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WGLT, an NPR station in central Illinois, is following every move at the Rivian manufacturing plant in Normal, Illinois. The electric vehicle startup has gone from stealth mode to big-time player in the auto world, attracting attention (and big money) from companies like Ford and Amazon.

UAW Leader: Let Rivian Workers Decide If Unionizing Works For Them

Rivian Automotive sign
Eric Stock
Rivian Automotive plans to have 325 workers at its plant in Normal by the end of 2019.

As Rivian ramps up hiring to begin producing electric vehicles at its plant in Normal, it's unclear if the plant will be using union workers.

Ron McInroy
Credit Popovich Photography
Ron McInroy, United Auto Workers Union 4 director, said the UAW will respond to requests if Rivian employees seek information about unionizing.

Ron McInroy, regional director for the United Auto Workers of America in Illinois and eight other states, said no one has contacted the UAW about possible union representation for the Rivian plant.

He said union leaders won't be reaching out unless they are asked.

“Let the workers decide what’s best for them and let them make that decision in a level and fair playing field,” McInroy said.

Amazon announced last week plans to buy 100,000 electric vans from Rivian as part of a plan to become carbon neutral by 2040.

A former UAW local leader for Mitsubishi Motors workers said he's concerned that many companies are more aggressively fighting unions, though he said it's not as bad in Illinois as in right-to-work states.

Ralph Timan was president of the United Auto Workers Local 2488 and worked at Mitsubishi for 27 years.

“Companies often spend hundreds of thousands of dollars (on) anti-union lawyers and firms to dissuade people from joining a union,” Timan said.

Last spring, some union leaders in McLean County complained that Rivian was using out-of-town workers for major remodeling work at the plant.

Timan said while he is happily re-employed after leaving Mitsubishi — he now services banking equipment — he knows some of his former co-workers at Mitsubishi are going to work at Rivian, and in some cases, to mentor others.

“There might be an opportunity there for former members, especially with what I see from Rivian and their mindset to utilize that experience to help nurture that generation of autoworkers and assemblers at the facility,” Timan said.

McInroy said even though Rivian is producing electric vehicles, much of the work would be the same aside from the drive train assembly. He said all vehicle production is undergoing major technology advances that create a learning curve, regardless of prior experience.

“Technology changes even in the existing plants you have,” McInroy said. “You are continuing to work with robotics and automation and anything you can put into an assembly line to make it more efficient and help you with quality standards.”

Rivian has about 130 employees but hasn't started vehicle production yet. The company has pledged to have 1,000 full-time workers at the plant in Normal by 2024.

Messages left with a Rivian spokesperson have not been returned. 

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Eric Stock is the News Director at WGLT. You can contact Eric at ejstoc1@ilstu.edu.
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