Podcast: After 25 Years, Mercedes Workers Say Union Could Come “Any Day Now”

UAW workers at Mercedes in Vance, Alabama say that they could file for a union election "any day now". (UAW)

By Mike Elk    For nearly 25 years, workers at Mercedes in Vance have tried to unionize but have never gotten closer.

Early last month, workers at Mercedes reached 50% for the first time in plant history.

“I came in  98. And they had a campaign going on, and were gaining momentum. And they just couldn’t reach that 50% mark,” says Kirk Garner, one of the leaders of the current union drive there. “They get pretty close. But they just couldn’t get over the hump. And so they ended the campaign, then. And so for the last 20 years, we’ve tried little campaigns to see if there was any interest, and we just couldn’t get over the hump”.

Now, after the “Stand Up Strike” success, union activists are seeing new momentum in their attempts to unionize at Mercedes.

In February, they announced that most union members at the plant had signed union cards.

“The big three got a really good contract and so people down here got excited and wanted to organize. So we’re organizing now,” says Garner.

The UAW feels a new sense of momentum in their organizing, and they are using new digital technologies to help organize.

“They’ve adopted tactics that grassroots online organizing using that it’s not so many staffers on the ground now as much as handing out QR codes and signing people up online and things like that,” says Garner. “The UAW has been slow to make that change. And once the new administration came to UAW that they, they have accepted, you know, today’s ideology and social media.”

Mercedes has responded to the organizing energy in the plant by raising wages by $2-an-hour. However, the German company, which is entirely unionized in Europe, has yet to launch an aggressive anti-union campaign. The UAW has yet to file any unfair labor practice charges against the company.

However, some local anti-union lawyers are raising money to launch a “community anti-union campaign”; it may be too little too late to stem the momentum of workers at Mercedes.

Anti-union community campaigns run by outside sources have helped lead to devastating losses both at Volkswagen in Chattanooga and at Nissan in Canton, Mississippi.

The union says that it is increasingly moving towards a solid majority needed to hold a union election at the plant. “I’m expecting the UAW to file any day now. file for an election,” says Garner. “The big three, stand up strike generated a lot of interest. So I think this is a great opportunity. While it’s still in everybody’s forefront, that that we’d go ahead and get this done now.”