UAW Efforts Slow Down After Setback in Mercedes-Benz Alabama

UAW Activism

The United Autoworkers Union (UAW) in the US has faced a setback in its effort to expand membership to car factories in the American South.

Mercedes-Benz workers in Alabama voted 2,642-2,045 against joining the union, with 56% of eligible ballots cast opposed, according to the National Labor Relations Committee.

This outcome is a blow to an effort the union started last year, hoping to capitalize on a wider resurgence in worker activism and build on the momentum it had gained after securing substantial raises for workers at General Motors, Ford, and Stellantis.

The UAW notched its first victory at a Volkswagen factory in Tennessee last month.

However, its efforts in Alabama met with significant resistance, including from state and local politicians such as Governor Kay Ivey, who labeled the union campaign a “threat from Detroit” that endangered the state’s car industry.

Mercedes Alabama Plant – UAW

Regulators are also investigating union complaints that the company broke labor law in its opposition to the effort, including by barring the distribution of union materials and punishing staff who discussed or supported the effort.

Mercedes has denied the claims.

Before the vote, the company stated that it respected its staff’s right to choose, while believing that “open and direct communication with our Team Members is the best path forward to ensure continued success”.

After the results were announced, the company said its goal had been “to ensure every eligible team member had the opportunity to participate in a fair election”.

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

UAW boss Shawn Fain last year announced that the UAW would target 13 foreign-owned factories in the South, in a bid to bring in new members to the organization, whose numbers have steadily dwindled.

Mercedes Alabama Plant

It marked a risky push for the organization—which is closely associated with the Democratic Party—into a part of the country that is both staunchly Republican and historically hostile to unions.

Mr. Fain said in a press conference after the results that it had been a “David and Goliath” fight, in which the company had used “egregious illegal behavior” to swing the vote its way.

“We know what we’re taking on,” he said. “While this loss stings, we’re going to keep our heads up.”

He said even the threat of unionization had helped improve conditions at the factory, leading to a pay increase and other changes. He said he was not concerned it would hurt the UAW’s campaigns at other factories.

“We fought the good fight and we’re going to continue forward,” he said.

Outside of the car industry, the last major effort to organize workers in Alabama at an Amazon factory failed in 2021.

Nate O'Hara
Nathan is a seasoned commerce writer with a passion for unraveling the intricacies of the business world and distilling them into engaging narratives. During his academic journey, he delved deep into subjects like economics, marketing, and entrepreneurship, honing his analytical skills and developing a keen understanding of market dynamics.