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    Polluting Industries Say the Cost of Cleaner Air Is Too High

    As the Biden administration prepares to toughen air quality standards, health benefits are weighed against the cost of compliance.The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is about to announce new regulations governing soot — the particles that trucks, farms, factories, wildfires, power plants and dusty roads generate. By law, the agency isn’t supposed to consider the impact on polluting industries. In practice, it does — and those industries are warning of dire economic consequences.Under the Clean Air Act, every five years the E.P.A. re-examines the science around several harmful pollutants. Fine particulate matter is extremely dangerous when it percolates into human lungs, and the law has driven a vast decline in concentrations in areas like Los Angeles and the Ohio Valley.But technically there is no safe level of particulate matter, and ever-spreading wildfire smoke driven by a changing climate and decades of forest mismanagement has reversed recent progress. The Biden administration decided to short-circuit the review cycle after the E.P.A. in the Trump administration concluded that no change was needed. As the decision nears, business groups are ramping up resistance.Last month, a coalition of major industries, including mining, oil and gas, manufacturing, and timber, sent a letter to the White House chief of staff, Jeffrey D. Zients, warning that “no room would be left for new economic development” in many areas if the E.P.A. went ahead with a standard as tough as it was contemplating, endangering the manufacturing recovery that President Biden had pushed with laws funding climate action and infrastructure investment.Twenty years ago, generating electric power caused far higher soot emissions, so “there was room” to tighten air quality standards, said Chad Whiteman, vice president of environment and regulatory affairs at the Chamber of Commerce’s Global Energy Institute, in an interview. “Now we’re down to the point where the costs are extremely high,” he said, “and you start bumping into unintended consequences.”Research shows that in the first decades after the passage of the Clean Air Act in 1967, the rules lowered output and employment, as well as productivity, in pollution-intensive industries. That’s why the cost of those rules has often drawn industry protests. This time, steel and aluminum producers have voiced particularly strong objections, with one company predicting that a tighter standard would “greatly diminish the possibility” that it could restart a smelter in Kentucky that it idled in 2022 because of high energy prices.Technically, there is no safe level of particulate matter, and ever-spreading wildfire smoke driven by a changing climate and decades of forest mismanagement has reversed recent progress.Max Whittaker for The New York TimesNew factories, however, tend to have much more effective pollution control systems. That’s especially true for two advanced manufacturing industries that the Biden administration has specifically encouraged: semiconductors and solar panel manufacturing. Trade associations for those industries said by email that a lower standard for particulate matter wasn’t a significant concern.Regardless, public health advocates argue that the averted deaths, illnesses and lost productivity that air pollution caused far outweigh the cost. The E.P.A. pegs the potential benefits at as much as $55 billion by 2032 if it drops the limit to nine micrograms per cubic meter, from the current 12 micrograms. That is far more than the $500 million it estimates the proposal would cost in 2032.So how are communities weighing the potential trade-offs?On a state level, it depends to a large degree on politics: Seventeen Democratic attorneys general wrote a joint comment letter in support of stricter rules, while 17 Republican attorneys general wrote one in favor of the status quo.But it also depends on the mix of industries prevalent in a local area. Ohio offers an illuminating contrast.Take Columbus, a longstanding hub of headquarters for consumer brands that in recent years has leaned more into professional services like banking and insurance. The Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission, a coalition of metropolitan-area governments, called for the E.P.A. to impose the nine-microgram standard.“There may be some economic costs to major polluting industries, but there’s real health and environmental costs if we do nothing,” said Brandi Whetstone, a sustainability officer at the commission.Columbus would incur fewer costs from tighter regulation, having enjoyed strong job growth in recent years driven by white-collar industries. But local leaders also think that clean air is a competitive advantage, with the power to draw both new residents and new businesses that value it.Jim Schimmer is the director of economic development for Franklin County, which includes Columbus. He has been pushing a plan to turn an old airport the county owns into a low-emissions, power-generating transportation and logistics hub, complete with solar arrays and electrified short-haul trucks, and he thinks stronger rules on particulate matter could help.