Whitmer, White House tout Michigan electric vehicle efforts 

Discussion focuses on how to create good-paying jobs, fight climate change

By: - May 25, 2022 6:51 am

Workers at the Ford Motor Co. Rouge Electric Vehicle Center in Dearborn watch President Joe Biden deliver remarks on the electric F-150 Lightning pickup truck, which will be produced at the factory, and his American Jobs Plan. (Andrew Roth | Michigan Advance)

Efforts to advance Michigan’s automotive sector in a “pro-climate” direction was the focus of an online discussion Tuesday hosted by the Center for American Progress (CAP) featuring Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

“The Future of Mobility, From the Midwest to Beyond,” was hosted by CAP President and CEO Patrick Gaspard and featured what was billed as “a conversation about Michigan’s progress in developing pro-business, pro-worker, and pro-climate mobility initiatives.” 

Keynote remarks were provided by White House National Climate Adviser Gina McCarthy, who said Michigan was at the forefront of transportation innovation thanks in large part to the leadership of Whitmer, who McCarthy said was delivering “tremendous opportunities.” However, McCarthy said those opportunities were born out of the necessity of addressing the climate crisis, something President Biden had taken unprecedented steps towards tackling “with the urgency that science demands.”

“He created a first ever national climate task force,” said McCarthy, “so that every cabinet secretary now has climate as part of their agency’s mission. And they use every tool available to achieve our climate goals, like reducing U.S. emissions 50 to 52% below 2005 levels in 2030, which will require significant shifts in the transportation sector, which as you know is the largest source of emissions.”

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer speaks at the CAP forum, May 24, 2022 | Screenshot

Speaking on the same day that automaker Stellantis NV announced plans to locate its second North American electric-vehicle battery manufacturing plant in Kokomo, Ind., Whitmer began her comments by addressing Michigan’s efforts at remaining the center of automotive technology and manufacturing as the industry transitions away from gas-powered vehicles.

“We set up a bipartisan effort to create this fund in December so that Michigan could compete for it and win big projects,” said Whitmer. “We’ve already landed a massive investment from General Motors. It’s a $7 billion investment, the largest in company history, building batteries so that we can continue to ensure that they’re building EV pickups and battery cell plants.”

Whitmer said the state was remaining competitive by focusing on not just transitioning the industry, but also planning for an effective transition. 

“How do we have retraining and how do we have competitive talent?” asked Whitmer. “So these are all important components to making sure that as we’re building this out, we’re sustaining good-paying jobs.”

However, when Gaspard asked Whitmer about her “climate optimism,” she turned her focus to areas where there has been cooperation as opposed to conflict.

“I know everything feels so hyperpolarized in this moment, but I will also tell you that during the heat of the pandemic, governors were working together; we were sharing best practices,” said Whitmer. “We were trying to help one another, learn from one another, and so we built some really important relationships that must transcend a pandemic and stay focused on that. The big issues that we’re all working to tackle, none of us can do this alone. The future of mobility is not a partisan issue.”

A panel of experts was then featured, including United Auto Workers Vice President Cindy Estrada, which was kicked off by noting that because electric vehicles have fewer components than traditional combustion vehicles, there are fewer labor hours in that supply chain which creates a potential for fewer overall workers. That set up a question about how to reduce transportation emissions, while still protecting and preserving union jobs.

An electric vehicle during a walking tour of FEV in Auburn Hills | Laina G. Stebbins

“There are less parts when you go to the EV, but there’s also huge opportunities in terms of retraining and making sure as these new facilities come in, whether they’re startups or battery plants, that we really have a chance to re-imagine the industry,” said Estrada. 

“One of the things that we’re really helping educate people is that in manufacturing, you hear a lot it’s the middle-class job, but, you know, in and of itself without a union, that’s just not true, right? They’re often low-wage jobs, that’s the democracy in the workplace and the ability to bargain that. I think it’s really important as, as companies come in to get this right, all stakeholders have to be at the table.”

However, Estrada cautioned that oversight was needed to keep these newer jobs from becoming just another tier of low-wage employment.

“We can’t assume these are going to be good jobs,” she said, “because we can assume that corporate America is going to use these subsidies to do union avoidance.”

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Jon King
Jon King

Jon King has been a journalist for more than 35 years. He is the Past President of the Michigan Associated Press Media Editors Association and has been recognized for excellence numerous times, most recently in 2021 with the Best Investigative Story by the Michigan Association of Broadcasters. He is also an adjunct faculty member at Cleary University. Jon and his family live in Howell, where he also serves on the Board of Directors for the Livingston Diversity Council.