Auto workers at the Hyundai plant in Montgomery “can’t wait,” as they announced their unionization campaign to join the United Auto Workers (UAW) union, after 30 percent of the workers signed union cards.
The announcement comes just three weeks after Alabama auto workers at the Mercedes Benz plant in Vance went public with their campaign to join the UAW. In a video as part of the announcement, workers at Hyundai infused the legacy of the civil rights movement with their efforts to unionize.
“Montgomery, Alabama, the city where Rosa Parks sat down, and where thousands of Hyundai workers are ready to stand up,” workers stated. “…Hyundai workers can’t wait, Our families can’t wait, Montgomery can’t wait. We’re ready to stand up.”
Similar to the announcement by Mercedes workers, employees at Hyundai expressed that despite being promised good jobs and benefits, they have either not received them or seen the quality decline over the years.
“Here’s when I knew we needed the union,” said Quichelle Liggins, a Quality Inspector at Hyundai. “My youngest son had a basketball game, and I scheduled a half day of vacation time. Someone was supposed to come to the line to relieve me, but no one came. Finally, I clocked out, and I missed the first quarter of his game. They still wanted to write me up for job abandonment. I had to go in front of team relations, and I explained what happened, that I was legit in having this personal day. And my group leader stopped me and said this job is more important than your family. At that moment, I just froze. That was sickening. I knew things at Hyundai had gone too far.”
Several other workers at Hyundai delivered personal accounts of being forced back to work while injured. Drena Smith, who has worked at Hyundai for 19 years, primarily in the body paint shop, said the company has “broken me down.” Smith has had rotator cuff surgery on both shoulders and carpal tunnel surgery in one hand.
“I’m getting close to retirement, and the company has literally broken me down,” Smith said. “We need compensation for that when we retire. Not just a cake and a car discount for a car we can’t afford to buy because we won’t have any income. We need a real retirement; we need to win our union.”
Peggy Howard, a worker in General Assembly, was forced back to work after having surgery and is now facing complications because of it. Howard said the union is needed to make their jobs safer.
“When you’re injured, management pushes you back on the line too soon,” Howard said. “I had surgery on my rotator cuff in September, and I had to go back to work the last of December. I didn’t get the two weeks ramp up, and now I’m having pains over again. I had a cortisone injection three weeks ago, and I’m about to go back for another injection. If that doesn’t work, the doctor told me he’ll have to do the surgery over again. We need to make our jobs safer; we need the union.”
Based on testimonies from workers at both Mercedes and Hyundai, joining the UAW would help in attempting to obtain better working conditions and a better quality of life. However, multiple individuals have expressed that unionization could be detrimental to business interests in Alabama when it comes to the auto industry.
Gov. Kay Ivey, Helena Duncan, CEO of the Business Council of Alabama, and Ellen McNair, Secretary of Commerce, have all spoken out against unionization following the announcement at the Mercedes plant. Ivey and Duncan have both published opinion pieces claiming the auto industry offers great salaries and livelihoods for the workers. However, workers in the Hyundai video state that while profits are through the roof for the company, they are not seeing the benefits.
Hyundai recorded making over 9.7 billion in profits in 2023, a record for the company.
“Hyundai’s profits are through the roof, while we’re some of the lowest-paid auto workers in the country,” workers stated. “We make the cars. But we can’t afford to buy them. We put in the sweat. But we don’t see the profits. Hyundai makes billions while Alabama auto workers fall behind.”
Duncan stated that the BCA will also begin an informational campaign or, what may be deemed union busting, called “Alabama Strong,” to combat the unionization attempts in Alabama.
“Using a website, online advertisements, and other forms of digital and social media, our campaign will provide Alabamians with a full and thorough picture of the economic dangers that unionization presents,” Duncan wrote. “Alabama Strong” will also suggest ways all of us can take a stand and discourage the UAW from making our state its main battlefield.”
McNair went as far to write in a letter Wednesday that unions could jeopardize Alabama’s economic future.
Despite the concerns from the business interests and claims that outside forces are targeting Alabama’s prized auto industry, it is clear that workers are fed up and facing untenable working conditions and are seeking a remedy to those problems. And for 30 percent of workers so far at two major auto industry plants the solution to their problems, they believe, is to unionize.