UAW President Shawn Fain’s gone South, as part of his ambitious plan to expand the union’s ranks. Now is the time to strike, er make a move, as the union just won a massive contract with the Detroit automakers. The elements are slowing his pace, but progress is being made.
The United Auto Workers ambitious plans to expand into non-union auto factories in the South were slowed over the weekend as frigid weather forced the union to postpone plans for an outdoor rally in Chattanooga, Tennessee to bolster the union new push to bring Volkswagen of America employees into the UAW.
UAW President Shawn Fain said the union’s organizing drive continues to pick up momentum, and the organization has collected more than 2,000 signatures now from among the 4,500 employees at the at the VOA complex. The union also collected more than 1,500 signatures on an organizing petition among employees at the Mercedes-Benz plant in Vance, Alabama.
Non-union automakers tend to minimize the threat from the UAW, though in private conversations it is clear Shawn Fain makes them nervous after he won big, new contracts with Detroit’s automakers.
“This has been an extraordinary year for labor,” said Harley Shaiken, a University of California-based labor expert with an interest in the UAW. “They are not going to win everything. But the UAW has the wind at its back,” adding more than 500,000 union members, including 150,000 UAW members, won record contracts no observer would have believed possible at the start of 2023.
“Volkswagen is proud of the world-class manufacturing facility we have created in Chattanooga and the 5,500 employees who make it run. We are committed to investing in America, in our community and, most importantly, in our employees, who have a strong voice in their workplace,” VOA said in a statement issued after Fain spoke on a Facebook Livestream.
“We are also committed to providing clear, transparent, and timely information that helps inform our employees and managers on their legal rights and obligations, which is especially important in an atmosphere of deliberate misinformation.”
In Alabama, roughly 30% of the production employees at the Mercedes-Benz plant near Tuscaloosa have signed union authorization cards, which the UAW describes as a major milestone on their path to form a union, according to the UAW, which posted a video describing the campaign on its website.
Mercedes-Benz, which deals with unions throughout its operations around the world, issued a statement, indicating it did not believe employees in Tuscaloosa required UAW representation and noting the non-union culture at the plant has contributed to the company’s success.
“Mercedes-Benz U.S. International has a strong record of success over the past 25-plus years operating as One Team in Alabama. Central to our success is our positive team culture that includes an open-door policy,” the statement said.
“MBUSI has a proven record of competitively compensating Team Members and providing many additional benefits. We believe open and direct communication with our Team Members is the best path forward to ensure continued success. Whether to unionize is our Team Members’ decision, and MBUSI will respect whatever is decided.”
More union stories
- UAW Launches Massive Organization Effort Across Auto Industry
- UAW’s Organizing Drive Gaining Traction at VW’s Tennessee Plant
- UAW Steps Up Organizing Drive, Files Charges at Three Non-Union Plants
Plenty of positive reactions
Non-union autoworkers in Tuscaloosa are speaking out in support of the UAW.
“In the past, people didn’t know if we had a pathway forward here,” said Jeremy Kimbrell, a measurement machine operator who has worked at Mercedes since 1999.
“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,” Kimbrell added in an interview taped by a team employed by the UAW.
The UAW is building its organizing campaign around the same messaging, which proved effective during its campaign against Detroit’s automakers. The campaign emphasizes the disparity between the company’s profits and pay of top executives and the every-day compensation of the workers employed on the assembly line in Tuscaloosa.
Mercedes made $156 billion in total profits over the last decade. In the last three years their profits grew 200% over the previous three years. From 2020 to 2023, the average price of Mercedes vehicles in the U.S. jumped 31% even as pay for Mercedes’ U.S. workers stagnated. Workers at the Tuscaloosa plant build the Mercedes GLE, GLE coupé and GLS model series as well as the all-electric EQS SUV and EQE.