“This is such a great opportunity for us,” Mr. Schimmer said.The E.P.A. is about to announce new regulations governing soot — the particles that trucks, factories, wildfires, power plants and dusty roads generate.Mikayla Whitmore for The New York TimesThe Cleveland area is a different story, with a high concentration of steel, chemical, aviation and machinery production. Its regional planning council declined to comment on the prospect of stricter air quality rules. Chris Ronayne, the Democratic executive of Cuyahoga County, was cautious in discussing the subject, emphasizing the need for financial assistance to help companies upgrade to lower their emissions.“I think there is an attitude of ‘work with us, with carrot approaches, not just the big stick,’” Mr. Ronayne said. “Come at us, in a manufacturing town, with both incentives to help us get there as well as the regulation.”Ohio has an entity to help with that. The Ohio Air Quality Development Authority was created 50 years ago to clean up the brown clouds that came out of smokestacks, using a combination of grants and low-cost revenue bond financing to help businesses fund upgrades like solar panels and scrubbers that filter exhaust from industrial facilities like incinerators and concentrated animal feeding operations.Now, more funding than ever is available — through the Inflation Reduction Act, which set up a $27 billion “green bank” at the E.P.A. to finance clean energy projects. Christina O’Keeffe, the executive director of the Ohio agency, said she hoped that would allow her to get into direct lending as well when more companies needed her help to meet a stricter air standard. There are also billions in the offing to help heavy industries retrofit to lower their carbon emissions, which tends to help with particulate matter as well.Public health advocates argue that the E.P.A. should set its standard regardless of the assistance available to cover the cost of compliance.California, for example, has spent more than $10 billion to help factories and farmers pollute less. The state’s Central Valley is still the only area that is in “serious” violation of meeting the set standard of 12 micrograms per cubic meter of particulate matter. The country’s six most polluted counties, which include the cities of Fresno and Bakersfield, have annual readings above 16 micrograms.The Central Valley Air Quality Coalition, an advocacy group, has been pushing for more aggressive enforcement for decades. The group’s executive director, Catherine Garoupa, points out that despite the persistent air problems, the federal government has not imposed strict curbs, like holding back highway funding.“One of the huge imbalances in our region is that the trend has been to cater to industry, treat them with kid gloves, give them billions of dollars in incentive money for them to continue their practices,” Dr. Garoupa said. “They’re generating wealth, but not for the people that actually live in the valley and are breathing the air.”California has spent more than $10 billion to help factories and farmers pollute less.Max Whittaker for The New York TimesThe San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District, which includes four of the country’s six most polluted counties, has a different take. It filed a comment letter warning of “devastating federal sanctions,” including financial penalties, if the standard was toughened further.The chair of that air district is Vito Chiesa, a Stanislaus County commissioner who grows walnuts and almonds and used to lead the local farm bureau. His operation has to comply with any limitations on agriculture that might be imposed, like the prohibition on open-air burning of farm waste that the air district adopted after years of demands from public health advocates. He fears that further curbs without adequate support for smaller farmers would jeopardize his employees’ jobs.“I have like 15 employees out here, and I feel completely responsible for their families,” Mr. Chiesa said. “So how is it going to affect them? Our charge here on the air board is not to do death by a thousand cuts.”One point of agreement between proponents and many foes of a stronger standard: If the E.P.A. moves forward with tougher rules, it should also crack down on pollution sources, including railroads, ships and airplanes, under its sole jurisdiction. (The agency has proposed a stronger standard for heavy-duty trucks, around which a similar fight is playing out.)Rebecca Maurer is a City Council member representing a Cleveland neighborhood that has some of the area’s worst pollution. Her office frequently hears from constituents seeking help with housing that is safer for children with asthma, which occurs at alarming rates. The district encompasses an industrial cluster that includes two steel plants, an asphalt plant, a recycling depot, rail yards and assorted small factories.That’s the most visible source of emissions, but Ms. Maurer thinks her district’s many highways — and the diesel-powered trucks driving on them — offer the greatest opportunity for cleaning up the air, which requires state and federal action. And light manufacturing jobs are needed to employ the two-thirds of the county’s residents who lack college degrees, she said.“What we don’t want is another asphalt plant, and we don’t want e-commerce,” Ms. Maurer said. “We want something in between. We’re trying to thread this needle between these hugely polluting plants and low density, low-wage warehouse jobs.” More

