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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.

Renewable Energy is (Mostly) Green and Not Inherently Capitalist, Volume 1: Wind Power (REVISED)

By Steve Ongerth - IWW Eco Union Caucus, Revised January 16, 2024

Is renewable energy actually green? Are wind, solar, and storage infrastructure projects a climate and/or envi­ronmental solution or are they just feel-good, greenwashing, false "solutions" that either perpetuate the deep­ening climate and environmental crisis or just represent further extractivism by the capitalist class and the privileged Global North at the expense of front-line communities and the Global South? 

This document argues that, while there is no guarantee that renewable energy projects will ultimately be truly "green", there is nothing inherent in the technology itself that precludes them from being so. Ultimately the "green"-ness of the project depends on the level of rank-and-file, democratic, front-line community and working-class grassroots power with the orga­nized leverage to counter the forces that would use renewable energy to perpetuate the capitalist, colonialist, extractivist system that created the cli­mate and environmental crisis in which we find ourselves.

In‌ order to do that, we mustn't fall prey to the misconceptions and inaccuracies that paint renewable energy infrastructure projects as inherently anti-green. This series attempts to do just that. This first Volume, on utility scale wind power addresses several arguments made against it, including (but not limited to) the following misconceptions:

  • Humanity must abandon electricity completely;
  • Degrowth is the only solution;
  • New wind developments only expand overall consumption;
  • Wind power is unreliable and intermittent;
  • Wind power is just another form of "green" capitalism;
  • The extraction of resources necessary to build wind power negates any of their alleged green benefits;
  • Wind power is an extinction-level event threat to birds, bats, whales, and other wildlife (and possibly humans);
  • Only locally distributed renewable energy arrayed in microgrids should be built without any--even a small percentage--of utility scale wind developments;
  • Only nationalized and/or state-owned utility scale renewable energy developments should be built;
  • No wind power developments will be green unless we first organize a socialist revolution, because eve­rything else represents misplaced faith in capitalist market forces.

In fact, none of the above arguments are automatically true (and the majority are almost completely untrue). However, they're often repeated, sometimes ignorantly, but not too infrequently in bad faith. This document is offered as an inoculation and antidote to these misconceptions and misinformation.

Download a copy of this publication here (PDF).

Factcheck: 21 misleading myths about electric vehicles

By Simon Evans - Carbon Brief, October 24, 2023

Electric vehicles (EVs) significantly cut lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions in almost all circumstances and are the key technology for decarbonising road transport.

While not having a car has even larger climate benefits, many peoples’ ability to go car-free is limited by their circumstances and the availability of alternatives.

This means EVs are “likely crucial” for tackling transport emissions, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

EV sales are growing fast, accounting for one in every seven cars sold globally in 2022 – up from one-in-70 just five years earlier.

Yet EVs are also being subjected to relentless hostile reporting across mainstream media in many major economies, including the UK.

Here, Carbon Brief factchecks 21 of the most common – and persistent – myths about EVs.

Will the Clean Energy Auto Economy Be Built on Factory Floors Riddled With Toxic Chemicals and Safety Hazards?

By Luis Feliz Leon - In These Times, August 30, 2023

Thirty-year-old Rick Savage was among the first workers hired at Ultium Cells’ 2.8-million-square-foot battery plant in Lordstown, Ohio, in April 2022. ​“I heard about the battery plant and how it was going to be technologically superior to all other manufacturing companies,” Savage remembers thinking. ​“The future of the automotive industry is going to be electric.”

Ultium Cells was a high-profile joint venture between U.S. automaker General Motors and South Korea’s LG Energy Solution. The Lordstown plant — billed as the largest battery plant of its kind anywhere in the country — was predicted to cost some $2.3 billion and generate more than 1,100 new jobs. GM’s legacy as a union employer was part of the company’s sales pitch to new employees. 

“They were saying, ​‘Hey, it’s the next GM, you can retire here, it’s going to be great,’” Savage says.

Deindustrialization has been battering northeastern Ohio for half a century. Ohio hemorrhaged 50,000 jobs within five years after Youngstown Sheet & Tube shuttered its Campbell Works steel factory in 1977. In 2008, after GM shuttered its facility in Moraine, 2,000 autoworkers were left without jobs. The Chinese automotive-glass manufacturer Fuyao hired some of them when it took over the closed plant in 2014, but at much lower wages.

UAW Ramps Up Pressure on Biden to Protect Workers in Electric Vehicle Transition

By Julia Conley - Common Dreams, August 15, 2023

The president of the United Auto Workers on Tuesday called on U.S. President Joe Biden to use his position of power to help ensure a just transition to electric vehicles—pushing for a major investment in green technology that would also guarantee that workers in the U.S. can earn a decent living in the evolving auto industry.

Biden's actions on the electric vehicle (EV) front, Shawn Fain toldThe Guardian, have been "disappointing."

It has been a year since the president signed his signature climate and jobs law, the Inflation Reduction Act, which includes incentives for car companies to ramp up manufacturing of EVs and for consumers to purchase them.

The law has paved the way for the "Big Three" automakers—Ford, Stellantis, and General Motors (GM)—to build EV battery plants in joint ventures with companies such as Samsung, SK On, and LG Energy Solution, but the federal incentives and loans have been given to the firms without the guarantee of fair pay and working conditions for the people who will work in the plants.

Power Outrage: Will Heavily Subsidized Battery Factories Generate Substandard Jobs?

