A strike by the UAW shuts down the only plant in the U.S. operated by a major supplier of the low-voltage batteries used by automakers and the aftermarket.
More than 500 members of Local 12 in Toledo, OH, walked off the job May 8 at the Clarios battery plant in Holland, OH, after they overwhelmingly rejected the company’s last contract proposal for employees, who make 12V and 48V batteries. The vote to turn down the proposed contract was nearly unanimous, according to union representatives.
Local 12 President Bruce Baumhower says the company's current proposal would cost workers money.
The plant outside Toledo manufactures about 150,000 batteries a week for customers including Ford and General Motors.
“Our Toledo facility opened in 1981 and today employs around 650 represented and salaried employees. Toledo is a key location for Clarios and has been a focus of recent investment as we anticipate our ability to competitively support growth and increased customer demand well into the future,” Clarios says in a statement.
“Negotiations have been ongoing since April. The contract expired April 19. Unfortunately, on April 27, our represented employees did not ratify the proposed agreement despite having the support of their bargaining committee,” the company says.
“We’ve been working in good faith to come up with an agreement. We remain optimistic as we’ve reached agreements with all of our unions during recent contract negotiations. Unfortunately, our first offer was not accepted, but we are dedicated to continuing good-faith negotiations to reach a contract that focuses on the future and supports our customers,” Clarios says.
Clarios spokesperson Zach Peterson says he can’t comment on shipments to customers, which cover a broad range of vehicle manufacturers from makers of heavy trucks to light vehicles as well as aftermarket outlets such as AutoZone. On its website, Clarios, which also operates plants in Mexico, Europe and China, notes one of every three vehicles around the world uses one of its batteries, which are sold under a variety of brand names.
“We continue on – our focus (is) on driving margin expansion through operational excellence and cost reduction discipline. To date, our team has achieved approximately 60% of the targeted $400 million of operational improvements in the business on a gross basis,” Clarios CEO Mark Wallace notes during a recent conference call with analysts.
“This year, we are tracking to achieve an additional $50 million in cost savings driven largely by the enhancements of our U.S. operations as we realize the benefit of investments in automation and the optimization of transportation, supply chain and overhead cost to drive performance and productivity,” he adds.
The union, however, is saying the savings will not be realized by cutting wages and benefits.
The strike at the Clarios plant could serve as an early test for Shawn Fain, the UAW’s new president, who has promised the union would rejoin “the fight” for better wages and working conditions for working-class Americans.
Fain has said the UAW would not fall in line with an endorsement of President Joe Biden in his 2024 re-election bid. Fain says Democrat Biden, who has enjoyed union support throughout his long political career, which reaches back into the 1970s, must provide more support for union members and the UAW in the transition to electric vehicles.
“Your elected leadership on the International Executive Board are united and hard at work implementing the changes we believe are needed to transform our union back into a fighting organization. But it’s going to take all of us to get back in the fight,” says Fain.