Gov. Gretchen Whitmer: Michigan ‘uniquely impacted’ by UAW strike
- Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer says she’s 'regularly talking' with automakers and union officials amid an ongoing strike
- Michigan has a 'lot riding' on negotiations and would be 'uniquely impacted' by a prolonged strike, she said
- Ford last week paused work on a new EV battery plant in Michigan but Whitmer said she expects the project will eventually resume
LANSING — Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said Tuesday the prospect of a prolonged autoworker strike concerns her a "great deal" but expressed confidence the labor fight won’t imperil plans for a major new electric vehicle battery plant.
Whitmer’s comments came a week after Ford Motor Co. announced it had suspended work on its highly touted BlueOval Battery Park in Marshall amid negotiations with the United Auto Workers.
Ford CEO Jim Farley claimed Friday that the union was "holding the deal hostage over battery plants."
- UAW expands strike, including Lansing GM plant
- Ford puts brakes on $3.5B BlueOval Battery Park in Marshall
- ‘They destroyed our little town.’ What Michigan’s auto industry left behind
Whitmer declined to weigh in on those comments but told reporters she is “regularly talking” with industry and union officials about a potential resolution that “both treats workers fairly and makes sure these companies are viable and strong and competitive going into the future.”
The UAW’s targeted strike against Ford, General Motors and Stellantis began Sept. 15 and now includes Ford’s Michigan Assembly Plant in Wayne, GM’s Lansing Delta Township Assembly and various parts facilities across the state.
“We've got a lot riding on these negotiations, and that's why I've encouraged everyone to stay at the table until they find the solution,” Whitmer said after an unrelated event in Lansing. “I think it's really important, as Michigan is uniquely impacted the longer that this goes on.”
Ford sent shockwaves through Michigan last week by announcing it is pausing work at the Marshall megasite, where the Dearborn-based automaker is expected to produce electric vehicle battery parts using technology developed by a Chinese partner, Contemporary Amperex Technology Co. Ltd.
Whitmer, a second-term Democrat, has pushed hard for the project and used generous state incentives to land it, including $1.8 billion in loans, grants and tax breaks for the automaker and other companies planning to build on the 1,900-acre site.
Farley said Friday that Ford is not planning to cancel the Marshall project but, because of UAW strike demands, is considering reducing the size of the project. The price tag was initially announced as $3.5 billion.
“We can make Marshall a lot bigger or a lot smaller, and we're pausing to figure out what's the right path forward,” Farley said in a media briefing.
Farley claimed Ford has offered the UAW pay and benefits increases that would make its manufacturing jobs among “the best paid … in the world.” He accused the UAW of delaying a potential deal by focusing on battery plants that “won't come online for another two to three years.”
The union demands could hurt the company’s ability to compete with Tesla, the California automaker that uses non-union workers to produce popular electric vehicles, Farley said.
UAW President Shawn Fain fired back later Friday, accusing Farley of "lying about the state of negotiations."
Ford and the union remain "far apart on core economic proposals" like retirement benefits, as well as job security in this EV transition, Fain said.
Farley has acknowledged that electric vehicles can be produced with 40 percent fewer workers than internal combustion cars. But in Friday's press call, he accused the UAW of "scaring" workers with job cut warnings that are "factually not true."
"None of our workers today are going to lose their jobs due to our battery plants during this contract period, or even beyond this contract," he said, suggesting the automaker will instead likely need to hire more workers in the near-term.
Ford was expected to create about 2,500 jobs in Marshall, most of which would pay about $20 per hour to semi-skilled operators, or about $41,600 a year, according to prior estimates.
That's significantly less than a traditional UAW member earns and is only slightly more than current starting pay under a second-tier wage system the union is fighting to eliminate.
Whitmer has previously touted those future positions as “good paying jobs” but took a more nuanced approach Tuesday when discussing the ongoing divide between the UAW and Ford over the Marshall project.
“I do think that workers need to be paid a fair wage,” the governor said. “We also need to make sure that these companies are competitive and can thrive. At the end of the day, both those things have to be true.”
The strike has become a significant political issue across the state and country, drawing Michigan visits last week from both Democratic President Joe Biden and Republican former President Donald Trump, who called the auto industry’s ongoing shift to electric vehicles a “transition to hell” that will kill jobs.
“I reject all the false choices that (Trump) continues to put out there,” said Whitmer, who rallied with UAW workers last month and revealed Tuesday that she recently dropped off supplies to workers on the picket line in Lansing.
“I think people deserve better.”
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