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Ultium workers overwhelmingly vote to unionize

By EMILY SCOTT

Staff writer

LORDSTOWN — Ultium Cells workers in Lordstown voted overwhelmingly in favor of joining the United Auto Workers by a vote of 710 to 16.

Even President Joe Biden is weighing in on the union approval vote.

“Congratulations to the newest members of the United Auto Workers at the Ultium Cells LLC EV battery plant in Warren, Ohio,” President Joe Biden said to the newspaper on Friday.

“I ran for president to rebuild the middle class. The middle class built America — and unions built the middle class,” he continued. “My economic plan is creating good-paying jobs that you can raise a family on — many that don’t require a college degree — and provide the free and fair choice to join a union. By rebuilding our infrastructure and our manufacturing of electric-vehicle batteries and semi-conductors, these jobs will bring our supply chains back home and tackle the climate crisis at the same time. In my administration, American and union workers can and will lead the world in manufacturing once again.”

The parties have five business days to file objections to the election, according to the National Labor Relations Board. If no objections are filed, the results will be certified and the employer must begin bargaining in good faith with the union.

“Our entire union welcomes our latest members from Ultium,” said UAW President Ray Curry. “As the auto industry transitions to electric vehicles, new workers entering the auto sector at plants like Ultium are thinking about their value and worth. This vote shows that they want to be a part of maintaining the high standards and wages that UAW members have built in the auto industry.”

UAW said Ultium previously engaged in talks with it about a process for certifying the union’s majority status without going through a NLRB election. Ultium previously said it respects workers’ right to choose union representation and will comply with the National Labor Relations Act, which protects employees’ rights to freely decide unionization through a voluntary election conducted by the NLRB.

“We have received election results from the National Labor Relations Board, and respect the decision of our Ohio workforce supporting representation by the UAW. We look forward to a positive working relationship with the UAW,” Ultium spokesperson Brook Waid said. “We’re proud of the many achievements our Ohio workforce has accomplished as a team and there’s lots of great work that continues to take place across our site as we build battery cells for our customer General Motors prioritizing both quality and safety.”

In September, 94 percent of Ultium Cells workers who cast ballots at the UAW Local 1112 Union Hall authorized a strike for recognition.

At that time, UAW Local 1112 President Darwin Cooper said it would be a waiting game to see if Ultium Cells would accept the results of a previous tally to measure interest in organizing under the International UAW or if the workers will strike to gain union recognition. At the time, Cooper added he doubted anybody really wants to strike.

A “recognition strike” is a way for nonunion employees at a company to try to force the employer to recognize them as a bargaining unit and negotiate a contract by refusing to come to work.

“When General Motors shuttered the Lordstown plant, our community was devastated,” Tim Ryan, D-Howland, said. “But I remained engaged with company leadership and let them know we needed their vision and new investments to be a part of the Mahoning Valley and Ohio. To see Ultium Cells workers vote to unionize and gain a voice in their workplace is overdue, but we know that we still have a lot of work to do. With Ultium, Foxconn and TJX / Homegoods, we have created opportunities for our young people to thrive, and the future is bright in the Mahoning Valley.”

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, also said he looks forward to seeing a collective-bargaining unit quickly put in place.

Local 1112 once was a powerhouse in the Mahoning Valley, representing thousands of workers at the former General Motors assembly complex in Lordstown. Its ranks still numbered about 1,200 when GM closed the plant in 2019, but those numbers faded fast with employees taking jobs at GM factories elsewhere.

The $2.3 billion Ultium Cells plant in Lordstown is the first in operation of four either under construction or planned.

The local factory started to manufacture the battery cells in September. Batteries manufactured here will go into vehicles with GM’s Ultium batteries, including Hummer EVs, Chevrolet Silverado EV pickups and the Cadillac Lyriq electric SUV.

Now at 900 workers, the EV battery plant expects to employ more than 1,100 by the time it ramps up to full production in late 2023.

escott@tribtoday.com

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