UNITED STATES. The UAW lost a battle at Mercedes in Alabama. What next?

The defeat came after Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey and other Republican leaders argued that a pro-union vote would stifle the investments that have transformed the state into a major auto producer. The setback for the union reduces the chances that it will be able to quickly organize workers at Hyundai and Honda, which also have large plants in Alabama.

This vote was of national importance, because it made it possible to verify whether the UAW could build on a series of recent victories and progress in a state whose elected officials have shown themselves hostile to unionism. The union has said it wants to organize all the auto factories in the United States, including workers from companies such as Toyota, Hyundai and Tesla into its membership.

But the defeat at the three Mercedes plants will almost certainly slow down the union’s campaign and likely force it to do more to secure worker support before seeking elections at other auto plants. Union leaders will need to take the time to consider how best to counter the arguments and campaigns, as well as the tactical operations of local elected officials and company executives.

“This defeat is painful,” UAW President Shawn Fain said at the union’s local headquarters near Mercedes plants in Vance and Woodstock, Alabama. In fact, “most of us have lost elections in our lives. We learn from it. We will continue to move forward, and that is what we intend to do. »

Mercedes workers voted 56% to 44% against their union representation, according to the National Labor Relations Board, which oversaw the election. Nearly 4,700 ballots were cast, representing a large majority of the 5,075 employees who were eligible to vote.

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Auto industry executives and conservative elected officials will likely study the Mercedes vote closely to determine the best approaches to counter the UAW and other unions in future elections and to discourage union campaigns in the first place.

“Vance workers have spoken, and they have spoken clearly! » Kay Ivey said in a statement. “Alabama is not Michigan [Etat où l’UAW est présent dans diverses usines], and we are not the home of the UAW. » [1]

The South has become a major battleground. States like Georgia, South Carolina and Tennessee attract much of the billions of dollars that automakers and suppliers are investing in electric vehicle and battery factories. The UAW wants to represent the workers in these factories.

Mercedes produces sport utility vehicles (SUVs) in Vance and batteries for electric vehicles in Woodstock. Votes were held all week [du 13 au 17 mai] in both factories.

“We thank everyone on the team who asked questions, participated in discussions, and ultimately made their voices heard on this important topic,” the company said in a statement Friday.

In a largely word-of-mouth campaign, union activists argued that in addition to better pay and benefits, the UAW would protect Mercedes workers from shift changes. last-minute work and long working hours, including weekends.

“If we didn’t build these cars, you wouldn’t be able to put so much into your pocket,” Kay Finklea said, addressing management. She works in quality control at Mercedes and campaigned for the union. “So treat us with dignity, treat us with respect and pay us. »

But unionists acknowledged that many workers unhappy with working conditions at Mercedes were also reluctant to join the union, influenced by threats from company executives and politicians that membership would lead to high union dues and a loss of control over their work.

Mercedes worked to counter the union. Last month, in an apparent attempt to address employee complaints, the company reshuffled local management by appointing Federico Kochlowski as chief executive of the German company’s U.S. unit.

Federico Kochlowski, who worked at Mercedes for around 20 years in various production management positions in China, Mexico and the United States, acknowledged the existence of problems at the Alabama factories and promised to make improvements. “I understand that many things are not going well,” he said in a video posted online by Mercedes. ” Give me a chance. »

Bart Moore, who works in material handling at Mercedes and delivers parts to the assembly line, said he hoped Federico Kochlowski would keep his promises. “We’ll see what he comes up with.” We never know. »

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The UAW filed six unfair labor practice complaints against Mercedes with the NLRB, claiming the company took disciplinary action against employees who discussed unionization in their workplace, which it blocked unionists from distributing union information sheets, that she monitored workers and fired those who supported the union.

“This company, like most others, has operated by the same playbook: incite fear, issue threats and engage in intimidation,” Shawn Fain said Friday (May 17).

Mercedes denies these allegations.

The UAW’s Past Attempts to Represent Workers at Mercedes and Other Automakers [Hyundai en 2016] in the South have failed. But the UAW is stronger than it has been in years, having won a unionization vote last month at a Volkswagen plant in Tennessee, where it had lost two previous elections. The union also won big pay raises last year for workers at Ford Motor, General Motors and Stellantis, the parent company of Chrysler, Jeep and Ram.

Mercedes’ campaign against the union “had a lot more effect than we anticipated,” said Robert Lett, who works at the Woodstock battery plant and campaigned for the union. But he said the union would try again. According to Robert Lett, “defeat changes nothing in our determination. The determination is there for a change. » (Article published in the New York Times on May 17, 2024; translation by A l’Encontre)


[1] Lauren Kaori Gurley, in the Washington Post of May 17, emphasizes the political dimension of this defeat: “The vote against the union also marks a hard blow for President Biden, who competed with former President Donald Trump to obtain the votes from auto workers, but with very different points of view. Donald Trump has criticized union leaders, while Joe Biden gained support from the UAW this year and attended one of its pickets in Michigan last year. The defeat marks the first significant setback for the UAW since the election of Shawn Fain, its flamboyant new president, who has emerged into the national spotlight over the past year following his bold agenda to rebuild the movement American union and to reshape the image of his union, tarnished by corruption scandals. » (Ed.)

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