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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.

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."

Winning Fossil Fuel Workers Over to a Just Transition

By Norman Rogers - Jacobin, March 18, 2024

This article is adapted from Power Lines: Building a Labor-Climate Justice Movement, edited by Jeff Ordower and Lindsay Zafir (The New Press, 2024).

I have a dream. I have a nightmare.

The dream is that working people find careers with good pay, good benefits, and a platform for addressing grievances with their employers. In other words, I dream that everyone gets what I got over twenty-plus years as a unionized worker in the oil industry.

The nightmare is that people who had jobs with good pay and power in the workplace watch those gains erode as the oil industry follows the lead of steel, auto, and coal mining to close plants and lay off workers. It is a nightmare rooted in witnessing the cruelties suffered by our siblings in these industries — all of whom had good-paying jobs with benefits and the apparatus to process grievances when their jobs went away.

Workers, their families, and their communities were destroyed when the manufacturing plants and coal mines shut down, with effects that linger to this day. Without worker input, I fear that communities dependent on the fossil fuel industry face a similar fate.

This nightmare is becoming a reality as refineries in Wyoming, Texas, Louisiana, California, and New Mexico have closed or have announced pending closures. Some facilities are doing the environmentally conscious thing and moving to renewable fuels. Laudable as that transition is, a much smaller workforce is needed for these processes. For many oil workers, the choice is to keep working, emissions be damned, or to save the planet and starve.

United Steelworkers (USW) Local 675 — a four-thousand-member local in Southern California, of which I am the second vice president — is helping to chart a different course, one in which our rank-and-file membership embraces a just transition and in which we take the urgent steps needed to protect both workers and the planet. Along with other California USW locals, we are fighting to ensure that the dream — not the nightmare — is the future for fossil fuel workers as we transition to renewable energy.

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.

The UAW’s Massive Gamble

The UAW Has Set Its Sights on the Anti-Union South

By Alex N. Press - Jacobin, March 8, 2024

In Vance, Alabama, nineteen miles east of Tuscaloosa, workers at the Mercedes-Benz US International (MBUSI) plant make the Mercedes GLE, GLE coupé, and GLS model series as well as the all-electric EQS SUV and EQE. They’ve also started building something else: a union. On the heels of the United Auto Workers’ (UAW) victorious strike against the Big Three automakers last fall, the union has gone on the offensivevowing to organize some 150,000 nonunion autoworkers at thirteen companies across the country.

The union has tried to organize some of these plants before — and failed. The South has proven an almost entirely impenetrable citadel for the entirety of modern US labor history. Yet the UAW is heeding these workers’ calls, directing its focus and $40 million in extra resources to try again, and on a far larger scale.

The UAW has failed before, but now, the context has changed: members’ success at the Big Three has ignited a sense of possibility in their nonunion counterparts, and the union’s new leadership, determined to cast off the corruption of old and trust in the power of the membership and the desire to organize across the entire working class, is encouraging precisely such ambitious thinking. If workers were ever going to pull this one off, now is the time.

The first shop where a majority of workers signed union-authorization cards was Volkswagen’s plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee, which employs some 5,500 workers and was the site of previous failed UAW campaigns. On February 27, MBUSI’s workers announced that they were the second plant to reach that milestone, with a majority of the shop’s roughly six thousand employees having signed union cards. (Workers at Hynduai’s plant in Montgomery, Alabama, have also gone public with a UAW campaign, announcing last month that 30 percent of the plant’s four thousand workers have signed union cards.)

Toyota Workers at Critical Engine Plant Launch UAW Union Drive

By Luis Feliz Leon - Labor Network for Sustainability, March 8, 2024

Auto workers at a Toyota engine plant in Troy, Missouri, have signed up 30 percent of their 1,000 co-workers to join the United Auto Workers (UAW)—a first at Toyota, the world’s largest automaker, on the heels of the union’s announcements of organizing campaigns at Volkswagen, Hyundai, and Mercedes-Benz.

Workers at the plant just outside St. Louis build 2.6 million cylinder heads per year. Should they stop building them, it would cut off supplies for all of the company’s engine plants in North America. Toyota is still working to build up its supply of chips and other inventory, following pandemic lockdowns and global supply-chain snarls.

In the body of a vehicle, these cylinder heads are as essential as human lungs, controlling the flow of air and fuel into the combustion chamber, powering a vehicle’s performance on the road.

In a new video, “We Keep Toyota Running,” workers describe the steep cost at which that performance comes. “People say Toyota engines last forever,” a worker says in the video. “We know what makes it possible: our hands, our backs, our knees, our work. We carry the proof every day: injuries, surgeries, disabilities.”

What Did Nick Saban Say to Mercedes Workers in Alabama Amid Union Drive?

The Auto Workers Go All In

By Harold Meyerson - The American Prospect, February 26, 2024

In an event that’s way more groundbreaking than it should be, the United Auto Workers announced last week that it is committing $40 million to organize the workers in the nation’s non-union auto and battery factories: “particularly,” the announcement said, “in the South.”

A union appropriating that level of funding for on-the-ground organizing isn’t something we’ve seen very much, if at all, in recent decades—at least, not in industries where management views their workers as replaceable, which is how management commonly views most workers in manufacturing, retail, transportation, food services, and the like. In the playbook of American business, replaceable workers can be fired for participating in or just supporting an organizing campaign, and even though such firings are illegal, the penalties for violating that law have long been negligible. In going all in to organize the nation’s Volkswagen, Honda, Toyota, Mercedes, Tesla, and other factories, the UAW executive board had three good reasons to think their union could overcome what has been this most daunting of obstacles.

Alabama Auto Workers RESPOND to Mercedes Anti-Union Meeting

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