May 17, 2024 - Business

Mercedes-Benz workers in Alabama reject UAW

A partially assembled vehicle makes its way down the assembly line at an automotive manufacturing plant

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

Manufacturing workers at Mercedes-Benz in Tuscaloosa County, Alabama, voted against joining the UAW in a reminder of how difficult it is to form unions in the South.

Why it matters: The UAW had been hoping to make the plant the second in as many months to join the union after years of failed attempts to organize foreign-owned factories.

  • In April, workers at the Volkswagen factory in Chattanooga, Tennessee, became the first non-Detroit Three assembly plant to be unionized.

Driving the news: The Mercedes workers voted against joining the UAW by a margin of 2,642 to 2,045, according to the National Labor Relations Board.

  • 5,075 workers were eligible to vote, with a simple majority of ballots necessary to unionize.
  • Parties have five business days to file objections to the election, alleging that there was interference. If no objections are filed, the election result will be certified, and the union will have to wait one year to file for a union election for a similar bargaining unit, according to the NLRB.

Friction point: The UAW has accused Mercedes in the past of unfair labor practices, saying that the German automaker intimidated workers into voting against the union.

  • A Mercedes spokesperson said in a statement earlier this week that the company "fully respects our Team Members' choice whether to unionize" and that the company provides a "safe and supportive work environment" in which "open and direct communication with our Team Members is the best path forward to ensure continued success."

Zoom out: Republican opposition in Alabama was pointed — particularly from Gov. Kay Ivey, who signed a bill this week that would strip tax incentives from companies that voluntarily recognize unions.

  • "We want to ensure that Alabama values, not Detroit values, continue to define the future of this great state," Ivey said, reported.

What to watch: Whether the loss affects the UAW's momentum at other plants.

  • The German automaker is among the 13 non-Detroit Three automakers the UAW is targeting for unionization.
  • The union has also launched organizing campaigns at Toyota, Tesla, Hyundai and other automakers.
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