United Automobile Workers

Apr 03 2024

UAW Files Charges in Germany Against Mercedes-Benz: Company's Anti-Union Campaign Against U.S. Autoworkers Violates New German Law on Global Supply Chain Practices

The UAW filed charges today against Mercedes-Benz Group AG for violating Germany’s new law on global supply chain practices. Mercedes-Benz's aggressive anti-union campaign against U.S. autoworkers in Alabama is 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 significant fines and bans on government contracts.

The UAW’s charges are an important early test of the act, which took effect on January 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, and it clearly prohibits companies from disregarding workers’ rights to form trade unions. Workers at Mercedes-Benz’s sprawling assembly and battery plant in Vance, Ala., are organizing to join the UAW and have faced fierce backlash from company management.

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 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 that attempted to chill union activity and violated their freedom of association. The letter was 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 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.

Despite the company’s anti-union campaign, 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. Last week, 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 United States. 

Mercedes workers are part of the national movement of non-union autoworkers organizing to join the UAW in the wake of the historic Stand Up Strike victory at the Big Three auto companies. Over 10,000 non-union autoworkers have signed union cards in recent months, with public campaigns launched at Mercedes, Volkswagen in Chattanooga, Tenn., Hyundai in Montgomery, Ala., and Toyota in Troy, Mo. Workers at over two dozen other facilities are also actively organizing. For more information, visit uaw.org/join.

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Contact Information

Jonah Furman

Feldman Strategies, team@feldmanstrategies.com