By on January 29, 2014

28_Millionth_Vehicle_at_Plant_Tuscaloosa

The National Labor Relations Board will conduct a hearing to discuss allegations regarding management conduct at Mercedes-Benz’s Vance, Alabama plant. The reports filed with the Board allege that Mercedes violated worker’s rights by forbidding discussion of unions during working hours, as well as threatening termination of employees that solicited for the union.

The UAW accuses Mercedes of suppressing efforts by employees to organize, in violation of the National Labor Relations Act. Mercedes claims it has pursued a policy of neutrality regarding the unionization of its workforce. The NLRB dismissed one complaint filed against the company in August of last year. But two other complaints filed in the fall were accepted by the NLRB as possible violations of labor law. The hearing, to be conducted on April 7, will allow both sides to present their case before a judge. The recommendation of that judge will influence the final ruling by the NLRB. A ruling against the complaint would strengthen the position of Mercedes and the union’s political opponents, but if the NLRB finds a violation of the law, it could be a major coup for the UAW.

This is the latest development in an ongoing campaign to unionize the plant, which builds the M, R, and GL Class near Tuscaloosa. Pro-union employees cite stagnating wages and reduced benefits as part of their reason for considering unionization. This leaflet issued by the UAW organizing committee alleges that since 2007, Mercedes has slashed healthcare plans for retirees. Supposedly, employees hired after 2009 will not be eligible for any retiree health benefits whatsoever. Employees have also voiced concern over the increased use of temporary workers at the plant. Still others point to a general decline in the relationship between labor and management, with complaints about inconsistent application of company policy. Others dismiss the need for a union, pointing out that high-paying jobs were scarce in the area before Mercedes arrived. They fear that the UAW may damage Mercedes’ recent run of success in the US. This includes an expansion of the plant to build the new C-Class later this year.

Although it has not yet succeeded in organizing the main Mercedes plant, the UAW has had a measure of success with Mercedes’ suppliers. The parts makers Faurecia, Inteva, ZF, and Johnson Controls in nearby areas have been organized for several years. It’s possible that the UAW may be able to leverage this success with plant workers in Vance. Even so, the unionization of a major transplant automaker in a right-to-work state remains a daunting task.

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60 Comments on “NLRB To Conduct Hearing on Alleged Worker Intimidation at Mercedes-Benz Plant in Alabama...”


  • avatar
    ChiefPontiaxe

    Well, 70 years ago my relatives endured MUCH harsher working conditions at Mercedes’ European factories. Baby steps people, baby steps.

  • avatar
    Da Coyote

    Given the quality of the less than two year old Mercedes I just traded in due to reliability problems, I’d have guessed that the unions were already there.

    • 0 avatar
      mikey

      I’ve said this before ,and a those that really know will agree.

      In a modern vehicle assembly plant, the individual worker, union, or non union shop, has little, or zero impact on final build quality.

      • 0 avatar

        It’s a lost cause, Mikey, but you know it, so do I, so do some others like tresmonos. People will believe what they want.

        • 0 avatar
          mikey

          @MdV…Automation, robotics, torque control,tolerances and overall improved Industrial process Enginering, has taken the input from the line worker.

          When you part with the sort of cash you need to drive a Mercedes, you have certain expectations.

          • 0 avatar

            yep. and like you explained so well, the work, union or not, has little to do with the final product. If that Merceds was not up to expectations, it’s not the workers’ fault.

            Or maybe, the robots in Alabama don’t have the same work ethic. Or Mexico. Or Brazil.

            Afterall, we all know Japanese and German robots work much harder!

          • 0 avatar
            Carlson Fan

            No complaints about either of my union built 2004 GMC Sierra(Flint, MI) or 2007 Chevy Tahoe(Janesville, WI). Both were heads and tails better than my ’93 Toyota PU shipped over from Japan. At least the union boys managed to put the front bumpers on straight, and hey all the paint on the body panels matched!………LOL

      • 0 avatar
        jacob_coulter

        I disagree, if a company is having to spend far more in labor costs to build a product at a price point, less money is able to be spent on the actual product quality.

