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Auto workers make more in right-to-work Alabama than anywhere else in the country

Mercedes-Benz's plant in Vance, Ala. (Photo: Carol M. Highsmith)
Mercedes-Benz’s plant in Vance, Ala. (Photo: Carol M. Highsmith)

VANCE, Ala. — An estimate by the Center for Automotive Research found that the non-unionized Daimler Automotive Group employees at Alabama’s Mercedes plant in Vance, near Tuscaloosa, make more per hour than any other auto workers in the country.

The Center for Automotive Research compiled estimates of the hourly labor costs, including wages, benefits, and legacy costs at each of the major U.S. automakers. So, while the numbers below may not be the exact amount on a worker’s paycheck at the end of every pay period, it is a reflection of the many types of compensation a worker would receive at that employer.

Labor costs per employee at Daimler AG in Alabama average $65 per hour, including benefits, compared to the $58 per hour at GM, $57 per hour at Ford, and $48 per hour at Fiat Chrysler, all of which are highly-unionized.

In last place are BMW compensating only $39 per hour, and Volkswagon AG at $38 per hour.

Alabama’s other major automotive manufacturers, Honda and Hyundai came in at $48 and $41, respectively.

UAW CAR labor cost comparisons

The United Auto Workers union has long targeted Mercedes as its next conquest. A vote to unionize the Vance plant was narrowly defeated in 2014.

Alabama is a right to work state, meaning that employers can’t require union membership as a condition of employment. However, if unionization of the Mercedes plant had been successful all workers would, by requirement of contract, be represented by the UAW, not just those who are union members. Right-to-work advocates say this caveat strips the rights of workers who wish not to be a member of a union, and silences their voices.

Unions were once widely viewed as a positive voice for workers who did not have the ability to stand up for themselves. But as workplaces became safer and wages more fair, unions started shifting from workplace representation to heavy political involvement to accomplish their goals. At only 7% of the private workforce, unions are now a shadow of their former selves, although they remain a powerful bloc in the Democratic Party.

Between the Mercedes, Honda, and Hyundai plants, Alabama has become a strong player in automotive manufacturing and the state’s right-to-work laws are often credited with having played a major part in that. As president and founder of Union Conservatives, Terry Bowman, stressed during a visit to Birmingham last year that UAW representation for Alabama’s auto manufacturers would not only be a blow to current jobs, but also to the state’s ability to attract new companies.

Several companies have cited Alabama’s status as a right-to-work state as a key reason they relocated to the state, particularly Airbus and Remington.

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