Workers at Mercedes in Alabama confronted with intensive anti-union campaign leading up to election

The United Auto Workers (UAW) union is eyeing its next major triumph in the southern region, targeting two Mercedes-Benz plants located in Vance and Woodstock, Alabama.

After the groundbreaking victory in the union election at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee, a total of 5,200 workers will now have the opportunity to cast their votes in their own union election, which is scheduled to take place from May 13th to May 17th. Remarkably, the United Auto Workers (UAW) achieved a significant triumph by securing the representation of approximately 4,300 workers at Volkswagen, marking one of the most substantial union election wins in the manufacturing sector over the past 16 years.

“It’s time for a change,” expressed Kay Finklea, a dedicated quality inspector with over two decades of experience at the Mercedes-Benz plant.

According to Finklea, the pay, benefits, and work hours have remained stagnant or even worsened since she first started. Additionally, she mentioned that the balance between work and personal life has deteriorated over time.

Finklea added that although they are told to work 10 hours a day, they are actually made to work for 12 hours a day. As a result, when they finally get home, they are completely exhausted and don’t have any time to do anything except grab a quick bite, take a shower, and get ready to do it all over again the next day.

According to the UAW president, the union vote at Volkswagen is significant because it could set a precedent for other automakers.

“I believe it’s crucial for us to believe in ourselves, to invest in our own abilities, and to come together as a united force. By forming our union and collaborating, we can strive to improve the lives of everyone involved.”

The UAW is focused on its union-organizing campaign to eradicate the “Alabama discount,” which is a key component of the economic development strategy in the southern United States. This strategy entails keeping wages lower than the national average.

The union has pointed out the contrast between the stagnant wages of workers and the substantial profits of automakers, as well as the excessive salaries of executives.

Mercedes-Benz has generated a staggering $156 billion in profits over the past decade, with a remarkable 200% growth in the last three years alone, as revealed by the UAW. However, it is worth noting that the top wages at Mercedes currently fall behind the recent hourly wage increases achieved by the UAW at the major domestic automakers towards the end of 2023. These wages are determined by factors such as seniority and department.

According to the UAW, it would take a production worker at top pay a whopping two years to earn the same amount that a Mercedes-Benz executive makes in just one week. This stark contrast in compensation highlights the significant pay gap between the two groups. In fact, it is worth noting that Mercedes-Benz’s management board members awarded themselves an astounding 78% pay increase in 2023. Such disparities in income distribution raise questions about fairness and equity within the company.

The UAW’s test in the southern US continues with the Mercedes-Benz union election. Following their significant contract victories at General Motors, Stellantis, and Ford last November, the union embarked on an organizing campaign to unionize 150,000 autoworkers at non-union plants in the US.

The high-profile “stand-up strike” garnered significant support for unionizing among other autoworkers, resulting in substantial gains.

Rick Webster, who joined the plant as a contractor in 2016 but became an official employee of Mercedes in October 2022, expressed his opinion, saying, “Alabama workers need to come together and unite, not only at Mercedes, but also at Hyundai, Honda, and Toyota. It’s about time for everyone to raise their voice and put an end to the Alabama discount.”

According to Webster, the management at Mercedes has been actively reaching out to workers through various means such as texts, emails, messages, and meetings, urging them to vote against the union. This widespread effort from the company has received opposition from local elected officials and business groups, including Alabama’s Republican governor, Kay Ivey, who have strongly voiced their disagreement with the UAW’s organizing endeavors.

The UAW has taken action against Mercedes-Benz by filing numerous unfair labor practice charges. These charges were filed due to the company’s resistance towards the union campaign. Notably, charges were also filed in Germany, where the company is based.

Webster expressed their frustration with the overwhelming amount of communication they receive on a daily basis. They mentioned that they constantly receive text messages, emails, and notifications from various work-related apps. Additionally, before their shift, they are required to watch anti-union videos in the team room. Webster described this continuous barrage of messages and videos as exhausting, stating that everyone is feeling fed up with it.

Mercedes-Benz has denied allegations of labor law violations but has expressed its opposition to the unionization effort.

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MBS Staff
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