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As the UAW Scores Wins in Red States, Tensions Emerge Over Gaza Protests

U.S.As the UAW Scores Wins in Red States, Tensions Emerge Over Gaza Protests

The United Automobile Workers has scored a remarkable string of victories — most recently, a landmark contract on Monday for electric vehicle battery workers — as its new leadership strives to restore the union’s image as the voice of an iconic segment of the American working class.

But competing for headlines is a part of the union that represents tens of thousands of university workers, which at the moment is singularly focused on a mission far from building cars and trucks: ending Israel’s war in Gaza.

U.A.W. leaders insist that they can smooth out the dissonance between the dual thrusts of U.A.W. activism — one on college campuses, the other on red-state assembly lines. But it will not be easy. The U.A.W. signs that are crowding pro-Palestinian encampments on campuses, furnished by the union’s international headquarters in Detroit, have alone struck sour notes among some union members uncomfortable with such outward signs of politics on such a fraught topic.

“It’s so bad for the union,” said Isaac Altman, a U.A.W. member and staff lawyer in the family court bureau of the Legal Aid Society of Nassau County, N.Y., who has clashed with his local over a pro-Palestine resolution he called “slightly more radical than Hezbollah.” (The resolution called for an immediate cease-fire and an end to “the occupation and blockade of Palestinian land, sea and air by Israeli military forces.”)

The competition for attention may only get worse. On Monday, union negotiators reached a tentative agreement with General Motors that could prove to be a landmark in the auto industry’s transition to electric vehicles. It would give huge wage increases and far more safety protections to employees at an E.V. battery plant in Lordstown, Ohio, solid evidence that President Biden’s efforts to combat climate change could fulfill his promise that a green future will not leave workers behind.

“It’s a huge deal,” said Dave Green, the regional director of the U.A.W. in Ohio and Indiana. “We’ve been trying to have a just transition and stop this race to the bottom for wages for E.V. workers. This contract is very exciting.”

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