Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Opinion | Union-busting won’t stop Alabama’s autoworkers from organizing

CW File

Since January, the United Auto Workers union has been actively organizing Alabama’s autoworkers to secure better wages, working conditions, and negotiating rights. Perhaps most prominent among these workers are those at the Mercedes-Benz auto plant in Vance, the company’s biggest plant in America.

Unsurprisingly, Mercedes-Benz has decided that it would rather spend its record-breaking profits on suppressing worker organization than provide adequate compensation.

Indeed, Mercedes has begun a by-the-book union-busting campaign focused on derailing its workers’ collective action. This is despite the fact that a majority of Vance workers have signed unionization cards and that every Mercedes plant outside of the United States has a unionized workplace.

Workers have filed federal charges with the National Labor Relations Board as management at the Vance plant has engaged in vindictive retaliation toward outspoken union supporters. This includes illegally refusing compensation to workers for paid leave, bonuses and damages. 

Mercedes is also employing scare tactics, reprimanding workers for supporting unionization under the guise of enforcing relatively trivial policies like having their phones on the factory floor. Workers are forced to watch anti-union propaganda videos and attend meetings where they are discouraged from unionizing — with Mercedes going so far as to recruit former coach Nick Saban as a talking head, although Saban’s comments were reportedly not explicitly anti-union.

Despite the charges and several testimonies to the contrary, Mercedes-Benz continues to pretend it is pro-worker, claiming that it has not “interfered with or retaliated against any Team Member in their right to pursue union representation.” Of course, any other statement would be tantamount to an admission of guilt in the face of federal prosecution.

Unfortunately for Mercedes, the company’s union-busting attempts have already fallen flat even before the NLRB makes its ruling. The simple fact that the workers in Vance have filed these charges and spoken out against their management is a sign that their conviction to unionize remains unshaken, even in the face of unjust punishment and corporate retribution.

It also seems unlikely that Mercedes will come out of this controversy legally unscathed, as Starbucks — another company facing national unionization efforts — was recently found in violation of labor law for similar attempts to discourage unionization and stamp out pro-union sentiment.

Although Mercedes-Benz has its own incentives for union-busting, it must also be noted that Alabama’s state government is adding further fuel to the anti-worker flames. In March, a bill was introduced in the Alabama Senate that would punish companies that do choose to voluntarily recognize unions.

Senate Bill 231 was created with the explicit purpose of halting worker organization at Mercedes-Benz, as revealed by the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur. The bill would prevent companies that recognize employee unions or allow them to hold non-secret balloting from receiving economic incentives from the state.

However, even this measure will hopefully be too little too late to stop the Vance workers from attaining the freedom and compensation they are fighting for. According to Bren Riley, president of the Alabama AFL-CIO union, the law would have little impact in a state where companies rarely voluntarily recognize unions regardless.

The truth is, workers across America are waking up to the realities of corporate greed. They understand that the American dream is being undercut by corporations that refuse to provide their workers with sufficient pay or benefits while executives and shareholders reap record profits off of employees’ labor.

The autoworkers at Mercedes-Benz have recognized this excessive disparity and made it clear that they will continue to advocate for their self-worth. Mercedes is resorting to vindictive, illegal practices because it knows it is fighting a losing battle. No matter how much money they have in the bank, the most that companies like Mercedes can hope for is to delay the inevitable success of labor solidarity.

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