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    ‘Our Family Can Have a Future’: Ford Workers on a New Union Contract

    Before autoworkers went on strike in September, Dave and Bailey Hodge were struggling to juggle the demands of working at a Ford Motor plant in Michigan and raising their young family.Both were working 12-hour shifts, seven days a week, to earn enough to cover monthly bills, car payments and the mortgage on a home they had recently bought. They were also saving for the things they hoped life would eventually bring — vacations, college for their two children and retirement.They were holding their own financially, but their shifts left them little time away from the assembly line, where both worked from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m.“You just sleep all the time you’re not at work,” Ms. Hodge, 25, said. Some days, she’d see her 8-year-old son off to school in the morning. She’d fall asleep with her 14-month-old daughter lying between her and Dave.“I’d wake up in the afternoon, get dinner for the kids and go back to the plant,” she said. “Life revolved around work.”“Dave paid the bills with the strike money, and if I needed anything, I used the money I got from tips,” Ms. Hodge said.During the strike, Ms. Hodge worked at a local beauty spa.But the couple said they expected all that to change now. Last month, Ford and the United Automobile Workers, the union that Mr. and Ms. Hodge are members of, struck a tentative agreement containing some of the biggest gains that autoworkers had won in a new contract in decades.If the agreement is ratified, Mr. Hodge, who has been at the plant longer than Ms. Hodge, will make almost $39 an hour, up from $32. Ms. Hodge’s hourly wage will increase to more than $35 from $20. By the end of the four-and-a-half-year contract, both will be making more than $40 an hour. The agreement also provides for more time off.Mr. Hodge, 36, said he had teared up when he heard the details. “I was super happy,” he said. “It makes me feel like our family can have a future now.”About 145,000 workers at Ford, General Motors and Stellantis, the parent company of Chrysler, Jeep and Ram, are voting on separate but similar contracts the U.A.W. negotiated with the companies. Many labor and auto experts said a large majority of workers would most likely have the same reaction to the agreements that Mr. Hodge had and would vote in favor of the deals.The Hodges were required to walk the picket line at the plant one day a week. The United Automobile Workers provided $500 a week for each striking worker.Mr. Hodge’s first day back after the strike. “I was super happy,” he said of the new contract. “It makes me feel like our family can have a future now.”Just over 80 percent of the union members at the plant the Hodges work at, in Wayne, Mich., have already voted in favor of the deal. Voting at Ford plants is expected to end on Nov. 17.The tentative agreement also means the Hodges are going back to work after being on strike for 41 days. Their plant, which is a 30-minute drive from downtown Detroit, was one of the first three auto factories to go on strike in September. It makes the Ford Bronco sport utility vehicle and the Ranger pickup truck.On the evening of Sept. 14, Ms. Hodge was on a break when a union representative came by telling workers to leave. She and Mr. Hodge knew a strike was possible and had set aside enough money to cover their expenses for two to three months, but they were still surprised they were called on to strike first.The Hodges were required to walk the picket line at the plant one day a week, leaving them lots of time for the family activities they had been missing. The U.A.W. provided $500 a week for each striking worker. The $1,000 a week the Hodges collected helped, but Ms. Hodge also went to work at a beauty spa.The Hodges’ son arriving home from school.“At first, you were happy to have some time off and have dinner as a family, put the kids to bed, but then it keeps going on, and you’re like, ‘Whoa, this doesn’t seem to be ending,’” Ms. Hodge said.“Dave paid the bills with the strike money, and if I needed anything, I used the money I got from tips,” Ms. Hodge said.But as the strike wore on, the Hodges found they had to keep close track of their grocery shopping and stopped eating out.“At first, you were happy to have some time off and have dinner as a family, put the kids to bed, but then it keeps going on, and you’re like, ‘Whoa, this doesn’t seem to be ending,’” Ms. Hodge said. “As it goes along, it gets scary.”On Oct. 25, Ms. Hodge began getting texts from friends at the plant that the U.A.W. and Ford had reached a tentative agreement. That evening, she and Mr. Hodge watched an announcement by the union’s president, Shawn Fain, on Facebook.By the end of the four-and-a-half-year contract, both will be making more than $40 an hour.As the strike wore on, the Hodges found that they had to keep close track of their grocery shopping and stopped eating out.For Mr. Hodge, the news of the union’s gains — including a 25 percent general wage increase, cost-of-living adjustments and increased retirement contributions — was hard to fathom given the slower progress workers had made in recent years.He had started at Ford in 2007 as a temporary worker and over five years climbed to the top temporary worker wage of $27 an hour. In 2012, when he became a permanent employee, he had to start at the entry-level wage of $15 an hour.“It took me a good 11 years to get to where I am now,” he said. “So this feels like I’m getting back what I would’ve had.”The Hodges plan to continue working 12-hour, seven-day schedules for a short while to rebuild their savings account, and to take care of expenses they had put off, like fixing the dented bumper and cracked windshield in Ms. Hodge’s Ford Explorer.But eventually, they want to cut back to working Monday through Friday, and perhaps one weekend a month.“It will be great just doing some overtime, not overtime all the time,” Ms. Hodge said. “And we’ll start doing things with the kids. Maybe take them to a hotel that has a swimming pool. That would be nice.”A 25 percent general wage increase was hard to fathom given the slower progress workers had made in recent years.“It will be great just doing some overtime, not overtime all the time,” Ms. Hodge said. More

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    Solar Manufacturing Lured to U.S. by Tax Credits in Climate Bill

