United Auto Workers members

United Auto Workers members are seen at a rally in 2023.

(Photo: Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)

'Time for Justice in Alabama': Supermajority of Mercedes-Benz Workers File for UAW Vote

"We are standing up for every worker in Alabama," said one employee. "We're going to turn things around with this vote. We're going to end the Alabama discount."

The alleged illegal union-busting that Mercedes-Benz autoworkers in Vance, Alabama accused the car company of in a complaint to the National Labor Relations Board has not weakened the resolve of pro-union employees, a supermajority of whom now support a union election, according to the United Auto Workers.

The union announced Friday that more than 5,000 workers at the company's nonunion plant have filed a petition with the NLRB in favor of an election, with the workers aiming for a vote by early May.

"It's time for change at Mercedes," said the UAW. "It's time for justice in Alabama. It's time for Mercedes workers to stand up. That's why Mercedes workers have filed for their vote to join the UAW, and to win a better life."

The announcement comes weeks after Volkswagen employees in Chattanooga, Tennessee filed for a union election that's expected to be held April 17-19.

Both union votes are the result of aggressive campaigning by the UAW, including union president Shawn Fain, in the wake of a historic "stand-up strike" that pushed the Big Three automakers to agree to new contracts for about 150,000 workers late last year.

After the victory, Fain announced the launch of the largest union organizing drive in U.S. history, aiming to welcome 150,000 workers at nonunion auto plants into the UAW.

Over 10,000 autoworkers in recent months have signed union cards, and the UAW said Friday that employees at more than two dozen facilities are also organizing.

Mercedes' two U.S. plants in Alabama and South Carolina are its only facilities in the world where workers are not represented by a union. Workers in Vance say they want better healthcare, retirement security, safety protocols, and paid sick days.

Jeremy Kimbrell, a measurement machine operator at Mercedes, said the union vote is part of an effort to ensure carmakers no longer view Alabama as a state where workers can be compensated unfairly.

"We are standing up for every worker in Alabama," said Kimbrell. "At Mercedes, at Hyundai, and at hundreds of other companies, Alabama workers have made billions of dollars for executives and shareholders, but we haven't gotten our fair share. We're going to turn things around with this vote. We're going to end the Alabama discount."

Moesha Chandler, an assembly team member, said her job has given her "serious problems with my shoulders and hands."

"We are voting for safer jobs at Mercedes," said Chandler. "When you're still in your 20s and your body is breaking down, that's not right. By winning our union, we'll have the power to make the work safer and more sustainable.

The UAW celebrated the news out of Vance by releasing a video showing a recent rally where Fain encouraged workers to support the union effort.

"You gotta believe you can win, that this job can be better, that your life will be better, and that those things are worth fighting for," Fain told the Mercedes workers. "That's why we stand up."

The growing pro-union movement across the South represents "huge stakes," said Lauren Kaori Gurley, a labor reporter for The Washington Post. The UAW has faced resistance from right-wing politicians across the South for decades as it has attempted to unionize factories.

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey, a Republican, said Thursday that the UAW's efforts are a "threat from Detroit" that "has no interest in seeing the people of Alabama succeed."

Ivey's comments indicated that the governor "thinks so little of Alabama workers, that we're only good for cheap labor," Kimbrell told AL.com.

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