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We’re leading an all-out national mobilization to defeat the climate crisis.

Join our work today to help us build a thriving and just clean energy future. 

In Solidarity With UAW: Why We Need Good Jobs in the EV Transition

The collective climate and labor movement must stand behind workers negotiating for a fair deal and economic justice in the clean energy economy.

A woman in safety equipment reaches for a screen above her in an electric vehicle manufacturing facility.
© 2021 Automotive Rhythms/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

UPDATE (September 15, 2023): The UAW is officially striking against all of the Big Three automakers for the first time in history. “They could double our raises and not raise car prices and still make millions of dollars in profits,” said UAW president Shawn Fain, “We’re not the problem. Corporate greed is the problem.” Automakers are presenting a false choice between good jobs and green jobs. The UAW, Evergreen Action, and more than 100 allies in the environmental, racial, and social justice movements know: We can—and must—have both.



Against a backdrop of resurgent union activity, and as Americans increasingly turn to unions to counter wealth disparity and rebuild the working class, the United Auto Workers union (UAW) is focused on winning the best possible union contract with the Big Three automakers. As those goliaths of American manufacturing—Ford, General Motors, and Stellantis-Chrysler—invest in the necessary shift to electric vehicles (EVs), the UAW is rightly arguing that the EV transition is a historic opportunity to raise autoworker standards, not lower them. President Biden has already backed the UAW’s position, speaking out for a “fair transition to a clean energy future” that supports working families.

We know that corporate titans may try to split the movement. They may try to argue that building more clean cars is more important than supporting workers. But that’s a false choice. Our collective movement can only succeed if workers directly benefit from climate action. Evergreen and the environmental movement are ready to stand with workers because a fair transition to a clean energy future does not just mean deploying clean technology—it means advancing a working class economic agenda that supports workers and communities. We do not have to choose between good jobs and green jobs.

It is incumbent on the president and the climate movement to further support the UAW in this fight and help ensure that the EV transition doesn’t become a corporate race to the bottom. President Biden has shown he’s ready to fight for workers. The climate movement can amplify this work by emphasizing that deploying clean vehicles is inseparable from justice for the workers building them.

We should also recognize that this fight is a microcosm of organized labor’s broader struggles for justice in the clean energy transition. Unionization is still uncommon in clean energy sectors, especially relative to the fossil industry. Indeed, all too many clean tech titans, including Elon Musk’s Tesla, are directly hostile to workers’ rights. To make sure the transition proceeds, it is time for the unionized Big Three to stop nickel-and-diming workers, and instead lean hard on the side of the UAW workers that created the American auto industry and continue to suffer from sacrifices they made during the 2008 auto bailout. Improving pay and benefits for UAW members would improve job quality at non-union automakers to boot.

In the medium term, the false “labor cost savings” extracted from workers only weaken communities—and employers—by driving attrition and worker and community tension. For the clean energy transition to truly realize “Bidenomics” and the working class vision behind it, we need to make sure corporate bosses do not hoard the benefits of the transition. And for the Big Three, competing with their non-union counterparts should mean investing in their workers to build skill, trust, and power, not short-changing them.

A viable climate future is one in which prosperity is broadly shared. The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) marks a turning point in the clean energy transition, and this is a critical moment to side with workers for the sake of a fair and sustainable clean energy economy—and a safer climate.


The Inflation Reduction Act Holds Unrealized Promise for Workers

The IRA’s climate provisions are channeling hundreds of billions of dollars into the clean energy and EV transition, with substantial incentives to ensure benefits flow to disadvantaged communities and help generate family-sustaining jobs. But the law won’t achieve its highest potential without direct engagement from the environmental movement to ensure that these benefits materialize for every worker on the front lines of climate action.

Ultimately, the IRA will succeed largely by providing a massive influx of resources both to public governments and to private corporations, which will hire and train workers to manufacture and deploy clean technologies. But to the degree the IRA transfers public funds to private entities, those funds must come with obligations to truly serve the public interest—and President Biden and his administration have the power to hold recipients of these public funds accountable. Backing the labor movement is a vital way to do that.

Hayward Miller, who works at the General Motors explains electrical testing and quality checks on EVs to President Biden at the Detroit, Michigan facility.

President Joe Biden tours the General Motors’ Factory ZERO Facility in Detroit, in November of 2021. Hayward Miller with the Core Launch Team, left, explains electrical testing and quality checks. (Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz)

Stand With UAW Workers

Many companies will act with the same anti-worker and anti-democratic posture that we’ve seen time and time again from American corporations. The flood of federal funding into clean tech sectors has therefore created an inflection point for the U.S. economy: as new industries spring to life, we must ensure that they’re built from the ground up by workers with family sustaining wages, good benefits, and safe working conditions, in line with the vision President Biden has outlined for our country.

