UAW loses election at Mercedes plant in Alabama


United Auto Workers (UAW) suffered a major setback in its efforts to organize non-union foreign-owned auto plants in the South. On May 17, workers at the Mercedes-Benz plant in Vance, Alabama, rejected unionization in a 2,045-2,642 vote, with more than 90% of eligible workers voting.

The loss came a month after a Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee became the first foreign-owned auto plant in the United States to unionize. Following last year’s historic UAW strike at GM, Ford and Stellantis, which won record-setting contracts, the union launched a campaign to unionize 12 foreign owned automakers plus Tesla, and dedicated $40 million to support organizing efforts. Campaigns are still under way at other plants, but no other elections have been scheduled yet.

“This is a David and Goliath fight,” said UAW president Shawn Fain in a statement after the Alabama vote. “Sometimes Goliath wins a battle. But David wins the war.”

After the union campaign launched, Mercedes announced moves to improve conditions. It eliminated a two-tier wage system, gave a $2-per-hour raise to the highest-paid workers, and fired its unpopular U.S. CEO. It also hired at least 11 professional union-busters and held weeks of mandatory attendance anti-union meetings. 

UAW is challenging the vote result in filings with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), saying Mercedes illegally interfered with the election. The majority of workers supported unionizing until the company started a campaign of fear, threats and intimidation. Since March, UAW has filed six unfair labor practice charges — alleging that Mercedes disciplined employees for discussing unionization at work, prohibited distribution of union materials and paraphernalia, surveilled employees, fired union supporters, forced employees to attend captive audience meetings, and made statements suggesting that union activity is futile. If the NLRB finds merit to UAW’s argument that these tainted the election, it could order a new vote.


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