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Mercedes drops subcontractor at Tuscaloosa plant following alleged foreign worker violations

By Chip Brownlee
Alabama Political Reporter

Automaker Mercedes Benz has dropped a construction subcontractor at two of its auto plants following an investigative report by CBS News showed the company hired for construction at the plant was using hundreds of unauthorized foreign workers.

The report, which aired during the premier of the network’s new investigative series, “CBSN: On Assignment,” found that the Eastern European foreign workers hired by a subcontractor being used at the plant in Tuscaloosa County had obtained B1/B2 visas to work at the plant.

But B1/B2 visas require that the workers must be in a supervisory role, otherwise B1/B2 visas are not valid for construction projects. The CBS report showed that the workers were doing jobs substantially different from those allowed under the B1/B2 visas and at wages substantially lower than the average salary for an American construction worker in the same role.

B1/B2 visa program regulations such as the one the subcontractor allegedly violated were put in place to protect American workers from losing out to lesser-paid foreign workers.

They’re also intended to protect the foreign workers from being exploited.

Mercedes-Benz U.S. International, in a statement, announced earlier this week that they would no longer be using the subcontractor accused of using unauthorized workers at neither its Vance, Alabama, plant nor its other manufacturing plant in South Carolina.

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The German automaker banned the subcontractor — which had been hired by another German construction contractor, the Eisenmann corporation — as it launches an internal audit of its contracting and subcontracting employees.

“When MBUSI first received an allegation of wrongdoing by a specific subcontractor, that subcontractor was immediately banned from MBUSI’s site,” Mercedes wrote in the statement. “Only when the contractor proves to MBUSI’s satisfaction that all of its subcontractor’s employees are legally authorized to work in the U.S. will they be allowed back on site.”

The contractors and subcontractors are working on a $1.3 billion expansion of the plant, which lies only miles from Tuscaloosa. The expansion will include a new 1.3 million-square-foot body shop, an expanded SUV assembly shop and the rebuilding of the current body shop.

Mercedes has received hundreds of millions in incentives from the state as part of Alabama’s drive for economic development. The incentives used to bring Mercedes to Alabama more than two decades ago were lauded as some of the largest in U.S. history.

Today, Mercedes employs more than 3,500 people in Vance and has built more than 2.5 million vehicles.

Email Chip Brownlee at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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Chip Brownlee
Written By

Chip Brownlee is a former political reporter, online content manager and webmaster at the Alabama Political Reporter. He is now a reporter at The Trace, a non-profit newsroom covering guns in America.