        It’s not about the union workers smoking dope or drinking on their breaks, it’s the fact that a product has to be built to hit a certain price point and you have to start cutting corners to meet that price. With increased labor costs vs the competition, it starts coming out of the actual product.

        When you have thousands of workers that the factory doesn’t need but can’t let go because of a Union contract and has to pay six figure salaries for them to sit around all day in a room (Job Banks) who do you think pays for that? The customer. Or companies have billions in pension costs for workers that haven’t stepped foot inside a factory for generations. That comes out of the price of a new car sold today. For a company that doesn’t have these costs, that extra savings can be funneled towards a higher quality product.

        The fact that the Big 3 are almost always at the bottom of the reliability rankings and the fact their workforce is almost 100% UAW is not a coincidence. It’s also not a coincidence that 2 of the Big 3 have had to declare bankruptcy and get a taxpayer bailout. One of them, twice.

        • 0 avatar
          Lorenzo

          Actually, labor costs are a small portion of the cost of building a car. It takes far fewer workers to assemble a car today compared to the 1950s, just look at the production and employment totals. They’re building more cars with far fewer people, using expensive machines that have replaced a LOT of simple wrenching jobs.

          You have a good point about building to a price point, but that’s a result of competition and worldwide overcapacity scrambling the price structure. In the 1950s, Ford, GM and Chrysler didn’t have to worry about imports from Japan or Korea, and Hudson-Nash, Willys and Packard-Studebaker were small potatoes, as were European imports.

        • 0 avatar
          jim brewer

          Six figure salaries? Where did that come from? Starting wage at the big three is around $17 bucks an hour. Plenty of people make around $19 bucks per hour. There may be only 18 hours of assembly time per car in that factory. Obviously there is more before the materials get to the factory. But the labor component is not huge.

          • 0 avatar
            mikey

            @ Jim brewer….You can’t let facts, mess up a good Union bashing. Oh what the heck, i’ll throw another fact out there.

            Job banks have been gone for 8 years.

          • 0 avatar
            c6steve

            Six figure salaries….jobs banks…smoking and drinking on break….c’mon you guys…wtf. I work for GM in Lansing Michigan on the assembly line. Those days are long gone……I just don’t understand the union bashing on this site. …..if a single screw does not torque properly ,,,,the alarms sound and you fix it or the line doesn’t run. We build the Chevy Traverse, GMC Acadia and Buick Enclave …some of the best vehicles on the road. Come walk in my shies anytime if any of you think we’ve got the cat by the ass in there. We build a quality vehicle and we do care. It’s our lifeline. The days of sending shit out the door knowing full well people will buy it ….long gone. In a nutshell just tired of the union bashing. I guess we all have our own opinions though. Just wish some of the haters would come on in and see for your self what it’s all about. Love the blog. Take care…Steve

          • 0 avatar
            geeber

            The “six-figure” income claim comes from a story about 6-7 years ago that described a GM worker in the Midwest who earned over $100,000 a year driving a forklift. (No, it wasn’t on Fox News – I believe it was in the Detroit News.)

            He achieved that income by working lots of overtime. He was also living from paycheck to paycheck.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            @c6steve

            Alarms?

            @geeber

            I recall reading a similar story regarding miners in Western Australia. Evidently the ones working crazy hours could pull up to $200K AUD per year, but despite their Utes and other toys many lived paycheck to paycheck.

    • 0 avatar

      I’ve owned two Hyundais (an 04 Santa Fe and my current ’12 Elantra) that were both built in the Ulsan, South Korea plant which is home to the most powerful and tempestuous automobile labor union in the world. To give you an idea of how tempestuous it is, the plant has been organized since 1986 and since then, only a total of four, non-consecutive years have elapsed when the workforce has NOT gone on strike. But despite that, both my Hyundai products that came out of that plant have been wonderful. No glass Coke bottles in the fenders, no tools left in the dashboard, and no notes in Korean that read ‘가르랑 거리는 소리, 그렇지?’ (loose translation: Rattles, don’t it?)

