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Mercedes Benz Tuscaloosa workers announce unionization drive with UAW

At the Tuscaloosa plant, workers build the Mercedes GLE, the GLE Coupé, GLS model series, and the all-electric EQE and EQS SUVs.

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On Wednesday, workers at the Mercedes Benz plant in Tuscaloosa announced their unionization campaign to join the United Auto Workers (UAW).

1,500 workers at the Mercedes Benz plant, representing 30 percent of the plant’s workforce, have signed union authorization cards, prompting the announcement. This 30 percent threshold is a significant milestone needed for the workers to publicly launch their campaign, according to the UAW.

A video accompanying the announcement features members of the organizing committee publicly stating their intent to form a union with the UAW.

Workers in the video highlighted their contribution to Mercedes Benz’s success over the past thirty years. They pointed out that while “Mercedes’ executive pay goes up, Alabama autoworkers have fallen further behind.” The workers stated that due to the unfavorable conditions non-union auto workers have faced, they were inspired to join the UAW.

“And just like everywhere else, American non-union autoworkers are getting a raw deal,” the workers said. “That’s why over 1,500 of us at Mercedes in Alabama have signed union cards and are joining the United Auto Workers.”

The announcement follows the UAW’s Stand Up Strike against the ‘Big Three’ auto manufacturers — General Motors, Stellantis, and Ford — which resulted in favorable contracts for workers. Since this historic strike, non-union autoworkers across the country have begun organizing to join the UAW. Just last month, Volkswagen workers in Chattanooga, Tennessee, also reached the 30 percent milestone and announced their intention to join the UAW.

Jeremy Kimbrell, a measurement machine operator at Mercedes since 1999, expressed that unionization would help establish working at Mercedes as a career job.

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“In the past, people didn’t know if we had a pathway forward here,” Kimbrell said. “Now everybody’s coming together and seeing what the pathway is, and it’s through the union. When we get our union in here, I think people will once again look at Mercedes and say, it’s not just another job, it’s a career job. It’s a job where generations will want to come and work. And that’ll spread out to the suppliers and then to the broader area.”

From 2020 to 2023, the price of Mercedes’ vehicles increased by 31 percent, while pay for the workers remained stagnant. At the Tuscaloosa plant, workers build the Mercedes GLE, the GLE Coupé, GLS model series, and the all-electric EQE and EQS SUVs.

Derrick Todd, a worker at Mercedes since 2005, said that the current pay is insufficient despite the company’s continuing record profits.

“Back in the day, you could get by on the pay here,” Todd said. “We topped out in two years. Now some people go through a temp agency for years before they even get on the pay scale. Year after year, the company says they’ve got record profits and sales, but our pay doesn’t keep up. It’s time to set things right. It’s time that we had our voice heard.”

Moesha Chandler, an assembly team member who started working at Mercedes in January 2023, shared her experience of living paycheck to paycheck.

“I feel like we’re living to work when we should be working to live,” Chandler said. “I started as a temp making $17.50 an hour. I’m full time now, but I’m still living paycheck to paycheck. If I have a shopping spree, it’s for my work clothes, not fun clothes. If we had the union, we’d feel more protected, more at ease. We wouldn’t feel like a gazelle to a lion.”

The unionization effort aims to bring positive changes for the workers. Jim Spitzley, a team leader at Mercedes, is confident that the union will ensure fair treatment for workers.

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“When Mercedes opened up, it was the shining three-point star of Alabama,” Spitzley stated. “That star has dimmed. I’ve been here 27 years, and the morale has steadily declined. Even when I started, I rotated shifts for 15 years, missing significant time with my kids. I’m on straight days now, but when a new model year is released, I can still work 12 out of 13 weekends. We need a voice to turn things around. The union is our voice. That’s how the new people coming in are going to be treated fairly. That’s how we end the two tiers.”

Despite Alabama being a right-to-work state, there have been significant recent efforts to unionize and advocate for workers’ rights across the state. This latest announcement could inspire more workers, not just in the auto industry, to do the same.

Patrick Darrington is a reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can reach him at [email protected].

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