    A combination of government policies is finally succeeding in reversing a long decline in solar manufacturing in the United States.Six years ago, an executive from Suniva, a bankrupt solar panel manufacturer, warned a packed hearing room in Washington that competition from companies in China and Southeast Asia was causing a “blood bath” in his industry. More than 30 U.S.-based solar companies had been forced to shut down in the previous five years alone, he said, and others would soon follow unless the government supported them.Suniva’s pleas helped spur the Trump administration to impose tariffs in 2018 on foreign-made solar panels, but that did not reverse the flow of jobs in the industry from going overseas. Suniva’s U.S. factories remained shuttered, with dim prospects for reopening.That is, until now. Last month, Suniva announced plans to reopen a Georgia plant, buoyed by tariffs, protective regulations and, crucially, lavish new tax breaks for Made-in-America solar manufacturing that President Biden’s signature climate law, the Inflation Reduction Act, created.Solar companies have long been the beneficiaries of government subsidies and trade protections, but in the United States, they have never been the object of so many simultaneous efforts to support the industry — and so much money from the government to back them up.The combination of billions of dollars of tax credits for new facilities and tougher restrictions on foreign products appears to be driving a wave of so-called reshoring of solar jobs. Those efforts are succeeding where more modest approaches did not, although critics argue that the gains come at a high cost to taxpayers and may not hold up in the long run.In the year since the climate law was passed, companies have announced nearly $8 billion in new investments in solar factories across the United States, according to data from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Rhodium Group, a nonpartisan research firm. That is more than triple the amount of total investment announced from 2018 through the middle of 2022.Suniva plans to reopen and expand a factory to make solar cells in Norcross, Ga., by spring. REC Silicon will restart this month a polysilicon plant in Moses Lake, Wash., that it shut down in 2019. Maxeon, a Singapore-based producer of solar cells and modules, will start work next year on a $1 billion site in New Mexico.In each of those cases, executives cited the incentives in the climate law as a driving factor in their investment decisions.In recent years, China overtook foreign competitors through huge government investments that allowed it to build factories 10 times as large as American ones.Gilles Sabrie for The New York Times“It was kind of exactly what we had in mind in terms of what would be needed, to pull these kinds of manufacturing initiatives forward,” said Peter Aschenbrenner, Maxeon’s chief strategy officer.China has loomed large over the industry for more than a decade. American demand for solar power has grown sharply since 2010 — by about 24 percent each year in that time, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association, a trade group. But much of that spending went to cheaper foreign solar panels, often made by Chinese companies or with Chinese parts. That raised concerns of American overreliance on China, which is restricting supplies of other key products and whose solar production has been troubled by human rights concerns.U.S. solar manufacturing employment peaked in 2016, with just over 38,000 workers. By 2020, nearly one-fifth of those jobs were gone.Factory solar jobs have begun to grow again.E2, an environmental nonprofit organization, estimated that new investments announced in the first year of the climate law would create 35,000 temporary construction jobs and 12,000 permanent jobs across the entire solar industry in the years to come. Thousands of those permanent jobs are related to manufacturing, including an expected 2,000 at Maxeon’s planned plant in New Mexico.Economists and executives said that surge was largely due to public subsidies that flipped the economics of the solar industry in favor of domestic production.Mr. Aschenbrenner said Maxeon’s cost of domestic solar manufacturing would fall roughly 10 percent, just through a new manufacturing tax credit in the climate law that targets the production of both solar cells and solar modules. That is enough to offset the higher wage and construction costs of American factories, he said.The law also includes credits for customers, like homeowners and utilities, that install solar panels and begin generating electricity from them. If the customer buys panels that are sourced from the United States, like the ones Maxeon is planning, the value of that credit grows 10 percent.Those incentives could be enough to build an American industry that, within a matter of years, could be large and efficient enough to compete with China even without subsidies, Mr. Aschenbrenner said.Others are more skeptical. Analysts at Wood Mackenzie, an energy consultancy, estimate that nearly half the solar module capacity announced by 2026 will not materialize, given that some manufacturers announce long-term plans to gauge feasibility and interest.The recent embrace of subsidies and tariffs by politicians of both parties also irks some economists, who say that while such programs can save or create jobs, they do so at an extremely high cost.A 2021 study by the Peterson Institute of International Economics of past industrial policy programs found that the Obama administration’s 2009 investment in Solyndra, a solar company that ultimately went bankrupt, cost taxpayers about $216,000 for each job created, more than four times prevailing industry wages. Other programs were even more expensive.REC Silicon, a Norwegian maker of polysilicon, entered into a deal with QCells to supply that company’s planned U.S. plants.Megan Varner/Reuters“With certain kinds of technology, you can subsidize and protect your way to having factories,” said Scott Lincicome, who studies trade policy at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank. “The question is always about at what cost?”In addition to the costs incurred to taxpayers, protections for the U.S. industry are making solar products more expensive in the United States than in other countries, Mr. Lincicome said. That slows the adoption of solar technology, in contrast to climate goals.Trends in the global solar industry have often been closely linked with government action. The industry started booming over a decade ago when Germany and Japan began offering subsidies for solar power.In recent years, China overtook foreign competitors through huge government investments that allowed it to build factories 10 times as large as American ones. Since 2011, China has invested more than $50 billion in the sector, ultimately capturing more than 80 percent of the global share of every stage in the manufacturing process, according to the International Energy Agency.Tariffs also shaped the industry’s evolution. The United States imposed levies on Chinese solar products in 2012. The next year, China retaliated with tariffs of up to 57 percent on U.S. polysilicon, a raw material for solar panels.That proved to be the death knell for the factory that REC Silicon, a Norwegian maker of polysilicon, was operating in Washington State, said Chuck Sutton, the company’s vice president of global sales and marketing. With few companies still standing outside China, REC Silicon “basically didn’t have any customers left,” he said.REC Silicon worked with the Trump administration to get China to commit to buying more American polysilicon as part of a 2019 trade deal. But China never followed through on those purchases.The turnaround for REC Silicon came, Mr. Sutton said, with the new tax credits this year. The manufacturer entered into a deal with QCells to supply its polysilicon to QCells’ planned U.S. plants. The deal allowed REC Silicon to reopen its Washington site, Mr. Sutton said.To compete with China, the industry needed “a whole-of-government approach,” Mr. Card of Suniva said, that included both tariffs and tax credits for domestic manufacturing.“They are not opposing forces,” he said. “They work together and make each other stronger.” More

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    U.A.W. Strikes Near an End After G.M. Reaches Tentative Deal

    Tentative accords at Ford Motor, General Motors and Stellantis are the most generous in decades, raising costs as the industry shifts to electric vehicles.A six-week wave of strikes that hobbled the three largest U.S. automakers has resulted in tentative contract agreements that would give workers their biggest pay raises in decades while avoiding a protracted work stoppage that could have damaged the economy.On Monday, General Motors and the United Automobile Workers reached a deal that mirrored agreements the union had reached in recent days with Ford Motor and Stellantis, the parent company of Ram, Jeep and Chrysler. The terms will be costly for the automakers as they undertake a switch to electric vehicles, while setting the stage for labor strife and demands for higher pay at nonunion automakers like Tesla and Toyota.The tentative agreements, which still require ratification by union members, also appeared to be a win for President Biden, who had risked political capital by picketing with striking workers at a G.M. facility in Michigan last month.“They have reached a historic agreement,” Mr. Biden said Monday after speaking with Shawn Fain, the U.A.W. president. The deals, the president said, “reward autoworkers who gave up much to keep the industry working and going during the global financial crisis more than a decade ago.”The strike stretched longer than White House officials would have liked, but was resolved before causing significant shortages of new cars and trucks that might have frustrated voters already angry about inflation.“The near-term impact of this strike will be relatively minor,” said Karl Brauer, executive analyst at iSeeCars.com, an online auto sales site. We are having trouble retrieving the article content.Please enable JavaScript in your browser settings.We are confirming your access to this article, this will take just a moment. However, if you are using Reader mode please log in, subscribe, or exit Reader mode since we are unable to verify access in that state.Confirming article access.If you are a subscriber, please  More

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    U.A.W. Reaches Tentative Deal With Stellantis, Following Ford

