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Staff at two Mercedes-Benz factories close to Tuscaloosa, Ala., voted on Friday towards becoming a member of the United Car Staff, a surprising blow to the union’s marketing campaign to realize floor within the South, the place it has historically been weak.

The defeat got here after Kay Ivey, Alabama’s governor, and different Republican leaders argued {that a} pro-union vote would choke off the funding that has reworked the state into a serious auto producer. Hyundai and Honda even have massive factories in Alabama that the U.A.W. is attempting to prepare.

The vote took on nationwide significance as a take a look at of whether or not the U.A.W. might construct on a string of current victories and acquire floor in a state whose elected officers have been hostile to organized labor. The union has stated it needs to prepare each vehicle manufacturing facility in the US, increasing its membership to incorporate the staff of corporations like Toyota and Tesla.

However the loss on the Mercedes crops will nearly certainly decelerate the union’s marketing campaign and possibly drive it to do extra spadework to safe the assist of employees earlier than searching for to carry elections at different auto crops. Union leaders will need to spend time determining how finest to counter the messages and ways of native lawmakers and firm executives.

“It hurts to lose, little doubt,” Elizabeth Shuler, president of the A.F.L.-C.I.O., stated on Friday. “However we see it not as a loss, however a short lived setback. Staff will persevere it doesn’t matter what it takes.”

Mercedes employees voted 56 p.c to 44 p.c towards becoming a member of the union, in keeping with the Nationwide Labor Relations Board, which oversaw the election. Near 4,700 ballots have been forged, representing a big majority of the 5,075 workers who have been eligible to vote.

Auto executives and conservative lawmakers are more likely to carefully research the vote at Mercedes to determine the perfect approaches to fend off the U.A.W. and different unions in future contests and to discourage union campaigns from the get-go.

The South has turn out to be an necessary battleground. States like Georgia, South Carolina and Tennessee are attracting a lot of the billions of {dollars} that automakers and suppliers are investing in electrical car and battery factories. The U.A.W. needs to symbolize employees at these factories.

Mercedes produces sport utility automobiles at a manufacturing facility in Vance, Ala., and battery packs for electrical automobiles at a plant in close by Woodstock. Polling had been underway all week on the two factories.

“We thank all staff members who requested questions, engaged in discussions and, finally, made their voices heard on this necessary challenge,” the corporate stated in a press release on Friday.

In a marketing campaign performed largely by phrase of mouth, union activists argued that along with higher pay and advantages, the U.A.W. would shield Mercedes employees from abrupt adjustments of their schedules and lengthy shifts, together with on weekends.

If it wasn’t for us constructing these vehicles, you wouldn’t be placing the cash that you just’re placing in your pockets,” stated Kay Finklea, who works in high quality management at Mercedes and campaigned for the union. “So deal with us with dignity, deal with us with respect and pay us.”

However activists acknowledged that many employees who have been sad with working circumstances at Mercedes have been additionally reluctant to hitch the union, swayed by warnings from firm executives and politicians that membership would result in onerous dues and lack of management over their jobs.

Mercedes tried arduous to dam the union. Final month, in an obvious try to handle worker complaints, the corporate shook up native administration, appointing Federico Kochlowski as chief govt of the German firm’s U.S. unit.

Mr. Kochlowski, who has labored at Mercedes for about 20 years in varied manufacturing positions in China, Mexico and the US, acknowledged that there have been issues on the Alabama crops and promised to make enhancements. “I perceive that many issues usually are not OK,” he stated in a video posted by Mercedes on-line. “Give me a shot.”

Union activists famous that Mr. Kochlowski had already been a member of prime administration and interpreted his appointment as a last-minute try to fend off the U.A.W.

The U.A.W. has filed six prices of unfair labor practices towards Mercedes with the labor relations board, saying the corporate disciplined workers for discussing unionization at work, prevented organizers from distributing union supplies, performed surveillance of employees and fired employees who supported the union.

Mercedes denies the claims.

Earlier makes an attempt by the U.A.W. to symbolize employees at Mercedes and different auto producers within the South have failed. However the U.A.W. is stronger than it has been in years after successful a unionization vote at a Volkswagen plant in Tennessee final month after shedding two earlier elections at that plant. The union additionally gained hefty pay raises final yr for employees at Ford Motor, Common Motors and Stellantis, the mother or father firm of Chrysler, Jeep and Ram.

Mercedes employees who assist becoming a member of the U.A.W. stated they’d preserve preventing.

“Mercedes goes to be unionized,” Robert Lett, who works within the Woodstock battery manufacturing facility and campaigned for the union, stated forward of the vote. “It doesn’t matter if it’s Friday or sooner or later. There’s an excessive amount of frustration there for us to not ultimately unionize.”

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