UAW Deal With General Motors Would Bring Battery Plant Workers Into Union

The United Auto Workers union reached a tentative agreement on a new contract for 48,000 General Motors workers on Monday, bringing a potential end to the union’s roughly six-week strike against the “Big Three” automakers.

The union said it had achieved a core demand in talks with GM: putting battery plant employees under the UAW national agreement, which would guarantee that those workers would bargain collectively amid the industry shift toward electric vehicles.

The UAW called it “a historic tentative agreement” in a statement, saying it “paves the way for a just transition and wins record economic gains for autoworkers.”

The union reached similar tentative deals with Ford and Jeep parent company Stellantis in recent days, with GM being the last holdout. Now that three tentative agreements are in place, the union has called all workers back to the job for the time being.

Employees will have the final say on whether to accept each of the deals, however. The union and its local affiliates will spend the coming days breaking down the finer details for members, then hold separate ratification votes for the trio of contracts.

GM did not immediately comment on the union’s announcement.

The union said the contract “paves the way for a just transition" as the industry shifts toward electric vehicles.

Like the deals at Ford and Stellantis, the GM agreement includes a minimum base pay increase of 25% over the course of the four-year contract, along with cost-of-living provisions that are likely to boost that raise higher. The union said the lowest-paid employees would see their wages hiked to at least $30 per hour by the end of the contract. 

GM retirees and surviving spouses would also receive payments totaling $2,500 under the contract. The union said these would be the first such payments GM had made since 2008. The contract would also cut down the amount of time it takes new workers to reach the top pay rate ― from seven years to three years ― and assure workers the right to go on strike in protest of plant closures.

The union said workers at the Tennessee and Ohio factories run by Ultium Cells, a joint battery venture between GM and LG Energy Solutions, would be subject to the same contract. The automakers have generally said they would not extend the contract to battery plants in which outside companies like LG have a stake.

But UAW President Shawn Fain said earlier this month that the union had received such an offer “in writing” from GM. The union has argued that it’s crucial to include battery plants in the collective bargaining process to make sure the pivot to electric vehicles is not a “race to the bottom” with low wages.

“We’ve been told for months that this is impossible,” Fain said. “We’ve been told the [electric vehicle] future must be a race to the bottom. And now we’ve called their bluff.”

The tentative deals may bring to a close the first strike the UAW ever waged against all three of the Detroit automakers at once, a work stoppage that has collectively cost the companies billions of dollars in lost production.

GM workers on strike in Wentzville, Missouri. The union reached a tentative deal with the company on Monday.
GM workers on strike in Wentzville, Missouri. The union reached a tentative deal with the company on Monday.

GM workers on strike in Wentzville, Missouri. The union reached a tentative deal with the company on Monday.

Union members first walked off the job on Sept. 15, saying “record profits” at the companies call for “record contracts” for employees. Their leader, Fain, has spoken of the battle in terms of class warfare, at times literally tossing the companies’ proposals in the garbage can. 

Remembering the sacrifices they made to stabilize the automakers in the wake of the financial crisis, workers have demanded large double-digit pay increases, higher funding for retirement and stronger job security protections, among other stipulations. Many have viewed the strike as a way to regain ground after a series of concessionary contracts that lowered payscales.

As one GM worker told HuffPost shortly after the strike began, “We gave up a lot. I feel like they owe me… . This one right here, they’ve got to make me whole.” 

The companies resisted many of the demands from the outset, saying the increase in labor costs would put them at a greater competitive disadvantage with non-union automakers, including Honda, Nissan and Tesla. 

The UAW’s concurrent strikes have not been typical work stoppages. 

Rather than call on all workers to walk off the job, the union has struck only select plants, leaving the companies unsure where production might stop. This strategy has made the union’s playbook unpredictable and also helped preserve its strike fund, since only around a third of all workers have ended up on strike.

The strategy has also given the union plenty of room to escalate. 

In recent weeks the UAW has been targeting plants where the companies produce large pickup trucks and sport utility vehicles, which provide the companies with some of their highest profit margins. The UAW has also exerted pressure unevenly depending on the stance of each company. 

After deals fell in place for Ford and Stellantis and workers at those companies headed back to work, the UAW called on workers at GM’s Spring Hill, Tennessee, SUV plant to go out on strike on Saturday, a move that likely added urgency to GM reaching an agreement. The Spring Hill factory produces the high-end Cadillac XT5 and XT6 and the GMC Acadia, all mid-size SUVs.

GM had said over the weekend that it was “disappointed” in the union’s decision to expand its strike and hoped to “reach an agreement as quickly as possible.”