President Joe Biden intends to own the electric vehicle market. He set a goal in August to have 50% of all vehicles sold in the United States be fuel-cell electric, battery-electric, or plug-in hybrid by 2030. For a car sector dominated by gas-powered vehicles, this would be a watershed moment.
However, a surprising stakeholder opposes Biden’s lofty goal: the United Autoworkers Union (UAW), one of Biden’s closest political supporters. According to industry experts, electric automobiles require around 30% less work to build than typical internal combustion engine vehicles. The union has long been concerned about the transition to electric cars and its implications for jobs.
“Our worries were what that effect would be for the membership, what those commodities would truly look like, [and] prospective volumes around certain product lines,” UAW President Ray Curry informed CNN in August, adding that his union desired assurances from the administration that the union workers would build electric vehicles produced by Detroit car manufacturers.
Biden’s economic and climate priorities include making American cars greener, and major United States automakers are already preparing for the probable future of electric cars. GM announced earlier this year that by 2035, all of its vehicles would be zero emissions. In May, Ford (F) also stated that by 2030, 40 percent of its vehicles would be electrified.
However, according to UAW research, passenger vehicles account for 29 percent of overall US greenhouse gas emissions. In contrast, electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids account for only around 2% of total US auto sales. As per the International Energy Agency, electric vehicles accounted for only 2.6 percent of total worldwide car sales in 2019.
According to Harley Shaiken, who is a labor expert at the University of California Berkeley, it would be the most important transformation in the industry since Henry Ford’s moving assembly line. “Historically, the union has welcomed new technologies while also working hard to guarantee that employees benefit from them,” Shaiken told CNN.
Because electric vehicles have fewer components, they are easier to manufacture. Internal combustion vehicles (ICVs) and their powertrains — the systems that convert gasoline into energy and propel the vehicles — have significantly more individual components to put together. As per Department of Energy research, EVs are fueled by batteries and consume energy more efficiently. Climate change and the worldwide effect of the fossil fuel emissions, according to Shaiken, are secondary concerns for many union members when compared to job security. Workers may be more worried about whether or not they will be capable of feeding their families and educate their children to college.
According to UAW labor expert and Wayne State University professor Marick Masters, thousands of auto workers in Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio are employed to produce internal combustion engines. Electric vehicles have fewer parts and require less labor, so it’s logical to wonder what effect the change would have on jobs. “There’s also an amount of concern about pay and perks at these new firms, the new footprint of job that would actually occur,” Masters said, referring to well-known EV companies such as Tesla (TSLA), which generates the vast majority of US-made electric vehicles while being openly anti-union.