DETROIT – The UAW responded today to the reaction of Mercedes-Benz U.S. International (MBUSI) management to being found guilty of violations of U.S. federal labor law.
UAW Secretary-Treasurer Gary Casteel said, “It is clear that Daimler has acted with hostility and in direct contempt of its neutrality policy in its dealing with pro-union workers at its Alabama plant in Tuscaloosa. It’s deplorable that Mercedes was found in violation of U.S. law and then publicly claimed it as a victory and an example of its neutral pledge.”
Following a three-day hearing at the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in April, Administrative Law Judge Keltner Locke ruled that Mercedes violated the National Labor Rights Act (NLRA) by interfering with workers’ union organizing efforts. Specifically, the judge ruled that the company had maintained an “overly broad solicitation and distribution rule” and ordered MBUSI to amend its company policy to bring it into line with federal law. The ruling addresses the primary way in which workers communicate with each other about unionization.
A key point of contention in the hearing was whether team centers and the atrium areas of the plant — where workers routinely take their breaks—are considered work areas and thus off-limits for distribution of union materials. Locke’s ruling declares that the spaces are mixed-use areas and that employees have the right to disseminate union literature in those areas.
“It’s a big plant,” said Mercedes worker Jeremy Kimbrell in explaining the importance of the NLRB decision. “If the company would let us address why we want a union during one of our All-Team meetings, we’d do it then. But they won’t. So instead we have to come early and leave late from work and find times to talk with our co-workers about what we’re trying to do in forming a union. There’s hardly any time to do that. That’s why this team center and atrium issue is a big deal and why the company tried to stop us from being able to exercise our federal rights in them. It’s really one of the only places in the plant where we have a chance to talk with each other off-the-clock.”
Mercedes employees have consistently said that the company violates its own Principles of Corporate Social Responsibility in which it declares neutrality toward unions and union organizing globally.
“We always hear the company stating that they’re neutral, but every team member in that plant knows it simply isn’t true,” said Mercedes employee Rodney Bowens. “If team members aren’t intimidated, then why are they always telling me, ‘I want a union, but I don’t want anybody to know about it.’ The company has created a climate of fear to prevent us from forming a union. In this case they broke federal law to do it, but there are countless other examples of where they use scare tactics to stop people from speaking up about it.”
Workers expressed outrage over Mercedes claiming the judge’s guilty ruling was an example of its neutrality toward union organizing. “The judge just ruled that Mercedes violated federal law in its effort to stop us from unionizing, and then the next day the company has its union-busters out there telling the newspapers that this is an example of neutrality. Really? It’s doubletalk,” said Mercedes worker Don White. “They were found guilty, and I hope they’ll fix the problem, but I also hope they’ll stop the doubletalk and show more integrity with how they deal with us, team members and the Alabama public, moving forward.”
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