WGLT: Marick Masters on potential Rivian unionization

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Just this month, employees at a battery plant in Ohio voted to join the United Auto Workers (UAW) union – an apparent first for an electric vehicle or battery cell plant not owned entirely by the Big Three legacy automakers. The UAW would very much like Rivian to be next. The target is ripe. Rivian now has nearly 7,000 workers at its Normal plant in a blue state where voters just constitutionally endorsed the right to organize – and where early organizing already is happening. The plant used to be a UAW shop, back when Mitsubishi built vehicles here. That doesn’t mean it’ll be easy. Rivian faces enormous pressure from investors and customers to hit production targets and – someday – turn a profit. It has said unionizing would lead to “higher employee costs, operational restrictions and increased risk of disruption to operations,” according to its SEC filings. Labor experts say a UAW win at Rivian would be a significant turning point in the electric-vehicle revolution that's expected to disrupt auto manufacturing – and auto jobs – on a grand scale. “That would be a non-trivial increase in its manufacturing base at the UAW, if they were to organize (Rivian),” said Marick Masters, a business professor at Wayne State University in Detroit. “And you’d hope this would produce a tipping point in that they could take the success they’ve had there and broaden it to other parts of the auto industry in the U.S.” Masters said EVs present a challenge for the UAW on three fronts: from foreign-based competition, from U.S.-based legacy automakers that will be transitioning to more EVs, and from new entrants like Tesla and Rivian.

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