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Workers at Alabama's Mercedes-Benz vote against unionizing

By Clyde Hughes & Ehren Wynder
The Mercedes Benz logo is on the hood of a Mercedes on display at the 2018 New York International Auto Show at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center on March 28, 2018. The company's Alabama plant is voting to unionize on Friday. File Photo by John Angelillo/UPI
The Mercedes Benz logo is on the hood of a Mercedes on display at the 2018 New York International Auto Show at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center on March 28, 2018. The company's Alabama plant is voting to unionize on Friday. File Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo

May 17 (UPI) -- Workers at Mercedes-Benz's automotive plants near Tuscaloosa, Ala., on Friday voted against joining the United Auto Workers union.

The unionization bid failed in a 2,642 to 2,045 no vote, quashing UAW's southward push.

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Voting ended Friday morning with the UAW touting that a "super majority" of the workers had already signed union cards, hinting that they were open to the idea of forming a union despite management's aggressive attempts to get them to vote "no."

Victory, however, was never guaranteed. Pro-union workers at the Alabama plants have for decades tried and failed to build enough support to hold a union election.

More than 5,000 workers were eligible to vote. There were 51 challenge votes that were not counted as they would not have changed the outcome of the election. There also were five void ballots.

It is a rare feat to unionize any employees in the South, which has been traditionally anti-union but a trend that seemed to be reversing a bit with the Volkswagen plant workers in Tennessee opting to join the UAW last month.

Alabama's Republican leadership had framed the union vote as a threat to the state's economic success.

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"The workers ... have spoken clearly!" Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey said in a statement. "Alabama is not Michigan, and we are not the Sweet Home to the UAW. We urge the UAW to respect the results of this secret ballot election."

The UAW's success in winning major concessions from Ford, General Motors and Stellantis last year has rejuvenated the country's union movement and caught the attention of autoworkers in the South who have fallen behind in wages and benefits.

Mercedes-Benz workers had said they want to take on scheduling consistency, respect for management and accountability if they became a union.

"I am for a union because I want a voice, better pay and an opportunity to get home and play with my roses in my yard," Mercedes-Benz employee Kay Finklea told the Tuscaloosa News. "That's an enjoyment of mind and I miss doing that. So, it be able to get off, and just relax and smell the roses."

The UAW is not likely going down without a fight. A week before votes were tallied, the union had filed unfair labor practice charges against Mercedes for allegedly intimidating workers prior to the election.

Under a new National Labor Relations Board standard, Mercedes could be forced to bargain with the UAW if the company is found to have interfered in the election.

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Each side has five business days to file objections alleging there was interference in the election.

If no objections are filed, the election results will be certified and the UAW will have to wait a year to file for another union election.

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