    The United Automobile Workers union announced the deal with Stellantis, the parent of Chrysler, Jeep and Ram. It also expanded its strike against G.M.The United Automobile Workers union announced on Saturday that it had reached a tentative agreement on a new labor contract with Stellantis, the parent company of Chrysler, Jeep and Ram.The agreement came three days after the union and Ford Motor announced a tentative agreement on a new contract. The two deals contain many of the same or similar terms, including a 25 percent general wage increase for U.A.W. members as well as the possibility for cost-of-living wage adjustments if inflation flares.“We have won a record-breaking contract,” the U.A.W. president, Shawn Fain, said in a video posted on Facebook. “We truly believe we got every penny possible out of the company.”Shortly after announcing the tentative agreement with Stellantis, the union expanded its strike against General Motors, calling on workers to walk off the job at the company’s plant in Spring Hill, Tenn. The plant makes sport utility vehicles for G.M.’s Cadillac and GMC divisions.Under the tentative new contract with Stellantis, Mr. Fain said, the company has agreed to reopen a plant in Belvidere, Ill., to produce a midsize pickup truck and to rehire enough workers to staff two shifts of production.The union also won commitments to keep an engine plant in Trenton Mich., open, and to keep and expand a machining plant in Toledo, Ohio. According to the union, these moves will create up to 5,000 new U.A.W. jobs.The union also won the right to strike if the company closes any plant and if it fails to follow through on its promised investment plans, Mr. Fain said.“If the company goes back on their words on any plant, we can strike the hell out of them,” he said.Mr. Fain said Stellantis workers would now return to their jobs.In a statement, Stellantis said, “We look forward to welcoming our 43,000 employees back to work and resuming operations to serve our customers.”The tentative agreement with Stellantis will require approval by a union council that oversees negotiations with the company, and then ratification by U.A.W. members. The council will meet on Thursday, Mr. Fain said.The deal with Stellantis means that only General Motors has not yet reached an agreement with the U.A.W.Erik Gordon, a business professor at the University of Michigan who follows the auto industry, said the new contracts impose higher labor costs on the Detroit manufacturers as they are ramping up production of electric vehicles and are competing with rivals who operate nonunion plants.“The Detroit Three enter a new, dangerous era,” he said. “They have to figure out how to transition to EVs and do it with a cost structure that puts them at a disadvantage with global competitors.”The union’s contracts with the three automakers expired on Sept. 15. Since then, the union has called on more than 45,000 autoworkers at the three companies to walk off the job at factories and at 38 spare-parts warehouses across the country.The most recent escalation of the strike at Stellantis came on Monday when the U.A.W. told workers to go on strike at a Ram plant in Sterling Heights, Mich., that makes the popular 1500 pickup truck. The strike has halted the production of Jeep Wranglers and Jeep Gladiators at a plant in Toledo, Ohio, and 20 Stellantis parts warehouses.For decades, the union has negotiated similar contracts with all three automakers, a method known as pattern bargaining. Like the contract it hammered out with Ford, the tentative Stellantis deal would lift the top U.A.W. wage from $32 an hour to more than $40 over four and a half years. That would allow employees working 40 hours a week to earn about $84,000 a year.Stellantis, G.M. and Ford began negotiating with the U.A.W. in July. The companies have sought to limit increases in labor costs because they already have higher labor costs than automakers like Tesla, Toyota and Honda that operate nonunion plants in the United States.The three large U.S. automakers are also trying to control costs while investing tens of billions of dollars to develop new electric vehicles, build battery plants and retool factories.Stellantis, which is based in Amsterdam, was created in 2021 by the merger of Fiat Chrysler and Peugeot, the French automaker. The company’s North American business, based near Detroit, is its most profitable.Stellantis surprised analysts recently by posting much stronger profits than G.M., which is the largest U.S. automaker by sales. Stellantis earned 11 billion euros ($11.6 billion) in the first half of the year while G.M. made nearly $5 billion.Noam Scheiber More

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    Ford’s U.A.W. Deal Will Raise Costs While Easing Labor Strife

