United Auto Workers
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Unionization Vote Fails in Alabama, Dealing Blow to UAW Momentum

May 17, 2024
According to NLRB tallies, 56% of 4,687 voting workers voted against joining the union.

Workers at Mercedes-Benz’s factory near Tuscaloosa, Alabama, voted against joining the United Auto Workers Friday, May 17. Of 4,687 votes cast, the National Labor Relations Board counted 56% opposed to the union versus 44% in favor.

The result pours cold water on the UAW, which just last month celebrated a decisive victory to unionize Volkswagen USA’s Chattanooga, Tennessee, plant. Friday’s vote appears to signal that the fight for unions in the South is far from settled.

In a press conference held after the results of the vote, UAW President Shawn Fain signaled confidence despite the defeat and said the vote pushed the company to offer concessions, including the May 8 replacement of Mercedes USA CEO Michael Gödel

“Workers won serious gains in this campaign — the UAW bump,” Fain said. “They got rid of a CEO that had no interest in improving conditions for these workers. Mercedes is a better place thanks to this campaign and these courageous workers,” he added.

In response to a question on the UAW’s national organizing strategy following the election, Fain signaled confidence. “It means we’re going to keep doing what we’re doing,” he said.

In a statement after the vote count, Mercedes-Benz USA thanked its employees for engaging in dicussion around the vote. 

"Our goal throughout this process was to ensure every eligible Team Member had the opportunity to participate in a fair election," the company said.

The UAW has prioritized organizing foreign automaker plants in the U.S. South since last fall, after it won big gains for autoworkers at the Detroit 3—Ford, General Motors and Stellantis. Efforts at the Volkswagen Chattanooga, Tennessee plant were the first to gain traction, and in April workers voted there to unionize by a wide margin (73% for unionization).

In a UAW video announcing the Alabama election, workers spoke of wages that have not risen with corporate profits, safety concerns and being required to take last-minute overtime shifts.

Republican governors of Southern states with automaker plants have come out publicly against unionization, both individually and as a group, but their influence has gained less traction than in past campaigns.

In the past, despite a core group of about 20 Mercedes plant workers invested in union organizing, the UAW failed to generate enough interest to proceed with a union election. But this time, more than half of Mercedes’ Alabama 5,200 rank-and-file workers at the plant signed cards pledging union support.

“This time we’ve got a little more momentum,” Brett Garard, a 20-year Mercedes Alabama worker, told IndustryWeek in early May. He said frustration has been building as Mercedes added wage tiers in 2020, with new hires receiving less, and pay that has not kept up with inflation.

Garrard said the employee-driven campaign this time has made a big difference. “Organizers from the UAW are there to support us, to give us information, give us guidance. But as far as all of the legwork and the faces that our employees and our co-workers see, it’s us. It’s not the UAW. They are supporting agents in helping us to form our union.”

The anti-union forces in government have come down stronger in Alabama than Tennessee, and support for the union from leaders of the auto-company workers’ councils in Germany is stronger at Volkswagen than at Mercedes. And Mercedes Alabama management has been more actively anti-union than Volkswagen Chattanooga management, with reports of workers being required to sit through anti-union videos during work hours and individual managers warning workers that they will be hurt by unions.

About the Author

Laura Putre | Senior Editor, IndustryWeek

I work with IndustryWeek's contributors and report on leadership and the automotive industry as they relate to manufacturing. Got a story idea? Reach out to me at [email protected]


About the Author

Ryan Secard | Associate Editor


Focus: Workforce and labor issues; machining and foundry management
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/ryan-secard/

Associate Editor Ryan Secard covers topics relevant to the manufacturing workforce, including recruitment, safety, labor organizations, and the skills gap. Ryan has written IndustryWeek's Salary Survey annually since 2021 and has coordinated its Talent Advisory Board since September 2023.

Ryan got started at IndustryWeek in August 2019 as an editorial intern and was hired as a news editor in 2020 before his 2023 promotion to associate editor, talent. He has a Bachelor of Arts in English from the College of Wooster.

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