UAW’s push to unionize factories in South faces latest test in vote at 2 Mercedes plants in Alabama--with Marick Masters

In a statement Thursday, Mercedes denied interfering with or retaliating against workers who are pursuing union representation. The company has said it looks forward to all workers having a chance to cast a secret ballot “as well as having access to the information necessary to make an informed choice” on unionization.

If the union wins, it will be a huge momentum booster for the UAW as it seeks to organize more factories, said Marick Masters, a professor emeritus at Wayne State University’s business school who has long studied the union.

“The other companies should be on notice,” Masters said, “that the UAW will soon be knocking at their door more loudly than they have even in the recent past.”

If the Mercedes workers reject the union, Masters expects the UAW leadership to explore legal options. This could include arguing to the National Labor Relations Board that Mercedes’ actions made it impossible for union representation to receive a fair election.

Though a loss would be a setback for the UAW, Masters suggested it would not deal a fatal blow to its membership drive. The union would have to analyze why it couldn’t garner more than 50% of the vote, given its statement that a “supermajority” of workers signed cards authorizing an election, Masters said. The UAW wouldn’t say what percentage or how many workers signed up.

A UAW loss, he said, could lead workers at other nonunion plants to wonder why Mercedes employees voted against the union. But Masters said he doesn’t think an election loss would slow down the union.

“I would expect them to intensify their efforts, to try to be more thoughtful and see what went wrong,” he said.

If the UAW eventually manages to organize nonunion plants at Hyundai, Kia, Nissan, Toyota and Honda with contracts similar to those it won in Detroit, more automakers would have to bear the same labor costs. That potentially could lead the automakers to raise vehicle prices.

Some workers at Mercedes say the company treated them poorly until the UAW’s organizing drive began, then offered pay raises, eliminated a lower tier of pay for new hires and even replaced the plant CEO.

Other Mercedes workers have said they prefer to see how the company treats them without the bureaucracy of a union.

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