UAW President Shaun Fine chairs the collective bargaining agreement for the 2023 election in Detroit, March 27, 2023.

Rebecca Cook | Reuters

DETROIT — Union of Auto Workers leaders withheld approval of President Joe Biden’s re-election until the union’s concerns about the auto industry’s transition to fully electric vehicles are addressed, according to a letter sent by AUW President Sean Fine to union employees Tuesday.

Fine, who was elected union president in March, said the union wants a “fair transition” for workers. He argues that this is not currently the case as automakers are investing billions of dollars, backed by taxpayer dollars, to transition from conventional cars to electric vehicles.

“The federal government is pouring billions into electric vehicle transition, with no strings attached or obligation to workers,” Fine said in the letter obtained by CNBC. “The transition to electric vehicles is at serious risk of becoming a race to the bottom. We want to see national leadership support this before we make any commitments.”

How to turn traditional auto workers into new EV jobs has been a major concern of the UAW for several years. A 2018 study by the union found that mass adoption of electric vehicles could cost the UAW 35,000 jobs. However, the federation recently said that number could be lower.

The UAW has historically supported Democrats. However, former President Donald Trump managed to gain notable support from blue-collar auto workers during his presidential campaign.

In Tuesday’s speech, Fine said that “another Donald Trump presidency would be a disaster,” citing the union’s need to “organize our members behind a pro-labor, pro-climate, pro-democracy political platform that can deliver on the working class.”

President Joe Biden speaks in front of a backdrop of American-made cars and a UAW sign about new proposals to protect American jobs during a campaign stop in Warren, Michigan, Sept. 9, 2020.

Leah Mellis | Reuters

The Biden campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Biden has been an outspoken supporter of unions during his presidency, but automakers have increased their investment in recent years in states with “right to work” laws.

Vin message, which was first reported By Detroit NewsIt comes nearly two weeks after he said the union would “support candidates who support us” in 2024.

Such messages are a much stronger political stance than what the union, which previously endorsed Biden, has taken in recent years, when former leaders and company officials have been under a federal corruption investigation.

Fine and other newly elected union leaders ran as union reform candidates who would be more outspoken and aggressive towards its members.

“Right now, we’re focused on making sure that EV transitions are done right by our members, families, and communities,” Fine wrote. “We will be ready to talk about policy once we have secured a future for this industry and the people who run it.”

In the letter, Fain chides Detroit automakers for recent announcements surrounding factory closures and slowdowns related to electric vehicles that have turned workers’ lives “upside down.” Most notably, earlier this year, Stellantis idled a Jeep plant in Illinois, citing the need to cut costs for investing in electric vehicles.

Fain also noted the pay rate at Ultium Cells LLC’s recently opened battery plant near Lordstown, Ohio – a joint venture between general motors and LG Energy Solution – compared to traditional car assembly plants.

Ultium said hourly workers currently earn between $16 and $22 an hour with full benefits, incentives, and tuition assistance. That compares to traditional hourly UAW members who can earn upwards of $32 an hour in GM plants.

The joint venture’s battery facilities are seen as essential to the UAW’s growth and adding members, such as automakers like GM’s shift to EVs, which require less labor and parts than traditional internal combustion engine cars.

“The situation in Lordstown, and the current state of electric vehicle transition, is unacceptable,” said Fine. “We expect action from the people in power to make it right. I want to make sure our staff is armed and ready with the same tone and message.”


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