Op-ed from a Mercedes-Benz worker: UAW is not right for Alabama

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This is a guest opinion column

There’s a common saying in west Alabama: The two best things to happen here in the last 20 years are Nick Saban coaching the Crimson Tide, and the opening of the Mercedes-Benz plant.

We just lost Nick Saban to retirement. I don’t want to lose the Mercedes plant to the United Auto Workers union.

Follow developments with the UAW union vote here.

I have worked at the Mercedes plant outside Tuscaloosa for nearly 20 years. Without a college degree, I earn more than $70,000 annually in compensation, more than double the local average per capita income of $32,000. I also receive a benefit package that includes a 10-percent 401k contribution from the company.

Historically, good jobs were in short supply in this part of Alabama.

When Mercedes arrived in the mid-1990s and listed production jobs, more than 63,000 people applied. Today, the company’s plants cover nearly six million square feet, employing some 6,000 full-time workers and many more temps and contractors. Together, these plants made Alabama the number one auto-exporting state in 2023.

No employer is perfect, Mercedes included. But where problems exist, the company management has generally listened to us and made improvements. This includes a recent raise and the elimination of a two-tier employee pay system.

But some of my coworkers, younger employees in particular, want more. Having never experienced the pre-Mercedes reality in west Alabama, they assume that good-paying positions like ours have always existed and always will. In their eyes, any workplace problem that can’t be solved immediately requires third-party intervention.

They’ve heard from UAW organizers who say the cure for what ails them is union representation. On May 13-17, our plant will vote on whether to invite the union in to speak for us.

In my view, the UAW does not solve problems—it creates them. The union’s history is one of job destruction rather than job creation, having overseen the closure of dozens of auto plants since the 1970s and pushing companies to create new jobs in Mexico.

The union’s new president Shawn Fain ran on a platform of fixing the union’s legacy of corruption and broken promises. But the so-called “record” contracts he negotiated with the Big Three in Detroit have led to record layoffs. Hundreds of full-time and temp workers have been cut in recent weeks, after Fain promised he would stand up for them.

Our plant has never experienced this sort of downsizing, and I don’t want to start now.

Fain claims to have majority support in our plant, but I’m skeptical. I talk to my coworkers daily, and they have more questions than answers about the union. Our current deal at Mercedes is a good one, and many of us don’t want to see it change. Any contract is a negotiation, and I don’t want my future retirement bargained away by younger employees who don’t share my same time horizon.

I also do not want to see our jobs moved to Mexico. Mercedes already has a presence there, as do the Big Three and several other foreign-owned auto companies. In recent weeks, one of the union’s own shop chairmen worried about companies expanding their footprint south of the border in response to the union’s antics.

I like my job right where it is. That’s why, later this month, I will be voting no on the UAW.

Jay White is a 19-year employee of the Mercedes-Benz plant in Vance, AL.