Electric battery maker, coal union announce WVa labor pact

SOURCE: Washington Post

DATE: May 24, 2021

BY: John Raby

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The energy startup SPARKZ said Tuesday it has signed a memorandum of understanding with the nation’s largest coal miners’ union on a labor-management agreement for its planned electric battery factory in West Virginia.

The company and the United Mine Workers of America will partner to recruit and train dislocated miners to be the factory’s first production workers. In March, the company said it would start construction this year on the plant that will employ at least 350 workers. The factory’s location has yet to be announced.

“SPARKZ is proud to partner with the United Mine Workers of America to help West Virginia workers become part of the new energy economy, while re-engineering the battery supply chain domestically,” SPARKZ founder and CEO Sanjiv Malhotra said in a news release. “This partnership is a symbol of American innovation and American workers literally building our energy future together and fighting to end China’s dominance of advanced batteries.”

West Virginia has lost thousands of jobs in mining and other resource extraction industries in recent years. UMW President Cecil Roberts said the agreement “is a win-win for the laid-off coal miners who will work in this facility, their families and their communities.”

Sen. Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, said the partnership “is proof that there is an important role” for the union in the nation’s energy transition.

The factory will produce cobalt-free batteries, an effort to bring down the cost of U.S. lithium-ion battery production. The Democratic Republic of Congo has historically been the top producer of cobalt worldwide, with most mines controlled by Chinese companies.

Earlier this month, U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm announced $3.1 billion in funding to U.S. companies that make and recycle lithium-ion batteries.

In the statement, Granholm said her department is “thrilled to support the battery manufacturing industry and labor partners coming together to solve clean energy deployment challenges, like workforce development. Momentum is building as more companies see that partnering with labor is smart business strategy and key to accelerating an equitable clean energy transition.”

SPARKZ, founded in 2019, is in the final stages of site selection, and will be announcing customer partnerships in the coming months. Its first markets will likely be in material-handling vehicles like forklifts, agricultural equipment and energy storage.