What is at stake in this historic labor fight?

The New York Times

What will it mean – for Mercedes, for Alabama and for the national labor movement – if workers vote to join the UAW?
Silvia said the UAW targeted three auto plants in the South – Mercedes being one – for union organizing.
Volkswagen narrowly voted down the union in Chattanooga in 2014 and 2019, while a Mississippi Nissan plant also voted it down.
In 2023, 156,000 Alabama workers were union members — up from 149,000 a year earlier, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Alabama officials attack union as ‘corrupt, shifty’ As in other Southern, Republican-led states targeted by the UAW efforts, Alabama government and business leaders have been deeply critical of the effort to union the Vance plant.
It should be noted that Mercedes employees in Germany are covered by a union contract, have representatives on the company’s board, and elect members to a works council.
Earlier this year, the union announced 30% of workers at Hyundai in Montgomery had signed union cards.
What the vote could portend beyond Alabama probably won’t mean much to the employees at Mercedes-Benz, Silvia said.


At Mercedes-Benz’s Vance automotive plant, which employs 6,000 people, voting is underway today to determine whether to allow the United Auto Workers to represent it as the first vehicle factory in Alabama.

After a hectic five months during which union organizers registered the majority of workers at the factory—a place that has historically been hostile to union activity—vote totals are anticipated to be made public on Friday.

More than 30 years ago, Mercedes-Benz was the first car company to establish itself in the state, and it has driven Alabama’s rise to become the No. one state in the United States that exports cars. S.

2014, just ten years ago, the UAW, at the behest of the workers, ended a failed union campaign at the facility.

The Vance plant unionization dispute is fully covered here.

The UAW now wants to maintain the momentum it created after the union vote at Volkswagen’s Chattanooga plant last month, which was successful, and after its “Stand Up” strike against the Big Three of the U.S. last year. s. automobile sector.

How did the union manage to achieve a once-impossible goal in less than a year?

It was a change from top-down organizing to employee sign-up on the floor, according to plant workers and longtime observers. The plain most likely shifted swiftly in the union’s favor as a result.

What would it signify for Alabama, Mercedes, and the labor movement nationwide if employees decide to become members of the United Auto Workers?

According to Haeden Wright, a senior organizer for Jobs to Move America, “it would show workers across all different industries that they can stand up together and fight for more.”.

“Alabamians have been portrayed as exploitable laborers. With the promise of cheap labor, (auto companies) believe they can come here and receive massive incentives. This is a way of telling them that their labor is valued higher and that they have the power to change it. That has a lot of power. “.

Which group will prevail?

At American University, Stephen Silvia teaches in the politics, governance, and economics department.

The book “The UAW’s Southern Gamble,” which examined the union’s efforts to organize in the South since 1989, was also written by him. Up until April, the narrative in strongly red, right-to-work states was one of ongoing failure.

Three Southern auto plants, including one owned by Mercedes, were the focus of UAW unionization efforts, according to Silvia.

In both 2014 and 2019, VW barely defeated the union in Chattanooga, and a Nissan plant in Mississippi also defeated it. The first factory vote will take place at Mercedes this coming week.

Regarding the vote at the Vance plant, which also includes the Mercedes electric battery plant in neighboring Bibb County, Silvia remarked, “I’m not sure what the outcome is going to be.”.

“In Chattanooga, it was obvious that the UAW would prevail. The opposition lacked the same level of organization. The government and business establishment’s conventional adversaries did speak up, but not in the same manner as in the past. “.

Although Alabama is catching up to other states, the state still has a relatively low number of union members.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of unionized workers in Alabama increased to 156,000 in 2023 from 149,000 the previous year. Still, the BLS reports that as of 2023, only 7.5 percent of state employees were union members.

Union is criticized by Alabama officials as “corrupt, shifty.”.

Government and business leaders in Alabama have been harshly critical of the attempt to unionize the Vance plant, as they have been in other Southern, Republican-led states that have been targeted by the UAW.