That promise has yet to be fully borne out in the EV transition—but with combined union worker power, environmental movement pressure, and federal engagement, we can ensure it becomes reality. Without this involvement, the U.S. risks investing in new EV and battery manufacturing facilities that fail to uphold critical labor standards and worker protections.

For instance, a recent UAW report unearthed problems of low pay and dangerous conditions at a battery plant operated by Ultium, a joint venture of General Motors (GM) and LG Energy Solutions. Automakers have taken advantage of novel manufacturing partnerships “as a pretext for reclassifying jobs at these new facilities”—the Ultium facility replaced a GM factory where workers were paid roughly $32/hour, but Ultium workers make just barely more than half that, at $16.50/hour. Safety standards at the Ultium plant are also downright dangerous—the UAW reported that one worker, provided with insufficient PPE, was sprayed in the face with a toxic electrolyte and then attended to by untrained security workers who didn’t know how to operate the gurney. 

The union has reached a tentative agreement with Ultium to raise wages by 20 percent, but contract negotiations are ongoing, and Ultium workers still lack the guaranteed health and safety protections provided by the UAW’s master contract. These declining labor standards are glaring warnings of how corporations could treat workers in the clean energy economy without strong enforceable agreements in place. They also tie into the UAW’s other major demands of the Big Three, including cost-of-living adjustments and an end to “divide and conquer” pay tiers. The UAW’s contract negotiations highlight the need for comprehensive labor protections in the clean energy transition. This is a watershed moment for the shift to a fairer, more sustainable economy.

Then presidential candidate Joe Biden speaks at the United Auto Workers Region Hall in Michigan. A banner with the UAW logo is behind him.

Then-candidate Joe Biden gives a speech at United Auto Workers Region 1 Hall in Warren, MI in September 2020. © 2020 Joe Biden/Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Spread the Message

President Biden and Climate Advocates Can Fight for Workers

The Biden administration must stand firm in its support for workers in the transition, and climate advocates should engage alongside our union allies to ensure they do. The UAW’s concerns are partly driven by climate policy, and the impact federal climate investments have on workers and their communities. President Biden has a few immediate additional tools at his disposal that he can use to ensure climate funding is advancing justice for working families.

First, the president can reaffirm his support for the PRO Act, a bill that would restore worker protections and pave the way for more robust union organizing efforts. While the White House’s options may be limited in the current Congress, President Biden is beginning to build a second-term agenda and mobilize a 2024 campaign. Passing the PRO Act should be at the top of the priority list for his reelection. He should also seek out other legislative opportunities to add labor and safety standards into IRA programs that don’t currently include incentives for creating good union jobs, and direct additional federal funds to directly support workers in the transition to a clean energy economy.

President Biden can also take executive action now to support workers through the transition. His administration is already tying additional protections to some IRA funding opportunities out of the Department of Energy, in the form of required community benefits plans that include provisions for local workers. A recent funding opportunity announcement for EV manufacturing projects likewise requires applicants to submit a “Job Quality and Just Transition Plan”, and gives higher scores to applicants with collective bargaining agreements and high-quality jobs. The president should direct federal agencies to explore similar opportunities to condition other IRA funding streams on worker and community protections. 

The president’s leadership is especially critical in a context where dozens of states have implemented policies to stymie union organizing and collective bargaining. While some states have acted to protect workers’ interests—Governor Gretchen Whitmer notably repealed Michigan’s right-to-work law earlier this year—many others remain hostile environments for workers and unions. Stronger standards on federal funding can help counteract those state-level conditions.

The president can also continue to use his bully pulpit to insist that companies support workers. His recent statement on the UAW negotiations emphasized the need for the Big Three to broadly meet the union’s demands. His speech on the IRA’s first anniversary reiterated that position, calling on auto companies to “honor the right of workers to organize, taking every possible step to avoid painful plant closings. And that when transitions are needed, they are fair and designed to retool, reboot, and rehire.”

The Big Three are responsible for coming to a fair contract that provides for auto workers in the EV transition. The climate movement must stand shoulder-to-shoulder with workers and ensure these companies make good on their obligation. And President Biden can and should also back up the union’s efforts, including through policy changes and political support.

As a matter of justice, politics, and sheer economic efficiency, we must fight for a fair transition. Just a week after Labor Day, we should celebrate the historic gains unions have won for America’s workers and recommit to solidarity between the environmental and labor movements. The struggle continues—as UAW President Shawn Fain put it, the union is waging a “fight for good jobs, for economic justice, for our families and for our communities.” President Biden and climate advocates must join them in that fight.