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Union workers are strong allies for electric vehicles, as Canada’s Unifor demonstrates

Unifor, Canada’s largest private-sector union, wants the Canadian government to build an aggressive plan to produce and sell more electric vehicles. The union’s proposals come as it prepares to negotiate with the Detroit Three – and as the Canadian government makes plans for a post-pandemic economic recovery.

All too often and for way too long, a false narrative suggests that corporations, labor, and the environment can’t work toward common goals. But that myth is outdated, especially when it comes to electric vehicles.

In a new union-produced report, Unifor wrote:

The government must accelerate the conversion of passenger and commercial vehicles to ZEVs by providing financial support and tax credits to firms engaged in the manufacture of EVs, for instance, including final assembly and the production of EV component parts in Canada.

Unifor wants to see “targeted subsidies and investment” into consumer incentives, fast-charging infrastructure, and battery technologies.

Unifor is not alone. The conversion of the General Motors Detroit-Hamtramck plant to produce only electric vehicles is another shining example of how car companies can be pro-EV and pro-labor. Union members celebrated the conversion of the Hamtramck plant for EVs to preserve high-wage jobs and produce greener cars.


Mike Plater, plant chairman of UAW Local 22 at Detroit-Hamtramck, said the union is “definitely committed to building all-electric vehicles.” He added, “We are going to do any and everything it takes to make this possible.”

Protecting the environment and decent jobs should be a two-way street for automakers. While Tesla is the undisputed leader in EV technology, the company undermines its brand with questionable workplace practices.

The Washington Post reports today that two Tesla employees were fired after they took unpaid leave to protect themselves and their family members from exposure to COVID-19 in May. The dismissals came after CEO Elon Musk assured workers that they could stay home if they weren’t comfortable returning to work.

Tesla workers described the factory conditions as a “sweatshop,” with long work hours, unsafe conditions, union-busting, and a lack of social distancing. Cases of the coronavirus are now spiking in California, including Alameda County, the home of Tesla’s Fremont factory.

In its new report, Canada’s Unifor tied decent wages to zero-emission vehicles:

Government support must be accompanied by firm commitments to hold large companies such as automakers to account. This matter is of particular concern when automakers profess their interest in manufacturing green technology such as electric vehicles but simultaneously shift production to low-wage jurisdictions.

Electrek’s Take

Tailpipe emissions are a public health hazard. That’s partly why many EV drivers take great pride in driving a car with zero emissions.

The power of the EV movement – and what it represents for the public health and climate change – gains momentum when the people building the cars believe in the mission of zero-emission vehicles. Canada’s Unifor and Detroit’s UAW Local 22 are invested in the future of electric vehicles. Their voices will help increase incentives and government policies that accelerate EV adoption.

However, it undermines the industry’s broad shift to electric vehicles when environmental goals are seen as crucial, but the contributions and treatment of EV-making workers are not equally valued.

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Avatar for Bradley Berman Bradley Berman

Bradley writes about electric cars, autonomous vehicles, smart homes, and other tech that’s transforming society. He contributes to The New York Times, SAE International, Via magazine, Popular Mechanics, MIT Technology Review, and others.