The Mercedes-Benz UAW vote: ‘A slip and not a fall’ Skip to content

The Mercedes-Benz UAW vote: ‘A slip and not a fall’

Even though the vote failed, union folks are not discouraged.

3 min read

(COLOGNE, Germany) – In a recent edition of Mike Elk’s online Payday Report, the labor journalist wrote, “My sense from talking to union leaders over the phone is that the digital-heavy and organizing committee-light approach made the UAW unable to withstand Mercedes’ ‘give us one more chance’ plea after they fired their plant manager.”

Added Elk: “The UAW doesn’t see the 44%-56% vote as a sign of defeat. Often, unions try multiple times before winning. The UAW tried twice at Volkswagen in Chattanooga in 2014 and 2019 before winning big in 2024, but at Mercedes, this was the first time workers had seen the company’s manipulation, psychological profiling, and complex disinformation tactics.”

The UAW doesn’t see the 44%-56% vote as a sign of defeat.

I am an historian by training and trade. So here’s a history quiz: What U.S. president came up short in a half-dozen elections before he won the White House?

Hint: Born in Kentucky, he was one of our three greatest presidents.

In 1858, two years before voters sent him to Washington, Lincoln, a Republican, lost a key Illinois U.S. Senate race to Stephen A. Douglas, the Democratic incumbent. (Before the ratification of the 17th Amendment in 1913, state legislatures elected senators.) The Democratic majority Illinois House and Senate chose Douglas. Lincoln won the presidency over Douglas and two other candidates in 1860 and was reelected in 1864.

Recalled Lincoln: “I remember the evening of the day in 1858 that decided the contest for the Senate between Mr. Douglas and myself was something like this: dark, rainy, and gloomy.

“I had been reading the returns and had ascertained that we had lost the legislature and started to go home. The path had been worn hog-back and was slippery. My foot slipped from under me, knocking the other one out of the way, but I recovered myself and lit square, and I said to myself, ‘It’s a slip and not a fall.’”

Odds are, the returns at the two Alabama plants will prove to be “a slip and not a fall” for the UAW.

“UAW Local 112 Vice President Kirk Garner thinks it’s likely to see a union election within a year or two,” Elk wrote. “It’s common for plants where workers lost by about 10% to win within a year or two after more workers are educated and engaged on union issues.

“Garner says he and the 2,000 of his co-workers who voted for the union are willing to keep working. After all, the union only lost by approximately 600 votes. Now, with time to build a more traditional organizing committee, Garner feels confident that the UAW can win.”

Doubtless, the workers who voted down the UAW to give management “one more chance” will, sooner or later, discover the company has no intention of significantly improving the conditions that led to the union drive.

Like most foreign automotive manufacturers who operate union back home, Mercedes Benz is determined to run non-union stateside.

“After filing with 70%, the UAW believed they would maintain their margin and win at similar margins to the 73% victory of UAW workers in Chattanooga,” Elk also wrote. The UAW lost, amid charges that the company used backroom manipulation tactics against workers. These tactics may be illegal in Germany and could cause Mercedes to get into legal trouble.

Unlike in the U.S., here in Germany, federal labor law is not tilted toward capital over labor.

In April, the UAW accused Mercedes-Benz, whose world headquarters is in Stuttgart, Germany, of breaking a new German law that applies to worldwide supply chain functions. “Mercedes-Benz’s aggressive anti-union campaign against U.S. autoworkers in Alabama is a clear human rights violation under the German Act on Corporate Due Diligence Obligations in Supply Chains,” the UAW explained. “If found guilty, Mercedes-Benz faces billions in penalties, including significant fines and bans on government contracts.”

To be sure, the hard-right 6-3 union-despising U.S Supreme Court majority would lose no time green-lighting Mercedes Benz’s bare-knucks ‘Bama union-busting. But the UAW seems to have a good shot in Germany, where union rights under the law are a heckuva lot stronger than they are in the U.S.


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Berry Craig

Berry Craig is a professor emeritus of history at West KY Community College, and an author of seven books and co-author of two more. (Read the rest on the Contributors page.)

Arlington, KY