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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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In Relay Race to Organize the South, Volkswagen Workers Pass the Baton to Mercedes Workers

By Luis Feliz Leon - Labor Notes, April 30, 2024

Michael Göbel, president and CEO of Mercedes-Benz U.S. International, stepped down from his post yesterday, according to a video message that workers were shown.

Göbel had groused in an April captive-audience meeting about a worker’s claim that Mercedes had come for the “Alabama discount”: low wages. His departure is another win for Mercedes-Benz workers, who already scored pay bumps and an end to wage tiers—and they haven’t even voted on the union yet.

The company and Alabama politicians are ramping up their anti-union campaign as an election draws near. The 5,200 Mercedes workers at a factory complex and electric battery plant outside Tuscaloosa will vote May 13-16 on whether to join the United Auto Workers, with a vote count May 17.

They’re following close on the heels of Volkswagen workers in Chattanooga, Tennessee, who notched a historic victory April 19—the first auto plant election win for the UAW in the South since the 1940s.

The VW vote was a blowout: 2,628 yes to 985 no, with 84 percent turnout. The National Labor Relations Board certified the results April 30, meaning VW is legally required to begin bargaining with the union.

UAW’s Latest Labor Victory Is a Huge Climate Win, Too

By Katie Myers - The New Republic, April 28, 2024


Climate regulations and the Inflation Reduction Act’s generous incentives are now stimulating electric vehicle manufacturing. Despite the Biden administration’s pro-labor economic agenda, IRA funding—and thus billions of dollars in public and private investment—has largely gone to areas with low union density, spurring worries among autoworkers that the E.V. shift could create a second tier of lower-paid, nonunion workers spearheading the transition to electric vehicles, working in dangerous conditions with flammable elements like lithium.

In 2022, Volkswagen broke ground on E.V. production and assembly; the same year, the Mercedes plant in Tuscaloosa, Alabama—UAW’s next battle, organizers tell me—began manufacturing an electric SUV. In the most recent union contract between UAW and the Big Three automakers, General Motors and Stellantis agreed to allow joint-venture E.V. manufacturing plants under the union umbrella, and now, Tennessee may be the next step.

Since the beginning conversations about reducing dependence on fossil fuels—a necessary transition that nonetheless could have deleterious impacts on workers across steel, coal, oil, auto, and building trades industries—workers have demanded a “just transition”: an energy transition that prevents as much of the workforce as possible from being dislocated, allows for training and opportunity, and provides jobs equal to or better than the ones that came before. Environmental organizations have taken up the demand, too, seeing that a united front for labor rights and environmental justice is more powerful than keeping the two at loggerheads, as right-wing politicians might prefer. A just transition is what workers in the South are demanding as the IRA funds flood in.

“We’re seeing a bunch of E.V. manufacturers come here,” said Michael Adriaanse, “and they should be union.” Adriaanse organizes with the Blue Oval Good Neighbors Committee. In rural, working-class Black communities in west Tennessee, this labor and community coalition is mobilizing to bargain with Blue Oval City, a Ford joint-venture electric vehicle plant that’s the recipient of the largest public investment the state of Tennessee has ever made, with an added $9.2 billion in funding from the Department of Energy. The VW victory has given workers hope for their efforts to negotiate good jobs and community benefits with the E.V. industry, he added. But it’s going to be hard-won.

With US Workers on the March, Southern States Take Aim at Unions

By Jessica Corbett - Common Dreams, April 26, 2024

Since six Southern Republican governors last week showed "how scared they are" of the United Auto Workers' U.S. organizing drive, Tennessee Volkswagen employees have voted to join the UAW while GOP policymakers across the region have ramped up attacks on unions.

The UAW launched "the largest organizing drive in modern American history" after securing improved contracts last year with a strike targeting the Big Three automakers—General Motors, Ford, and Stellantis. The ongoing campaign led to the "landslide" victory in Chattanooga last week, which union president Shawn Fain pointed to as proof that "you can't win in the South" isn't true.

The Tennessee win "is breaking the brains of Republicans in that region. They're truly astonished that workers might not trust their corporate overlords with their working conditions, pay, health, and retirement," Thom Hartmann wrote in a Friday opinion piece.

"The problem for Republicans is that unions represent a form of democracy in the workplace, and the GOP hates democracy as a matter of principle," he argued. "Republicans appear committed to politically dying on a number of hills that time has passed by. Their commitment to gutting voting rolls and restricting voting rights, their obsession with women’s reproductive abilities, and their hatred of regulations and democracy in the workplace are increasingly seen by average American voters as out-of-touch and out-of-date."


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