After Filing with 70%, UAW loses 44%-56% in Alabama

Alabama Mercedes UAW activists rally in Tuscaloosa (UAW)

Earlier this week, many within the UAW believed the union would win in its election at Mercedes. Union advocates told us that, like in Chattanooga, where workers won a union election last month with 73% voting in favor, Mercedes workers in Vance, Alabama, would vote for a union by a similar margin. 

However, Volkswagen had two prior union elections in 2014 and 2019 that were lost by similar margins to the margin of defeat at Mercedes. At Volkswagen, workers had heard all the manipulation of the boss two times prior and rejected it. (See our interview with a previously anti-union worker at Volkswagen, who describes how he changed overtime)

This was their first union election in 25 years of fighting for one at Mercedes. Mercedes responded swiftly, promising workers that they would do better. They even fired their plant manager and brought in a new one. 

After filing with 70%, the UAW believed they would maintain their margin. However, the union, in the face of manipulation and a disinformation campaign, bled support. Many workers bought Mercedes’ pleas to give them another chance and voted against the UAW. 

Kirk Garner, Vice President of UAW Local 112, the minority union at Mercedes, said the union was caught off guard. The company conducted physiological profiles of workers and only invited “persuadable” workers to anti-union meetings. 

In these meetings, Mercedes offered workers time off of the grueling assembly line and asked workers to “give them another chance.” 

Many workers fell for the company’s plea to “give them another chance.” Kirk Garner, Vice President of UAW Local 112, says that is precisely why legal changes need to be made to bar the manipulative power dynamics of captive audience union meetings. 

“Hopefully, the Labor Board will flip the mandatory captive audience meeting room. And we won’t have to endure that again,” says Garner. 

Despite the loss, the 43% vote shows a solid support base within the plant. The union has filed several charges for illegal union-busting against Mercedes. 

Not only is the union pursuing legal measures in the US, but also in Germany, where a new law holds employers liable for practices like captive audience meetings that are illegal under German law. 

In Chattanooga, Volkswagen workers similarly filed with solid support, only to narrowly lose. Mercedes workers say they are not discussed and will fight again another day. Garner says that his union will continue to organize

“There will prolly be a quiet period for a while,” says Garner. “You know, two or three months not doing anything and then we will get back up in the fall.” 

Payday is releasing two podcasts with Kirk Garner that show how things changed throughout the union election. We will share those later in the week. 

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About the Author

Mike Elk
Mike Elk is an Emmy-nominated labor reporter and alumni of the Guardian. In addition to filing nearly 2,000 stories from 46 states, Elk traveled with Lula from Sáo Bernando do Campos all the way to the Oval Office in the White House. Credited by the Washington Post for being the first reporter to track the strike wave systematically, Elk started Payday Report using his NLRB settlement from being illegally fired for union organizing in 2015. He lives in his hometown of Pittsburgh and works frequently in Rio de Janeiro, where he attended college at PUC-Rio. He speaks both Portuguese and Pittsburghese fluently. His email is [email protected]