UAW Tryin' to Work Its Organizing Magic on Mercedes Plant in Tuscaloosa

There’s been a Mercedes Benz factory outside of Tuscaloosa, Alabama for almost 30 years, and, for the company, it’s been a pretty big deal. The plant employs around 6100 people.

The Mercedes-Benz plant in Tuscaloosa was founded in 1995 and was the first major Mercedes-Benz plant outside Germany. Around two-thirds of the annual production is exported, making the Mercedes-Benz U.S. International (MBUSI) one of the largest automotive exporters in the United States. Since 1997, around four million vehicles have rolled off the assembly line at the Tuscaloosa plant.

The plant is the traditional location for SUV production with the current GLE, GLE Coupé and GLS Maybach model series. Since 2022, the two all-electric models EQS SUV and EQE SUV have also been manufactured here and since 2023 also the new Mercedes-Maybach EQS SUV. The batteries for the EQ models are manufactured at the battery factory in nearby Bibb County.

It’s also a non-union shop, as many plants in Southern states are. Pugnacious United Auto Workers president Shawn Fain has been licking his chops for battle with these automakers after successfully bludgeoning the big D-3 into submission last fall through a co-ordinated series of costly and acrimonious rolling labor actions.

…While handsome on its face, the GM offer was a good bit short of the initial 46% raise the union demanded besides missing a buttload of other things, and UAW president Shawn Fain was quick to say, “Thank you, no.”

Well. Actually…

He shot back with more a version of “blow it out your tailpipe,” adding, for good measure, that he was “insulted.”

“After refusing to bargain in good faith for the past six weeks, only after having federal labor board charges filed against them, GM has come to the table with an insulting proposal that doesn’t come close to an equitable agreement for America’s autoworkers. GM either doesn’t care or isn’t listening when we say we need economic justice at GM by 11:59pm on September 14th. The clock is ticking. Stop wasting our members’ time. Tick tock.”

Yeah, downhill from there until Stellantis, Ford, and GM went belly up and caved. Previous contract negotiation/strike impacts were already evident in profit reports from companies who’d earlier encountered Fain’s steamrolling tactics, so automakers had a right to be concerned they’d only bought a temporary reprieve.

In December, after announcing he’d set his sight on 13 non-union automakers – while taking time out to have his union thoughtfully and officially call for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas – Fain filed “unfair labor practices” complaints against three of those companies. And in February, Fain announced a massive cash infusion (Lord, that’s lots of money to blow in anticipation here, no?) for their unionization march across the South.

The United Auto Workers is committing $40 million through 2026 in new organizing funds to support non-union autoworkers and battery workers who are organizing across the country, and particularly in the South. 

The UAW International Executive Board voted Tuesday to commit the funds in response to an explosion in organizing activity among non-union auto and battery workers, in order to meet the moment and grow the labor movement. 

One of their primary targets was Volkswagon, which had a non-union plant in Tennessee.

That assault went spectacularly well for the UAW last month.

As happy and employed VW workers paraded their “Our lives will change now!” hoots and hollers on X and elsewhere, the UAW’s terrific bargaining for big bucks and bennies was just beginning to come home to roost for Stellantis workers.

They will be unemployed. Gosh. No one could have seen that coming.

Stellantis (NASDAQ:STLA) laid off 199 assembly workers at a Jeep plant represented by the United Auto Workers (UAW). It said more job cuts are coming.

…Stellantis blames the layoffs on a changing auto market and the costs of transitioning to electric vehicles (EVs), which had just 7.15% of the U.S. market in the first quarter.

The job cuts are considered a blow to the United Auto Workers, which signed a contract with Stellantis just last year. The UAW called the layoffs “disgusting.”

Of course, layoffs were “disgusting” to Fain and company, but only a momentary blip as they were also partly responsible for them. Not to mention the fact that they’re counting on autoworkers in Vance, AL not really being interested in what’s going on in their industry.

Coincidentally, voting “to unionize or not” the rich prize at the Tuscaloosa Mercedes plant started Monday.

On Monday, thousands of Mercedes Benz workers began the voting process in Vance to potentially join the UAW Union.

Sammie Ellis is a Mercedes employee who voted to support the UAW union. He believes it will bring in better healthcare, benefits and wages.

“I am voting yes to the union and I am voting yes to change and I am voting yes to UAW. This is an exciting and monumental moment and this is history,” Ellis said. “To have my voice heard and my vote counted means a lot.”

The real employee grumbling on the production floor started in 2017.

…Workers began to notice changes on the floor – such as two tiers of pay and temp workers. Kimbrell, who has been at Mercedes since 1999, said the introduction of tier pay “opened the eyes” of the older workers.

“They did it just to pay workers less,” he said. “Newer workers wondered, why am I being paid less to do the same work?”

Mercedes executives, in the midst of the electric expansion, began to express concern about filling positions. State officials focused efforts at increasing workforce participation numbers.

The rapid expansion brought by EVs also came during the disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic, when workers suddenly found themselves adhering to a lot of changes on the factory floor dictated by management.

“People began to say, this isn’t the company I went to work for,” Kimbrell said.

From the company’s perspective, it was responding to where the market is expected to go, while also dealing with increased demand, supply chain disruptions and other factors.

That meant it – and its workers – had to maintain flexibility.

Mercedes has offered concessions in an attempt to appease employees but it might be a case of too little, too late.

…Since the union drive began, Mercedes has responded with promises to end two-tier pay and increases for topped-out workers, Kimbrell said.

“The union drive let them know they’d really messed up,” he said. “They offered some pay perks, but we still kept growing.”

