Mercedes worker

Shane Berryhill, a Mercedes-Benz worker in Alabama, shares in a video why he wants to join the United Auto Workers.

(Photo: United Auto Workers/Facebook)

'We're Gonna Win': Alabama Mercedes Workers Begin UAW Vote

A victory in the Southern state, said one organizer, "would show workers across all different industries that they can stand up together and fight for more."

From Monday through Friday, around 5,200 employees of Mercedes-Benz in Alabama will vote on whether to join the United Auto Workers—which has set its sights on the U.S. South after contract wins at the industry's "Big Three" in Michigan last year.

While Republican leaders in the state, including Gov. Kay Ivey, and at least one worker have publicly attacked the unionization effort, multiple Mercedes employees have signaled their support for the UAW going into this week's voting at an assembly facility in Vance and battery plant in Woodstock.

"I've watched our company not keep up with the times," Mercedes worker Brett Garrard recently told the Detroit Free Press. "We pray for fair wages, comparative wages inside the auto industry. Benefits packages have suffered throughout the years. My wife, herself, has stage four cancer. I'd like to see something implemented to maybe help our situation."

David Johnston, who works at the Woodstock plant, has also cited medical concerns, tellingForbes that "I'm always in a medical hospital. I'm always sick. I need better healthcare. Plus, when I retire I'm not going to have any insurance until Medicare kicks in."

Johnston is optimistic about the vote in Alabama. He pointed to Chattanooga, Tennessee, where Volkswagen plant employees last month overwhelmingly voted to join the UAW.

"I mean, hands down. I think we're gonna win. We're gonna win. Hopefully by a lot," he said. "It seems like it's gonna be a slam dunk just like Volkswagen. Everybody's excited."

Haeden Wright, a senior organizer for Jobs to Move America, toldAL.com that a win in Alamaba "would show workers across all different industries that they can stand up together and fight for more."

In comments to The Guardian, Mercedes employee Rick Webster similarly framed this week's vote as part of a larger battle.

"It's time for Alabama workers to stand up and unite not just at Mercedes, but at Hyundai, Honda, and Toyota. It's time for everybody to stand up and have a voice and we need to end the Alabama discount," he said, using an organizer term to highlight how workers in the state have subpar wages and benefits compared to their peers elsewhere in the country.

Webster also called out Mercedes' efforts to convince workers in Alabama not to vote in favor of joining the UAW—which has filed multiple union-busting complaints against the company with the National Labor Relations Board.

"It is a daily barrage of text messages, emails, and there's an app we have for work for every kind of announcement you can think of and we're getting two to three notifications daily. Every day before the shift, we have to sit in the team room and watch anti-union videos," he explained. "It's just been a constant barrage. Everybody is just sick and tired of it."

Johnston toldNPR that "the entire message in those meetings is Vote no, vote no, vote no. We don't think you need to do this. This is not what you want."

A company spokesperson has told multiple news outlets that Mercedes-Benz U.S. International "fully respects our team members' choice whether to unionize and we look forward to participating in the election process to ensure every team member has a chance to cast their own secret-ballot vote, as well as having access to the information necessary to make an informed choice."

The United Auto Workers webpage on the Alabama effort includes information about who is eligible to vote, how to participate, and workers' rights as well as the UAW's responses to some of opponents' allegations against the union.

"Right now, Mercedes is doing whatever they can to discourage us. But voting yes for our union is a game-changer," the UAW webpage says. "Once we vote yes, the company is legally required to sit down with us as equals to bargain a contract. Just like VW, Mercedes has negotiated union contracts with workers all around the world. We can win our union, our union contract, and our fair share right here in Alabama."

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