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Wednesday, 06 February 2019 19:41

Alabama Auto Plants Brace for Tariffs

Written by Brad Harper, Montgomery Advertiser
Workers assembled vehicles in the weld shop at the Hyundai plant in Montgomery, AL, on Jan. 18. Workers assembled vehicles in the weld shop at the Hyundai plant in Montgomery, AL, on Jan. 18. Jake Crandall, Montgomery Advertiser


“That’s all these hypotheticals that they’re evaluating to see the plan once that’s ratified,” said Robert Burns, vice president of human resources and administration at Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama. “People just see the car there. They don’t think about how it all comes together.”


The South’s Global Engine


For the first time in 2018, more foreign vehicles were assembled in the United States than American vehicles. The South has played a huge role in that change.


Of 15 major assembly plants across the Southeast, only two assemble vehicles for American companies. U.S. manufacturers stick mostly above the Mason-Dixon line, while the Southeast---from Mississippi, to South Carolina, to Tennessee---is dominated by the likes of BMW, Nissan, Toyota, Volvo and Volkswagen.


Alabama got its start in the auto industry in 1993, when Mercedes-Benz opened its first U.S. assembly plant in Vance. More than 57,000 people now work in auto manufacturing statewide, according to the governor’s office.


That’s not including the expected 4,000 workers at the $1.6 billion Toyota-Mazda joint plant that was announced for the Huntsville area last year. Dziczek said that announcement and Hyundai’s plan to invest another $388 million in its Montgomery plant stood out because auto industry investment has been thin elsewhere across the country.


Some who lost out on those investments have pointed to the South’s labor laws.


After the Toyota-Mazda plant announcement, Illinois Chamber of Commerce President Todd Maisch told The Associated Press that he believes the companies chose Alabama because it has “right to work” laws, which limit the power of labor unions by banning mandatory union dues. Every state in the Southeast has similar laws.


Now, they’re all competing for a smaller pie in a time of industry uncertainty.


“Overall, automaker investment has gone down to nothing,” Dziczek said. “They’re kind of sitting on the sidelines saying, ‘Are we playing football or baseball. We don’t know, but once we figure [it] out, we’ll get in the game.’”


Dire Warnings


HMMA maintenance worker John Hall went to Washington last summer to plead with the administration to reject import tariffs.

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