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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.

Mercedes-Benz Amping Up UNION-BUSTING as Alabama Auto Workers Look to Organize with UAW

These Southern UAW Members are Getting Ready for a Strike

Mercedes Workers in Alabama File for a Union Election

How Biden’s New Clean Air Rules Helps UAW Drive at VW

By Mike Elk - PayDay Report, April 10, 2024

Last month, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized new tailpipe emissions rules for U.S. cars, the biggest Biden administration climate rule that had not yet been completed. While the rules are a bit loosened from last year’s initial proposal, giving car companies more time to reduce emissions, it still has the same overall outcome of cutting carbon pollution from vehicle transportation in half by 2032. The rules also limit other noxious pollutants from internal combustion engines, like soot and nitrogen oxide.

While the rules are formally “technology-neutral,” meaning that the emissions targets can be reached in any way the car companies see fit, in order to hit those numbers, companies will almost certainly have to sell more vehicles powered by electricity, either in whole or in part (like with hybrids or plug-in hybrids). The EPA says that as much as 56 percent of new auto sales could consist of EVs in the 2030 to 2032 model years, if not more.

There are other rules coming soon, including the Department of Transportation’s fuel economy standards and a separate EPA rule for heavy trucks. But this rule limiting tailpipe emissions is a big deal for the climate, and for the public health of people who breathe in tailpipe emissions and suffer accordingly.

It just might also be a major win for American labor.

That’s because the United Auto Workers’ first attempt in its bold strategy to organize non-union U.S. auto plants is at a Volkswagen facility in Chattanooga, Tennessee. This plant’s primary output is currently Volkswagen’s only electric vehicle in the U.S., and even the weaker timelines in the new rules make it close to impossible to close that plant or shift EV production elsewhere. That robs UAW antagonists of a critical and oft-deployed argument against union drives: that the facility would lose business or have to close if the unionization is successful.

The UAW, which pushed for a slower phase-in last year, seemed pleased with the final version. In a statement, the union said that “the EPA has created a more feasible emissions rule” that “provid[es] a path forward for automakers to implement the full range of automotive technologies to reduce emissions … We reject the fearmongering that says tackling the climate crisis must come at the cost of union jobs.” In fact, in this case, it’s going to facilitate those union jobs.

With a Velvet Glove, Mercedes Tries to Punch Down Alabama Union Momentum

By Luis Feliz Leon - Labor Notes, April 10, 2024

Workers at Mercedes-Benz in Alabama were forced to attend 20-minute anti-union meetings with the company’s top management today.

Recordings obtained by Labor Notes show top management dangled carrots and put on a contrite-boss act, promising to do better.

Workers filed with the National Labor Relations Board on April 5 for the first-ever election to unionize the 5,200 people who work at the plant.

Mercedes claims to be neutral in the election, but it’s also listed as a supporter of the Business Council of Alabama’s anti-union website, Alabama Strong. The Auto Workers (UAW) has filed multiple unfair labor practice charges accusing the company of retaliating against pro-union workers.

“The meeting was a waste of time,” said battery plant worker David Johnston afterwards. “It was meaningless other than trying to develop sympathy from their workforce, saying they’ve held true to their promises and commitments made—committing to stay neutral, yet they couldn’t be anything further, especially after involving themselves with the anti-union organization Alabama Strong.”

Even after the captive-audience meeting, the momentum keeps building. “One of the guys in my shop that is on the fence told me we gained votes from that meeting,” said Jacob Ryan, a body shop worker who started out as a temp.

Southern Auto Workers Are Rising

By Luis Feliz Leon - Labor Notes, April 5, 2024

Auto workers are gearing up to smash through anti-union bulwarks in Alabama and Tennessee.

In Chattanooga, Tennessee, at the only Volkswagen factory in the world without a union, votes will be counted April 19 as 4,300 workers who make the Atlas SUV and the ID.4 electric vehicle decide whether to join the United Auto Workers.

“We didn’t think things would happen so fast,” said VW worker Victor Vaughn.

Momentum spurred them forward. The organizing committee recruited 300 co-workers as election captains. “We have well over 90 percent coverage within the plant, every position, every line,” said Vaughn. “At that point we knew, ‘Yes, we’re where we need to be.’”

