Mercedes-Benz workers cast final votes in high-stakes UAW election

After a watershed victory last month in Tennessee, the United Auto Workers is vying for a repeat performance Friday in Alabama.

The final votes have been cast in the election to determine whether more than 5,000 workers at Mercedes-Benz near Tuscaloosa, Alabama, join the UAW, with the National Labor Relations Board expected to announce the results in the afternoon.

David Johnston, 26, an employee at the Mercedes battery plant in Woodstock, said he expected the UAW to prevail. That would mark another major step for the labor group as it seeks make inroads in historically union-averse Southern states, following a vote by Volkswagen workers last month to join the union.

“I’m really optimistic and expect numbers similar to Volkswagen,” he told CBS MoneyWatch. “We’ve had the same old tactics from Mercedes for years now, and most of us are ready for some stability and better work-life balance,”

The UAW has vowed to commit $40 million through 2026 to widen its reach to additional auto and electric vehicle workers, including in Southern states, where BMW, Honda, Hyundai, Kia and Nissan also have operations.  

The UAW has been on a roll since winning major concessions last fall from Ford, General Motors and Chrysler-owner Stellantis. The union also recently reached an agreement with truck and bus manufacturer Daimler Truck, averting a potential strike by more than 7,000 workers in North Carolina.

“We’re a luxury brand, and I’m missing the first year of my daughter growing up,” said Johnston, who is switching to a new job at the Mercedes assembly plant in Vance, a move he said would mark his seventh schedule change since he started with the company in August of 2022. One role involved working 12 hours a day, seven days a week, he added.

“Red-hot opposed”

Mercedes has waged a concerted effort to dissuade workers from unionizing, according to workers in Alabama and labor experts. The company also announced that it would eliminate a two-tier pay system that resulted in more recent hires being paid substantially less. 

In contrast to Volkswagen, which did less to oppose its workforce’s union drive, “Mercedes is red-hot opposed,” said Harley Shaiken, a labor expert and professor emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley, noting that Mercedes hired a consulting firm and coordinated with local political leaders to fight the UAW. 

Mercedes is accused of disciplining workers for discussing a union, firing union supporters and forcing employees to attend meetings while making “statements suggesting that union activity is futile,” according to the National Labor Relations Board. The agency is investigating six unfair labor practice charges filed by the UAW against the company since March.

Mercedes denies interfering with the union campaign or retaliating against employees.

Mercedes’ management has gotten backing from Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey, who on Monday said she had signed legislation that revokes tax incentives for corporations that voluntarily recognize labor unions. 

“Alabama is not Michigan,” the Republican told a Chamber of Commerce function in Huntsville. “We want to ensure that Alabama values, not Detroit values, continue to define the future of this great state.” 

Officially, Mercedes said it looks forward to its workers having a chance to cast their ballots, “as well as having access to the information necessary to make an informed choice” on unionization. 

“We believe open and direct communication with our team members is the best path forward to ensure continued success,” Mercedes told CBS MoneyWatch in a statement. 

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