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Ford CEO says UAW is ‘holding the deal hostage’ over EV battery plants

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Members of the United Auto Workers union picket outside the Michigan Assembly Plant in Wayne, Michigan, on Sept. 26, 2023.
Matthew Hatcher | AFP | Getty Images

DETROIT – The United Auto Workers union is holding up negotiations with Ford Motor over future electric vehicle battery plants, Ford CEO Jim Farley said during a press briefing Friday.

“I believe we could have reached a compromise on pay and benefits but so far the UAW is holding the deal hostage over battery plants,” he said Friday after the UAW announced it would expand strikes to two additional assembly plants — one each for Ford and General Motors.

Farley criticized the union for its targeted strike strategy, saying he feels the actions were “premediated” and insinuating the union was never interested in reaching a deal before a Sept. 14 deadline.

Multibillion-dollar EV battery plants — and their thousands of expected workers — are crucial to the automotive industry’s future and uniquely positioned to have wide-ranging implications for the UAW, automakers and President Joe Biden’s push toward domestic manufacturing.

Current and former union leaders previously told CNBC that the battery plants will have to be a priority for the labor organization, regardless of whether they’re directly discussed in the national agreement, for the long-term viability of the union.

However, they’re considered a “wild card” issue in the contract negotiations. Many of the battery plants that have been announced cannot legally be included in the current talks, as they are joint venture facilities.

Ford has announced four future battery plants, including three joint ventures and a wholly owned subsidiary using battery technology licensed from Chinese auto supplier CATL. Ford earlier this week paused construction on the latter plant in Marshall, Michigan, due to the union negotiations, Farley said.

“We can make Marshall a lot bigger or a lot smaller,” Farley said Friday.

GM is the only Detroit automaker with a joint venture battery plant in operation and unionized – making it the first in the country to face this particular negotiating dynamic and a landmark plant to set standards for the industry.

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