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    This seems to confirm my general belief that companies who get unions . . . deserve them.

    At the risk of being slammed for using ethnic stereotypes, this has the feel of the legendary stubbornness for which German management is known. Apparently no one weighed the cost of keeping workers happy against the rather larger costs of having to deal with a union.

    Unfortunately the managers of VW’s ill-fated UAW plant in Westmoreland, P.A. are probably not around to give a course in how not to run a transplant auto factory in the U.S.

    It is significant that we don’t hear these kinds of stories coming out of Honda’s facility in Marysville, Ohio . . . a much bigger union state than Alabama.

    • 0 avatar
      Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

      I wonder what IG Metall thinks of UAW?

    • 0 avatar
      Toad

      The Germans are not know for their inclusive, interactive approach to managing people. I worked for a divisions of Daimler and they had a very top-down approach to managing people; polite, but firmly “if we want your opinion we’ll give it to you.”

      If the UAW succeeds at the MB plant in Alabama it is because of bad management. Daimler would be smart to shake up their plant management team in AL starting yesterday.

      • 0 avatar
        geeber

        My mother is German, and a cousin works for a German car company.

        Let’s just say that GM isn’t the only car company in the world that rationalizes its mistakes in this country by blaming the customer in particular, or Americans in general.

        I’ll bet that the attitude of corporate leadership regarding the workers in this Daimler plant isn’t much different.

        • 0 avatar
          Pch101

          I’m not a engineer, so I could be wrong about this, but it also strikes me that the German notion of engineering is focused on performance characteristics and feel, in a way that it often comes at the expense of ease of repair or reliability. Things are made needlessly complicated for the sake of providing amusement for the mechanical artistes who developed the car, rather than the practical aspects of ownership.

          Americans grew up in a culture that bequeathed the Model T, which was designed to be fixed in a barn by a farmer with no particular mechanical expertise, and which would later embrace Toyotas and Hondas that didn’t end up stuck in the barn. Here, that Teutonic fussiness is tolerated only by a niche.

          • 0 avatar
            geeber

            That is an excellent summary. Germans simply don’t place the same emphasis on “slam-the-hood-and-forget-it” reliability that Americans do.

            Germany is a much smaller and more densely populated country than the United States is, which makes mass transit more feasible (and able to serve a larger percentage of the population). Plus, a fair number of Germans get their cars as an employee perk.

            If those conditions existed in America, or a larger percentage of it, I’m sure that German cars would be more popular over here.

            You also don’t see “rolling junk” still on the roads in Germany. In Pennsylvania, you see vehicles in the rural areas and poorer parts of urban areas that would never pass muster in Germany.

            Unfortunately, the Germans think that the preference for mechanical simplicity and reliability means that buyers – particularly those in the lower cost segments – will overlook obvious cheapness and cost-cutting.

          • 0 avatar
            Lie2me

            Complicated Germans and their cars/Simple Americans and their Model Ts.

            This would be a plausible argument if it weren’t for one thing, the original Volkswagen. Can’t get much simpler then that

          • 0 avatar
            cantankerous

            I couldn’t agree more. Having just worked for months to get a neglected old Jetta back on the road, I was struck not only by the enormous effort it required to perform relatively simple underhood repairs — I literally had to remove the nose from the car to gain access to the fuel rail and injectors — but also by how ridiculously and needlessly complicated some of the most basic components were — the clamshell ashtray for the back seat passengers and the bizarre electro-mechanical door latch mechanisms are two perfect examples. I love driving this car, but working on it…not so much.

            I spent two weeks in Germany a couple of years ago and was amazed by the absolute and utter lack of older vehicles on the road. I’m not sure why this was the case, but a willingness/desire to buy a new car when something major in the old one breaks rather than spending the time and money to repair it could be at least a partial explanation.

  • avatar
    mikey

    You won’t hear those kinds of stories from the Honda plants. Honda has done a great job,of treating their employees with respect. The union can’t even get their toe in the door at the Ontario Honda plant. The same cannot be said for Toyota.

