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As new contract talks get underway between GM, UAW, Bowling Green's Corvette Assembly Plant contributes to shifting EV market

Lisa Autry

Negotiations are underway on a new contract between General Motors and the Corvette Assembly Plant in Bowling Green.

National labor talks began July 18 between the Big Three automakers and the United Autoworkers Union.

UAW Local 2164 in Bowling Green will hold a Q&A session with members on Aug. 12 as local bargaining begins. President Bryan Ferrett says one of the goals is the elimination of the tiered wage system where workers are hired on a temporary basis for up to two years, followed by a slow progression to the top pay rate.

“The ideal would be to go back to how I was hired," Ferrett told WKU Public Radio. "You get hired, you put in a 90-day probation period, you’re hired in at 65-70% of the rate, and within a year or year-and-a-half, you progress to the top rate and full benefits.”

Permanent assembly line workers making top wages at the Corvette plant in Bowling Green earn more than $30 an hour.

Winning back cost-of-living adjustments is another goal of union members as inflation has outpaced the raises union members negotiated in 2019.

Negotiations on a new four-year contract will affect more than 1,000 employees at the Corvette Assembly Plant in Bowling Green. Ferrett adds that he wants the talks to include better working conditions.

“Not that they’re bad or anything, but we’re always looking to achieve better safety practices and conditions at the plant," Ferrett stated. "It’s just an old building. I’d like to see it upgraded or a new facility be built here in Bowling Green.”

The current contract between GM and the UAW expires Sept. 14.

Negotiations come GM's makes an ambitious shift to electric vehicles. GM has pledged to stop making gasoline-powered cars, vans, and sport utility vehicles by 2035, and Bowling Green is playing a role in the automaker’s emerging EV market.

The test fleet of the hybrid-electric Corvette E-Ray is already on the road, with full production to ramp up soon at the Bowling Green plant where the car is manufactured. The first electrified Corvette will hit dealer showrooms by the end of the year.

GM’s EV portfolio also includes the Chevy Bolt, Equinox, Blazer, Silverado, as well as GMC Hummer and Cadillac Lyric. According to its second-quarter earnings reports, GM produced 50,000 EVs in first half of the year, in line with internal targets, but far slower than some expected.

“I'm not sure whose thought process of this is slow," said Gerald Johnson, executive vice president of GM Global Manufacturing and Sustainability. "This is break-neck when you compare ramp ups of other EV suppliers over the past five to seven years.”

CEO Mary Barra blamed a supplier of automation equipment for the slow ramp-up of GM's new electric vehicles during the release of the automaker's second quarter earnings report last week.

GM plans to double production in the second half of the year to 100,000 EV units, which will include the Corvette E-Ray.

An Oxford Economics report released in June showed GM's impact in Kentucky during 2022 totaled $1.7 billion in GDP contributions, $326 million in tax receipts, and more than 13,000 jobs through the Bowling Green plant and its suppliers.

Lisa is a Scottsville native and WKU alum. She has worked in radio as a news reporter and anchor for 18 years. Prior to joining WKU Public Radio, she most recently worked at WHAS in Louisville and WLAC in Nashville. She has received numerous awards from the Associated Press, including Best Reporter in Kentucky. Many of her stories have been heard on NPR.