this under former President Donald Trump.
Gamble said the union had received increased interest from workers in organizing during the union Coronavirus pandemic When Detroit automakers implemented Covid-19 safety protocols and paid vacation that others weren’t getting.
“We gave them the best possible help, but we also told them you had to think about joining the union,” he said. “That’s what it’s about. It’s not just about paying fees. It’s about protecting your standard of living and, in some cases, like now, protecting your life.”
The UAW is also fighting for work in its current companies, particularly in a US joint venture for battery production between General Motors and LG Energy Solution.
The joint venture known as Ultium Cells has announced $ 4.6 billion build two new plants and create 2,400 jobs in Tennessee and Ohio.
If they were unionized, which isn’t guaranteed because it’s a joint venture, those jobs under the UAW’s current contract would pay less than those at the automaker’s U.S. assembly plants. In comparison to conventional assembly work, the batteries are considered to be components or suppliers.
Gamble said he doesn’t believe the union has any legal recourse, but it “can instill in them their moral obligation to see that these new workers are treated fairly”. He added that the money GM is using to build the new facilities will come from vehicles that were largely manufactured by its UAW members.
GM CEO Mary Barra, at the announcement of the joint venture in December 2019, said it was “up to the workforce” to decide whether to unionize. She said the work will follow her “component strategy,” which traditionally pays about half to $ 10 less than the UAW’s highest hourly assembly wages of more than $ 32 an hour.
However, gambling may not be around to guide the union’s planned organizing efforts.
The 65-year-old leader, whose term ends in June 2022, is considering retirement after leading the union through “a very dark chapter” in its history.
Gamble was pressured to run the union in the middle of a company federal corruption investigation in the UAW Late 2019. The probe that was Voted for the union in Decemberresulted in the convictions of 15 people, including two former UAW presidents, three Fiat Chrysler executives and a former GM board member who was a union leader.
“I’m reviewing my options right now. But my biggest concern isn’t personal, it’s more about the organization and what’s best for the organization,” he said. “I will probably make a decision about what the future will look like shortly.”