by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
President Joe Biden praised General Motors chief executive Mary Barra at a 2022 event, saying “we owe you big” for pushing the auto industry towards all-electric production over the next decade. The president’s kind words for Barra, and their decision to team up to back a transition to electric vehicles, could come back to haunt both parties amid a historic United Auto Workers strike.
The 150,000-member union has singled out Barra as an example of corporate greed at the “Big Three” automakers, a group that also includes Ford and Stellantis. UAW, which launched a strike at four auto plants last week, took a shot at Barra over her industry-leading $29 million annual salary. UAW president Shawn Fain declared “war” on the Big Three last month, citing the $200 million Barra has raked in over the past decade. The union wants a hefty increase to salaries and benefits for its members, along with assurances that jobs will be protected during the transition to EV production.
That dramatic shift will likely come at a steep cost in terms of auto industry jobs, and the transition to electric vehicles is at the center of the auto workers’ complaints. According to one estimate, the transition to EV production will come at the cost of 117,000 auto jobs.
“The workers who are making engines and transmissions today, their jobs will be eliminated when we make a transition to electric vehicles,” UAW research director Jennifer Kelly said earlier this year. And Jim Farley, the CEO of Ford, said last year he expects electric vehicles will require 40 percent less labor to produce than traditional automobiles.
The transition has already hit home for some auto workers. Stellantis, which owns Chrysler, laid off 1,200 employees at its Jeep plant in Illinois, citing “the electrification of the automotive market.” Ford cut 3,000 white-collar jobs last year to slash costs to ease the transition to electric vehicles.