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GM JV battery firm rejects including Ohio workers under national agreement

GM JV battery firm rejects including Ohio workers under national agreement
© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: The new GM logo is seen on the facade of the General Motors headquarters in Detroit, Michigan, U.S., March 16, 2021. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook/File Photo

By David Shepardson

(Reuters) – A General Motors (NYSE:) LG Energy Solution battery joint venture on Wednesday said it does not see any path for workers at its Ohio plant to be covered under a national labor agreement, rejecting a push by Democratic U.S. senators.

Ultium Cells LLC said on Wednesday it “does not see a viable legal or practical path to place Ultium Cells-Ohio into the General Motors National Agreement.” The United Auto Workers (UAW) union declined immediate comment.

Last week, a group of 28 senators including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer urged GM, Chrysler-parent Stellantis and Ford Motor (NYSE:) to recognize joint venture battery workers under national labor agreements before the current contracts expire on Sept. 14.

If battery workers were covered under the national agreement, they would likely be eligible for better pay and benefits.

Senators and the union have heavily criticized Ultium for paying low wages at the Ohio plant and noted some make just half as much as workers did at a nearby shuttered GM assembly plant.

The senators including Ohio Democrat Sherrod Brown wrote last week it is a “national disgrace that the starting wage at any current American joint venture electric vehicle battery facility is $16 an hour,” arguing it represents “poverty-level wages” amid “extreme financial gains for the companies, executives, and investors.”

Ultium said on Wednesday it “has provided a proposal for a fully comprehensive collective bargaining agreement, including substantial wages and benefits.”

In December, workers at the Ultium Cells Ohio plant overwhelmingly voted to join the UAW.

Ultium said “during our 6-month collective bargaining process, the UAW has not provided any wage proposals or counter proposals.”

Stellantis North American Chief Operating Officer Mark Stewart told employees this week in a letter seen by Reuters the transition to electric vehicles “will require us to work collaboratively to find ways to offset the 40% increase in the cost of battery-powered vehicles.”

UAW President Shawn Fain said Tuesday the union was seeking double-digit pay rises, a shorter work week, defined-benefit pensions and other contract improvements.

Fain singled out GM CEO Mary Barra, who received $29 million in compensation in 2022, and said it would take an entry level worker at Ultium Ohio 16 years to earn as much as she made in a week.

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