After decisive loss at Alabama Mercedes plants, powerful auto union vows to return and win (2024)

Table of Contents
___ ___ FAQs

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) — A decisive vote against the United Auto Workers union at two Mercedes factories in Alabama on Friday sidetracked the UAW’s grand plan to sign up workers at nonunion plants mainly in the South.

But newly elected President Shawn Fain said the union 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 battery and assembly plants near Tuscaloosa voted 56% against the union in an election run by the National Labor Relations Board.

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.


Disneyland character and parade performers in California vote to join labor union

Major agricultural firm sues California over farmworker unionization law

The United Auto Workers faces a key test in the South with upcoming vote at Alabama Mercedes plant

“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.

“Obviously we’re following through on complaints, both here and in Germany” where Mercedes is headquartered, Fain said.

A big difference between the loss at Mercedes and the overwhelming win at Volkswagen, Fain said, was that Mercedes actively fought the union. “Obviously, Volkswagen was more neutral, and that wasn’t the case here,” he said of Mercedes, which he accused of holding captive meetings of workers to campaign against the UAW.

In a statement Friday, Mercedes said it looks forward to “continuing to work directly with our team members so they can build superior vehicles for the world.”

The company said its focus is on providing a safe and supportive work environment.

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey, who has campaigned against the union, wrote in a post on X that auto manufacturing is one of the state’s crown jewel industries, and the state is committed to keeping it that way.

“Alabama is not Michigan, and we are not the Sweet Home to the UAW,” she wrote. “We urge the UAW to respect the results of this secret ballot election.”

Worker Melissa Howell, who opposed joining the union, said she and other employees realized that the UAW was making lofty promises that it couldn’t put in writing, including pay of $40 per hour, pensions and better benefits.

“They kept repeating over and over, ‘You’re not going to lose anything. We’re going to start with what you have right now,’” Howell said. “That’s when we really started letting people know, ‘Hey, hold up. It’s all negotiable.’”

But Kirk Garner, 60, who works in quality control at the Mercedes assembly plant and supported joining the union, said workers were shown an anti-union video every day ahead of the vote, while union opponents targeted employees who they thought could be persuaded to vote no.

“I’m disappointed in the people that flipped and believed the persuaders,” Garner said.

The UAW won at Volkswagen largely because of the prospect of substantially higher wages and other benefits. Contracts reached with the Detroit Three automakers, General Motors, Stellantis and Ford, brought 33% raises between now and 2028 when the deals expire, giving the union a large recruiting tool.

Before VW, the United Auto Workers had little success at nonunion auto plants in the South, where workers have been much less drawn to organized labor than in the traditional union strongholds of Michigan and other industrial Midwestern states.

A victory at the Mercedes plants would have represented a huge plum for the union, which has long struggled to overcome the enticements that Southern states have bestowed on foreign automakers, including tax breaks, lower labor costs and a nonunion workforce.

It turns out that the union had a tougher time in Alabama than in Tennessee, where the UAW narrowly lost two previous votes and was familiar with workers at the factory.


A previous version of this story incorrectly referred to Mercedes employee Kirk Garner as Rick Garner.


Krisher reported from Detroit. AP Business Writer Wyatte Grantham-Philips in New York contributed to this report.

After decisive loss at Alabama Mercedes plants, powerful auto union vows to return and win (2024)


What was the great depression in the UAW? ›

The UAW was an industrial union, seeking to represent all workers in a single factory or firm. It therefore affiliated with the new Committee for Industrial Organization (CIO).

How big is the Mercedes plant in Alabama? ›

The 1000-acre MBUSI site (pictured above) includes over 5 million square feet of top-tier luxury-car manufacturing space. Not only does the plant showcase the leading edge of manufacturing technology; it also stays committed to the corporate leadership in sustainable environmental impact.

Who profited the most from the Great Depression? ›

9 People Who Made a Fortune During the Depression
  • John Dillinger. ...
  • Michael J. ...
  • James Cagney. ...
  • Charles Darrow. ...
  • Howard Hughes. ...
  • J. ...
  • Gene Autry. ...
  • Joseph Kennedy, Sr. Kennedy, patriarch of the Camelot clan, built up a tidy sum in the 1920s with a hearty amount of speculation, peppered with insider trading and market manipulation.
Jul 22, 2020

What happened to unions during the Great Depression? ›

The Great Depression had initially humbled the state's unions, but in the end it helped them grow and change. This was the era that changed labor law and put in place expectations about rights and social guarantees that survive today. It was also the era that built the modern labor movement.

What Mercedes does Nick Saban own? ›

Dream Motor Group is owned by University of Alabama football coach Nick Saban and former Mercedes-Benz CEO Steve Cannon and CEO Joe Agresti. Dream Motors entered the Florida market on July 31 by purchasing a collision center, a Mercedes-Benz of Cutler Bay, and a Mercedes-Benz of Coral Gables from Bill Ussery Motors.

What cars are made at the Mercedes plant in Alabama? ›

The Mercedes-Benz plant in Tuscaloosa is the home of SUV production for the current GLE, GLE coupé and GLS model series, including the Mercedes-Maybach GLS.

How much does the Mercedes plant in Alabama pay? ›

The average mercedes benz salary in Alabama is $35,841 per year or $17.23 per hour. Entry level positions start at $29,981 per year while most experienced workers make up to $115,050 per year.

How did the Great Depression affect the Ford Motor Company? ›

Ford: Hurt By High Costs and Inflexibility

As the automobile company that had pioneered high volume and low prices, Ford should have been well positioned for the Great Depression. However, its indecisiveness and inflexibility resulted in declining sales and a 12 percentage point loss in market share.

What did the Great Depression do to workers? ›

At the height of the Depression in 1933, 24.9% of the nation's total work force, 12,830,000 people, were unemployed. Wage income for workers who were lucky enough to have kept their jobs fell 42.5% between 1929 and 1933. It was the worst economic disaster in American history.

What did the UAW fight for? ›

The UAW has been actively involved in every civil rights legislative battle since the 1950s, including the campaigns to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Fair Housing Act, the Civil Rights Restoration Act of 1988 and legislation to prohibit discrimination against women, the elderly ...

What was the purpose of the UAW? ›

Their main goal was to gain recognition from the major automotive companies: General Motors, Chrysler, and Ford. The UAW now encompasses the International Union, Aerospace, Agricultural Implement Workers as well as the United Automobile Workers. With 390,000 members the UAW reaches Canada and Puerto Rico.

Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Annamae Dooley

Last Updated:

Views: 5555

Rating: 4.4 / 5 (45 voted)

Reviews: 84% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Annamae Dooley

Birthday: 2001-07-26

Address: 9687 Tambra Meadow, Bradleyhaven, TN 53219

Phone: +9316045904039

Job: Future Coordinator

Hobby: Archery, Couponing, Poi, Kite flying, Knitting, Rappelling, Baseball

Introduction: My name is Annamae Dooley, I am a witty, quaint, lovely, clever, rich, sparkling, powerful person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.