Friday’s tally of the votes will tell.

The state of AL has stepped in with Gov Kay “MeeMaw” Ivey signing a piece of legislation which, while it won’t have any impact on this particular union vs company scrum, will regulate future unionization efforts in the state. What the law does is yank economic incentives from any company that wants to move into Alabama that might already have a union deal in hand or voluntarily accepts one. IOW, you can bring unions into Alabama; just don’t expect AL to help pay for your move there if you do.

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey announced Monday she signed legislation that could lead to revoking economic incentives on companies that voluntarily recognize labor unions starting next year.

…Ivey signed SB231 into law on Friday. The new law, which passed out of the Alabama Legislature last week, withholds economic incentives the state offers to lure a company into the state if it voluntarily recognizes a union or if the union does not hold a secret ballot during an election.

Similar laws have been adopted in Tennessee and Georgia.

The new law sets a Jan. 1, 2025, date to revoke economic incentives if a company voluntarily accepts a union.

The conciliatory tone Mercedes is taking also makes me wonder if they’re not hedging their bets in this whole situation. 

What I’m thinking is, say the UAW comes in and takes them to the cleaners – awful, right?

But it might also give them another excuse for paring back operations at that plant I’ll bet they were already considering. This is where I wonder if any of the people who vote for these things ever have an inkling about what’s going on in the outside world in their own industry.

Prime example – here is the UAW crowing about how wonderful the EV transition is going to be for autoworkers and the auxiliary industries associated with the forced transition. Oh, they want those battery factories in their fold, too – you betcha.

…In the next few years, the electric vehicle battery industry is slated to add tens of thousands of jobs across the country, and new standards are being set as the industry comes online. These jobs will supplement, and in some cases largely replace, existing powertrain jobs in the auto industry. Through a massive new organizing effort, workers will fight to maintain and raise the standard in the emerging battery industry. 

That’s all well and good if one lives in a bubble. It hasn’t worked out that way so far, though. Ford cut its proposed battery plant size in half after a pause post-strikes and then shuttered its F-150 Lightning lines. Elsewhere, local opposition is strangling other EV battery plant plans around the country.

Now, those battery plants are only feasible if they’re providing batteries to manufacturing lines already in situ. This could be a challenge and if it was my job on the line, I might pay closer attention to the ebb and flo.

That AL Mercedes plant is scheduled to what?

…The plant will soon serve as a key production location for the EQ-S luxury electric SUV. The highly efficient battery systems will be supplied by the Mercedes-Benz Battery Factory in Bibb County.

Here we go with the EVs again. First, EVs take 40% less employees to build. Is anyone on the organizing committee doing math? 

Has anyone working there and signing a union card looked at their own company’s bottom line as far as how the EV sales are going? 

How about the one your own plant specifically manufactures, just for giggles…and relevance?

Mercedes-Benz reports 66,570 car sales in the United States during the first quarter of 2024 (excluding commercial vans), which is 3% more than a year ago.

However, Mercedes-Benz’s all-electric car sales surprisingly decreased slightly after several quarters of rapid growth.

…Because Mercedes-Benz counts the EQE/EQS Sedan and SUV sales together, we can’t see how the individual models are selling. The total EQE volume increased by 163% year-over-year, while the EQS was down 46% year-over-year. The EQB is also down significantly, by 67% year-over-year.

We are surprised to see such high volatility in the Mercedes-Benz sales results, especially because the locally produced EQS SUV is fairly new and should bring some growth (compensating for the EQS Sedan decrease). The question is whether it has something to do with competition and lower prices of the Lucid Air, for example.

Mercedes-Benz BEV sales in Q1’2024 (YOY change):

  • EQB: 671 (down 67%)
  • EQE (Sedan and SUV): 5,113 (up 163%)
  • EQS (Sedan and SUV): 2,552 (down 46%)
  • Total: 8,336 (down 4.5%) and 12.5% share

Breaking four hours ago, Mercedes Benz announced they were discontinuing something pretty important which underpinned future models of what EVs again?

Oh, yeah – that Tuscaloosa-manufactured EQS SUV.

Because why?

Mercedes halts development of MB.EA Large platform amid poor EV sales: Reports 

“Poor sales” can make for shaky employment prospects.

Mercedes-Benz has reportedly canceled the next-generation platform designed specifically for the successors of the EQS and EQE due to the poor sales of the current-gen models, German publication Handelsblatt reported, quoted by Autocar.

The new platform, dubbed MB.EA Large, was supposed to be launched in 2028. Its cancelation will save Mercedes-Benz an estimated $4.3 billion to $6.5 billion in development and retooling costs, according to four insiders with knowledge of the matter.

Poor saps who fall for Fain’s ferocious fairy dust” is what my more cynical side is saying after looking at the bigger picture. When the factory they work at belongs to a manufacturer whose modus operandi for the past six months has been “RUN AWAY” from the very thing the union is promoting as saving and growing jobs?

According to media reports, Mercedes-Benz is said to be retreating to ICE vehicles for the foreseeable future. The move comes amidst the weakening sales of electric vehicles.

The German luxury carmaker had previously announced its ambitious plans to become an EV-only brand at the end of the decade. However, company CEO Ola Kallenius has now confirmed that Mercedes-Benz will continue to make ICE and hybrid vehicles “well into the 2030”.

Holy blowing smoke.

If you are aware of even half of this, and your Magic Informed Eightball is still telling you, “All signs point to YES,” well…have at it. 

I’m a tad more superstitious myself. I read the signs constantly.

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