CEO Carlos Tavares
DETROIT — The UAW has raised the issue of union representation at Stellantis’ planned electric vehicle battery plant in Kokomo, Ind., the union confirmed Thursday.
The union doesn’t want to get left out of the EV supply chain, and says the Kokomo site should follow the standards that the organization has fought for. The plant is slated to open in 2025 and create 1,400 jobs. It’s the product of a joint venture between the automaker and Samsung SDI.
“The UAW has approached Stellantis management about union recognition at the joint venture battery plant in Kokomo,” said UAW Vice President Cindy Estrada, who is director of the Stellantis Department, in a statement to Automotive News. “The UAW views this work as replacement to our ICE propulsion work, and we expect this new work to fall under the standards we have spent decades negotiating with the Big 3.”
Carlos Tavares on Wednesday said Stellantis has “zero problems with unions” as the company prepares to build several electric vehicle battery plants in North America.
Even if disagreements may arise at times, the CEO said, discussions with unions are necessary.
“Good dialogue with unions is part of the competitiveness of any company,” Tavares said during a virtual media roundtable at the 2022 Detroit auto show.
Mark Stewart, Stellantis’ North America COO, said having unionized battery plants would just be business as usual for the automaker.
“It’s up to the people in the plant,” Stewart told Automotive News. “All of our other facilities that we wholly own are unionized. We’ve got a great relationship with the union, and if those wind up being union, then that’s great and wonderful, just like it is today. If it’s not, then that’s those folks’ decision as well.”
This positive view of organizers could be welcome news to the UAW as the automaker moves forward with a joint-venture battery facility with Samsung SDI in Kokomo, Ind., a city where it already represents three Stellantis plants producing engines and transmissions. Stellantis has two EV battery plants in the works for North America, the other being an LG Energy Solution joint venture in Windsor, Ontario.
The upcoming Stellantis sites are among a dozen North American battery plants that automakers are planning or building. Showdowns over whether these operations will be unionized could challenge the industry as automakers continue to move aggressively toward electrification.
Ripples of discontent already are emerging as workers seek bargaining power at battery plants.
The Youngstown Vindicator in Ohio reported that 94 percent of workers at Ultium Cells, a battery joint venture between General Motors and LG Energy Solution, voted to authorize a strike for recognition last week.
Ford Motor Co. executives have said it will be up to the workers hired at the battery and EV manufacturing campuses it’s building in Tennessee and Kentucky to decide about union representation.
Tavares’ comments follow a brief strike last weekend at Stellantis’ Kokomo Casting plant over complaints about working conditions, including needed repairs to the HVAC system. The company reached an agreement to end the walkout, and workers ratified it Monday.
The future battery plant in Kokomo was a source of tension in a UAW statement released Saturday. Cindy Estrada, the UAW vice president who heads its Stellantis department, said the automaker claimed to have no money for the basic needs of workers while “investing billions in a new battery plant across the street.”
Estrada said in a statement to Automotive News that the agreement addressed the concerns of the membership.
Tavares had a run-in with the UAW in February, when he complained that worker absenteeism was a bigger problem at Stellantis’ U.S. plants than in other parts of the world.
But on Wednesday, Tavares said Stellantis is “very fine with unions.”
“We may disagree. We may have tough discussions, that’s fine,” Tavares said. “But you always need to discuss with somebody, so we have no problem with unions. We believe that they need to play their role. Many times they are asking us to fix things that indeed need to be fixed. Many times they are asking us to look at some issues from a different angle.
“So our company, Stellantis, from a management perspective of people, is absolutely comfortable with unions anywhere in the world. This is our stance, and we are absolutely comfortable to discuss in good faith on that approach.”
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