Jan 10, 2024 - Business

UAW launching organizing campaign at Mercedes-Benz plant in Alabama

A Mercedes-Benz logo stands on a tall steel pole at a factory

The Mercedes-Benz factory in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Photo: Carol M. Highsmith/Buyenlarge/Getty Images

The United Auto Workers is launching a formal campaign to unionize the Mercedes-Benz plant in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

Why it matters: The move marks the next step in the UAW's stated effort to organize 13 non-unionized automakers in the U.S. as it seeks to expand its reach following an unprecedented strike in the fall.

  • As of 2022, the Mercedes plant — the automaker's first major factory outside of Germany — had 6,300 employees. About two-thirds of the vehicles it produces are exported.

Driving the news: The union announced Wednesday that more than 30% of the Mercedes plant's workers had already signed union authorization cards.

  • The UAW also announced the launch of an organizing committee at the factory — a key step in the standard progression toward unionization.

The big picture: The only automakers with unionized operations in the U.S. are General Motors, Ford and Stellantis, each of which were targeted by the UAW in the fall strike.

  • The union won record contracts at the Detroit Three and vowed to carry its momentum into a campaign to organize foreign automakers' U.S. operations as well as U.S.-based Tesla, Rivian and Lucid.
  • The UAW said in December that it had launched an organizing committee at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee, where the union has twice failed to win in the past.
  • Workers have also launched a bargaining committee at the Toyota plant in Georgetown, Kentucky, Axios previously reported.

State of play: The Tuscaloosa plant currently builds the Mercedes GLE, GLE coupé and GLS, plus the electric EQS SUV and EQE.

  • "Year after year, the company says they've got record profits and sales, but our pay doesn't keep up. It's time to set things right. It's time that we had our voice heard," said Derrick Todd, a worker at the plant since 2005, in a statement.

Be smart: Organizing automotive plants in the South is seen as very challenging due to pro-business laws and conservative opposition, both culturally and politically.

  • About a decade ago, the UAW had established an operation in Alabama to organize the Tuscaloosa plant, but that effort ultimately did not lead to a formal campaign.
  • But there have been signs of softening Republican opposition to the UAW's agenda, including multiple GOP senators visiting the picket line as a show of support in the fall.

What to watch for: Whether the UAW can exceed 50% in its card-signing campaign by enough to feel comfortable calling for voluntary recognition or a formal vote at Mercedes.

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