Mercedes-Benz Workers in Alabama Ask for Unionization Vote

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Mercedes-Benz Workers in Alabama Ask for Unionization Vote

Workers at a Mercedes-Benz factory in Alabama have asked federal officials to vote on whether they should join the United Automobile Workers, the union said Friday. This is a step forward in their efforts to organize workers in auto factories in the South.

The union is trying to build on momentum from contracts it won last year at Ford Motor, General Motors and Stellantis, which gave workers at the three Detroit automakers the biggest pay raises in decades.

The UAW is also trying to organize workers at a Volkswagen plant in Tennessee and a Hyundai plant in Alabama, building a larger presence in states that have attracted much of the new investment in auto production in recent decades. A vote at the Volkswagen factory is scheduled for April 17-19.

The initiative has gained traction as southern states like South Carolina and Georgia attract billions of dollars in investments in electric vehicle and battery manufacturing. The UAW is trying to ensure that jobs created by electric vehicles do not pay less than jobs in traditional auto factories.

A large majority of workers at the Mercedes plant near Tuscaloosa had previously signed cards expressing support for a vote. On Friday, they formally petitioned the National Labor Relations Board to hold an election on whether to represent the UAW, the union said.

Mercedes, which makes luxury sport utility vehicles in Alabama, said in a statement that it “fully respects our team members' decision to unionize” and that it will ensure workers “have access to the information that are necessary for an informed decision”.

Southern states have traditionally been difficult terrain for unions, in some cases because of unfavorable legislation or because elected officials campaigned openly against unions. The lack of a strong union presence is likely one of the reasons why the region has attracted a large share of automotive industry investment.

Attempts in 2014 and 2019 to organize the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, where the German company makes the Atlas sport utility vehicle and the ID.4 electric SUV, failed in part because of opposition from Republican elected officials in Tennessee.

Toyota, Volkswagen and other automakers increased hourly wages after the union won wage increases for Ford, GM and Stellantis workers. Still, non-union workers tend to earn less. In many cases, pay is less important than work schedules, health benefits and time off.

In a video Friday, UAW President Shawn Fain said workers would fight for “work-life balance, good health care you can afford and a better life for your family.”

The union has complained to the National Labor Relations Board that Mercedes retaliated against organizers in Alabama. The automaker denied the allegations and said it “did not interfere with or retaliate against any team member's right to union representation.”