Home / General / Worker at Mercedes Analyzes UAW Defeat

Worker at Mercedes Analyzes UAW Defeat

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One thing about the new UAW leadership under Shawn Fain is a lot more democracy and openness in the union. For years and years, the Labor Notes people saw UAW leadership as the enemy and while I always thought their analyze was too simple and overstated, it’s certainly true that UAW needed better leadership, even outside the corruption scandal that finally brought the top leadership down. Well, one way this works is a worker at the Mercedes plant at the UAW being really honest about what the workers faced down there and thinking about why the union lost and what it did right and what it did wrong. I’m glad to see this, not in a hostile way toward the UAW but from a position of solidarity and thinking through the issues. It’s worth your time.

PUBLIC CAMPAIGN

To be successful in a union campaign, workers have got to be public about their union support. This is critical, as it gives other workers confidence in their decision to support and eventually vote yes for unionization.

Our union organizing leadership team did a good job of being public. But we found over the course of the campaign that many workers were hedging their bets in case the union vote failed and didn’t want to be totally public. This was especially true of team leaders and people in specialty jobs. These workers were hesitant to sign cards, while saying they were pro-union. These workers flipped their commitment in big numbers in the end.

A worker who won’t sign a union authorization card is very unlikely to stay committed. It’s a major red flag. In the closing days of our campaign and while being an observer for the election, I noticed very few were still wearing the union hats, buttons, and bracelets that they were so proudly wearing just a couple months prior.

Being public is critical. We could’ve been a lot better late.

WIN WITH KINDNESS

Win co-workers over with kindness. You’ll never win over people by calling them names. Stay civil at all times.

Our workplace has a Facebook group page that’s popular among workers. Tread carefully. Union supporters have to be honest and positive at all times, while the opposition can lie like hell and get as ugly as they want.

If you play the social media game, you better take the high ground. Too many people get on there for entertainment, and falling into a trap is easy.

We were good early, but fell in the trap late.

DIVERSITY OF ISSUES

We seized opportunities, but it’s a tricky game. You have to point out the areas in which the company is failing, but you have to remember that they can change course in the middle, especially if you focus on a single issue too heavily.

We had two-tier pay. I honestly thought the company was so arrogant that they wouldn’t get rid of it, but they did. I’m personally guilty of pushing this too specifically, but it was so obvious and easy. We had coined a phrase, “End the Alabama Discount,” and we actually gained support after the company ended two-tier pay and gave us a $2 raise.

We then pivoted to not being able to trust our leadership. Three weeks prior to the election, the company removed our CEO and it led to the “give them a chance” mindset that eventually won the day. Have diversity in issues if possible.

INTENSE UNION-BUSTING

Why did we lose? Well, it’s just not fair. All the weak American labor laws favor the company. It takes six weeks to get to an election after you file, and the company has all the power.

Our company had been running anti-union videos weekly for months with little effect. Once we filed for election, the videos were shown every day. Texts were sent to phones. Anti-union messages were played on our company app and on monitors across the plant, and the company actively encouraged workers to vote no.

Three weeks before our union election, Mercedes removed its CEO and at the same time brought in a group of professional union-busting lawyers who met with workers in groups for two weeks.

MANAGER ASSESSMENT

Supervisors in the plant had rated workers 1 to 5 by their perceived union support. Workers who were perceived as soft commits or undecided were called into these meetings and told horror stories about unions by these union-busters.

Some of these claimed to be former lawyers or National Labor Relations Board agents or past union members. They claimed neutrality, but almost every word was anti-union.

Somewhere in every meeting they made sure to say “give the new CEO a chance.” Then when workers came back to the lines, brainwashed team leaders applied pressure to reinforce the “give the CEO a chance” message.

ANNOUNCED AT 30 PERCENT

What would I do differently? Our company didn’t launch an active anti-union campaign until after we announced that we had 30 percent union cards signed. While that announcement generated excitement, it also triggered the company probably earlier than they would’ve otherwise.

Also, a chorus of “let’s vote” became louder and louder, because legally 30 percent is the minimum you need to file for election. It was very distracting and took away from where the focus needed to be: building a pro-union majority.

You can vote with 30 percent, but you damn sure can’t win. I liked the buzz that the 30 percent announcement created, but maybe we should’ve waited a bit longer to announce or not even announce at all. It’s debatable.

At 50 percent support, we made another announcement. At this point an influential co-worker took to social media to say we were no longer in signing mode, but in vote mode.

He referenced a prior agreement with the international from 10 years prior that was definitely no longer in effect, but the damage was done. Big mistake. It became difficult to sign up workers after this.

Everyone on the team needs to be a team player. Going rogue is in contradiction to what being a union is about.

Sounds like some issues with discipline, some issues with messaging, and certainly an incredible intensive anti-union campaign. One thing I’d like to note here is the importance of being a team player. Unfortunately, we live in an era where no one has any discipline and everyone is a personal brand. So someone just going online and announcing something like that doesn’t surprise me at all. He probably doesn’t even see the problem with it. The need for discipline in political movements is paramount but in the 21st century, people loathe the idea of discipline. How dare you tell me what to do, I am an autonomous individual I am going to (vote third party, leave the group, claim I am being oppressed by comrades, stalk off in a rage, go online and divulge strategy, talk myself up as the savior, whatever it might be) do something stupid.

That’s a tough one. The message of discipline is key and we should all learn a little something from this point.

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