The final hours are ticking off before the near 6,000 employees at the Mercedes Benz plant in Vance and Woodstock cast their union votes. Balloting in the controversial vote for or against joining the United Auto Workers Union runs all week.

The aggressive $40 million plus campaign to organize non-union auto plants in Alabama and across the south has already hailed success a month ago at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, TN. UAW organizers are now hoping to see Mercedes become another chink in the armor of the anti-union south.

Large tax breaks, lower labor costs and a nonunion workforce is what lured foreign automakers to the south, their massive plants fueling southern states economies and creating thousands of jobs. That also attracted dozens of suppliers to construct facilities nearby each plant in the "just in time" delivery supply system.

In 1978, Volkswagen (VW) became the first foreign-owned company to manufacture cars in the United States. BMW, Mercedes, Hyundai, Subaru, Toyota, Nissan, and Honda and Volvo followed suit.

With VW becoming the first to unionize, pro-union employees at Mercedes and the other southern plants believe that vote is opening the door to a union wave across the south.

Using the success of the 2023 strike against the "Big 3" automakers in Detroit, the UAW became emboldened. With the election of Shawn Fain as president, the union embarked on new and aggressive campaign to organize automakers in the "Right-to-Work" southern states.

With the vote looming, Mercedes announced last week that Federico Kochlowski is taking over as president for Michael Goebel, who is being reassigned. Some workers say that is a sign that the company is listening to employees, but others vow it is too little too late.

Southern Governor Worry that UAW Win Will Collapse Southern Economies

Alabama Governor Kay Ivey and the chief executives of six other southern states and most political leaders in each state targeted by the UAW have been vociferous in their opposition. They point out that wages at the plants are competitive and that unions will only take dues out of any raises.

A statement by the governors said they are “highly concerned about the unionization campaign driven by misinformation and scare tactics that the UAW has brought into our states.” It also warns that foreign auto plants could close if union drives are successful.

In a post on X (formerly twitter) Gov. Ivey urged workers to think about the future, "As governors, we speak up when we see special interests looking to threaten our states’ jobs & values. The UAW has come in making big promises they can't keep — we won't stand for that.:"

Ivey said in a later statement that Mercedes has “positively impacted” tens of thousands of Alabama families since the plant opened in 1993 but the union “interest here is ensuring money from hardworking Alabama families ends up in the UAW bank account.”

Pro-UAW Employees are Optimistic

After the overwhelming VW win UAW's Fain reacted to Gov. Ivey's claim that the union "attack" will destroy Alabama's economic model. "“She’s damn right it is! It’s under attack because workers are fed up with getting screwed.”

Previous unionization attempts at Mercedes have failed but pro-union workers believe there is a different feel to this effort. They turned out Saturday at Hoover’s Brock’s Gap Brewing Co. to show their solidarity. During a rally with food, games and music union proponents predicted a big win at the end of this week's voting.

“When there’s more union workers, wages, working conditions and benefits improve across the board for everybody,” Joe Cleveland, of the International Association of Machinists Local 291 in Anniston told the crowd of about 250.  “It improves for future generations of workers."

Pro-union workers claim the union is needed due to stagnant wages, high insurance cost, irregular work hours and disrespect from management.

Other speakers attempted to tie the fight for a union at Mercedes with the union battles of the early 1900s in steel, lumber and coal mine industries.

Some pro-UAW employees are so optimistic that they believe t70% of the ballots cast in the secret vote will be pro-union.

Anti-union employees have been relatively low key except for a website extolling the reasons to not join the union. Many of the employees who say they will vote "no" say they have not spoken up publicly out of fear of retribution from the union.

UA and AU Tell UAW to Cease and Desist

The UAW has attempted to capitalize on loyalties of Mercedes employees to the University of Alabama and Auburn University in merchandising pro-union items. In so doing they have used Trademark logos from each school.

“The United Auto Workers are currently infringing on the intellectual property rights of The University of Alabama and Auburn University by using our trademarks without our endorsement or permission,” a joint statement from the University of Alabama and Auburn University reads.

“UAW has been explicitly instructed to stop improperly using our trademarks in their campaign (e.g., on their website, stickers, t-shirts, etc.). Both institutions will continue to take all necessary action to protect our intellectual property rights.”

According to the schools, the order was sent in an effort to reduce confusion and to make it clear neither school is endorsing either side in the union vote.

The Vote Will Run for a Week

Employees at the Vance Mercedes Plant and the Woodstock Battery Plant will begin casting their secret ballots tomorrow. Voting will continue until Friday when the final total will be tallied.

The vote is being overseen by the union friendly National Labor Relations Board.

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