During a recent information dump from the UAW’s headquarters, a bunch of details about GM’s talks with the union were shared. Most of it had to do with increased pay and benefits, but there were some juicy bits of information that you wouldn’t expect to get from the UAW. Let’s take a look at each of these!
The Bolt’s Going To Kansas, Todo
Normally, if you mention Kansas, people will say something about corn or point out that you “aren’t in Kansas anymore.” This is a reference that even Captain America would get, and you might even get told that you’re on Pandora. But, when it comes to the production of Chevrolet’s Bolt EV, the vehicle has a lot more in common with Tin Man. Bolt production hasn’t ever even been to Kansas. That having been said, a recent summary of a proposed deal between the UAW and GM along with reporting from Reuters indicates that we should end that last sentence with “yet.”
The main point of the announcement and video event was to go over everything that UAW had managed to win in the strike against GM. That news is interesting on its own, but what I didn’t expect was that UAW would leak some tidbits of information about the Chevrolet Bolt and other GM EVs.
But, when you consider that the union has been given a seat at the table making GM’s EV plans, and union workers are going to be building a lot more of the vehicle than GM planned originally (more on that in the next section), it makes a lot of sense. The new contract lays out strike rights over more local issues, plant closures, and the union getting left out in the future, so it’s only natural that union leadership would be privy to this information now that they’re negotiating on it with GM instead of coming along for the ride.
So, on top of what we’ve heard before, let’s summarize what we know so far. The next Bolt won’t necessarily be a new generation, as CEO Mary Barra said that starting with the Bolt EUV design can save the company a lot of money and time. The battery pack will be cheaper and more durable, the software will be upgraded to be comparable to full-Ultium vehicles, and the charging speeds will be greatly increased. The end result should be a very profitable and affordable vehicle that can actually compete when the vehicle comes back, this time out of a Kansas assembly plant.
The only thing we don’t know now about the next variant of the Chevrolet Bolt is whether GM will be planning to use union workers for the LiFePO (or LFP, Lithium-Iron) batteries GM plans to purchase for this vehicle. GM’s Ultium batteries will come from union shops, but this is a separate issue that might not be within the reach of the GM-UAW agreement.
Why Mayday 2028 Could Get Ugly For Automakers
During the meeting/presentation, UAW leader Shawn Fain said, “The labor movement has got to get back into fighting shape.”
What he meant by that extends far beyond what UAW is doing now, and could end up extending to most or all union work in the United States in the coming years. Not only does he want to expand UAW to cover all automakers with a manufacturing presence in the United States (including Tesla, Toyota, Honda, Nissan), but he wants to get all of the companies in sync on contract expiration dates.
Fain said that taking on all three automakers simultaneously this year gave them an unusual opportunity to go big, and the union’s hoping to organize labor at all other U.S. auto plants to go for more at the same time for an even higher-stakes showdown in 2028. GM’s proposed contract ends on the last day of April 2028, and he’s hoping all unions (even outside of the automotive industry) will get on board for a big Mayday strike in 2028 at the same time.
How impactful this next round of contract negotiations will be is going to depend on how successful the UAW is at converting more domestic plants into union shops. If UAW can unionize Tesla and the German and Japanese plants, the union would be in a mighty powerful position. If UAW leaders can get all sorts of other unions to be in a position to strike at the same time, they all could end up in a position to put the government itself on notice to improve conditions for working people generally.
But, the looming prospect of a huge Mayday strike in 2028 shouldn’t distract from what the union accomplished this year. If plans going to go even bigger in 2028, we need to consider what that really means.
Tiers were reduced, temporary workers limited to actual temporary work, and retirements have been improved. Payment for everyone has gone up, some very drastically. The right to strike within the contract to GM has been expanded quite a bit, too, enabling them to be a part of making the plans and not just doing the heavy lifting of implementing them.
Probably the biggest thing announced is that Ultium cells workers are going to be in the union now. Joint ventures were separate from GM and thus the union, which would have ended up diverting many future jobs away from the union, further reducing pay and bargaining power. Making Ultium part of GM and the UAW (at least for employment purposes) means that the union still has a future during the transition to EVs.
Finally, Fain wanted to let the rest of us know that he doesn’t feel that the the UAW’s efforts and wins are to blame for rising car prices (and presumably won’t be going forward). Car prices are way up, and the UAW says this is due to corporate greed and not increased costs. According to Fain, record profits didn’t enrich the workers or improve things for buyers, only giving the corporations a big edge.
In other words, the UAW doesn’t want to get scapegoated for this, but we’ll have to see how the deal actually impacts GM and other automakers before being able to determine whether Fain is right about this.
Featured image by Jennifer Sensiba.
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