Ford battery JV ups wages

The OEM is boosting benefits at one of its battery subsidiaries that have been in union sights

Ford battery JV ups wages
An artist's impression of one of the Blue Oval SK battery parks

Blue Oval SK, a joint venture (JV) between US OEM Ford and South Korean battery maker SK On, is promising higher wages and improved benefits at its new battery plants under construction in Kentucky and Tennessee.

The United Autoworkers (UAW) trade union that has been in dispute with Ford and its 'Detroit Three' peers GM and Stellantis for over a month, has had a particular focus on fears that OEMs will shift jobs from unionised plants to non-unionised battery JVs, eroding worker benefits along the way.

So Ford's move could be seen as a major concession to the UAW, similar to GM's agreement at the end of last week to unionise its battery production facilities. But the move could also present a long-term challenge for Ford, which is trying to work out how to make EVs profitably after its e-mobility division slumped to a $1bn+ loss in Q2.

Salary boost

Blue Oval SK is now offering higher wages for maintenance technicians and associate maintenance technicians at its battery plants in Stanton, TN and Glendale, KY.

The former will now be paid $28.50-37.50/hr and the latter $24-27.75/hr based on experience. Production operators will be paid $21/hr

Hourly employees will be eligible to receive regular pay increases every 6 months. Once an employee reaches the top wage range, Blue Oval SK's HR team "will regularly assess pay increases to maintain competitiveness".

These employees will also be eligible for bonuses up to 5pc annually based on position and performance, and can expect other benefits including low-cost medical premiums, 401(k) matching on pensions, and vision and dental insurance.

Blue Oval SK will begin onboarding these positions in Tennessee this month, having already started in Kentucky. Production at both plants is slated to begin in 2025.

Hard line

Earlier this month, Ford acknowledged that the UAW was taking "a hard line on battery plants". It argues that these represent multi-billion-dollar investments and "must operate at competitive and sustainable levels".

But it notes that workforces for three Blue Oval SK facilities, including the TN and KY plants, have not yet been hired. Future employees at these operations can choose to be union represented and enter into the collective bargaining process, Ford says.

The OEM is also at pains to stress that no employees, including powertrain employees, will lose their jobs due to its battery plants during the period of the UAW contract currently under negotiation.

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