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UAW Union Loses Momentum by Losing Secret Ballot Election at Mercedes Alabama Plants

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The United Auto Workers (UAW) was once arguably the most powerful union in the U.S. Each of the "Big Three" U.S. car manufacturers were UAW. Subsequent developments changed that picture. First, unionized auto manufacturers began subcontracting more of their operations to non-union facilities. Second, foreign auto manufacturers began to build plants in the U.S., particularly in the South. The UAW has been unsuccessful in organizing the workers at any foreign auto manufacturer in the U.S., until winning its first such election at Volkswagen in Chattanooga, Tennessee, in April of this year. It took the UAW three elections in over 10 years to organize that plant, even though Volkswagen remained "neutral" as to the union issues. Foreign auto manufacturers, particularly those in Europe, are generally unions, and auto makers there have been allegedly pushed into a policy of "neutrality" in union organizing campaigns.

In the last 12 months, unions won elections and/or contracts at the Blue Bird school bus plant in Georgia, and the New Flyer electric bus plant in Alabama. At the same time, the UAW has attempted to expand its organizing success at Volkswagen by petitioning for NLRB elections at the Mercedes Benz plants in Vance and Woodstock, Alabama. Unlike the situation at Volkswagen in Chattanooga, the Mercedes Benz plants in Alabama conducted one-on-one and group meetings regarding union-free status, and also texted workers a video in which a local pastor and city council members suggested workers should preserve their ability "to go directly to the company" for grievances. Alabama Governor Kay Ivey called the UAW campaign a threat to "the Alabama model of economic success."

Apparently, the strategy worked as employees voted 2,642 to 2,045 against unionization at the two Alabama plants. As usual, the union announced that the company had engaged in "union busting" and that the election was thus not fair. This is a standard operating procedure of unions that lose elections. The union intends to continue its efforts. The UAW has committed $40 million to support organizing efforts of non-union auto and battery plants, especially in the South. The UAW has filed objections to the election in Alabama and continues its organizing activities there as well as elsewhere.

This article is part of our July 2024 Newsletter. 

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