Negotiations between the UAW and automakers are more complex than usual. The union already has labor agreements with GM, Ford Motor Co. and Stellantis, but those pacts don’t apply to their newer, electric-battery plants — like Ultium — because they’re usually joint ventures involving outside partners. The UAW had to organize Ultium from scratch and won the election last year.
The union also is learning about the EV industry as it forges deals. Battery-cell plants are more like chemical factories than conventional auto-production facilities, where injuries are more likely to be from machinery accidents or repetitive tasks.
A year ago, a contractor at the Ultium plant was crushed by an automated crane while working inside the plant, suffering serious injuries, according to Travis Eastham, the local fire-station chief. The worker was hospitalized for months and later died of his injuries, Eastham said in a phone interview.
At the time, the company confirmed a subcontractor was injured at the plant, but declined to discuss the incident further.
In a white paper, the union said Ultium worker Gavin Currey was sprayed with toxic gas in early May while working in an area that extracts a poisonous electrolyte compound from battery cells. Currey said in the paper he experienced minor burns to his face and a union official said he was unable to work for three days.
Another worker, Mandy McCoy, told the union she saw a colleague put toxic waste in a garbage can, emitting fumes that made her and a coworker nauseous. McCoy said her colleague was taken to the hospital.
The Ultium spokesperson declined to comment on any specific incidents or the findings of the white paper.
In all, the union said 22 workers suffered injuries and missed a total of 200 days of work. That equates to 2.2 injuries per hundred workers — twice the average for battery plants, according to Nellie Brown, Director of Workplace Health and Safety Programs at Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations.