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Mercedes US executive warned against unionizing at mandatory meeting, UAW says

Josh Eidelson, Bloomberg News on

Published in Automotive News

A high-ranking Mercedes-Benz Group AG executive held a mandatory anti-union meeting this week for the workforce of an Alabama plant the United Auto Workers is trying to organize, the union said.

Michael Göbel, who oversees production in North America and is chief executive officer of Mercedes-Benz U.S. International Inc., addressed employees Thursday at the company’s factory in Vance, Alabama. Göbel suggested that unionization would mean work stoppages, costly dues, and obstacles to conflict resolution, according to an audio recording reviewed by Bloomberg News. “I don’t believe the UAW can help us to be better,” Göbel said.

Mercedes-Benz said the meeting was a routine one “where multiple business topics were covered.”

“In addition, our CEO gave his opinion on the UAW’s current campaign,” company spokesman Edward Taylor said in an email. “In doing so, he emphasized that the decision on unionization is ultimately up to each individual team member and we must respect each other’s opinions.”

Mercedes “will continue to share facts and opinions through open and direct communication to support our team members in making an informed decision,” he said.

The UAW, one of the most iconic U.S. unions, represented around 1.5 million workers half a century ago. Its ranks have since plummeted, in part because auto work shifted to new factories the union failed to organize, many of them belonging to European or Asian automakers.

 

Last year, populist reformer Shawn Fain won the UAW presidency. He embraced slogans such as “EAT THE RICH” and used new strategies to secure record victories in contract talks for around 150,000 workers the union represents at Ford Motor Co., General Motors Co., and Stellantis NV. After a six-week strike, the union secured terms that will raise many workers’ pay 33% by 2028. Fain is now trying to translate the momentum from those victories into unionization at companies that have long eluded the UAW.

The Alabama plant is the biggest of Mercedes’s U.S. plants. In the U.S., European and Asian automakers compete both with Detroit’s three big unionized automakers and with non-union firms such as Elon Musk’s Tesla Inc.

Unionization can cause companies to pay their workers more, and restricts management’s ability to unilaterally dictate workplace conditions and policies. That would mean less flexibility for executives, and more say for workers.

The Mercedes speech signals a contentious struggle ahead with the UAW, which is mounting an audacious campaign to organize the non-union U.S. plants of 13 automakers, including several European and Asian firms. The UAW’s executive board this week voted to commit $40 million to organizing campaigns among auto and battery workers.

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