As GM tools up for production of its Volt extended-range electric car, Automotive News [sub] has noticed something interesting: workers at GM’s new battery pack assembly plant are not represented by the United Auto Workers. Located in the heart of UAW territory (Brownstown Township, MI), the Volt battery plant represents the very jobs that local politicians and GM leadership hailed as the green future of the auto industry. When the plant opened, GM Chairman/CEO Ed Whitacre waxed eloquent about the opportunities:
The development of electric vehicles like the Chevy Volt is creating entire new sectors in the auto industry – an “ecosystem” of battery developers and recyclers, builders of home and commercial charging stations, electric motor suppliers and much more. These companies and universities are creating new jobs in Michigan and across the U.S. – green jobs – and they’re doing it by developing new technology, establishing new manufacturing capability, and strengthening America’s long-term competitiveness.
As long as they do so without UAW representation, apparently. Needless to say, if GM can get away with using non-union workers at a crucial plant that’s supposed to represent the firm’s future, things aren’t looking so good for our friends in organized labor.
And though GM only has 25 workers currently working the Brownstown plant, that number will increase, and the symbolism is far more important than pure numbers. The plant is part of a new wholly-owned subsidiary called GM Subsystems Manufacturing LLC, and GM spokesfolks confirm that non-union labor was an important factor in maintaining competitive manufacturing costs.
Though electric motor production at Maryland’s White Marsh plant will be a union shop, GM’s biggest supplier Delphi is also taking measures to keep its EV component factory in Kokomo, IN, free from union representation (in line with its new union-free mantra). Kokomo Local 292’s president calls the decision a “smack in the face” for the union, which is facing a decades-long slide in membership. The former DuPont plant will supply electric drives to Allison Transmission for use in medium-duty trucks and buses, and will eventually see its non-union workforce grow to 190.
Meanwhile, five Delphi plants that were transferred to GM during the supplier’s bankruptcy are being pressured to break their master agreements so they can compete amongst each other for work. In fairness though, UAW leadership doesn’t seem to be doing much to improve the situation for workers.