By Jacob Whiton and Greg LeRoy - Good Jobs First, July 2023

Under a provision of the Inflation Reduction Act, some factories making batteries for electric vehicles will each receive more than a billion dollars per year from the U.S. government, with no requirement to pay good wages to production workers. Thanks to the Advanced Manufacturing Production Credit, also called 45X for its section in the Internal Revenue Code, battery companies will receive tax credits that they can use, sell, or cash out.

The 45X program alone will cost taxpayers over $200 billion in the next decade, far more than the $31 billion estimated by Congress’s Joint Committee on Taxation. On top of 45X and other federal incentives, factories manufacturing electric vehicles and batteries have also been promised well over $13 billion in state and local economic development incentives in just the past 18 months.

What do local communities get from companies in exchange for public money? The Biden administration says the IRA will create “good-paying union jobs,” but the federal tax credit has no job quality requirements for permanent jobs and doesn’t mandate companies pay market-based wages or benefits.

Good Jobs First did the math for five recently announced battery factories. Here’s what we learned:

  • Total subsidies will range from $2 million to $7 million per job.
  • Average annual wages, as announced, will be below the current national average for production workers in the automotive sector.
  • The 45X credit alone is large enough to cover each facility’s initial capital investment cost and wage bill for the first several years of production.

Download a copy of this publication here (PDF).

Battery Jobs Must Be Good-Paying Union Jobs, Says New UAW President

By Dan DiMaggio - Labor Notes, May 18, 2023

Contracts covering 150,000 auto workers at the Big 3 will expire on September 14, and the new leadership of the United Auto Workers is taking a more aggressive stance than in years past.

“We’re going to launch our biggest contract campaign ever in our history,” UAW President Shawn Fain told members in a Facebook live video.

Fain took office in March after winning the union’s first one member, one vote election. Running on the slogan, “No Corruption, No Concessions, No Tiers,” he and the Members United slate swept all the positions they ran for, giving reformers a majority on the international executive board.

While the union has vowed to take on tiered wages and benefits, job security, and plant closures, the transition to electric vehicles (EV) looms especially large.

Since President Biden signed the Inflation Reduction Act last August, companies have announced $120 billion in investments in domestic EV and battery manufacturing. The Act includes big tax credits and incentives for clean energy and EVs.

Ford alone is investing $11 billion in a new EV assembly plant and battery factories in Tennessee and Kentucky. The Biden administration wants EVs to make up half of all new vehicles sold by 2030.

Battery Jobs Must Be Good-Paying Union Jobs, Says New UAW President

By Dan DiMaggio - Labor Notes, May 18, 2023

Contracts covering 150,000 auto workers at the Big 3 will expire on September 14, and the new leadership of the United Auto Workers is taking a more aggressive stance than in years past.

“We’re going to launch our biggest contract campaign ever in our history,” UAW President Shawn Fain told members in a Facebook live video.

Fain took office in March after winning the union’s first one member, one vote election. Running on the slogan, “No Corruption, No Concessions, No Tiers,” he and the Members United slate swept all the positions they ran for, giving reformers a majority on the international executive board.

While the union has vowed to take on tiered wages and benefits, job security, and plant closures, the transition to electric vehicles (EV) looms especially large.

Since President Biden signed the Inflation Reduction Act last August, companies have announced $120 billion in investments in domestic EV and battery manufacturing. The Act includes big tax credits and incentives for clean energy and EVs.

Ford alone is investing $11 billion in a new EV assembly plant and battery factories in Tennessee and Kentucky. The Biden administration wants EVs to make up half of all new vehicles sold by 2030.

Building a Democratic Energy Future: Lithium Extractivism and North-South Inequalities

The “Electrify Everything” Movement’s Consumption Problem

By Amy Westervelt - The Intercept, May 8, 2023

In 2019, Thea Riofrancos was splitting her time between researching the social and environmental impacts of lithium mining in Chile and organizing for a rapid energy transition away from fossil fuels in the United States. A political science professor at Providence College and member of the Climate and Community Project, Riofrancos was struck by the contrast: Lithium is essential to the batteries that make electric vehicles and renewable energy work, but mining inflicts its own environmental damage. “Here I am in Chile, in the Atacama Desert, seeing these mining-related harms, and then there I go in the U.S. advocating for a rapid transition. How do I align these two goals?” Riofrancos said. “And is there a way to have a less extractive energy transition?”

When she went looking for research that would help answer that question, she found none, at least not for the transportation sector, which was her area of focus. “I saw forecast after forecast that assumed basically a binary of the future,” she said. “Either we stay with the fossil fuel status quo and the existential crisis that that is causing for the planet and all of its people. Or we transition to an electrified, renewably powered future, but that doesn’t really change anything about how these sectors or economic activities are organized.”

Riofrancos wanted to look at multiple ways to design an electrified future and understand what the costs and impacts of different scenarios might be. So she linked up with other Climate and Community Project researchers and put together a report mapping out four potential pathways to electrification for the transportation sector. Titled “Achieving Zero Emissions With More Mobility and Less Mining,” the report concluded that even relatively small, easy-to-achieve shifts like reducing the size of cars and their batteries could deliver big returns: a 42 percent reduction in the amount of lithium needed in the U.S., even if the number of cars on the road and the frequency with which people drive stayed the same.

It’s the sort of thing politicians and electrification advocates need to think through now, when decisions can be made to guide the energy transition in one direction or another. It’s also critical to an underdiscussed component of climate action: demand for products and services and the role energy plays in fulfilling those demands. Which connects right up to another topic that American politicians don’t want to touch with a 10-foot pole: consumption.

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