Mercedes Hired Squad Of Anti-Union Consultants To Combat Alabama Organizing

Mercedes-Benz USA hired a large team of anti-union consultants to help the company defeat an organizing effort by the United Auto Workers union earlier this month, according to new disclosures with the Labor Department.

The filings show the automaker contracted with three consulting firms to bring on at least 11 “persuaders” to hold meetings with workers about the union ahead of an election. Employees at the Vance, Alabama, plant ultimately voted 2,045 to 2,642 against forming a union, a setback for the UAW as it tries to organize Southern auto facilities.

Employers often spend big bucks to hire persuaders to hold what are known as “captive audience” meetings — mandatory gatherings where workers tend to hear anti-union talking points. The going rate these days is around $3,200 per day for each consultant.

Mercedes did not immediately respond Tuesday when asked how much it spent. The company had said ahead of the election that it “fully respects our Team Members’ choice whether to unionize.” It also said it was making sure that employees had “access to the information necessary to make an informed choice.”

“It’s been nonstop anti-union. We’ve had to go to meetings every day.”

– Rick Webster, Mercedes employee and member of the union organizing committee

Both employers and consultants are legally required to disclose their arrangements to the Labor Department. Mercedes won’t be required to report how much it spent on the campaign until next year.

But workers at the Vance plant said consultants appeared to be holding meetings daily in the weeks ahead of the election. With such a large roster of contractors, the company easily could have spent in the hundreds of thousands of dollars on the effort. (The Labor Department filings can be seen here, here, here and here.)

“It’s been nonstop anti-union. We’ve had to go to meetings every day,” Rick Webster, a worker and member of the union organizing committee, told HuffPost ahead of the vote. “They’re just blowing all kinds of money on this.”

Most of the UAW’s membership is concentrated in Midwestern plants run by Ford, General Motors and Jeep parent company Stellantis. But following its strike against the “The Big Three” last year, the union has launched an ambitious campaign to organize workers at foreign-owned plants in Southern states like Alabama that are more hostile to organized labor.

Mercedes workers voted 2,045 to 2,642 against joining the United Auto Workers.
Mercedes workers voted 2,045 to 2,642 against joining the United Auto Workers.

via Associated Press

The UAW had a historic breakthrough last month when it won by a landslide at Volkswagen’s SUV assembly plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Volkswagen mostly stayed out of the organizing campaign, whereas Mercedes, which bargains with unions in its home country of Germany, actively opposed the UAW through meetings, text messages and letters to employees.

The UAW and Germany-based labor leaders said Mercedes was violating its own social responsibility code by taking a position against the union.

Late last week the UAW filed objections to Mercedes’ conduct during the campaign, alleging the company illegally interfered in the process and tainted the vote. The National Labor Relations Board is expected to review the union’s claims and, if it finds wrongdoing by Mercedes, could call for a do-over election.

“Let’s get a vote at Mercedes in Alabama where the company isn’t allowed to fire people, isn’t allowed to intimidate people, and isn’t allowed to break the law and their own corporate code, and let the workers decide,” the union said in a statement.

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