Mercedes workers in Alabama reject the UAW in latest union vote in the South More than 5,000 Mercedes-Benz workers who build luxury SUVs in Alabama were eligible to vote on whether to join the UAW. Workers faced intense anti-union messaging from Mercedes in the run-up.

Mercedes workers vote no to union. UAW says they were illegally intimidated

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JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

The ballots are in. Mercedes-Benz workers in Alabama have voted no to joining the United Auto Workers union. The loss comes as a huge disappointment to the UAW, which had been hoping for a second win in the South. Just a month ago, Volkswagen workers in Tennessee voted overwhelmingly to join the UAW. Joining us now from Alabama is Stephan Bisaha of the Gulf States Newsroom. Hi there.

STEPHAN BISAHA, BYLINE: Hey. Thanks for having me.

SUMMERS: Thanks for being here. So Stephan, you're just outside that union hall, and I understand that UAW President Shawn Fain just appeared there. What did he have to say about this loss?

BISAHA: You know, Shawn Fain was clearly disappointed by the result here, but, you know, he said we were going to keep our head held high. And he ultimately accused Mercedes of illegally pressuring workers to vote no. Here's what he said.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SHAWN FAIN: This company engaged in egregious, illegal behavior. It's a David vs. Goliath fight. You know, sometimes Goliath wins a battle. But ultimately, David will win the war. These workers will win their fair share.

SUMMERS: And Stephan, you've been following this story for a while now. When did it become apparent that the union was not going to win this vote?

BISAHA: Well, there was tension in the air from the beginning we arrived at the union hall. This was not the giddy mood like we saw a month ago at Volkswagen in Chattanooga, Tenn. That was just last month. Workers voted overwhelmingly to unionize - 73%. But from the moment here at this union hall in Alabama the vote count started, the no votes were quickly outnumbering the yes votes. And while it was ultimately a close margin, they just never overcame that deficit.

This is clearly a big setback for the UAW, which has been on a roll since last fall, when it went on strike against the big three automakers in Detroit and came away with record contracts. The union had said that they had a large majority of workers here sign union cards, signaling that they were for a union. So clearly, a lot of votes here flipped.

SUMMERS: Why do you think that is? Why did so many votes flip in Alabama when that was not the case in Tennessee a month ago?

BISAHA: Well, in Tennessee, the company was pretty neutral. But as Fain talked about here, Mercedes - they ran a strong antiunion campaign. Their argument was, look, if you want to have good communication with workers and management, you don't need a union for that. They replaced their unpopular CEO with a new one, and they barraged workers with messages to vote no. Here's pro-union Mercedes worker Rick Webster.

RICK WEBSTER: I mean, it was every day. It was every day. We were getting notifications on the Mercedes app. We were getting text messages, emails. We were having to sit through meetings every day, watching a video or something of that nature, and it was all antiunion. And honestly, over the last couple of weeks, it's just been - everybody's just sick and tired of hearing about it.

BISAHA: Look, unionizing this plant was always going to be an uphill battle. Pro-union workers have been trying to organize this plant for about 25 years now with very little success. It's also worth remembering that we're in the South, where it's always going to be tough for unions - very antiunion attitudes here.

SUMMERS: Say more about that. What has the state's attitude toward unions been?

BISAHA: Well, the pitch in the South is that we are business-friendly. We create jobs. Alabama Republican governor Kay Ivey has said repeatedly, this is not Michigan. We're not Detroit. Today, she released a statement saying, we are not sweet home to the UAW, and she urged the union to respect the results of this election. The governors here in the South - they tend to warn that unions get in the way. They gum up business...

SUMMERS: Yeah.

BISAHA: ...This extra level of bureaucracy. And the whole reason Mercedes first came here was hundreds of millions of dollars in incentives from Alabama and this promise that you're not going to deal with the UAW. But UAW is looking to organize...

SUMMERS: Right.

BISAHA: ...Other plants, including a Hyundai plant in the state capital, Montgomery. But today's loss at Mercedes will certainly be dampening the momentum they have there.

SUMMERS: That's Stephan Bisaha from the Gulf States Newsroom, reporting from Alabama. Thank you.

BISAHA: Thank you.

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