Mercedes-Benz workers in Alabama begin voting on whether to join UAW Workers at Mercedes-Benz in Alabama start voting this week on whether to join the United Auto Workers union. Last month, Volkswagen workers in Tennessee voted overwhelmingly to unionize.

Auto workers in Alabama are voting on joining a union. Here's what you need to know

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In Alabama, a high-stakes election gets underway today. Workers at Mercedes Benz begin voting on whether to join the United Auto Workers Union. NPR's Andrea Hsu reports.

ANDREA HSU, BYLINE: No doubt most everyone at Mercedes was paying attention last month when workers over at Volkswagon in Tennessee voted overwhelmingly to unionize.


SHAWN FAIN: You guys are leading the way, and we're gonna carry this fight on to Mercedes and everywhere else.


HSU: Now it's pretty clear Mercedes doesn't want a repeat of that in Alabama. David Johnston, who works at the battery plant, says they've been barraged with antiunion videos and closed-door meetings.

DAVID JOHNSTON: The entire message in those meetings is vote no, vote no, vote no.

HSU: Mercedes said in a statement to NPR that it fully respects its employees' choice on the matter. But to workers, the message was...

JOHNSTON: We don't think you need to do this. This is not what you want.

HSU: And they've been getting an earful from the state's political leaders as well. In an op-ed, Alabama House speaker Nathaniel Ledbetter called the UAW a dangerous leech that sucked all the blood out of Detroit. Commerce Secretary Ellen McNair warned on Alabama Public Television that unionizing at Mercedes could cost the state jobs.


ELLEN MCNAIR: Not only could there be layoffs. There could be investment made in other parts of the country or in other countries.

HSU: And McNair said Alabama's governor, Kay Ivey, has told automakers in the state to deal with their workers' discontent.


MCNAIR: Governor Ivey has been on the phone with the leaders of Mercedes and Hyundai and said, if there are issues, you need to fix this.

HSU: Mercedes appears to be trying to do just that. Two weeks ago, the company announced a leadership shakeup in Alabama. Through a video, the new CEO, Federico Kochlowski, essentially told workers, give me a chance.


FEDERICO KOCHLOWSKI: Over the last few months, I've watched closely. I've listened very carefully. And I think I understand what needs to change.

HSU: Workers have been calling for better wages and health care benefits and more predictable schedules. Battery worker David Johnston says they were promised Sundays off, but for a while, he was working 12 hours a day, seven days a week.

JOHNSTON: I pretty much missed the first year of my youngest daughter growing up. You know, that's time that I can't get back, unfortunately.

HSU: But he can vote. Mercedes workers have until Friday to cast their ballots. Andrea Hsu, NPR news.


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