Gov. A “looming threat” to Alabama’s economy, Kay Ivey described the union as “corrupt, shifty, and a dangerous leech.”. “.

In a statement denouncing the UAW’s initiatives, Ivey was joined by the governors of five additional Southern states. According to other leaders, the union is an external entity that exists between the workers and the company.

This session, the legislature passed a bill that would prevent businesses from receiving financial rewards for recognizing unions on their own or for not using secret ballots for union elections.

Businesses that disobey the bill’s provisions would have to reimburse any financial incentives they received prior to January 1. 1, 2025, as of last week, was still pending Ivey’s signature.

The rhetoric from the state hasn’t changed the opinions of Mercedes’ pro-union employees, they claim.

Wright said, “That’s an attack on all the workers who are organizing, including myself.”. They are in this state. These are decision-makers from Alabama. They weren’t told they had to join by the union. “.

Mercedes-Benz, on the other hand, has refuted claims made by the UAW that it had meddled in or retaliated against any employee due to union activity and has publicly stated that it respects the right of its employees to choose whether or not to join a union.

A month ago, the carmaker expressed its excitement about “engaging in the election process to guarantee each Team Member gets an opportunity to cast their own secret-ballot vote, as well as having access to the information required to make an informed decision.”. “.

However, former CEO Michael Göbel was caught on camera telling staff members he didn’t think “the UAW can help us to be better.”. “.

Göbel was replaced by the company last month.

What is the desire of pro-union laborers?

According to Wright, many workers who are considering joining a union are not necessarily looking for ways to increase their pay.

She stated, “A lot of it is insurance, safety, and work-life balance.”. It all comes down to living a good life and having what you need. Even with high compensation, a job may not be fulfilling or safe. “.

Austin Brooks, a worker at the company’s battery plant for the previous two years, claimed that the way the business handled the union conflict had influenced him to join the union. He added that his decision was affected by worries about medical expenses.

“My immune system is basically nonexistent,” he uttered. “I take two or three allergy medications daily. Although my medical costs are mostly covered by insurance, I still have to pay for them myself. Mercedes is a multibillion dollar business. “.

A common talking point at the plant, according to Brooks, is to “see what happens with Volkswagen” and then determine whether or not you still want a union after a year. According to him, the union has adopted a distinct strategy.

He said, “UAW never grabbed me and said vote yes.”. “Do your homework and decide if you want to vote,” they advised. There are no repercussions if you choose not to. Make your opinions known. “.

Silvia expressed his belief that Mercedes is “quite determined” to put an end to the union push. Recall that Mercedes workers in Germany are entitled to a union contract, and they also elect members of a works council and have representatives on the company board.

Silvia stated that the primary difference between the two elections at Chattanooga and Vance will be the outcome if an employer chooses not to openly oppose unionization and what happens if they do.

Two-tier pay, which Mercedes promised would end, has been one of the grievances voiced by pro-union workers in recent years. The union used this particular issue to highlight the necessity of collective bargaining.

According to Silvia, “compensation at Mercedes went from being above the others to shifting downward.”. It doesn’t annoy you as much to lose something you didn’t have in the first place as it would if you did. “.

Following the vote, what happens?

In light of its ongoing $40 million campaign to organize in auto plants, especially in the South, the UAW will be able to capitalize on this election victory. Thirty percent of the employees at Hyundai in Montgomery had signed union cards, the union announced earlier this year.

It would also maintain the momentum that organized labor has received overall, which has seen the longest strike in Alabama history at Warrior Met Coal and historic, as of yet unresolved, union elections at Amazon’s Bessemer facility.

It’s unlikely that Mercedes-Benz employees will be particularly affected by the vote’s implications outside of Alabama, according to Silvia.

According to him, “what is happening locally is ultimately the most important thing for these folks.”.

If Chattanooga workers had voted against the union, it would have been a setback to this campaign, but it most definitely would not have decided it. What do their friends and family members say about them? “.

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