Auto union looks for sweet home in Alabama Mercedes plant
July 2, 1999
By Correspondent Brian Cabell
VANCE, Alabama (CNN) -- The Mercedes assembly plant perched along a rural interstate highway between Birmingham and Tuscaloosa turns out copies of a popular sport utility vehicle -- and generates a package of wages and benefits that the company says exceeds $35 an hour.
While it may sound like it's offering dream jobs in a region of central Alabama never known for affluence, the United Auto Workers union has launched a campaign to unionize the plant -- in a state traditionally unreceptive to organized labor.
UAW supporters concede that Mercedes has brought jobs to the area. But they complain that the company has mandated overtime -- a 50-hour work week earlier this year, a 45-hour week now -- that cuts into family time.
They also say management has not been open to their grievances and doesn't pay enough attention to safely designing work stations.
"I've used their open-door policy several times, as they call it. It's always been a closed door for me," said Mercedes employee Rodney Bowens, a UAW supporter.
"We have five people in my area right now that have had carpal tunnel syndrome operations," said union supporter Harold Fleenor.
But an anti-UAW faction inside the plant has been especially vocal in its support of Mercedes.
"Because they give us everything we need, we don't need the union," said employee Luann Lemaster.
"People here totally changed their way of living, and a lot of people have forgotten that," said Steve Merrill, another anti-UAW employee.
Emmett Meyer, a vice president for Daimler-Chrysler, the parent company for Mercedes, expressed concern about the friction that the union push could create at the Vance plant.
"One of the unfortunate ramifications or implications of organizing activity is there does tend to be some polarization of opinions and attitudes," Meyer said.
The UAW will have to get the signatures of at least 30 percent of the plant's workers in order to trigger a vote on unionization. There is as of yet no indication how close they might be to that figure.
Big Three, UAW begin new labor talks
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