Mercedes-Benz employees in Alabama reject unionization vote

In a blow to the United Auto Workers (UAW), thousands of Mercedes-Benz workers in Alabama rejected the opportunity to join the union on Friday. This comes just a month after the UAW’s victory at a Volkswagen facility in Tennessee.

According to the National Labor Relations Board, employees at the Mercedes-Benz plants located near Tuscaloosa, Alabama have voted against joining the union. The final tally revealed that 56% of the workers, or 2,642 individuals, voted against unionization, while 44%, or 2,045 individuals, voted in favor.

The UAW’s momentum in organizing additional plants throughout the South, where it has historically struggled to gain a foothold, is hindered by the result.

The Alabama Mercedes-Benz facilities were anticipated to have a challenging competition by analysts. This was due to the company’s anti-union campaign, while officials at Volkswagen had chosen to remain neutral towards worker organization efforts.

The union’s win at a Volkswagen facility in Chattanooga, Tennessee last month was a surprise to many. It was a groundbreaking moment as it marked the first successful vote to unionize a car plant in the South since the 1940s.

The union encountered strong resistance from local elected officials in both recent campaigns. Last month, six Southern governors, including Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey and Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, both Republicans, publicly criticized the UAW’s organizing efforts in the region.

“We are committed to preserving high-paying jobs and fostering the expansion of the American auto manufacturing industry,” expressed the governors. “The potential consequences of a successful unionization campaign would impede this growth and adversely affect the welfare of American workers.”

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The UAW officials have been actively promoting their campaign to increase the union’s membership in the past few months. According to a statement released by the union in March, over 10,000 non-union auto workers have already expressed their support by signing cards, and organizing campaigns have been initiated at more than two dozen facilities.

Following a highly publicized strike by UAW workers against the Big Three U.S. automakers last fall, namely Ford, General Motors, and Stellantis (formerly known as Chrysler), there has been a surge in activity.

The companies suffered billions of dollars in losses and thousands of workers were temporarily out of work as a result of the standoff. However, the risk paid off, enabling the UAW to accomplish significant wage gains and achieve other reforms that had been sought after for a long time.

In recent years, the popularity of the U.S. labor movement has soared, capturing the attention of the media through impactful strikes. However, despite these efforts, the labor movement has not been successful in increasing the percentage of the national workforce that is unionized.

According to a Gallup poll conducted last year, the approval rating for unions among Americans reached a near-record high of 67%. This marks one of the highest levels of favorability towards unions since 1965.

According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, union membership has continued to decline, with only 10% of U.S. workers belonging to unions last year. This percentage has remained relatively unchanged from the previous year. However, it is important to note that this figure represents a significant decrease from the peak of nearly 25% in the 1950s.

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The UAW’s loss in Alabama last Friday represents a missed chance for the union to increase its membership. If the vote had been in favor of joining the union, approximately 5,000 workers would have been added to its ranks, which currently stands at around 400,000 members.

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