    A tentative agreement gives union members at the carmaker their best terms in decades but could complicate Ford’s electric vehicle plans.When autoworkers went on strike in September, executives of the large U.S. automakers warned that union demands could significantly undermine their ability to compete in a fast-changing industry. The chief executive of Ford Motor said that the company might have to scrap its investment in electric vehicles.The future doesn’t look quite that bleak now that Ford and the United Automobile Workers union have reached a tentative agreement that is likely to serve as a template for deals the union eventually reaches with General Motors and Stellantis, the maker of Ram, Jeep and Chrysler.Ford’s costs will rise under the terms of the new contract, which includes a 25 percent raise over four and a half years, improved retirement benefits and other provisions. The extra expense will weigh on profit and could hamper Ford’s ability to invest in new technology, John Lawler, the company’s chief financial officer, said Thursday.But some analysts said the increases should be manageable. What will matter more for the company’s prospects, they said, is how innovative and efficient the company is in designing and producing cars and technology that can compete with offerings from Tesla, which dominates electric vehicles, the auto industry’s fastest growing segment.“They haven’t agreed to anything that will kill their competitiveness,” said Joshua Murray, an associate professor at Vanderbilt University who is an author of a book that examined how U.S. automakers lost ground to Japanese and European rivals. He said the deal could even help Ford, in part because the four-year contract ensures there would be no labor strife during an intense phase of the transition to electric vehicles.“They won’t be engaged in labor conflict while they’re dealing with” the technology shift, Mr. Murray said.Ford said on Thursday that it earned $1.2 billion from July through September on revenue of $44 billion; the company lost $827 million in the third quarter of 2022. But the division that makes electric vehicles lost $1.3 billion because of investments in new technology and increasing competition that has pushed down prices.The roughly 17,000 Ford workers who had been on strike, out of a total of 57,000 U.A.W. employees at the company, are expected to begin returning to factories soon. At U.A.W. Local 900 in Wayne, Mich., across the street from a Ford plant that was one of the first three factories to be struck by the U.A.W., workers were disposing of signs, firewood and bottled water that had been stockpiled for picket lines.“This is the best contract I have seen in my 30 years with Ford,” said Robert Carter, who works with engineers to lay out work stations on the assembly line.Cydni Elledge for The New York Times“This is the best contract I have seen in my 30 years with Ford,” said Robert Carter, 49, who works with engineers to lay out work stations on the assembly line. He said younger workers who had been earning well below the top wage of $32 an hour would see the biggest impact with the new contract; their pay would rise to more than $40 an hour over the next four and a half years.“For some people, their pay is going to almost double,” he said. “How can you say that’s not huge?”The reaction on Wall Street suggested that investors did not regard the agreement as a catastrophe. The carmaker’s shares fell 1.7 percent during regular trading on Thursday.But Ford stock slumped almost 5 percent in after-hours trading after the company said that, because of the cost of the strike, it could no longer stand by an earlier estimate that profit before interest expenses and taxes would be $11 billion to $12 billion in 2023. Mr. Lawler also said that strike would cost the company $1.3 billion this year.Analysts at Barclays estimated the annual cost of pay raises, improved retirement benefits and other measures in the new union contract to be $1 billion to $2 billion annually by the end of the four-year contract period, or equivalent to about 1 percent of sales.Mr. Lawler said on a conference call that the contract would raise the company’s labor costs by an average of $850 to $900 per vehicle. He said Ford would try to “identify efficiencies and improve productivity to help us deliver on our targets” in light of those higher labor costs.Some analysts were critical of the deal with the U.A.W., saying the cost to Ford could put it at a significant disadvantage, perhaps prompting the company to move more production to Mexico.“It adds a constraint in a very competitive market,” said Jonathan Smoke, chief economist at Cox Automotive. “It’s definitely a compromise that, I think, down the road will either limit Ford’s performance or force them to consider alternatives.”During the contentious negotiations, Ford complained that a big raise for workers would put it even further behind Tesla in the electric vehicle market. Sales of Ford’s two main battery-powered models, the F-150 Lightning truck and the Mustang Mach-E sport-utility vehicle, have been disappointing this year, and the company recently scaled back plans to increase production of the Lightning.“There is tremendous downward pressure on E.V. pricing,” Mr. Lawler said.But Tesla and other automakers like Toyota, Hyundai, Nissan and Honda, whose factories in the United States do not have unions, may now face pressure to raise wages, eroding any cost advantage they might have had.Crystal Nush and Daniel Morales work for Ford in Chicago. Of contract negotiators, Mr. Morales said he was “trying to understand what they agreed upon.”Jamie Kelter Davis for The New York TimesThe U.A.W. has declared its intention to try to organize those factories. The pay agreement with Ford, by far the biggest boost in compensation that the union has won in decades, is likely to serve as a powerful advertisement for collective bargaining.“Elon Musk better be looking at this,” said Madeline Janis, executive director of Jobs to Move America, an advocacy group that has close ties to organized labor. “Hyundai and Toyota better be looking at this. This is a new era where workers are standing up.”Tesla, the company Mr. Musk runs, and other carmakers that don’t have union workers in the United States, like BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen, may decide to pre-emptively hand out raises to keep labor organizers at bay.“One strategy to deter union organizing is to raise wages,” said Rebecca Kolins Givan, an associate professor of labor studies and employment relations at Rutgers University.The decisive factor in the electric vehicle market will be the ability of Ford, G.M. and Stellantis to produce innovative products, Ms. Givan and others said. That is the responsibility of management, not assembly line workers.“It’s clear that these companies have work to do in the electric vehicle market,” Ms. Givan said. “There is nothing in this contract that creates any constraints.”In addition to the 25 percent pay increase, the contract gives Ford’s hourly workers cost-of-living wage adjustments, major gains on pensions and job security, and the right to strike over plant closings. The union had initially asked for a 40 percent wage increase.Ford has not yet set dates for restarting plants idled by the strike. The company previously said it could take up to four weeks to reach full production. Ford also needs some 600 suppliers to resume production and to deliver parts.“Bringing a plant back up is much more difficult than taking it down,” Bryce Currie, vice president of Americas manufacturing at Ford, said this month.Workers at the Wayne plant, which makes the Ranger pickup and the Bronco sport-utility vehicle, had not received return-to-work orders on Thursday, but they expected to be back on the assembly line next week.Walter Robinson has worked at the Wayne plant for 34 years. Three of his children work for Ford and will see big benefits from the new terms.Cydni Elledge for The New York TimesWalter Robinson, 57, has worked at the Wayne plant for 34 years and expects to retire by the end of the new contract. But he said three of his children work for Ford and would see a big benefit from the new terms.“My daughter has only been here two years, and it was going to take years for her to get the top wage,” he said. “This is going to help her immensely. This is going to make all of their lives better.” More

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    Why U.A.W. President Shawn Fain Has Taken a Hard Line

