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It is less clear how successful the union will be at organizing other new electric vehicle plants, such as an Ultium facility being built in Tennessee or three factories being built jointly by Ford and the South Korean battery maker SK Innovation in Kentucky and Tennessee, where the political culture is less hospitable to unions. Battery packs, which can cost around $15,000, are by far the most expensive component of an electric vehicle powertrain, the key parts and systems that power a car.
The task may be even taller at plants owned solely by foreign manufacturers, such as an SK battery plant in Georgia or a huge plant that Hyundai is building in the state. The union has for decades struggled to organize so-called transplant facilities owned by foreign automakers in the South.
Workers at the Ultium plant in Ohio, which began production this year, cited pay and safety issues as key reasons for unionizing. Dominic Giovannone, who helps fabricate battery cells, said he was now making about $16.50 per hour — a roughly $8 pay cut from his job at a plastic bag factory. He said the Ultium job attracted him because the plant was far closer to his home than his previous job had been.
An Ultium spokeswoman said that hourly pay for rank-and-file workers ranged from $15 to $22 depending on experience and skills, and that the company paid a quarterly bonus and provided benefits as soon as employment began.
Mr. Giovannone said that while the health care benefits were “phenomenal,” he wished the 401(k) match were more generous. He also said workers in his department were frequently required to handle harsh chemicals without enough information from the company to ensure that they did so safely.
The lack of specific guidance on chemicals “is a big concern in the plant,” he said, adding that supervisors had not been very responsive when he and his co-workers prodded them on the issue.
Ethan Surgenavic, a heating, ventilation and air-conditioning specialist at the plant, whose department is responsible for indoor conditions such as keeping humidity extremely low around certain components, said he, too, had taken a large pay cut to work there. He now makes $29 per hour, down from about $42, but he said the job also substantially reduced his commute.