Alabama Mercedes-Benz workers reject UAW unionization vote

UAW members and supporters gathered on a picket line outside the ZF Chassis Systems plant in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, US, on Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2023, showing their solidarity and determination.

Andi Rice, a photographer for Bloomberg, captured this stunning image.

According to the results overseen by the NLRB, the union organizing effort was unsuccessful, with 2,642 workers or 56% of the vote casting their ballots against the UAW. The election saw a high level of participation, with over 90% of the 5,075 eligible Mercedes-Benz workers exercising their right to vote.

The NLRB determined that while 51 ballots were challenged and not included in the final count, these ballots did not have a significant impact on the outcome of the election. Additionally, there were a total of five void ballots that were not counted.

According to the NLRB, both the union and the company have a period of five business days to file any objections to the election. This includes raising concerns about any alleged interference. If no objections are filed within this time frame, the results of the election will be certified. However, in such a case, the union will have to wait for a year before filing for another union election for a similar bargaining unit.

In a statement, Mercedes-Benz expressed their anticipation of maintaining a direct collaboration with their team members. Their goal is to ensure that Mercedes-Benz US International remains not only their preferred employer but also a place they would enthusiastically recommend to their loved ones.

United Auto Workers President Shawn Fain and UAW Secretary-Treasurer Margaret Mock led a march outside Stellantis’ Ram 1500 plant in Sterling Heights, Michigan after the union called a strike at the plant on Oct. 23, 2023.

Michael Wayland, a reporter for CNBC, took a photo of the Tesla Model 3 on his phone.

The UAW is anticipating a setback in its ambitious organizing campaign targeting 13 non-union automakers in the U.S. This is due to the anticipated financial impact resulting from the loss of membership dues following the recent withdrawal of Ford Motor, General Motors, and Stellantis from the union. These automakers had previously agreed to record contracts with the UAW, which included substantial wage hikes, the reinstatement of cost-of-living adjustments, and various other benefits.

UAW President Shawn Fain acknowledged that the outcome of the Mercedes-Benz vote was not what the union had desired. However, he highlighted the valiant effort put forth by the union members, emphasizing that the vote should not be seen as a failure, but rather as a temporary setback in their journey.

“While we may feel the sting of this loss, I want to emphasize that we will not let it bring us down. Our dedicated workers have every reason to be proud of the effort they have put in and the achievements they have made,” he expressed confidently in a press conference on Friday. “We have fought valiantly, and we will continue to forge ahead. In the end, victory will belong to these remarkable workers.”

The union anticipated that the Mercedes-Benz vote would pose more difficulties compared to the Volkswagen plant in Tennessee. In the past decade, the union had made two unsuccessful attempts to organize at the Volkswagen plant and had managed to establish a presence there. However, the opposition faced from the automaker at the Mercedes-Benz plant made the situation more challenging.

According to Stephen Silvia, the author of “The UAW’s Southern Gamble: Organizing Workers at Foreign-Owned Vehicle Plants,” Mercedes-Benz took the initiative to replace the plant’s leader several weeks before the election. Silvia points out that this is a common tactic employed by companies to deter organizing efforts, as they promise workers various changes within their facilities.

According to Silvia, a professor at American University in Washington, D.C., companies engage in anti-union campaigns because they can yield desired results. In this case, the campaign was successful. One common tactic used in such campaigns is terminating the plant manager, which appears to have influenced a significant number of workers to vote against unionization.

Alabama Governor Kay Ivey, who had been among six Republican governors to express their disapproval of the union’s attempt to organize, celebrated the result of the vote.

“The workers in Vance have made their voices heard, loud and clear! Alabama is a different state from Michigan, and we are not welcoming the UAW with open arms. We strongly urge the UAW to acknowledge and respect the outcome of this confidential ballot.”

According to the website of the Tuscaloosa plant, situated approximately 60 miles southwest of Birmingham, the dedicated workers have successfully manufactured over 4 million vehicles since the plant’s establishment in 1997. In the year 2023 alone, they produced an impressive total of 295,000 vehicles.

The Alabama plant is currently manufacturing a range of vehicles, including the gas-powered GLE and GLS Maybach SUVs, as well as the all-electric EQS and EQE SUVs.

The NLRB stated last week that it is currently handling and examining ongoing unfair labor practice charges filed by the UAW against automakers. Since March, there have been six unfair labor practice charges filed against Mercedes-Benz.

Fain announced on Friday that the union would proceed with the charges. He refrained from revealing whether the union intends to contest the election outcomes, stating that he would defer that decision to the union’s legal team.

According to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), Mercedes-Benz is facing charges of disciplining employees for discussing unionization at work, prohibiting the distribution of union materials and paraphernalia, surveilling employees, terminating union supporters, forcing employees to attend captive audience meetings, and making statements that imply union activity is pointless.

According to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), the union has lodged additional charges against automotive manufacturers such as Honda, Hyundai, Lucid, Rivian, Tesla, and Toyota.

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