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UAW, Brown push for more

After interim deal, union seeks Ultium Cells contract

Staff photo / David Skolnick U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, right, talks with Ethan Surgenavic, an Ultium Cells LLC employee, at the United Auto Workers Local 1112 union hall, Monday in Lordstown.

LORDSTOWN — The agreement between Ultium Cells and United Auto Workers members at the plant to give wage increases of 25 percent on average to hourly employees is a good start, but much more is needed, said workers, a UAW official and U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown.

“Our members are going to receive well-deserved financial relief from the poverty wages they were making,” Dave Green, UAW Region 2B director and a former Lordstown General Motors worker, said. “But the struggle is real. We know this and the fight’s not going to be over until these workers are brought up to traditional autoworker standards.”

The average UAW workers at a plant owned by GM make about $32 per hour, Green said.

The nearly 1,100 UAW members at Ultium’s EV battery-cell plant in Lordstown ratified an agreement Sunday with 97.6 percent support that increased the average salary by 25 percent. Employees at Ultium Cells hired after Jan. 1 who started at $16.50 per hour are now a $20 per hour, once they were six months or 1,000 hours, whichever comes first; and employees with more are at $21 per hour, according to new information provided by United Auto Workers Local 1112.

Also, any employee who has worked since Dec. 23, when the UAW union was recognized, will receive a payment of $3,000 to $7,000 based on hours worked. That payment will be made in mid-September.

Ultium is owned 50-50 by GM and LG Energy Solution of South Korea.

The UAW wants a contract with Ultium, Green said.

A typical first union contract takes about 400 days from the day a union is recognized, he said. That would be early next year for Ultium.

“We’d like to get that contract ratified by the end of the year if at all possible,” Green said. “That’s the hope and the goal.”

Kareem Maine, Ultium’s plant manager, said Sunday that the company and the UAW “are making progress toward reaching a comprehensive agreement, which will lead to a meaningful contract for our team members. This interim wage increase is a positive step in the right direction.”

Brown, D-Cleveland, who has been outspoken in his support of the UAW workers at Ultium, met with some of the members at the union hall Monday.

He said the previous starting wage “was insulting to skilled autoworkers. They’re now getting closer to the pay that they earned and the pay that good-paying union jobs should pay.”

Brown said: “Ultium needs to agree to a fair contract that honors the dignity of work and recognizes that workers drive the auto industry’s success.”

Brown noted “safety challenges” at the Ultium plant as pointed out by workers there.

“The employees are handling chemicals that they’ve never handled before,” he said. “Some of these chemicals, the science is so new I’m not sure the company knows enough” about them.

Also, some of the chemicals are not properly labeled or are not labeled in English, Brown said.

An Ultium spokesperson couldn’t be reached Monday to comment on the safety concerns.

Tricia Brown, a production maintenance worker at the plant since July 2022, said: “We have a lot of safety issues with equipment. There’s a lot going on there.”

Ethan Surgenavic, a skilled tradesman at the factory, said safety is also his “biggest concern.”

He added that there are issues with the safe handling of the chemicals.

“I’m just afraid somebody’s going to get hurt or even killed there,” Surgenavic said.

The UAW recently put out a report about Ultium workers being exposed to chemicals used to make EV batteries.

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