  • avatar
    OneAlpha

    Oh goody, an NLRB investigation. Which will be conducted according to the highest principles of objectivity and impartiality, no doubt.

    The various employee protections the unions once agitated for are now provided by the government, and have been for some time.

    So the unions can go evaporate now.

    • 0 avatar
      racer-esq.

      The unions fight layoffs of unnecessary workers and fight for defined benefits pensions.

      The question is whether auto assembly workers should be expected to know that they work in a rapidly changing, automating industry that will likely not provide work for life.

      Or whether unions should use work rules, job bank style barriers to layoffs and defined benefits pensions to impose supporting workers for life on automakers.

      The latter policy leads to plants shifting outside the country and automakers going bankrupt.

      • 0 avatar
        brenschluss

        “…Auto assembly workers should be expected to know that they work in a rapidly changing, automating industry that will likely not provide work for life.”

        People in many professions would be well served by this mentality. Generally speaking, those who do not adapt to change, perish; this isn’t exactly news. Even if you work in a stable industry, you need to excel to make gains, and feeling as though you “deserve” your job is a great way to lose it to someone who has something to prove.

        Fact is, a group of people have created machines which are much more efficient workers than another group of people which previously performed that job. Ideally, members of the latter can join the former. Otherwise, plenty of ditches to dig I guess.

        • 0 avatar
          brenschluss

          I don’t like that last paragraph and now I can’t edit it. Was a prick thing to say.

          I honestly don’t know much about the nitty-gritty of working on a mass production assembly line. But from what little I have seen, relying on it for a fulfilling, lifelong career doesn’t seem to make much sense unless your opportunities are very limited.

          I welcome being corrected on this.

          • 0 avatar
            Lorenzo

            It wasn’t too “pricky”, but truthful. Simple wrenching jobs have been automated out of existence, but backhoes have automated all those shovel-ready ditch digging jobs too.

            I wouldn’t encourage a wrencher to go for a machine tool designer’s job, though. Those jobs are under assault from those adept at cad-cam design. They sometimes don’t know quite what the parts they’re designing are for, and go for the cheapest way to manufacture the part without considering its use or need for robustness. A lot of reliability problems start right there, and the assembler on the floor gets the blame.

            Education for those remaining higher paying jobs doesn’t always do the trick. A friend got a PhD in microbiology and had to leave town to find a job that paid not much more than the national average. Another friend apprenticed as a plumber and now owns his own shop. He reasoned that you can’t outsource a clogged toilet to Bangalore.

          • 0 avatar
            Lie2me

            “I honestly don’t know much about the nitty-gritty of working on a mass production assembly line. But from what little I have seen, relying on it for a fulfilling, lifelong career doesn’t seem to make much sense unless your opportunities are very limited.”

            I’m very familiar with Vance Alabama, what you don’t understand is that in this part of the world a steady full time job with benefits automatically puts you in the top 10% of the socioeconomic demographics for the region. Many would find this alone to be more then fulfilling career wise compared to their peers

    • 0 avatar
      raph

      Yes, the good ol’ gubament and its all see all caring rules and laws. Tell that to the poor bastards up the street from me that are required to assemble their widgets during an unpaid meal period.

      Luckily for the business owner they had the foresight to locate their building in an economically depressed area of the state and the people are damn glad they are providing free labor just because they have a job with little recourse for better employment.

      • 0 avatar
        jim brewer

        Alabama gave Mercedes $650 million for that plant. I agree with all these libertarians on this forum who object to the NLRB and the UAW. There shouldn’t be a dime more government benefit to the UAW than there is to Mercedes:

        I’m sure they would all agree that the equitable thing to do would be to write the union a $650 check to go away.

    • 0 avatar
      Superdessucke

      Exhibit A of why we need to repeal the NLRA and get rid of the NLRB along with it.

  • avatar
    RogerB34

    The odds are that the NLRB will find Mercedes management in violation.
    Mercedes best option is automation.

  • avatar
    Swedish

    Nothing in the “Dirty South” surprises me, people that have never been Union members are so brain washed by Right Wing Politicians that control politics in the South.

