UAW Loses Unionization Vote at Mercedes Factories in Alabama

Workers at two Mercedes-Benz plants near Tuscaloosa, Alabama, voted Friday against allowing the United Auto Workers to represent them, a major blow to the union’s campaign to gain ground in the South , where it is traditionally weak.

The defeat came after Kay Ivey, Alabama’s governor, and other Republican leaders argued that a pro-union vote would stifle investments that have transformed the state into a major auto producer. The union’s setback diminishes its chances of being able to quickly unionize workers at Hyundai and Honda, which also have large factories in Alabama.

The vote had national significance because it tested whether the UAW could build on a string of recent victories and make progress in a state whose elected officials have been hostile to unions. The union has said it wants to unionize every auto plant in the United States, expanding its membership to include employees at companies like Toyota and Tesla.

But the loss of the Mercedes plants will almost surely slow the union’s campaign and likely force it to redouble its efforts to win worker support before seeking to hold elections at other auto plants. Union leaders will want to spend time figuring out how best to counter the messages and tactics of local lawmakers and business leaders.

“This loss is painful,” said Shawn Fain, president of the UAW, at the headquarters of the local branch of the union, near the Mercedes plants in Vance and Woodstock, Alabama.

But “most of us have lost elections in our lifetime,” he added. “We learn from it. We are moving forward and that is what we intend to do.

Mercedes workers voted 56 percent to 44 percent against joining the union, according to the National Labor Relations Board, which oversaw the election. Nearly 4,700 ballots were cast, representing a large majority of the 5,075 employees eligible to vote.

Auto industry executives and conservative lawmakers will likely study the vote at Mercedes closely to determine the best approaches to fending off the UAW and other unions in upcoming elections and to deter union campaigns in the first place.

“The Vance workers have spoken, and they have spoken clearly! » Ms Ivey said in a statement. “Alabama is not Michigan and we are not the ideal home for the UAW”

The South has become an important battleground. States like Georgia, South Carolina and Tennessee attract much of the billions of dollars that automakers and suppliers are investing in electric vehicle and battery factories. The UAW wants to represent the workers in these factories.

Mercedes produces sport utility vehicles in Vance and batteries for electric vehicles in Woodstock. The surveys took place all week in the two factories.

“We thank all team members who asked questions, engaged in discussions, and ultimately made their voices heard on this important issue,” the company said in a statement Friday.

In a campaign conducted largely by word of mouth, union activists argued that in addition to better wages and benefits, the UAW would protect Mercedes workers from abrupt changes to their schedules and long work days. , including weekends.

If we hadn’t built these cars, you wouldn’t be putting the money you put in your pocket,” said Kay Finklea, who works in quality control at Mercedes and campaigned for the union. “So treat us with dignity, treat us with respect and pay us. »

But activists acknowledged that many workers unhappy with working conditions at Mercedes were also reluctant to join the union, influenced by warnings from company executives and politicians that membership would lead to high dues and loss of wages. control over their employment.

Mercedes worked to block the union. Last month, in an apparent attempt to address employee complaints, the company shook up local management, appointing Federico Kochlowski as chief executive of the German company’s U.S. unit.

Mr. Kochlowski, who worked at Mercedes for about 20 years in various manufacturing positions in China, Mexico and the United States, acknowledged there were problems at the Alabama factories and promised to address improvements.

“I understand that a lot of things are wrong,” he said in a video posted online by Mercedes. “Give me a chance.”

Bart Moore, who works in material handling at Mercedes and delivers parts to the assembly line, said he hoped Mr. Kochlowski would keep his promises. “We’ll see what comes of it,” Mr. Moore said. “We never know.”

The UAW filed six unfair labor practice charges against Mercedes with the labor relations board, saying the company disciplined employees for discussing unionizing at work, blocked organizers from distributing union materials, monitored workers and fired workers who supported the union.

“This company, like most others, operated under the same principle of fear, threats, intimidation.“, Mr Fain said on Friday.

Mercedes denies these allegations.

Past attempts by the UAW to represent workers at Mercedes and other Southern automakers have failed. But the UAW is stronger than it has been in years after winning a unionization vote last month at a Volkswagen plant in Tennessee, where it had previously lost two elections. The union also won major pay raises last year for workers at Ford Motor, General Motors and Stellantis, the parent company of Chrysler, Jeep and Ram.

Mercedes’ campaign against the union “had a lot more effect than expected,” said Robert Lett, who works at the Woodstock battery plant and campaigned for the union. But he said the union would try again.

“It doesn’t change our resolve,” Mr. Lett said of the loss. “The fire is here to change.”

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Sara Adm

Aimant les mots, Sara Smith a commencé à écrire dès son plus jeune âge. En tant qu'éditeur en chef de son journal scolaire, il met en valeur ses compétences en racontant des récits impactants. Smith a ensuite étudié le journalisme à l'université Columbia, où il est diplômé en tête de sa classe. Après avoir étudié au New York Times, Sara décroche un poste de journaliste de nouvelles. Depuis dix ans, il a couvert des événements majeurs tels que les élections présidentielles et les catastrophes naturelles. Il a été acclamé pour sa capacité à créer des récits captivants qui capturent l'expérience humaine.
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