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Electric vehicle interest in Kansas City increases amid United Auto Workers strike

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Posted at 5:33 PM, Oct 20, 2023
and last updated 2023-11-09 14:27:23-05

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — As the United Auto Workers strike enters its second month, there’s an underlying topic of discussion that’s caused divisiveness throughout: electric vehicles.

Since the early days of negotiations, the UAW has pleaded for the Big 3 — Ford, Stellantis and General Motors — to include electric vehicle battery plants in their negotiations.

In his Oct. 6 live stream, UAW President Shawn Fain announced that minutes before he went on air, GM made a breakthrough concession to bring workers at battery plants in the UAW’s national contract, which essentially assures they’ll be represented by the union, the Associated Press says.

With this change, the union’s master agreement now covers the four U.S. GM battery plants and GM will “bargain with the union.”

Some of the main arguments in the electric vehicle discussion have been job loss for union workers, electric battery plants not being built yet and a fear from auto companies of not unionizing making their electric vehicles too expensive.

Judy Ancel is retired from the University of Missouri - Kansas City as the director of the institute for Labor Studies. She is currently the executive producer of a weekly radio show covering the same topic.

As someone with years of knowledge surrounding labor, she supports the UAW. At their most recently rally at the end of September, she talked electric vehicles.

“As we convert more and more to electric vehicles, those who are producing the gasoline powered engine vehicles will be losing their jobs,” Ancel said.

The Associated Press reports if electric vehicles replace gas-powered ones, most UAW workers at engine and transmission plants will lose their jobs. And if lower-paying battery plants aren’t union, workers won’t have anywhere to get the same wages and benefits.

“Job loss has been a point of concern ever since automation and globalization,” Ancel said.

But even with these concerns, Ancel is just as passionate about electric vehicles being a remedy for climate change.

“As we can see from the droughts, the storms, the fires — clearly it's getting worse, and we need to do everything we can to eliminate carbon in our economy,” Ancel said. “One of the best ways to do that is to convert our automobiles to electric vehicles.”

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, Kansas has 7,550 electric vehicles registered in the state, while Missouri has more than double that number at 17,870.

As this number continues to grow, so do the services that auto workers of all sorts — including repair shops — are making.

“We are now getting ahead of the industry before it hits. In the next 10 years, we’ll see an influx of electric vehicles we can work on,” said Michael Chilcutt, an EV technician at I-70 Auto Service, a repair shop in Kansas City.

In addition to servicing vehicles requiring gas, they also service electric vehicles.

“We made a decision as a company to kind of get in front of things and be prepared for this in our industry which we saw coming, and I think that’s going to increase,” said Shane Edwards, the general manager at I-70 auto.

Edwards says he plans to get at least one or two more electric vehicle technicians certified over the next few years, something that requires learning.

“There’s a lot of training that’s involved in that, specialized equipment and safety-ness,” Chilcutt said.

But just as those working in the auto industry will have things to learn about electric vehicles, so will consumers.

“We did a lot of research beforehand; we kind of knew what we were getting into,” said Scott Carey, an electric vehicle owner.

He and his wife bought the Tesla Model 3 long range 2018 vehicle this year. For them, it’s was a good financial investment.

“With everything moving the way of electrification, we kind of wanted to start saving money,” Carey said. “It seemed to us like we’d already hit cost parody with the total cost of ownership.”

The affordability that Carey’s family found is a fear that automakers like Stellantis and Ford have will continue if they make unionize their battery plants.

“Ford and Stellantis thus far don’t want to pay top union wages, fearing that will push up their costs over Tesla and other competitors with nonunion battery plants mainly in the U.S. South,” according to AP. “That could make Detroit’s EVs more expensive and harder to sell.”

As for the future of EV battery plants in Kansas City, the Panasonic EV battery plant is being scheduled to begin production in March 2025.

Ancel says, however, that it’s never too late to start thinking about electric vehicles and their impact.

“It’s absolutely not too early,” she said.