In non-union auto plants across America, especially in the South, autoworkers are standing up to win a better life on and off the job. This is a homegrown movement of Southern autoworkers who are joining the UAW by the thousands. The movement began this fall, inspired by UAW members at the Big Three who showed that the industry’s record profits should mean record contracts for the workers who make them. That includes non-union autoworkers, too.

At Home in the South

One of the first states where the Stand Up movement caught fire with non-union autoworkers was Alabama. And that fire is spreading. Already, more than 50 percent of workers at Mercedes outside Tuscaloosa and more than 30 percent of Hyundai workers in Montgomery have signed union cards and gone public with their campaigns to join the UAW. They followed Volkswagen workers in Chattanooga, Tenn., who reached the 30 percent milestone in early December, less than two weeks after non-union autoworkers nationwide launched their campaign to join the UAW. By Feb. 6, more than 50 percent of VW workers had signed up to join the union.

When Southern autoworkers win their campaigns to join the UAW, they won’t be the first union autoworkers in the South. Right up the road from Chattanooga is General Motors’ Spring Hill, Tenn., complex. GM’s biggest assembly plant in America is in Arlington, Texas. Altogether, more than 7,000 UAW members work at GM facilities in the South. Ford’s Kentucky Truck Plant in Louisville is so big and so profitable it would be a Fortune 500 Company all by itself. And Ford has another assembly plant nearby. Those two plants together have 12,000 UAW members. When Ford’s Blue Oval battery and EV manufacturing plants in Memphis and Kentucky come online, they’re expected to employ thousands more UAW members.

Ending the Alabama Discount

Mercedes worker Jeremy Kimbrell has been a leader in the union drive at Alabama’s first auto plant, in Vance, Alabama. Mercedes broke ground in Vance thirty years ago, with millions in taxpayer subsidies, and led the auto industry in setting up shop in Alabama. Hyundai arrived in Montgomery, Ala. not long after. Toyota and Honda have joined them as well, and the companies’ profits rival, and in some cases exceed, those of the Big Three automakers. However, their workers lag far behind their unionized counterparts in terms of pay, benefits, retirement, health & safety, workplace rights and more. Kimbrell views the historic union drives across the state as putting an end to the Alabama discount.

No More Business as Usual

In January, corporate front groups like the National Right to Work Committee and the Center for Union Facts started attacking non-union autoworkers who are standing up for themselves, their families, and their communities. They want to keep wages low and profits high, so the companies can continue to send outsized profits overseas and provide kickbacks to their political cronies in Southern statehouses and beyond. The Business Council of Alabama calls its anti-worker campaign “Alabama Strong”; we call it corporate greed. As one Hyundai worker notes in a recent video, “We’ve got to stand together and be one, just like they stand together and be one against us.” Alabama autoworkers are joining together and standing up to win their union. This isn’t the UAW versus the Companies. It’s Southern Autoworkers vs. Corporate Greed.

See Autoworkers Stand Up

Here are videos from autoworkers who’ve launched their campaigns to join the UAW:

Here are stories about the progress autoworkers are making in Alabama, Tennessee and across the country:

  • “UAW Signs Up Majority of VW Plant’s Staff After Detroit Wins,” Bloomberg, Feb. 6, 2024
  • “Hyundai workers launch campaign to join UAW,” WSFA-12–Montgomery, Ala., Feb. 1, 2023
  • “Montgomery Hyundai workers hold unionization forum with United Auto Workers,” Alabama Daily News, Jan. 17, 2024
  • “Mercedes-Benz workers launch union campaign at Tuscaloosa plant,”, Jan. 11, 2024
  • “Tesla raising factory worker pay in U.S. following UAW victories in Detroit,” CNBC, Jan. 11, 2024
  • “Historic UAW Pay Gains Provided Lift to US Wage Data in December,” Bloomberg, Jan. 5, 2024
  • “Autoworkers with non-union workforce race to bump pay after UAW’s record deals,” Reuters, 19, 2023
  • “UAW members ratify record contracts with Big 3 automakers,” Washington Post, Nov. 20, 2023
  • “Hyundai joins Honda, Toyota in raising wages after union takes on Detroit 3,”, Nov. 13, 2023
  • “Our Family Can Have a Future: Ford Workers on a New Union Contract,” New York Times, Nov. 9, 2023
  • “Here’s one potential winner from the UAW strike: Non-union auto workers in the South,” South Carolina Public Radio, Sept. 22, 2023
  • “UAW’s Shawn Fain deployed a ‘brilliant’ strategy against automakers,” Fox Business, Sept. 18, 2023

For more information on workers organizing to join the UAW, visit: 

The media is invited to use all UAW videos and photographs under this Creative Commons license.