UAW Files Charges Against Mercedes-Benz in Germany

The union claims the automaker's efforts to stamp out a unionization effort at its Alabama plant violate a German global supply chain practices law.

Mercedes-Benz released this file photo of workers at the Alabama facility beginning production of the EQS SUV in August 2022.

The UAW filed charges April 3 against Mercedes-Benz Group AG for allegedly violating Germany’s new law on global supply chain practices by running an "aggressive anti-union campaign" against U.S. autoworkers at the automaker's plant in Vance, AL.

The UAW called Mercedes-Benz's actions "a clear human rights violation" under the German Act on Corporate Due Diligence Obligations in Supply Chains. If found guilty, Mercedes-Benz faces billions in penalties, including fines and bans on government contracts.

The UAW’s charges are an important early test of the act, which took effect Jan. 1, 2023, and applies to German-headquartered firms with more than 1,000 employees. The UAW is the first American union to file charges under the act, which is also known by its German acronym LkSG.

The law sets standards for global supply chains that German-based firms must adhere to. It prohibits companies from disregarding workers’ rights to form trade unions. Workers at Mercedes-Benz’s assembly and battery plant in Vance are organizing to join the UAW and have faced "fierce backlash" from company management, the union said.

The Alabama plant is operated by Mercedes-Benz U.S. International (MBUSI), a subsidiary of Stuttgart-based Mercedes-Benz Group AG. The UAW complaint details how MBUSI has intimidated, threatened and even fired Alabama workers in violation of U.S. labor law and International Labour Organization Conventions.

The complaint documents seven alleged violations of the German act, including:

  • The firing of a union supporter with Stage 4 cancer. The employee had been allowed to have his cellphone with him at work so he could receive updates on the availability of his scarce chemo drug. But a supervisor who has intimidated union supporters claimed there was a zero-tolerance policy on cellphones and had him fired.
  • A January letter from MBUSI CEO Michael Göbel to employees, filled with stock phrases used by anti-union consultants designed to stoke fear, uncertainty and division.
  • A mandatory plant-wide meeting Göbel held in February to discourage workers from unionizing. At this meeting, Göbel reportedly told workers, “I don’t believe the UAW can help us to be better” and that they “shouldn’t have to pay union dues that generate millions of dollars per year for an organization where you have no transparency where that money is used.”
  • Another mandatory plant-wide meeting in February that featured former University of Alabama football coach Nick Saban. Before and during the meeting, MBUSI supervisors attempted to stop union supporters from passing out UAW hats.

A majority of MBUSI workers have signed union cards and recently rallied with UAW President Shawn Fain.

In addition to the charges against Mercedes-Benz in Germany, the MBUSI workers have filed multiple charges with the U.S. National Labor Relations Board. In late March, the workers requested an injunction against MBUSI to put an end to the company’s retaliation against workers for standing up for their rights at work.

MBUSI’s actions not only violate U.S., German and international law, they also violate Mercedes-Benz’s Principles of Social Responsibility and Human Rights. Those principles state: “In the event of organization campaigns, the company and its executives shall remain neutral; the trade unions and the company will ensure that employees can make an independent decision.”

Every Mercedes-Benz plant in the world is unionized, except the company’s two plants in the U.S.

AkzoNobel Beta web graphic v2 600px

Shop & Product Showcase