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Unionization not guaranteed for workers at GM / LG

WARREN — If the 1,100 people expected to be employed at the new electric battery plant General Motors and LG Chem are pursuing in the Mahoning Valley will be unionized, labor organizers will have to push for it, and the workers will have to welcome it with a vote.

Because GM and the United Auto Workers did not include the then-potential plant in contract negotiations earlier this year, there is no guarantee the workforce will be organized under the United Auto Workers or any other union, said Tim O’Hara, president of what remains of the UAW 1112 in Lordstown . And it will be up to the companies to determine how much access to the plant organized labor groups will have, he said.

“They are going to make us go through the traditional organization drive. We will need access to the employees to tell them about the benefits of unionized labor, and they will have to vote on whether or not they want to join,” O’Hara said.

Although unions are “pretty much a given” in most U.S.-based GM plants, organized labor groups have to fight to represent the workers in supply chain vendors and in other new ventures, O’Hara said.

Dan Flores, GM spokesman, said the new plant will be different than the plant GM had in Lordstown for decades before it was shuttered earlier this year. The Lordstown plant produced finished vehicles, while the new plant will produce only a part of vehicle. GM suppliers aren’t automatically unionized under UAW and GM contracts.

“The joint venture will essentially be a supplier to GM, and we have to compete with other suppliers in the industry,” Flores said.

And while LG Chem has a battery factory in Holland, Mich., that plant is not a joint venture between the two companies. It is wholly owned by LG Chem, Flores said, so it isn’t a good comparison.

The plant in Michigan is not unionized, O’Hara said, but he wasn’t sure if any attempts were made to organize it. A South Korean company, LG Chem is likely not very familiar with American labor efforts, O’Hara said.

“They could be open and welcome and allow us (or another union) in to organize, but my guess is the partner, LG Chem, being from Korea, there is not much of a union background there,” O’Hara said.

He said if the jobs created at the plant — which isn’t expected to start hiring for at least two years — are similar to the plant in Michigan, the workers could expect to earn about half the $30 per hour UAW workers who staffed the former assembly plant made. Attempts to organize the employees won’t be able to take place until they are hired, so any unionization efforts won’t materialize for some time, O’Hara said.

And it is unclear if O’Hara and the UAW 1112 will still be around to assist, but O’Hara said he hopes to be.

Right now, the local has enough funds to last until sometime in 2020, with barely any members to pay dues, O’Hara said.

O’Hara himself moved to Kentucky so his wife could take a position at a Corvette plant. He makes the eight-hour trek to the Valley often to take care of UAW business.

“If the 1112 is still functioning, we will take this on. We have to sit down and discuss with people at the regional and international level to see what the future will hold,” O’Hara said.

As more and more vehicles begin to implement new technologies, plants that manufacture components electric vehicles do not need could be replaced more and more often with new plants, giving companies like GM the chance to reduce the number of available jobs and to replace union labor with non-unionized labor, O’Hara said. But the UAW is planning and working on strategies in an attempt to protect middle-class wages, O’Hara said.

“They (corporations like GM) want to get the most work for the least pay; that is how they operate,” O’Hara said.

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