AUSTIN, Texas – The clock is ticking for Detroit’s Big Three auto companies to strike a deal with the United Auto Workers union. If they cannot come to an agreement, the nation could see its largest strike by active employees in over two decades.
Union president Shawn Fain says that UAW is “prepared to strike these companies in a way they’ve never seen before.”
Electric vehicles, like those built at the central Texas Tesla plant, play a big part in the strike.
Car manufacturers are investing billions of dollars to produce electric vehicles. Ford and General Motors have said they will be entirely electric in a little over a decade.
Union members say this transition to electric vehicles is what has made it difficult to pay them more.
Electric vehicle assembly plants need about a third less workers than traditional gasoline car assembly plants. That shift will leave a third of these employees without a job.
The UAW wants these workers to move to battery plants. The issue: the pay at a battery plant is roughly half of what they’re currently receiving.
So they’d like to organize the union at those plants and raise their pay rates to something closer to what they’re receiving at the Big Three.
Tesla, headquartered in Austin, pays its employees $20 less per hour than the Big Three companies in Detroit.
If the Big Three companies increase their wages in a place like Detroit, where the cost of living is significantly cheaper, then workers at Tesla’s gigafactory in Austin could want to change cities, creating a potential shift of workers to Detroit.
“Tesla is the biggest presence in EV,” Edward Anderson, a professor at the University of Texas, said. “You look at the market now, various laws are coming in to place, like California requiring zero emissions. Demand for that is going to go way up, it’s not clear that the automotive industry can keep up.”
“It’s not good optics when you see CEOs getting 40 percent raises while people in the trenches are making lower increases in salary,” Chandra Bhat, another UT professor, said. “I also think that some of the demands of UAW, they are asking for pay for 40 hours but work for 32 hours; I don’t know if that’s going to fly anywhere.”
The union would like to represent workers at ten different electric vehicle battery factories that are collaborations between different companies and South Korean battery developers.