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Transition to EVs: a Win for Climate; Let’s Make it a Win for US Workers

By Don Anair - The Equation, October 24, 2023

A global transition to electric transportation is underway and momentum is growing. Traditional and new auto manufacturers are bringing more and more models to market. Even in California, where a tradition of stringent regulation has pushed the industry to innovate over the past 50 years, automakers are selling EVs at levels well above sales requirements. This momentum is spreading across the country with US EV sales now over 9% and climbing.

When a change as big as this is underway, it’s important to understand what impact it can have on employment and to take steps to ensure that workers benefit from the transition and aren’t left behind.

But what is the outlook for jobs in an electric transportation future? Can the EV transition support good, family- and community-supporting jobs and support a strong US economy?  The fundamentals show there’s reason to be optimistic.

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Ford’s Battery Flagship Socked by Mold Sickness, Workers Say

By Schuyler Mitchell and Keith Brower Brown - Labor Notes, February 22, 2024

The smell of mold hit James “Lucky” Dugan the moment he walked into the plant.

Last fall, Dugan was one of thousands of union construction workers to arrive in small-town Glendale, Kentucky, to build a vast factory for Ford and SK On, a South Korean company. The plant, when completed, will make batteries for nearly a million electric pickup trucks each year.

When Dugan walked in, huge wooden boxes containing battery-making machines, largely shipped from overseas, were laid across the mile-long factory floor. Black streaks on those wooden boxes, plus the smell, immediately raised alarm bells for workers. But for months, those concerns were met with little remedy from the contractors hired by BlueOval to oversee construction.

Dugan and scores of others now believe they are in the midst of a health crisis at the site. “We don’t get sick pay,” Dugan said. “You’re sick, you’re out of luck.”

The BlueOval SK Battery Park, billed to open in 2025, is a banner project for President Joe Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act, a program of public subsidies and financing to companies moving away from fossil fuels. The Department of Energy has pledged to support the construction of three BlueOval plants in Tennessee and Kentucky with a $9.2 billion low-cost loan.

But under all the high-tech green fanfare, several construction workers, including some who wished to be anonymous, say the site has been gripped by mold and respiratory illness—medieval hazards that workers feel managers neglected in the pressure to quickly open the plant.

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Tesla Has Bitten Off More Than It Can Chew by Picking a Fight With Swedish Unions

By Rune Møller Stahl and Jonas Algers - Jacobin, December 11, 2023

Since the end of October, mechanics at Tesla workshops in Sweden have been striking in an attempt to pressure the firm to agree to collective bargaining with the Swedish Metalworkers’ Union.

Tesla does not manufacture cars in Sweden, so the strike covers only 130 workers. Despite the small number of affected workers, this has become a very prominent strike in the region because it pits two powerful parties against one another.

On one side is Tesla, by far the world’s most valued automaker, currently valued higher than the next nine car companies combined. It boasts 130,000 workers and the top two best-selling EV models. On the other side is the Swedish Metalworkers’ Union, a union with 230,000 members organizing 80 percent of all workers in its sectors. With a large membership that has not taken party in many strikes, the union has amassed a war chest of about $1 billion. It is able to pay the striking workers 130 percent of their salaries.

If either side caves, it will have profound impacts across Sweden. If the unions lose, it might spell the end of the Swedish norm-based labor market system of high unionization rates, sectoral bargaining, and few regulations (there is, for example, no minimum wage in Sweden as most employers simply pay the wages agreed in negotiations with the unions). If Tesla loses, it will be the first union with which the company has been forced to negotiate.

Recognizing these stakes, several other sectors have started sympathy strikes. The transport workers are now refusing to unload Teslas in Swedish ports, the construction workers are not doing repair work on Tesla facilities, and the postal workers are not delivering mail, including license plates to Tesla. The latter strike was branded as “insane” by Elon Musk on Twitter/X.

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