    • 0 avatar
      Toad

      As a former Midwestern union member who now resides in the South, I can tell you that you could not be more mistaken. The South is full of transplants from the North who are very familiar with unions and the left wing politicians we left behind.

      We (or our family and friends) worked in unionized factories or government jobs where we saw the featherbedding, crazy work rules, inefficiency, and waste. We also saw terrible, reactionary, bloated management that had not changed their ideas about customers, products/services, or employees for decades. We watched dysfunctional union battle dysfunctional management every day while neither side choose to step back and see that the whole organization was going down the drain.

      We watched the factories close, government agencies all but cease to function, customers disappear to more agile competitors, etc. We also got to see our taxes skyrocket while services were cut. We got to listen to people brag about how little work they did on the job while their plant was getting ready to close or their government agency was insisting the workforce had been cut to the bone.

      So we got the hell out and made a new start. Better weather, better attitudes, better opportunities. Most of us are reluctant to import the dysfunction we left behind; that’s one of the reasons unions are not that popular in the south.

      • 0 avatar
        Ron B.

        hear hear, here in Australia our whole economy and social fabric has been dominated by unions for decades and it has not been good. Over paid lazy union bosses have caused All of our manufacturing to go overseas, our once innovative auto industries have closed because cost of doing business is far too high .Even yesterday Government ministers were warning employer groups that the constant union demands for more pay will cause more wage breakouts which no one in this country can afford.

        • 0 avatar
          Pch101

          Your auto industry is dying because your population is too low to support it, and there is virtually nobody outside out of Australia who particularly wants an Aussie car for the sake of it.

          The only way to support such an industry, with its lack of scale or international demand, is to prop it up with protections and subsidies. Paying the workers less money isn’t going to help when there aren’t enough customers.

          • 0 avatar
            RobertRyan

            No the Australian Industry had way too much competition to survive. It needed to be export driven but GM and Ford killed what export markets were available. They preferred to sell their own vehicles or other subsidiaries vehicles instead more the point..
            @Ron.B the Unions added even more costs, like they are doing in the US. Like Water car production will flow downhill to the cheapest producer and Mexico could be a major beneficiary

        • 0 avatar
          Xeranar

          I would point out that Australia actually weathered the 2008 meltdown quite well, they have a higher standard of living than any region in the US except for the Northeast and have a substantially lower poverty rate.

          Unions in Australia along with nearly a 120% increase compared to our minimum wage really makes the comparison moot. As a right-wing/libertarian complaining in a country that is far more left economically than the US you should move to Alabama if you want to experience the real suffering.

          • 0 avatar
            Pch101

            The Aussies have commodities to sell, which have propped them up (and supported their extended housing bubble.) I wouldn’t attribute its successes or failings to its unions or lack thereof.

            An automaker would need to sell at least 200,000 units or more per year in order to turn a profit and support a local supplier base. In a country that buys 1.1 million cars per year, that just isn’t going to work without protections that can guarantee that high level of market share.

            The Aussies need to either develop a mystique for car making so that the world demands Aussie cars, or else import another 70-80 million people in order to provide a market that is large enough to support a local automaker. And anyone should be able to figure out that neither of those things could possibly happen.

  • avatar
    Crosley

    These alleged violations seem pretty tame, especially considering unions ugly history when it comes to intimidation.

    Could it be that the workers at Mercedes don’t want the Union and know it’s a death sentence? You know, people have heard about Detroit.

    • 0 avatar
      Xeranar

      Could you cite some cases? I’m pretty sure if you look at the long list of established NLRB complaints you’ll find countless more individual corporations intimidating people.

      Though I always found this funny. Who is really afraid of Tim and Sarah in the break room? Nobody is being murdered or maimed by these people. But the executive with his multi-billion dollar corporation who is always looking to cut labor and keep costs down isn’t willing to intimidate and outright fire anybody who opposes his will? Take a serious look for a second at the way the world really works instead of some fantasy land where you’re the next JP Morgan.

