United Automobile Workers (UAW) president Shawn Fain met with workers at a gathering in Coaling on Sunday, a few weeks after the union announced a majority of employees at a Mercedes-Benz plant in Vance had signed up to join the union.

UAW has made progress in the traditionally right-to-work South in recent months. Volkswagen workers in Chattanooga are scheduled to vote in April on whether they want UAW representation. No such elections have been scheduled in Alabama yet, but UAW has announced efforts to sign up employees at Mercedes-Benz's plant in Vance and Hyundai's plant in Montgomery.

"Our Big Three contract campaign was the same. People said we were crazy for going for the things we did. Companies said they couldn't afford it. Companies made threats. The media said we were crazy," Fain told workers on Sunday. "But guess what? We focused on facts in our Big 3 campaign and strike. The fact that the companies made a quarter of a trillion dollars in a decade. The fact that CEO pay went up 40% over the previous 4 years. And the fact that workers were being left behind, although the workers generate those massive profits through their labor. 75% of Americans sided with us in that fight. Using the power of facts and a unified membership. We won a record contract and the companies still paid out massive stock dividends to investors. CEOs are still giving themselves massive raises, and business is fine."

Fain continued, "It's the same here in Alabama."

"Facts: The German three made double what the Big Three made in the last decade. A half a trillion. $460 billion. Mercedes's CEO got an 80% raise last year. The eight managers on the Mercedes management board got a collective $27 million raise last year. The average Mercedes executive makes $3,600 an hour. It would take a Mercedes production worker at the top rate two years to make what a Mercedes executive earns in one week," Fain said. "The company, the Governor, and the Business Council are trying to make you afraid to stand up, because you are so close to realizing a life many thought wasn't possible. Mercedes is using fear, uncertainty, and division because they are afraid. Mercedes is afraid of you having a voice in your work life. Mercedes is afraid of sharing any control over your work lives. Mercedes is afraid of paying you the wages and benefits you deserve for the massive profits your work, your sacrifice, your blood, and your sweat create. You are an at-will employee, you have no rights, and management has all the control. It's time to change that."

UAW's efforts in Alabama haven't been welcomed with much Southern hospitality by the state's political and business establishment. Gov. Kay Ivey, members of her cabinet, and the Business Council of Alabama have all said they think the union's inroads into the state are bad for workers.

"The Alabama Department of Commerce and the state's entire economic development team just want to echo Governor Kay Ivey's thoughts on this issue: Alabama's auto industry has achieved amazing success over three decades without any help from the UAW," Alabama Department of Commerce Secretary Ellen McNair told 1819 News in January. "We are proud of the strong partnership our automotive manufacturers have with their team members and the opportunities these careers have provided for Alabama families. We urge Alabama's autoworkers to carefully evaluate the promises being made by the union before they insert a middleman in the relationship with their employer. We think workers should listen to both sides of this story before making a decision that could bring unintended consequences."

Ivey told 1819 News on Tuesday, “The UAW president appears to be living in the past with his references to the South during the Great Depression."

"In case he hasn’t noticed, it’s 2024, and many folks from other parts of the country are choosing to move south, including Alabama, where they can enjoy a better quality of life. Auto manufacturing jobs have also moved south. Therefore, it’s not surprising the UAW now wants to cash in on the gains of southern workers," Ivey said.

To connect with the author of this story or to comment, email caleb.taylor@1819News.com.

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