BMW plant workers in Alabama reject unionization and deal blow to UAW’s expansion hopes

Two Mercedes-Benz plants in Alabama will not be joining the United Auto Workers union after a Friday vote.

About 5,000 workers at facilities near Tuscaloosa rejected the proposal 2642 to 2045. The National Labor Relations Board is expected to announce the official results.

The union had dedicated $40m to organizing plants across the South, which is the least unionized part of the country, as electric vehicles continue to enter the market in large numbers.

UAW had a breakthrough win in April by securing the votes of a Tennessee Volkswagen plant. That same month, it reached a deal with Daimler Truck, avoiding a strike of more than 7,000 workers in North Carolina.

The United Auto Workers union will see if a Mercedes-Benz plant near Tuscaloosa, Alabama will enter the organization on Friday (AP)
The United Auto Workers union will see if a Mercedes-Benz plant near Tuscaloosa, Alabama will enter the organization on Friday (AP)

Following the defeat, UAW President Shawn Fain said: “These courageous workers at Mercedes reached out to the UAW because they wanted justice. They led us and they lead us. What happens next is up to them.”

The campaign didn’t go without some wins. Workers managed to oust their CEO, raised their wages and killed wage tiers.

Support for the union has started to emerge across the region, even though the UAW lost elections at Volkswagen in 2014 and 2019. Alabama workers at Hyundai in Montgomery and Mercedes in Vance have grown in their support for the UAW, the organization said.

The UAW claimed that Mercedes-Benz was against the union and has been accused of retaliating against workers for supporting it.

The company has allegedly fired union supporters and disciplined workers for discussing organization efforts. The National Labor Relations Board is investigating six alleged violations the UAW has filed against the company since March, CBS reported.

The Independent has emailed the board and Mercedes-Benz for comment.

Alabama’s Republican Governor Kay Ivey has also opposed the union and has gone so far as to introduce legislation that would take away tax incentives for companies that recognize labor unions.

“Alabama is not Michigan,” the governor said to the Madison County Chamber of Commerce on Monday.

Following the vote, she said, “The workers in Vance have spoken, and they have spoken clearly.”

Latesha Henry, a worker at the Mercedes-Benz plant, said she wanted to form a union for her children. “It’s for their future, for someone else’s child’s future,” she said in a campaign video released by UAW. “I don’t want them to go through what we’ve been through.”