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        http://www.buffalonews.com/city-region/federal-court/legality-of-union-violence-at-heart-of-court-case-20140104

        Read what the unions’ own lawyers had to say about their violence and intimidation. They don’t deny any of it, merely claim it is legal for them to threaten or stab anyone that stands between them and the rent they seek.

  • avatar
    MoDo

    Ahhh Tuscaloosa – the plant that’s famous for its German plant managers that have taken on the southern accent. Apparently you have to hear it to believe it….

  • avatar
    MBella

    I have never talked to anyone that has worked at the Vance plant so I can’t directly comment for them. I can however speak for the plenty of Mercedes-Benz employees that I have dealt with around here and they all seem to be very happy with the pay structure and benefit packages they have. I would be surprised if the workers at the Vance plant felt differently.

    • 0 avatar
      Xeranar

      So, can I get your Member ID number and your credentials for making this claim? Who do you work for? What company do you represent? I always find it amazing that something like 100 consistent posters are apparently everywhere at all times and are sure that these transplant workers are perfectly happy as they know them all personally. Quite amazing…

      • 0 avatar
        geeber

        While you’re at it, perhaps you can share your credentials that will give credence to your claims that transplant workers are illiterates who don’t realize that they are being exploited by those heartless Japanese bosses.

        • 0 avatar
          Xeranar

          Well I never said they were illiterates but my statements are actually easily measured. You look at the level of education and income. Then you look at the industry average and find the discrepancies. It actually isn’t some mystic knowledge. You even acknowledged those facts and then tried to use different measurements to readjust the reasoning.

          As compared to these completely subjective and unsubstantiated statements that seem to associate how everybody knows somebody who works at these places who support their view.

          • 0 avatar
            geeber

            And, again, as I explained to you in our previous discussion, looking at wages and benefits without considering what those wages and benefits can buy, which requires a look at the local cost of living, is a meaningless exercise.

            Unless autoworkers in Tennessee are somehow living in Detroit and making all of their purchases in Michigan and also paying taxes there.

            As for “level of education” – are the Big Three employing people with bachelor’s degrees and doctorates to assemble cars?

            I’m guessing that the overwhelming majority of workers in these plants have a high-school diploma, with some night-school courses, as well. (Please do not use statewide figures on educational attainment levels. What matters is the educational attainment level of the people actually working in the plants.)

            So, no, we still haven’t seen any proof that the transplant workers are being exploited. You can’t even use the argument that UAW wages still represent the industry standard, given that UAW workers do not constitute the majority of auto workers in this country.

            Your contention that the transplant workers are somehow being exploited, or taken advantage of by the parent companies, is without merit. The workers are treated well, and paid well. They have to be, given that the Toyota Production System, which has been adopted by the Japanese transplants in varying degrees, requires workers to contribute meaningful suggestions to improve the process and, ultimately, the product. You don’t get that kind of worker by paying the minimum wage, nor do you get that kind of worker by treating them they way Harry Bennett of Ford treated workers in the 1930s.

            The bitter truth is that the UAW was forged in a very specific type of atmosphere that was conducive to its growth. The Japanese brought a new way of managing employees to this country, and it has resulted in happier workers and better vehicles. And it’s no accident that the domestic company that has worked the hardest to implement those procedures in its plants – Ford – has enjoyed the greatest success in this country.

            The failure of the UAW to grow is because it has not adapted its message and tone to reflect a changed atmosphere. There’s nothing sinister or evil about that.

          • 0 avatar
            Pch101

            “You look at the level of education and income. Then you look at the industry average and find the discrepancies.”

            The good thing about manufacturing work is that it provides the opportunity for those who don’t have academic backgrounds to make a decent living.

            If their educational levels are at the lower end of the scale (and it wouldn’t surprise me if they were), then that’s actually a benefit, as that would be an indication that the jobs are pulling up people who don’t have formal educations and who would probably earn less otherwise.

            If we reach a point that we’ve decided that a master’s degree is a prerequisite for working on a line, then we will be doing something very wrong.


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