The aerospace workers union is being challenged on two fronts as it tries to organize workers at the Mercedes plant in Vance, Ala.: by a rival union and by a group of anti-union Mercedes workers.
The UAW has filed a complaint with the AFL-CIO, contending that it, and not the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, should be allowed to recruit workers at Mercedes-Benz U.S. International Inc.
An AFL-CIO administrator is scheduled to rule on the UAW challenge this month. The UAW attempted to organize Mercedes workers in 1999 and 2000. It ended its campaign without an election and has been dormant since then.
But the UAW has sprung back into action in Vance, reopening a long-closed recruiting office there and restoring phone service last month.
Employees at the Mercedes plant say competing UAW and aerospace union recruiters are going door to door at the homes of the plant's 3,000 nonunion production workers, handing out union literature and soliciting support.
Don Barker, IAM organizing leader for the campaign, says his central message is job security.
"They make some of the best wages in Alabama, or really in the United States," Barker says of Mercedes' workers. The plant's top wage is about $27 an hour for technicians, who also receive overtime pay, overtime bonuses, attendance bonuses and year-end productivity checks of several thousand dollars.
"But industry is changing," Barker adds. "Big companies are outsourcing more and more work. That's something we've dealt with in the aerospace industry with good contracts. They might have great jobs today, but what will they have tomorrow?"
The plant produced 95,557 M-class SUVs and R-class crossovers in 2005. It made 73,500 vehicles in 2004.
But in the union's second challenge, a group of Mercedes employees has countered the campaign by forming an anti-union "information committee." The group is holding after-hours meetings to talk with co-workers about the other side of the union question.
"I don't want to pay union dues," said one of its members, Tim Madison, an employee in the Mercedes body shop who hangs doors and hoods.
"The union can't offer me job security," Madison says. "Is it giving job security to anybody in Detroit? The only job security is working for a profitable company."
Those employees have retained a Denver labor consultant, Jay Cole, to help them resist the organizing drive. The same antiunion employee group was active during the 1999 UAW campaign, and they hired Cole during that drive.
"The employees have a lot of questions about how this works," Cole said in an interview with Automotive News. "I attend their meetings and try to help them sort out the truth."
Cole said the employees, not Mercedes management, pay his consulting fee. "The employees set up a bank account and they try to get people in the community to help them out," he said.
A Mercedes spokeswoman said the company provides no financial support for either the employee group or its consultant.
The UAW was not able to provide comment.
Tough loss in 2000
The UAW was stunned by its failure to organize Mercedes in 2000. That campaign occurred soon after the merger of Chrysler Corp. and Mercedes' German parent, Daimler-Benz AG. The merger gave the UAW's president at the time, Steve Yokich, a seat on Mercedes' supervisory board, and Mercedes officials in Alabama allowed Yokich into the plant to meet employees during the organizing effort.
Mercedes also maintained a neutrality agreement during that campaign, allowing UAW organizers to meet workers and pass out literature inside the plant.
Aerospace organizer Barker said he hasn't decided whether to ask Mercedes for another neutrality agreement.
"It wouldn't surprise me if we did," Barker said. "But even if we do - even if Mercedes agrees to one - I won't count on it to help much. Did it help the UAW?"
You may e-mail Lindsay Chappell at [email protected]