Taxpayer-backed battery maker’s employees pass time playing cards, video games

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Michael Bastasch DCNF Managing Editor
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Business is so slow at one taxpayer-funded electric vehicle battery maker that employees there are spending their time playing video games, board games and card games just to pass the time.

“There’s a whole bunch of people, a whole bunch, filling their time with card games and board games,” one current employee of LG Chem told Target 8 News.

“It’s really sad that all these people are sitting there and doing nothing, and it’s basically on taxpayer money,” said former LG Chem employee Nicole Merryman.

In 2010, President Barack Obama called the company “a symbol of where America is going,” but now workers at the $300 million lithium-ion battery plant in Holland, Michigan have so little work to do, that they have been spending hours each day playing “cards and board games, reading magazines or watching movies,” Target 8 reports.

According to employees, some workers do odd jobs around the building, like cleaning and maintenance. Others just hang out and play “video games, Texas hold-’em and Monopoly or doing Sudoku or crossword puzzles — all on company time.” Some employees also watch movies.

Some employees have quit or are looking for new jobs, while some others have begun to help local non-profits on company time.

“You can only do nothing for so long. There were days, sitting around all day doing nothing. … I didn’t play a whole lot of cards,” said one worker. “I bailed out of a sinking ship.”

The Korean-based LG Chem got a $151 million grant from the Department of Energy as part of the stimulus in order to employ 300 workers who would produce 15 million battery cells a year, mainly for the Chevrolet Volt.

However, sales of the Volt have been far below expectations and after nearly two years General Motors is still losing up to $49,000 on each Volt produced, according to Reuters.

Furthermore, GM has suspended production of the Volt at least twice this year due to low sales.

In March, GM announced it was suspending production of the Volt electric car for five weeks due to disappointing sales. 1,300 workers were idled at the Detroit-Hamtramck assembly plant.

In late August, GM announced it was temporarily suspending Volt production following weaker than expected annual sales. That month GM sold more than 2,800 Volts, making it their biggest sales month ever. This year GM has also tripled Volt sales from last year to more than 13,000.

However, this is far below GM’s goal of 35,000 to 40,000 Volts sold in 2012.

The Detroit plant where the Volts are made will be retooled to make the 2014 Chevy Impala.

The economic and environmental benefits touted by electric car proponents have also been called into question recently

A study by the Norwegian University of Science and Technology found that electric cars are worse for the environment than conventional vehicles as factories that make them can emit more toxic waste than conventional car factories, especially if coal is used to produce the electricity used to charge “green” vehicles.

The CBO also found that even with generous subsidies, conventional cars still have a competitive advantage over electric ones.

In fact, the current maximum $7,500 electric car subsidy would need to be increased by 60 percent to make a plug-in hybrid car, like the Chevy Volt, competitive with an average fuel economy — 25 miles per gallon — conventional gas-powered car. That means a $12,000 subsidy for new plug-in hybrids.

Furthermore, the CBO analysis found that electric car tax credits will cost $7.5 billion through 2019 and will have little to no effect on reducing gasoline consumption and lowering greenhouse gas emissions, at least in the short run — the ultimate goal of the tax credit.

LG Chem has spent $133 million so far, mostly on construction and equipment, according to Target 8, with around 40 percent going to foreign companies — mostly in Korea.

Employees said they made 100,000 test battery cells or more, starting late last year, producing about 4,000 a week. That worked mostly stopped last December, employees say.

The Target 8 investigation has led the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board, stimulus oversight agency, to take look into the issue.

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