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Alabama Votes Are a Blow to UAW

Fain says union will return to plants while trying to organize others
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted May 18, 2024 1:15 PM CDT
Alabama Votes Are a Blow to UAW
David Johnston, right, a worker at Mercedes, thanks UAW President Shawn Fain following a press conference in Tuscaloosa, Ala., on Friday after the election.   (AP Photo/Kim Chandler)

A decisive vote against the United Auto Workers at two Mercedes factories in Alabama on Friday sidetracked the UAW's plan to sign up workers at nonunion plants mainly in the South. But President Shawn Fain said the union will return and will press on with efforts to organize about 150,000 workers at more than a dozen auto factories across the nation. Employees at Mercedes battery and assembly plants near Tuscaloosa voted 56% against the union in an election run by the National Labor Relations Board, the AP reports. The union setback came a month after the UAW scored a breakthrough victory at Volkswagen's 4,300-worker assembly factory in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

The NLRB showed a vote of 2,642 against the union, 2,045 in favor. Nearly 93% of workers eligible to vote cast ballots. Marick Masters, a professor emeritus at Wayne State University's business school who has long studied the union, said the UAW will have to analyze what went wrong and apply those lessons at other nonunion factories. "Do they need to assess more realistically the actual level of grievances and how passionately workers are to stay committed to a union organizing effort in the face of opposition?" Masters asked. The union might need to get more workers to sign cards seeking an election before calling for a vote, Masters said, and may want to respond faster to management opposition.

"I think we'll have a different result down the road," Fain told workers. The NLRB said that both sides have five business days to file objections to the election and that the union must wait a year before seeking another vote at Mercedes. The union has filed unfair labor practice complaints alleging that management and anti-union consultants tried to intimidate workers. Mercedes denied the allegations. Worker Melissa Howell said she thought the UAW was making promises that it couldn't put in writing, including pay of $40 per hour, pensions, and better benefits. Kirk Garner said he and other workers were shown an anti-union video every day before the vote, while UAW opponents targeted employees they thought could be persuaded to vote no. "I'm disappointed in the people that flipped and believed the persuaders," Garner said.

(More UAW stories.)

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