News & Commentary

October 8, 2023

Swap Agrawal

Swap Agrawal is a student at Harvard Law School.

In this weekend’s news and commentary, UAW wins battery plant concession from GM, and labor advocates react to the appointment of Laphonza Butler to California’s vacant U.S. Senate seat.

On Friday, United Auto Workers (UAW) President Shawn Fain announced that General Motors (GM) agreed to include workers at joint-venture battery plants under the union’s national labor agreement. GM had previously argued that the union can’t legally negotiate over EV battery plants, but the threat of an escalating strike caused the company to change its tune. The UAW was poised to call on 5,000 workers at GM’s assembly plant in Arlington, Texas to join the Stand Up Strike. GM’s Arlington plant is considered to be one of the most profitable manufacturing facility in the world. These workers would have joined 25,000 already on strike at five assembly plants and 38 parts distribution centers nationwide. “We were about to shut down GM’s largest money maker, in Arlington Texas,” said Fain on Facebook Live. “Today, under threat of a major financial hit, they leapfrogged the pack in terms of a just transition. And here’s the punchline: Our strike is working. But we’re not there yet.”

 UAW President Fain shared this update on Facebook Live while symbolically awarding roses to automakers General Motors, Stellantis, and Ford based on progress at the negotiating table, a reference to the reality show “The Bachelor.” Fain said that based on the companies’ progress, it will not expand its strikes against the Big Three. These public updates on bargaining are a key feature of UAW’s shift in strategy. Traditionally, UAW negotiators disclosed nothing while union members sat tight and waited for a final result. “Serious bargaining happens at the table, not in public,” complained GM CEO Mary Barra in a September 29 statement. “The UAW is pitting the companies against one another, but it’s a strategy that ultimately only helps the nonunion competition.” However, non-union workers are drawing inspiration from UAW’s updates. “The response from auto workers at nonunion companies has been overwhelming,” Fain told NBC News. “Hundreds of workers across the country, from the West to the Midwest and especially the South, are reaching out to join our movement and to join the UAW.”

On October 1, Gov. Gavin Newsom of California announced that he was naming Laphonza Butler as the state’s next U.S. Senator to replace Dianne Feinstein, who passed away last week. Ms. Butler is the former president of California SEIU State Council and SEIU Local 2015. However, the New York Times reported that Ms. Butler subsequently went to work for a prominent California consulting firm where she advised Uber on how to deal with unions like the Teamsters and S.E.I.U., including sitting in on several face-to-face meetings between the gig companies and union representatives. Her appointment has therefore caused backlash from some labor advocates. “The sense was she was betraying her commitment to working people,” said Veena Dubal, a professor at the University of California, Irvine, School of Law, who has organized with Uber drivers for employment protections. “She sold out in a really big way.” Supporters of Ms. Butler said her time consulting for Uber was scarcely a blip compared with her long history of labor advocacy, which includes organizing hundreds of thousands of workers in healthcare and successfully pushing for a $15 state minimum wage.

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