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White House awards funds to convert old plants to EV and hybrid sites

Biden's transition to efficient vehicles has been criticized over worker compensation

President Joe Biden in May.
President Joe Biden in May. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The White House announced Thursday it’s providing $1.7 billion to convert shuttered or at-risk auto manufacturing and assembly facilities to make fuel-efficient and electric vehicles.

The funding, which administration officials said will go to 11 unionized facilities, is aimed at easing concerns that the administration’s push to transition to electric vehicles would eliminate domestic auto manufacturing jobs.

“This investment will create thousands of good-paying, union manufacturing jobs and retain even more — from Lansing, Michigan to Fort Valley, Georgia — by helping auto companies retool, reboot, and rehire in the same factories and communities,” President Joe Biden said in a statement. The funds come from the 2022 climate and tax law.

The chosen facilities span across eight states — Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland and Virginia — and belong to automakers like General Motors and Fiat Chrysler and other manufacturers like Harley Davidson Inc., among others.

The facilities would manufacture a range of energy efficient vehicles, including electric, hydrogen-powered and hybrid vehicles, as well as many parts in the automotive supply chain, such as those for electric buses, hybrid powertrains and heavy-duty commercial truck batteries.

A White House official said negotiations are starting with the auto companies to set construction plans and labor assurances, including plans around retaining and retraining workers.

The opening of new or revitalized facilities located in the South will likely amount to a major win for unions. Many foreign automakers have opened up electric vehicle manufacturing and assembly facilities across the Southeast, but the United Auto Workers has notoriously struggled to unionize the region.

During strikes last year at the three major automakers — General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co. and Stellantis, formerly Fiat Chrysler — former President Donald Trump criticized Biden’s EV transition agenda, arguing it would threaten U.S. auto jobs, in a counter to Biden’s self-proclaimed status as “the most pro-union president in history.”

Since then, Biden has worked to win over union support.

UAW President Shawn Fain in January endorsed Biden in the November election despite EV transition concerns. UAW announced it reached an agreement with Volkswagen in April to unionize a facility in Chattanooga, Tenn., signaling the union is making inroads into the region.

The 11 facility conversions would create more than 2,900 new jobs and retain over 15,000 highly skilled union workers, a White House fact sheet said.

The facility in Fort Valley, Ga., owned by Blue Bird Corp., will receive $80 million to convert a facility used to make gasoline-powered vehicles into one producing zero-emission electric school buses. A fact sheet said that the facility is represented by the United Steelworkers.

General Motors will receive the most funding at $500 million to convert its plant in Lansing, Mich., to an electric vehicle site. The plant is unionized with the UAW, and the union will partner with GM to train workers for EV manufacturing.

Other facilities are represented by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, the Diesel Workers Union and the Office Committee Union.

“We will not let our transition to clean energy be a zero-sum game where workers get left behind and where local plants close and move overseas,” acting Labor Secretary Julie Su said on a call with reporters. “We recognize that union workers have built the middle class, and those same workers are going to power our clean energy future.”