Historic pact at Ultium Cells to benefit all

The historic four-year labor contract ratified this week by 1,600 United Auto Workers Local 1112 employees of Ultium Cells LLC in Lordstown unleashed a dynamic spark of energy that further solidifies our region’s growing national identity as Voltage Valley.

The contract, approved resoundingly by 98% of those voting on it last weekend, truly is history-making. It is the first union-management agreement for an electric-vehicle battery plant in the United States. As such, the pact for the sprawling shiny plant will serve as a template for others taking shape across the nation. It also further establishes the Valley’s Ultium workforce as models for this burgeoning industry.

The contract even caught the attention of President Joe Biden, who on Monday, released this statement from the White House: “I congratulate the United Auto Workers and Ultium Cells for reaching a historic agreement in Lordstown, Ohio, where UAW workers are manufacturing batteries for General Motors electric cars and trucks. This agreement significantly increases wages and ensures critical health and safety and scheduling protections for 1,600 workers.”

Closer to home, however, the contract between Ultium — the joint venture between General Motors and South Korea’s LG Energy Solution — and the UAW bodes well for the growing workforce at the plant, for the state-of-the-art company itself and for the economy of the Youngstown-Warren metropolitan area.

We congratulate union and management alike for a job well done.

Noticeably absent from negotiations going on for months on this supplemental contract to the UAW national agreement ratified last fall was any of the public rancor, anger, name-calling and strife that climaxed with a crippling strike against this nation’s three major automakers. That 46-day work stoppage last September and October crippled about 145,000 workers and resurrected a militant union leadership demeanor not seen in decades. That militancy also left a bad taste in the mouths of much of the American auto-buying public.

All of which gave the relative calm and quiet hard work that characterized negotiations on the local Ultium Cells contract a sense of healing. That, however, did not mean UAW Local 1112 members gave up the store.

Indeed, the contract provisions they won from Ultium Cells strike us as exceedingly generous. Wages alone will be skyrocketing. The starting wage of $16.50 per hour rose to $26.93 with the adoption of the national pact last fall. The new local contract implements a new $30.50 per hour wage that will rise to $35 per hour over three years. Other perks, including a signing lump-sum bonus of $3,000 for each worker, illustrate the enduring power of organized labor in bettering workers’ economic standing.

Aside from dollars and cents, the new pact also is innovative in its establishment of UAW teams to address fears about working with high-voltage electricity and potentially harmful compounds used to make EV battery packs.

We also hail the new labor agreement for its impact on the company. It likely ensures a stable and well-trained workforce for Ultium Cells as it charts a critical course toward potentially meteoric growth over the next four years.

As Ultium Cells Ohio Plant Director Kareem Maine, put it, “The contract captures the operational flexibility needed to be successful in the industry.

The successful contract also should help General Motors regain some of the respect it lost in the Mahoning Valley when it shuttered its 53-year-old massive auto factory in Lordstown five years ago against the backdrop of monumental protests by this community and the UAW.

But not only will the employees and company benefit from labor peace through spring 2028, the Mahoning Valley economy gains a welcome jolt as well.

The significantly increased wages means a steady flow of millions upon millions of additional dollars into the Valley economy for the next four years. What’s more, the jobs created over the past two years at Ultium translate into numerous support and spinoff jobs throughout Trumbull, Mahoning and Columbiana counties.

The successful contract negotiation could very well serve as an additional catalyst to attract more electric-vehicle manufacturers and suppliers to locate in Voltage Valley. That should remain a priority of our Valley’s and our state’s numerous economic development agencies.

As President Biden put it this week, the Ultium Cells story represents Lordstown’s “comeback story” from the devastation that befell it in 2019. Now that labor stability has been ensured for another four years, nothing should stop Ultium Cells LLC from strengthening its reign as the crown jewel of private industry in the Mahoning Valley.



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