U.A.W. Reaches Accord on Pay and Safety at E.V. Battery Plant

The United Automobile Workers union on Monday announced a tentative contract agreement at an Ohio factory making batteries for electric vehicles, a step that it called a milestone in enhancing pay and safety in the E.V. supply chain.

The accord covers 1,600 workers at a Lordstown plant operated by Ultium Cells, a joint venture between General Motors and a South Korean partner, LG Energy Solution. It produces batteries for G.M. electric vehicles.

The workers had not been unionized when the plant opened in 2022, but they were brought into the U.A.W. under the terms of the national contract the union negotiated with G.M. last fall. This new contract, subject to ratification by the plant’s workers, defines wages and working conditions specific to that location.

Shawn Fain, the U.A.W. president, said in a letter to union members that the accord was “a game changer for the electric vehicle battery industry.”

G.M. and Ultium issued statements saying they were pleased with the agreement.

The union said it planned to use the Ultium Cells contract as a template as it negotiated local agreements at other battery plants that G.M. and its Detroit rivals are building. G.M. started production this year at a battery plant in Spring Hill, Tenn., and has another under construction in Lansing, Mich.

Ford Motor plans two battery plants in Kentucky, one in Tennessee and one in Michigan. Stellantis, the maker of Chrysler, Jeep, Dodge, and Ram vehicles, plans two battery plants in Indiana. Aside from one Ford location, those plants involve joint ventures that were brought under the U.A.W. umbrella under the national contracts the union signed with Ford and Stellantis last fall.

The Ultium Cells contract calls for moving workers to a new wage of $30.50 an hour. Over three years, wages will rise to $35 an hour. The national contract signed last fall had increased the Ultium Cells starting wage to $26.91, up from $16.50 an hour when the plant opened.

That wage scale is slightly less than that at G.M. auto plants, where most workers will move to a top wage of more than $40 an hour over the next few years.

The Ultium Cells contract also calls for the plant to employ four U.A.W. members as full-time safety representatives, and one full-time industrial hygienist. The union and Ultium workers have raised concerns about working with high-voltage electricity and potentially harmful compounds used in the production of E.V. battery packs.

The Ohio factory has special significance because it is next to G.M.’s shuttered Lordstown auto plant, which once employed several thousand workers.

After G.M. closed the Lordstown factory permanently in 2019, the company came under criticism from President Donald J. Trump, and the plight of the laid-off workers was invoked in the 2020 election campaign.

Separately, the U.A.W. said about 200 workers who had once worked at the Lordstown plant and had taken jobs at other G.M. locations would soon transfer to the Ultium Cells factory so they could return to the area. About 40 workers will start work there next week, followed by other groups of 40 or so over the next several weeks, a union spokesman said.

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