UAW Loses Mercedes-Benz Unionization Election - American Society of Employers - Michael Burns

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UAW Loses Mercedes-Benz Unionization Election

Last week workers at the Mercedes-Benz plant near Tuskaloosa, Alabama voted down unionization by the United Auto Workers (UAW). The unofficial vote count was 2642 votes against vs. 2045 votes for the union. This came about a month after the UAW won its election at the Volkswagen (VW) plant further north in Chattanooga, Tennessee. There the UAW won 2628 votes for the union vs. 985 against the union.

So why the different outcomes? After last year’s contract with the Detroit Three, the UAW and its President Shawn Fain have a stated goal to organize the southern non-union auto manufacturers and their suppliers. The union seemed to have the momentum particularly after their Volkswagen win.

But VW was different. VW took a very different approach to the UAW trying to organize it. VW vowed to remain “neutral” during the election. In Germany, VW has union members on its board and has a very close relationship with its unions.

The UAW had tried to organize that VW plant in the past. Reportedly, the UAW and VW management had negotiated a deal behind the backs of their employees that gave the UAW access to its employees in exchange for cost containment for the company. This deal was not well received by VW workers who voted against organization in the 2014 election. Almost five years later another election was held at the VW plant. The UAW lost again ostensibly because they were in the middle of their corruption problems that sent two of their presidents to jail.

This time around the union shed much of the smell of its corruption problem and has new leadership inside the UAW. With a younger more progressive workforce at VW, the UAW was able to manage a win this time around.

Mecedes-Benz, who had not capitulated to unionization, won its election last week. Mercedes-Benz management communicated with their workers about the benefits of remaining union free. The UAW in turn has alleged Mercedes-Benz management engaged in unfair labor practices during the election campaign. They have five days to contest the vote and could actually end up representing the Mercedes-Benz workers despite its big loss.

Labor watchers are looking at the possibility the UAW will try to use last year’s controversial National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) CEMEX decision to overturn this election and order Mercedes-Benz to bargain with it. The CEMEX decision would allow the very pro-labor NLRB to overturn the election results if it finds Mercedez-Benz committed unfair labor practices during the election. The UAW has already filed several unfair labor practice charges against Mercedes-Benz with the NLRB.

A decision to pursue this course of action could backfire on the UAW, however. Labor Union News noted that if the UAW ends up unionizing the workers against the wishes of those that voted against the union, it could end up signaling to the other non-union auto workers that the UAW does not respect their democratic wishes.

Next up for the UAW down south are Toyota and Hyundai. The UAW has been working to organize those two auto manufacturers. The Mercedes-Benz vote may slow down that organizing movement in the short run as the UAW makes doubly sure they have the necessary votes.

 

Sources:

Labor Union News. Breaking: Mercedes Workers Reject UAW in Blow to Organizing Drive (5/17/2024), Why Did VW Workers Vote to Unionize? (4/22/2024)

Law360 Employment Authority. Mercedes Workers Reject UAW in Blow to Organizing Drive (5/17/2024)

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