    Shawn Fain owes his rise within the United Automobile Workers to a group determined to make the union far more confrontational toward automakers.When Shawn Fain sought the presidency of the United Automobile Workers union last year, he ran on a platform that promised: “No corruption. No concessions. No tiers.”That pledge encapsulated many members’ frustrations with years of union scandal and concessions to the three big Detroit automakers, including the creation of a lower tier of wages for newer employees. The platform helped propel Mr. Fain to the top job — where he has led a mounting wave of walkouts in recent weeks to demand more favorable contract terms.But the platform largely predated Mr. Fain’s candidacy. It was devised by a group called Unite All Workers for Democracy, which was officially formed in 2020 as a caucus — essentially, a political party within the union.The group set out to topple the ruling party, known as the Administration Caucus, which had run the union for more than 70 years. In 2022, Unite All Workers hashed out its party line, recruited candidates and ramped up a campaign operation to elect them.When the dust settled, the slate had won half the seats on the union’s 14-member executive board, with Mr. Fain, previously a union staff member, as president. Unite All Workers’ role helps explain why the union has taken such a hard line with the automakers.“We had a platform we ran on, and we’re trying to push that platform forward,” said Scott Houldieson, a founder of the group and a longtime Ford Motor worker in Chicago. “Shawn has been really upfront about what we’re trying to accomplish.”The first fruits of that approach may have emerged Wednesday, when negotiators for the union and Ford agreed on terms for a new four-year contract, including a wage increase of roughly 25 percent over the four years, according to the union.“We hit the companies to maximum effect,” Mr. Fain said in a Facebook livestream. The deal is subject to ratification by the company’s union workers.Since at least the 1980s, U.A.W. members have formed groups to challenge the union’s top officials, or at least prod them to be more confrontational with automakers. The efforts took on added urgency in 2007, when the union accepted tiers as a way to stabilize the automakers’ financial footing. (General Motors and Chrysler later filed for bankruptcy anyway; Ford avoided it.)Scott Houldieson, a founder of United Auto Workers for Democracy, said, “We had a platform we ran on, and we’re trying to push that platform forward.”Jamie Kelter Davis for The New York TimesBut the Administration Caucus always held a trump card: The union leadership wasn’t elected directly by members. Rather, future leaders were effectively chosen by existing leaders, then approved by delegates to a convention every four years.That changed after a corruption scandal in which two recent U.A.W. presidents were charged with embezzlement in 2020. As part of a consent decree with the federal government, members voted in a referendum on whether to directly elect union leaders. Unite All Workers, which was pressing for the change, waged an all-out campaign to persuade union members to support “one member one vote.”When the initiative passed by nearly a two-to-one ratio, Unite All Workers, whose members paid an annual fee, was poised to become a kingmaker of sorts in the union’s 2022 elections. The group had a budget of over $100,000, two full-time staff members and hundreds of volunteer organizers.“It was obvious that we could use the same infrastructure” of staff and volunteers to compete in the election, said Mike Cannon, a retired U.A.W. member who serves on the Unite All Workers steering committee. “The only question at that point was, were we going to have any candidates?”Unite All Workers announced that anyone who wanted to join its campaign slate would have to fill out a detailed questionnaire and attend at least one meeting with its members.The group wanted to ensure that the candidates it backed were committed to running the union with extensive input from rank-and-file members, and to driving a much harder bargain with employers. It wanted an end to wage tiers, which it said divided and demoralized workers, and a focus on organizing new members, especially among electric vehicle and battery workers.Among those responding to the call was Mr. Fain, then a staff member in the union division responsible for Stellantis, the parent of Chrysler, Jeep and Ram. During his interview process, Mr. Fain explained how, as a local official in Indiana in 2007, he had helped lead opposition to the two-tier wage structure the union had agreed to, and how he had argued for more favorable contract terms after joining the headquarters staff.Some members of the group were skeptical that an employee of the old guard could be a reformer. But other U.A.W. dissidents vouched for him. “I knew the claims were legit,” said Martha Grevatt, a longtime Chrysler employee on the steering committee of Unite All Workers.Martha Grevatt said she had found Mr. Fain’s pledges to shake up the union “legit” even though he had been a staff member under the previous leadership.Daniel Lozada for The New York TimesThe group backed Mr. Fain and six other candidates for the union’s 14-member executive board, and all seven won.As president, Mr. Fain has appointed critics of the former leadership as his top aides, including one who served on the Unite All Workers steering committee. Board members, including Mr. Fain, have attended some of the group’s monthly membership meetings and taken part in one of its WhatsApp chats.Many of the group’s priorities became demands in the union’s contract negotiations, and Mr. Fain has indicated that he hopes to use momentum from the strike to organize nonunion companies like Tesla and Honda, a key objective of Unite All Workers.But for all the connections between the group and the union leadership, they are not one and the same.Some board members who ran on the Unite All Workers slate have at times taken positions in tension with the group’s priorities. In recent weeks, Margaret Mock, the union’s second-ranking official, has expressed concern to fellow board members about the walkout’s cost to the union’s budget. At a special board meeting last week, she offered a proposal intended to scale back spending on organizing during the strike, according to two people familiar with the meeting. The board set aside the proposal; Ms. Mock did not respond to a request for comment.For its part, Unite All Workers considers itself accountable to rank-and-file members, not an extension of the leaders it helped elect. On a tentative deal with any of the three large automakers, Unite All Workers plans to appoint a task force to provide an assessment of the proposal to the union’s members. The group’s members will then decide whether to support it.“I would say it’s not automatic that the caucus endorses” an agreement, said Andrew Bergman, who serves on the Unite All Workers steering committee.Still, as a practical matter, the group is highly unlikely to oppose an agreement, since Mr. Fain has forcefully pressed for its core priorities.“For years, we’ve been playing defense at every step, and we’ve been losing,” Mr. Fain said in a video streamed online on Friday, explaining why the strike would continue. “When we vote on a tentative agreement, it will be because your leadership and your council thinks we’ve gotten absolutely every dollar we can.” This week, the union expanded the strike to the largest U.S. factories at Stellantis and General Motors.The approach has raised concerns among employers and business groups. John Drake, a vice president at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said that the Detroit automakers could struggle to remain competitive after the strike, and that Mr. Fain appeared to be overreaching in extracting concessions.“It feels like there’s not really a strategy here,” Mr. Drake said. “It’s like pain is the goal.”Mr. Fain has indicated that he hopes to use momentum from the strike to organize nonunion companies like Tesla and Honda, a key objective of the insurgent group that endorsed his candidacy.Jamie Kelter Davis for The New York TimesThe best analogy for Unite All Workers may be to a group called Brand New Congress, created by supporters of Senator Bernie Sanders, the progressive Vermont independent, to help elect congressional candidates beginning in 2018.Not long after the 2016 presidential election, Brand New Congress urged an obscure New York bartender and activist named Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to challenge a longtime incumbent in a Democratic congressional primary. A sister group provided her with training and campaign infrastructure. After she won, two people involved with the groups joined her staff.Ms. Ocasio-Cortez has since become far more prominent than those early backers, and in principle she could take positions at odds with their progressive stands. But in practice, it’s unlikely. The worldview is embedded in her political identity.Mr. Fain’s story is similar: a once-obscure progressive who was catapulted to a position of power by a group of insurgents and was determined to enact their shared principles once he got there. Except that, in backing him and his colleagues, Unite All Workers helped win not just a few legislative seats, but the reins of an entire union.After Vail Kohnert-Yount, a Unite All Workers steering committee member, seconded Mr. Fain’s nomination for president at the union’s convention last year, he spoke to her about relying on government assistance as a new parent decades ago.“I remember thinking this guy has not forgotten where he came from — he’s very much stayed that person,” Ms. Kohnert-Yount said. “We did our best to endorse a candidate we believed in.” More

