Canadian Manufacturing

Union jobs? Ford’s plan for new EV factories raises question

Three of the plants, to be built with Ford's South Korean corporate partner, SK Innovation, would produce batteries for 1 million electric vehicles annually.

October 1, 2021  by Associated Press

Ford’s blockbuster announcement this week that it would build four sprawling new factories in Kentucky and Tennessee by 2025 and hire nearly 11,000 workers raised a big unanswered question: Just how good will those jobs be?

No one — not Ford, not the United Auto Workers union, not the future job holders themselves — yet knows how much the workers will be paid or whether they will vote for union membership.

Three of the plants, to be built with Ford’s South Korean corporate partner, SK Innovation, would produce batteries for 1 million electric vehicles annually. A fourth would make the next generation of electric F-Series pickup trucks, a version of America’s top-selling vehicle.

The new factories represent an $11.4 billion bet by Ford on a vision for the future in which tens of millions of drivers will shift from pollution-belching internal combustion engines to electric vehicles that emit nothing from the tailpipe.

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The stakes are high for Ford’s employees as well as for the UAW, which is counting on ensuring union membership at battery factories to replace jobs that will be lost should the transition to electric vehicles happen as Ford and others envision. Union workers generally are paid, on average, 20% more than their nonunion counterparts, typically receive more generous benefits and wield a larger voice on safety and other workplace rules at their factories.

UAW President Ray Curry, who attended the Tennessee ceremony this week, said he didn’t think Ford had chosen sites in Stanton, Tennessee, and Glendale, Kentucky, to avoid the UAW. He expressed optimism about organizing the new factories.

“We’ve got a long-term working relationship with Ford,” Curry said. “It’s just a great opportunity to continue in that relationship.”

Todd Dunn, president of the UAW local office in Louisville, sounded hopeful, too. He said he regarded the remarks this week by Ford’s CEO Farley as cautionary in a politically charged environment.

“I think that might be them saying, ‘Hey, in a right-to-work state, we’re going to make sure they (workers) have their choice.'”

The union, Dunn said, will campaign on a promise to seek better wages and benefits, health and safety advocacy and a greater voice for workers.

The Ford plants could raise the standard of living in Haywood County and those surrounding it. Workers at union auto assembly plants earn an average of around $32 an hour, compared with the national average auto manufacturing wage of $25. But in Tennessee, Cornfield said, auto manufacturing workers are paid an average of only $19 an hour,

Auto companies generally want to pay less at plants that make parts, such as batteries, rather than assemble vehicles. But the UAW will seek assembly-plant wages at those facilities.


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