Majority Of Workers At Alabama Mercedes Plant Signed Union Cards, UAW Says


More than half of the employees at Mercedes-Benz’s manufacturing plant near Tuscaloosa, Alabama, have signed union cards and intend to join the United Auto Workers, the union announced Tuesday.

Hitting a majority of sign-ups marks a milestone for the UAW as it seeks to represent workers at foreign-owned auto plants in the South. The union has struggled to organize such facilities for years but has seen a surge of interest from workers following its historic strike against Ford, General Motors and Jeep parent company Stellantis last year.

Jeremy Kimbrell, a 25-year employee at the plant and lead organizer for the union effort, said in a video posted Monday that workers “are ready to win our union and a better life with the UAW.”

“We’ve learned that we can’t trust Mercedes with our best interests,” Kimbrell said. “There comes a time when enough is enough.”

The union can file for an election when at least 30% of the proposed bargaining unit have signed authorization cards, but unions typically wait until a strong majority of workers ― often two-thirds or more ― have gotten onboard before seeking a vote, assuming the company will try to erode support. The union needs to get more than half of the votes cast to win.

About 6,000 employees work at the Tuscaloosa plant producing sport utility vehicles, according to Mercedes. Opened in 1995, it was the company’s first major vehicle production plant outside its home country of Germany.

Many foreign-owned auto companies have established operations in the South, where wages tend to be lower and unions weaker than in the Midwest.

“We had a fertile ground to spread the message, and, shoot, it took off.”

– Jeremy Kimbrell, Mercedes-Benz worker in Alabama

Unionizing those plants is critical for the long-term success of the UAW, not just to grow its membership but also to increase the bargaining power of all the workers it represents. The Detroit-based automakers have long argued that their non-union competitors enjoy a significant cost advantage over them on labor.

Previous efforts to organize “transplant” factories in the South have failed, but the UAW is encouraged by the brisk rate of sign-ups not just at Mercedes but at the Hyundai plant in Montgomery, Alabama, and the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The union announced earlier this month that a majority of workers also signed cards in Chattanooga.

The UAW has quickly refashioned itself as a fighting union under its new president, Shawn Fain, who led workers on their six-week strike last year, which ended in October with an agreement on significant raises. In fiery speeches, Fain cast the fight as a battle between the working class and a billionaire class embodied by rich CEOs.

That message resonated with Kimbrell, who recently told HuffPost that interest in unionizing at Mercedes swelled during the strike. Organizing campaigns have come and gone at the plant over the years, Kimbrell said, but seeing the “Big Three” workers fight the way they did made a union effort in Tuscaloosa seem more viable than ever.

“We had a fertile ground to spread the message, and, shoot, it took off,” he said.

Kimbrell said a lot of workers have been frustrated with what he described as stagnant wages and the company’s reliance on temporary employees. He said plant management recently scrapped a two-tier wage system in which new hires would be paid less, a move that came about only after the union campaign started to take off.

Managers have recently been holding meetings and telling workers how good their jobs are, according to Kimbrell.

“If a company has to tell a worker how good their job is, that definitely points to something being wrong,” he said.



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