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    U.A.W. and Ford Negotiators Reach Accord on Contract Terms

    The deal, subject to approval by union members, could ease the way for deals with General Motors and Stellantis and end a growing wave of walkouts.Negotiators for the United Automobile Workers and Ford Motor have agreed on terms of a new four-year labor contract, people briefed on the talks said Wednesday, nearly six weeks after the union began a growing wave of walkouts against the three Detroit automakers.The deal includes a roughly 25 percent pay increase over four years, those people said. Any agreement would be subject to the approval of the U.A.W. council that oversees relations with Ford, and then ratification by the company’s union workers.The union continues to negotiate with General Motors and Stellantis, whose brands include Chrysler, Jeep and Ram.Two weeks ago — when it said it had reached the limit of what it could afford without hurting its business — Ford offered to increase wages 23 percent, adjust pay in response to inflation and cut the time for new hires to rise to the top wage, to four years from eight. The other companies have made similar offers.But the U.A.W. and its president, Shawn Fain, have pressed for greater concessions, ratcheting up the walkouts and aiming them at factories producing some of the automakers’ most profitable models.Altogether, about 45,000 workers at Ford, G.M. and Stellantis are on strike across the country, including 8,700 workers at Ford’s Kentucky truck plant in Louisville, the company’s largest, and almost 10,000 others at Ford factories in Illinois and Michigan.The tentative deal with Ford could increase pressure on the other companies to reach an agreement with the union. In the past, once the union reached a deal with one automaker, tentative agreements with the others quickly followed. But that history may not be as relevant now because the U.A.W. had never struck all three companies simultaneously until this year.The companies are investing billions in a transition to battery-powered vehicles, which they say makes it harder for them to pay substantially higher wages. Last week, Ford’s executive chairman, William C. Ford Jr., said the union’s demands risked damaging the ability of Detroit automakers to compete against nonunion companies like Tesla and foreign rivals.“Toyota, Honda, Tesla and the others are loving the strike, because they know the longer it goes on, the better it is for them,” he said. “They will win, and all of us will lose.”The U.A.W. makes a different case: that success in its contract battle with the Big Three will give it momentum to organize autoworkers at other companies as well.The U.A.W. began its walkouts when the companies’ union contracts expired in mid-September. It won immediate support from President Biden, who called on the automakers to “ensure record corporate profits mean record contracts” and briefly joined workers on a picket line at a G.M. plant near Detroit late last month.The union initially demanded a 40 percent wage increase over four years — an amount that union officials have said matches the raises the top executives at the three companies have received over the last four years. Those raises are also meant to compensate for more modest increases the autoworkers received in recent years and concessions the union made to the companies beginning in 2007.In addition, the union has called for an end to a system that pays new hires just over half of the top wage of $32 an hour. It has been seeking cost-of-living adjustments that would nudge wages higher to compensate for inflation. And it wants a reinstatement of pensions for all workers, improved retiree benefits and shorter work hours.G.M. and Stellantis faced the most recent escalation of the U.A.W. walkouts when the union called out 6,800 workers at a large Ram pickup truck plant in Michigan on Monday and 5,000 workers at a G.M. plant in Arlington, Texas, that makes large sport utility vehicles including the Chevrolet Tahoe, the GMC Yukon and the Cadillac Escalade.On Tuesday, G.M. reported a third-quarter profit of $3.1 billion, a 7 percent decline from the same period last year, owing in part to the ongoing strike. Ford is scheduled to announce its third-quarter earnings on Thursday. More