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Mercedes rejects claims it prevented union organising at US plant

Published 08/05/2024, 14:01
Updated 08/05/2024, 15:16
© Reuters. A person carries a flag with the patch from the United Auto Workers (UAW) labor union during a May Day rally for media workers held by The NewsGuild of New York on International Workers' Day in Manhattan, New York City, New York, U.S., May 1, 2021. REUTER

BERLIN (Reuters) -German premium carmaker Mercedes-Benz rejected on Wednesday claims it has been trying to prevent the formation of a union at its Alabama plant, ahead of a critical vote there next week.

United Auto Workers, the United States' biggest automotive union, said about 5,000 workers are set to vote next week on whether to unionise at Mercedes' plant in Vance, Alabama, and its nearby battery plant.

The group "respects the decision of the employees to establish a trade union organization, and it will monitor the election process and will make sure that every team member has the opportunity to cast a secret vote," Mercedes board member Renata Jungo Bruengger said at the annual shareholders' meeting.

The vote in Alabama is scheduled to begin on Monday, with final results due on May 17.

If successful, Mercedes would become the second automaker in the U.S. South to see its workers join the UAW's ranks in the last month, following the lead of a Volkswagen (ETR:VOWG_p) factory in Tennessee. Workers at the VW plant voted in late April to unionize by a margin of 73% in favour of the UAW, a strong showing that came after two previous losses at the same facility.

The UAW and labour academics have said that the company is resisting unionisation efforts more heavily than VW did, which could make winning at Mercedes more difficult.

Jeremy Kimbrell, a union drive leader at the factory, said Mercedes has been trying to counter unionising by hiring anti-union consultancy RWP.

Kimbrell's claims were read out at the Mercedes annual meeting by a representative of Germany's Association of Critical Shareholders (DKA), which represents small investors on environmental, social and governance issues.

Mercedes declined to comment on whether it had hired RWP, a consultancy whose CEO on LinkedIn describes the firm as helping companies to remain union-free. RWP's CEO also declined to comment on whether Mercedes was a client.

© Reuters. A person carries a flag with the patch from the United Auto Workers (UAW) labor union during a May Day rally for media workers held by The NewsGuild of New York on International Workers' Day in Manhattan, New York City, New York, U.S., May 1, 2021. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly/File Photo

The UAW is hoping to continue its success in the South by riding a surge in public support for unions and capitalizing on the record contracts it secured with Detroit's automakers last fall. In late April, it also finalised an agreement with truck maker Daimler Truck, a victory that some industry observers said could help boost support at Mercedes.

Daimler Truck's locations are dotted through the South around the Mercedes plant. Additionally, Daimler and Mercedes have shared history: Daimler AG (ETR:MBGn) spun off Daimler Truck in early 2022, and then became Mercedes-Benz Group. Mercedes retains a 30% stake in Daimler Truck, according to a company spokesperson.

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