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UAW vows to fight alleged Mercedes vote interference

David Johnston, right, a worker at Mercedes, thanks UAW President Shawn Fain following a press conference in Tuscaloosa, Alabama on May 17, 2024, after workers at two Alabama Mercedes-Benz factories voted overwhelmingly against joining the United Auto Workers union. (AP Photo/Kim Chandler)
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David Johnston, right, a worker at Mercedes, thanks UAW President Shawn Fain following a press conference in Tuscaloosa, Alabama on May 17, 2024, after workers at two Alabama Mercedes-Benz factories voted overwhelmingly against joining the United Auto Workers union. (AP Photo/Kim Chandler)

Friday’s no vote from Mercedes Benz workers on joining the United Auto Workers may not be the end of the matter. The UAW appears ready to follow up on complaints that Mercedes managers allegedly used anti-labor consultants to try to intimidate workers. The National Labor Relations Board says the rank and file voted fifty six percent against joining the UAW. Union President Shawn Fain claims the European car company had its thumb on the scale…

“The federal government and the German government are currently investigating Mercedes for the intimidation and harassment that they inflicted on their own workers. And we intend to follow that process through.”

Mercedes Benz denies any interference in last week’s unionization vote. The UAW indicates it’s now focusing on a Hyundai plant in Alabama and a Toyota factory Missouri as it continues to crack the mostly anti-union south. UAW President Shawn Fain compared the reception the union at Chattanooga’s Volkswagen factory last month to Mercedes in Alabama.

“You know, obviously, Volkswagen was more neutral,” said Fain. And that didn't wasn't the case here. I mean, this company was having captive audience meetings to the last minute, threatening workers, intimidating workers, having five managers on one worker meetings.”

The decisive vote against the United Auto Workers at two Mercedes factories in Alabama sidetracked the union's grand plan to sign up workers at nonunion plants mainly in the South. But Fain said the UAW will return to Mercedes and will press on with efforts to organize about 150,000 workers at more than a dozen auto factories across the nation. Employees at Mercedes plants near Tuscaloosa voted 56% against the union. The Friday vote count handed the UAW a serious setback a month after the union scored a breakthrough victory at Volkswagen's 4,300-worker assembly factory in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

The vote count handed the union a serious setback a month after the UAW scored a breakthrough victory at Volkswagen's 4,300-worker assembly factory in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

The NLRB's final tally showed a vote of 2,642 against the union, with 2,045 in favor. Nearly 93% of workers eligible to vote cast ballots.

Marick Masters, a professor emeritus at Wayne State University's business school who has long studied the union, said the UAW will have to analyze what went wrong and apply those lessons as it moves to other nonunion factories largely in the South.

"They're going to have to go back to the drawing board," said Masters, who added that the union will need to ask itself if it needs to get more workers to sign cards seeking a union election before calling for a vote. The union may also want to respond faster to management opposition, he said.

"Do they need to assess more realistically the actual level of grievances and how passionately workers are to stay committed to a union organizing effort in the face of opposition?" Masters asked.

Fain assured workers that the union will return, telling them the loss was a bump in the road, not failure. He said he told company officials the fight was not over.

"We've been here before, and we're going to continue on and we're going to win," he said. "And I think we'll have a different result down the road, and I look forward to that."

The NLRB said both sides have five business days to file objections to the election, and the union must wait a year before seeking another vote at Mercedes. Whether the union challenges the election will be up to its lawyers, said Fain, who accused the company of "egregious illegal behavior." The union already has filed unfair labor practice complaints against the company alleging that management and anti-union consultants tried to intimidate workers. Mercedes has denied the allegations.

Pat Duggins is news director for Alabama Public Radio.
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