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UAW: Montgomery Hyundai plant workers reach union campaign milestone

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Workers at the Hyundai Motor Manufacturing plant in Montgomery have reached the threshold to hold a union election after more than 30% of employees signed cards to organize with the United Auto Workers, a union spokesperson confirmed on Thursday.

The threshold must first be verified by the National Labor Relations Board before a full vote takes place.

The new milestone comes on the heels of Mercedes-Benz workers in Tuscaloosa reaching the same threshold with the UAW, which launched a campaign last year to organize non-unionized automakers in southern states.

During a recent forum, Hyundai workers largely pointed to their pay and retirement packages as the primary reasons for supporting efforts to organize with the UAW. 

State leadership, including Gov. Kay Ivey and Helena Duncan, president and CEO of the Business Council of Alabama, have come out strongly against the organizing efforts. Both had suggested that UAW’s penetration into Alabama’s automotive industry could put the state’s manufacturing sector at risk, which has enjoyed considerable investment in large part due to right-to-work laws.

“With so much expansion, investment, and, most importantly, job creation taking place within Alabama’s automotive sector, it makes no sense to risk the UAW upending this delicate balance and reversing such positive trends,” Duncan wrote in a recent op-ed.

Nevertheless, a considerable number of Hyundai workers have embraced the organizing effort, many of whom argued unionization was the only path toward improving retirement benefits.

Drena Smith, a 19-year employee of Hyundai who works in the plant’s paint shop, said in a statement work at the plant was physically demanding and had resulted in her undergoing rotator cuff surgery on both shoulders, and carpal tunnel surgery in one hand.

“I’m getting close to retirement and the company has literally broken me down,” Smith said Wednesday. “We need compensation for that  when we retire, not just a cake and a car discount for a car we can’t afford to buy because we won’t  have any income. We need a real retirement, we need to win our union.” 

Other grievances expressed by Hyundai employees include inadequate safety procedures, such as in the case of Peggy Howard, who said she was scheduled to work too soon after a surgery.

“When you’re injured, management pushes you back on the line too soon,” Howard said, who works on the plant’s general assembly line.

Hyundai leadership is also opposed to unionization, with company spokesperson Scott Posey previously telling Alabama Daily News that plant staff had “benefited from direct engagement and communications with management,” rather than with a unionized workforce.

Hyundai workers reaching the 30% support threshold, once verified by the National Labor Relations Board, could kick off a union election where workers can vote on whether they wish to organize under the UAW. The milestone at Hyundai is the third such success for the UAW in their southern campaign, which include the Vance Mercedes-Benz plant and a Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

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