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Progressive organizations host pro-UAW rally in Tuscaloosa

Mercedes-Benz employees and a former football star discussed why they support the United Auto Workers representing Tuscaloosa workers.

Antonio Langham, pro-UAW Mercedes employees, and representatives of More Perfect Union and the Poor People's Campaign deliver speeches at a pro-union rally. CHANCE PHILLIPS/APR
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With the union election at the Mercedes-Benz plant in Tuscaloosa set to start next Monday, both Mercedes and the United Auto Workers are redoubling their efforts to sway employees to their sides.

On Sunday, progressive advocacy organizations More Perfect Union and the Poor People’s Campaign held a rally at the Christian Community Church of Tuscaloosa, following a Saturday rally at Avondale Brewing Company in Birmingham. The several dozen attendees, including pro-UAW Mercedes employees and their families, were provided free barbecue, buttons, stickers, and t-shirts.

Special guest and former University of Alabama cornerback Antonio Langham spoke about his experience in the NFL Players Association as a professional football player in the ‘90s. In his speech, he discussed how the “very strong” union delivered for NFL players, including by winning free healthcare for former players in a 2020 collective bargaining agreement.

“I know some of you probably look at me and said, well, Antonio, the dynamics of autoworkers and the NFL is a little different, but at the same time, it’s not that much different,” Langham said. “We’re just trying to make sure that we’re taking care of each other on down the road.”

Langham also stated that he believed that without the changes, the NFL Players Association has made to NFL policy, Damar Hamlin “probably wouldn’t have made it off the field” after Hamlin suffered a cardiac arrest midgame in 2023.

Speaking after Langham, Austin Brooks, who began working for Mercedes two years ago, said he’s seen people who bring up safety issues with Mercedes management get fired while other workers who are quiet about safety issues get promoted. 

“I should have went to be a ranch hand because at least at the ranch, I knew what was going to kill me,” Brooks said.

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While many prominent Alabama politicians, including Gov. Kay Ivey, have publicly called the UAW a threat to Alabama’s economy, Jacob Ryan, a KVP team member at Mercedes, says several people on the street have recognized him from UAW’s advertisements. He says they told him “how much they support us and they like that we’re standing up and fighting back.”

Mercedes has also faced heavy criticism from the UAW and other pro-union groups for its response to the unionization effort.

Jeremy Kimbrell, a measuring machine operator at Mercedes who attended the rally, called the tactics Mercedes has been utilizing “extremely vicious, maybe illegal, bordering on illegal.”

“We don’t see that it’s moving the totals,” he said. “But it’s having some impact on those that were not declared.”

On March 26, the United Auto Workers filed an unfair labor practice charge against Mercedes with the National Labor Relations Board, alleging that Mercedes had illegally fired several employees for associating with the union.

Several Mercedes employees at the rally also complained about captive audience meetings and anti-union text messages from the company.

A professor of community medicine at the University of Alabama, Pamela Foster, helped represent the Poor People’s Campaign at the event. Foster compared the UAW’s current struggle to represent Southern autoworkers to the history of political struggles in the American South. 

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“This is the area of the country where slavery was, where there was much resistance to organizing for minority groups,” she said. “We’re trying to rid ourselves of that and really have a true democracy.”

Paraphrasing Poor People’s Campaign founder Reverend William Barber, Foster said that “if we can change the South, the rest of the nation will follow.”

Chance Phillips is a reporting intern at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can reach him at [email protected].

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