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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.

Autoworkers during a 2019 strike. A sign reads "UAW on strike."
Autoworkers during a 2019 strike. Credit: Adam Schultz / Creative Commons

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

💼 Remote work’s climate benefits: A peer-reviewed study found that switching from an office to working at home full time can reduce a person’s carbon footprint by more than half. (Washington Post)

🚧 Pipeline-fighting power: A new Biden administration rule gives states and tribes more power to block pipelines and other projects that could affect water quality. (The Hill)

🧾 Tax credit tweak: An “unprecedented” federal provision that lets companies sell their tax credits is helping startups and small businesses with limited tax obligations fully benefit from clean energy projects, analysts say. (Grist)

🌬️ Changing winds: Wind developer Ørsted’s financial woes and a lackluster Gulf of Mexico wind auction forecast trouble in the offshore wind industry, though bright spots remain. (Inside Climate News)

Sponsored: What will it take to deliver on the promise of an equitable, clean energy future? Join Fresh Energy in-person or virtually at their October 12 Benefit Breakfast fundraiser with keynote speaker Ramez Naam, climate tech investor and author. Register today!

⚡ 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)

🌡️ Heat pumps’ hidden power: A European study finds heat pumps are more efficient than fossil fuel-powered systems, even in cold weather. (Canary Media)

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Kathryn brings her extensive editorial background to the Energy News Network team, where she oversees the early-morning production of ENN’s five email digest newsletters as well as distribution of ENN’s original journalism with other media outlets. From documenting chronic illness’ effect on college students to following the inner workings of Congress, Kathryn has built a broad experience in her more than five years working at major publications including The Week Magazine. Kathryn holds a Bachelor of Science in magazine journalism and information management and technology from Syracuse University.