Next up will be Mercedes. Workers in Vance, Alabama, at one of only two nonunion Mercedes-Benz factories on the planet, filed for an election today; a vote is expected soon after the VW vote.

The 5,000 workers there make the highly profitable luxury GLE SUVs and the Maybach GLS, which retails for upwards of $170,000.

“You never know when a person goes inside a booth,” said Mercedes worker Jeremy Kimbrell. “Nobody’s watching, and the company’s got a month to scare the hell out of them. But I feel pretty good about the vote. Workers finally stood up for themselves and are ending the Alabama discount.”

More than 10,000 workers at 13 non-union carmakers across two dozen facilities nationwide have signed union cards since last November, when the UAW announced an ambitious goal to organize 150,000 workers at major non-union auto and battery plants.

That roughly mirrors the UAW’s existing Big 3 membership.

'Time for Justice in Alabama': Supermajority of Mercedes-Benz Workers File for UAW Vote

By Julia Conley - Common Dreams, April 5, 2024

The alleged illegal union-busting that Mercedes-Benz autoworkers in Vance, Alabama accused the car company of in a complaint to the National Labor Relations Board has not weakened the resolve of pro-union employees, a supermajority of whom now support a union election, according to the United Auto Workers.

The union announced Friday that more than 5,000 workers at the company's nonunion plant have filed a petition with the NLRB in favor of an election, with the workers aiming for a vote by early May.

"It's time for change at Mercedes," said the UAW. "It's time for justice in Alabama. It's time for Mercedes workers to stand up. That's why Mercedes workers have filed for their vote to join the UAW, and to win a better life."

The announcement comes weeks after Volkswagen employees in Chattanooga, Tennessee filed for a union election that's expected to be held April 17-19.

Alabama Mercedes-Benz Workers Accuse Company of Union-Busting in NLRB Complaint

By Julia Conley - Common Dreams, March 26, 2024

A month after the United Auto Workers announced that a majority of workers at the Mercedes-Benz plant in Vance, Alabama had signed union cards, employees struck a defiant tone Tuesday as they filed official complaints of union-busting by the company with the National Labor Relations Board.

Workers detailed the illegal disciplinary measures management has taken against them for taking leave and objecting to anti-union materials that have been shown in captive-audience meetings since most of the plant's 6,000 workers indicated they want to join the UAW.

"Since we started organizing, I put in my [Family and Medical Leave Act] leave with management multiple times and every time they said they lost the paperwork," Lakeisha Carter, who works in the company's battery plant, told the UAW. "It's just plain retaliation from Mercedes, but I'm not going to be intimidated."

Why the Environmental Justice Movement Should Support the UAW Organizing Drive

By Bill Gallegos and Manuel Pastor - The Nation, March 11, 2024

A progressive version of the right’s Southern strategy could remake our politics—and ensure that the cars of the future, and the batteries they run on, are built by union labor.

While analysts have pointed to a recent slowing in demand for electric vehicles (EVs), the long-term picture remains clear: Annual global EV sales are projected to nearly triple between now and 2030. That trend represents some potential good news for the climate. But it’s also raised concerns—most sharply reflected in last year’s strike by the United Auto Workers (UAW)—about what will happen to both existing and prospective workers.

One big problem: The new “Battery Belt”—prompted by federal policies to move to zero emission vehicles and build an adequate charging infrastructure—is being developed in many Southern states where manufacturers seek to take advantage of low wages, few regulations, and a divided working class.

While we can’t stop the flow of federal climate dollars to those states—a fiscal largesse that seems particularly ironic since so many of their Republican leaders deny climate change—we can and should change the conditions that make them a lure for multinationals seeking to exploit low costs. That, in turn, requires widening the circle of support for a truly transformative move to a clean energy economy.

The combination of worker vulnerability and political division in the South has deep historic roots. The field of exploitative corporate dreams was made possible by a US labor movement that has never been able to follow through on its post–World War II promise to organize the South—a region whose anti-union politics stem in part from a legacy of slavery and racism.

But change may be coming. Even as presidential candidate Donald Trump was trolling autoworkers to persuade them that electrical vehicles would be the end of their jobs, the UAW’s 2023 strike led to contracts that raised wages, did away with two-tier labor systems, and opened the way to unionization up and down the supply chain for electric vehicles.

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