But they were also supporting their own committee, which has been negotiating a contract with Ultium.
Eric Manaro and George Goranitis are both on the committee negotiating the first-ever contract with Ultium Cells of Lordstown.
“Because of the first contract and starting from scratch, there’s a lot that goes into it — more than people realize,” Manaro said.
“This is a very crucial contract, not just for us, but also other Ultium Cells facilities could adopt our language out of our contact,” Goranitis said. “We’re not just looking out for us and negotiating a contract for ourselves but for our future brothers and sisters at Ultium Cells as well.”
Negotiations started Feb. 14 and have been ongoing on a weekly basis for the 1,200 union workers. Last month, Ultium agreed to pay raises of $3 to $4 per hour, but the union wants more.
“That was an interim raise until we get to where we feel we can get during contract negotiations at the end of the contract,” Manaro said.
“It’s not just health and safety. It’s the wages, it’s the working conditions. It’s PTO and having time off with your family,” Goranitis said. “It’s going to be a fight.”
But health and safety is an issue.
“We have a lot of chemicals and hazardous material in here that are coming from overseas that we don’t even have the correct standards for here in the U.S.,” Gorganitis said.
“At the end of the day, we all want to go home the same way we came to the plant,” Manaro said.
Ultium is a joint venture between General Motors and LG Energy Solutions of South Korea, which Goranitis said makes negotiations more difficult. He said it would be easier if the union were negotiating with General Motors. But every time there’s a tentative agreement, it must be approved in South Korea — which takes time and involves transcending cultural differences.
“Also, [South Korea has] different working conditions and different lifestyles than we do here in the U.S., so there’s a lot of differences and a lot of talks that have to go back and forth,” Goranitis said.
Both Manaro and Goranitis worked at GM Lordstown until it closed. Goranitis transferred to Tennessee, missed his family and returned home. Manaro never left. They have both been with Ultium since the beginning.
In a recent video released by United Auto Workers, union members highlighted the impacts the closure of the Lordstown GM plant has had on workers in the Valley. As the jobs within the plant itself evaporated, surrounding and supporting industries, including parts suppliers, steelworkers and more — also felt the hit.
“For decades now, we’ve had an economy where one CEO has the power to ruin the local economies,” said UAW president Shawn Fain in the video. “It doesn’t have to be this way.”
Those on the Ultium workers negotiating committee hope there’s a contract in place before the end of the year.