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The United Auto Workers face a significant challenge in the South with an upcoming vote at a Mercedes plant in Alabama

Mercedez employees attend a rally (Via Phil Starc/Shutterstock)

After working at the Mercedes-Benz factory in Alabama for 20 years, Brett Garrard has decided he will vote for a union because he no longer believes the company’s promises.

Despite Mercedes-Benz repeatedly assuring improvements in pay and conditions, Garrard feels these commitments have not been fulfilled.

“Mercedes says we’re like a family, one team, one fight. But over time, I’ve come to realize that’s not how I treat my family,” Garrard expressed.

Following a recent unionization vote at a Volkswagen factory in Tennessee, the United Auto Workers (UAW) is now focusing on securing a victory at the Mercedes-Benz plant in Alabama. Over 5,000 workers at the Vance facility and a nearby battery plant will decide next week whether to join the union.

A successful unionization at Mercedes would be a significant achievement for the UAW, which is challenging anti-union sentiment in the Deep South. These states have attracted foreign auto manufacturers with substantial tax incentives, lower labor costs, and a predominantly nonunion workforce.

UAW Auto Workers union (Via Phil Starc/Shutterstock)

Garrard, aged 50, along with other union supporters, highlighted concerns including stagnant wages that fail to keep pace with inflation, high insurance costs, irregular work shifts, and a feeling of job insecurity in a plant where they assemble luxury vehicles costing over $100,000.

“Yes, we work in the South, but we deserve wages like autoworkers,” Garrard insisted.

Mercedes currently advertises a starting hourly wage of $23.50 for full-time production workers, with pay potentially reaching around $34 after four years, according to a state worker training website. Some workers mentioned that the company recently raised wages in response to the union organizing efforts.

Jacob Ryan, aged 34, has been with Mercedes for a decade, starting as a temporary worker earning about $17 per hour for the same tasks before being hired full-time. Ryan, who feels the impact of inflation on his earnings, spends nearly $1,200 each month on daycare for his son and after-school care for his daughter.

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