News & Commentary

December 9, 2022

Julia Deng

Julia Deng is a student at Harvard Law School.

In today’s News and Commentary, a car battery plant votes to unionize, the Biden administration saves some workers’ pensions from cuts, a new report shows that NEA membership numbers have declined, the movement looks back on the first Starbucks union yes, and data continues to trickle out regarding the ongoing impacts of long Covid on the labor market.

In Northeast Ohio, workers at a GM joint venture auto battery plant have voted to unionize with the UAW. This NLRB-supervised election has been closely watched, since joint venture battery plants are expected to play a large part in the auto industry of the future. GM-LG Energy Solution plants alone are expected to employ thousands of workers in the coming years, and Ford, Stellantis and other automakers have announced similar investments. The growing electric vehicle manufacturing industry is less labor intensive and pays lower wages than the traditional auto industry. The CEO of Ford estimated last month that electric vehicles could require 40% fewer workers than conventional cars and trucks. The unionizing battery plant factory workers make between $16 and $22 per hour, while traditional assembly line jobs top out at more than $30 per hour. UAW President Ray Curry said in a release, “As the auto industry transitions to electric vehicles, new workers entering the auto sector at plants like Ultium are thinking about their value and worth. This vote shows that they want to be a part of maintaining the high standards and wages that UAW members have built in the auto industry.” A full 98% of votes were cast in favor of the union.

Biden has announced a $36 billion investment in union workers’ pensions. The investment will avert cuts of up to 60% that would affected truck drivers, warehouse and construction workers, and food processors, and mostly those concentrated in Midwestern battleground states. The pension rescue time comes at an opportune time, immediately after the Biden administration helped force a railroad deal over the objections of some union members.

The Department of Labor has reported that educators are leaving the National Education Association. Over the last four years, membership has fallen by almost 130,000. The reasons for the decline are not immediately clear. The union says that the decline is due to a national teacher shortage, while others suggest that it relates to the new political stances taken by the NEA. For example, the NEA’s agenda this year included proposals such as allowing the NEA to “stand in defense of abortion and reproductive rights, and taking “all necessary steps to defeat and overturn” Florida’s Parental Rights in Education Law. Some of the other defeated proposals included recommendations to use inclusive language in contracts, such as “birthing parent and non-birthing parent” instead of “mother and father,” and a policy of mandatory Covid vaccinations and masking in schools.

One year ago today, America’s first unionized Starbucks location held its election in Buffalo, New York. Since December 9, 2021, workers at more than 330 Starbucks locations have held unionization votes with the NLRB, and 268 of them have voted in favor. These gains are despite the 457 unfair labor practice charges that has been filed against Starbucks with the NLRB (Starbucks, for its part, has also filed 47 charges against Workers United). Unionized stores represent only 3% of Starbucks locations across the country.

Studies continue to come out showing that long Covid has had a strong impact on the labor market. Some estimates have found that 0.2% to 0.4% of the U.S. labor force have likely left due to long Covid. Others have found that around it has driven away 1.8% of the workforce, which is consistent with figures from the United Kingdom. Among America’s many long Covid sufferers , the need for changes at work has been relatively high. 26% of long Covid patients who were surveyed by the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis said that their illness negatively affected their employment.

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