Glenn Spencer Glenn Spencer
Senior Vice President, Employment Policy Division, U.S. Chamber of Commerce


June 17, 2024


This article originally appeared on as a guest opinion column.

In May, the United Auto Workers union (UAW) lost a critical election at a Mercedes plant in Vance, Alabama. The UAW was supremely confident going into the election, having secured signatures from 70% of workers asking for a vote. The union even posted on its website the slogan “Mercedes Workers Got Next,” a reference to an earlier win at a Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga. Yet when workers voted, the UAW lost 56% to 44%.

So, what went wrong for the union? One of the biggest factors was that workers were able to hear both sides of the story. In the run-up to the election at Volkswagen, the company pledged neutrality—essentially giving the union a monopoly over the information workers would get about unions. And no surprise, when all workers heard the wonderful promises of the union, they voted in support. By contrast, Mercedes made sure workers got all the facts. And it mattered.

This might be why many Congressional Democrats have sent ominous-sounding letters to companies targeted by union organizing, “encouraging” them to sign neutrality agreements. It’s also why the Biden administration is pressuring companies receiving taxpayer dollars to do the same. To them, it’s all about keeping workers uninformed so unions get a free hand.

The second factor speaks to the manner in which workers voted. Many unions prefer card check organizing over secret ballot elections. With a secret ballot, workers can vote in private without anyone knowing their choice. Under card check, union organizers can pressure workers in public to sign a card, which then counts as their “vote.” In the case of Mercedes, the UAW was able to get 70% of workers to sign a card indicating interest in an election. But by using the secret ballot for that election, workers were able to express their true opinion and reject the UAW. Unfortunately, the UAW is not respecting workers’ opinions and is asking the federal government to throw out the election results and make workers vote again.

The third factor might be the makeup of the UAW’s current membership. The reality is that the majority of UAW members don’t actually build cars. They work in a whole range of disparate industries, such as casino dealers, movie ushers, government employees, bank tellers, and even academics and graduate students.

And the UAW’s focus has changed. Their members, for example, have been out in force protesting at the University of California, leading the university to say it is disheartening that the union is “encouraging its members to disrupt and harm the ability of our students to navigate finals and other critical year-end activities successfully.”

The school system is hoping the California Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) will impose an injunction on the union to stop “this precedent-setting, unlawful action.” What these workers have in common with factory employees building cars is anyone’s guess, but it’s possible that workers at Mercedes figured out that the UAW might have a hard time advocating for them when they are busy organizing campus protests.

Finally, workers may have decided they didn’t want to pay monthly dues to a union with the UAW’s history. For example, in 2022, a UAW official was sentenced to 57 months in prison and ordered to pay approximately $2 million in restitution and $1 million in fines based on his convictions for embezzling union funds and laundering the proceeds.

In an even more glaring example, in 2020, multiple UAW officials were prosecuted for receiving illegal payments in the form of lavish meals, rounds of golf, extravagant parties, and expensive gifts paid for with credit cards issued by the UAW-Chrysler National Training Center (NTC). Further illegal payments of hundreds of thousands of dollars were funneled to a UAW Vice President.

The question for the UAW is where to turn next in their campaign to organize Southern auto plants. Speculation has focused on Georgia, Missouri, South Carolina, or even another crack at other factories in Alabama. But it’s not at all clear that the union has much support in any of these locations.

It’s also unlikely that any of the potential target companies will sign a neutrality agreement, but rather, they will make sure workers have both sides of the story. So, while the UAW puts on a brave face and claims that Southern autoworkers will “Stand Up!” It appears that what workers are standing up against is the UAW.

About the authors

Glenn Spencer

Glenn Spencer

Spencer oversees the Chamber’s work on immigration, retirement security, traditional labor relations, human trafficking, wage hour and worker safety issues, EEOC matters, and state labor and employment law.

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