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Last week, the United Auto Workers launched an unprecedented strike against Detroit’s Big Three automakers: Ford, General Motors and Stellantis. The workers are seeking better pay and benefits — and an uncertain transition to electric vehicles is underpinning a lot of their concerns.
The Biden administration has made phasing out combustion vehicles a big part of its climate strategy, and the Inflation Reduction Act has already jumpstarted billions of dollars of electric vehicle manufacturing investments.
But so far, autoworkers say they haven’t seen the benefits of the EV boom. They’re also concerned that, as EVs use fewer parts than gas vehicles, they could lose their jobs. That’s why the UAW is seeking a 40% wage boost over the next four years and is looking to unionize new battery factories as they open.
So far, the strike only affects one plant that makes electric vehicles. But it could spread to other factories if the UAW’s demands aren’t met. Industry observers say the automakers’ handling of the dispute will also set the tone for workers’ rights throughout the EV transition.
“Now is really the moment, as the industry starts to take off, to ensure that those jobs can be union jobs,” J. Mijin Cha, an environmental studies professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz, told Grist.
Environmental groups agree, and they’re backing the strikes as a way to ensure workers are treated equitably in the clean energy transition.
There are also high stakes for the Big Three automakers: if Ford, General Motors and Stellantis don’t quickly come to an agreement with union leaders, it could cost them in the race for a piece of the EV market. After all, industry leader Tesla’s factories aren’t unionized, so they’re continuing production — even though Tesla’s anti-union stance means it’s not getting much federal support.
More clean energy news
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⚡ No transmission, no problem: A northern California county relied on generator-powered microgrids to provide electricity to residents for nearly a month after a wildfire knocked out a critical transmission line. (Los Angeles Times)
🏭 Questionable clean energy assessments: A former Energy Department official found what she says are serious errors in a life cycle assessment of a proposed carbon capture and storage plant in North Dakota, raising concerns about the assessment process as the U.S. pursues a wave of clean energy projects. (Inside Climate News)
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