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Beyond wages: The transformative role of strikes in accelerating transportation electrification

18 May 2024

Authors: Xin Sun, Fengqi You

Journal: Nexus


The 2023 United Auto Workers (UAW) strike, which temporarily stabilized, was a significant labor movement. It involved approximately 145,000 UAW members employed by Ford, General Motors, and Stellantis, three major U.S. automakers that account for 41% of vehicles sales in the United States. The strike, which began on September 15, 2023, and lasted 46 days, enabled UAW workers to secure wage hikes ranging from 25% to 168%. Meanwhile, the UAW strike also presents complex implications for the automotive industry, particularly as it intersects with the ambitious goal of deploying electric vehicles (EVs) in the country. For example, the target is for 50% of new vehicles sold in the United States to be EVs by 2030.1 This shift is not merely a matter of swapping out engines. It also represents a systemic transformation involving new manufacturing processes, supply chain re-engineering, and workforce evolution. The auto workers, deeply affected by this industry shift, have used the strike to voice their concerns, which go beyond wage demands. They are highlighting the need for secure jobs, better working conditions, and clarity on how their roles in manufacturing will evolve, particularly with the industry’s move toward EV production. Strikes can have far-reaching consequences, potentially hindering or, in some cases, accelerating transportation decarbonization, depending on the resolution and policy responses they provoke.

Transportation electrification is deemed as a cornerstone in the global energy transition, with extensive literature underscoring its multifaceted impacts and potential challenges. Climate benefits are paramount, with EVs significantly decreasing greenhouse gas emissions thus toward a low-carbon society, especially when coupled with greener power sources.2 Concurrently, the integration of EVs into energy grids has attracted substantial attention, such as charging strategy optimization and vehicle-to-grid management, to accommodate the increased electricity demand without compromising grid stability.3 Another area of research focus is the technological advancements in energy storage, particularly in lithium batteries, as it plays a crucial role in enhancing EV performance and accessibility.4 Moreover, the shift toward electrified transport stimulates new sectors, including battery manufacturing, recycling, and critical material demand, thereby catalyzing wide discussions.5 Existing literature also highlights the significant contribution of transportation electrification to improving air quality and supporting the development of smart and sustainable cities.6 In contrast, although social vulnerability to clean energy transition has inspired extensive discussion, solutions to the social impacts of the transportation electrification are more inadequate, such as ensuring equitable access to EV technology and addressing the employment concerns of transitioning automotive labor markets. Our commentary seeks to promote the latter theme, using the 2023 UAW strike as a case study to analyze its impact on the transition to electrification and automation, supply chain dynamics, and policy innovation.

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Last modified:23 May 2024 1.05 p.m.

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