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Opponents of latest AR state tax cuts say they benefit wealthy Arkansans; Julian Assange agrees to a plea deal that would allow him to avoid imprisonment in US; Tech-based carbon-capture projects make headway in local government; NV nonprofit calls Biden's student debt initiatives economic justice.

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Charges against fake electors in Nevada are dismissed, Milwaukee officials get ready to expect the unexpected at the RNC convention, and the Justice Department says Alaska is violating the Americans with Disabilities Act.

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A Minnesota town claims the oldest rural Pride Festival while rural educators say they need support to teach kids social issues, rural businesses can suffer when dollar stores come to town and prairie states like South Dakota are getting help to protect grasslands.

Workers at AL Mercedes Benz plants to make union decision

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Monday, May 13, 2024   

Today, workers at the Mercedes Benz plants in Vance and Woodstock, Alabama, will decide whether to form a union.

More than 5,000 employees are preparing for a historic vote, that could affect both their futures and the labor landscape in the South.

Brett Garrard, a worker at the Mercedes Battery Assembly Plant in Woodstock, said he believes joining the United Auto Workers represents the pursuit of such basic needs as fair wages and adequate benefits.

Over time, he said the disparities with a two-tiered pay system and reduced health coverage have made many workers feel undervalued and ignored.

"To have the UAW step in and represent us, we would have a voice and be able to sit down and negotiate," said Garrard. "And then, we wouldn't have surprise changes in health care or we wouldn't have to be penalized financially. There's many factors to it - the biggest part would be able to have a voice, to truly be heard."

The vote takes place in person at the plants, from May 13 to May 17. It's happening shortly after workers at a Volkswagen Plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee, voted to unionize last month.

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey is among the six Southern governors opposing unionization.

For Mercedes Benz worker Austin Brooks, this vote represents more than a personal gain. He said he aspires to achieve fair treatment and representation, for himself and other autoworkers.

"It'll light a fire under the workers everywhere else, saying, 'They got it, why don't I have that?'" said Brooks. "And it helps them start a movement where they work, saying, 'We want this as well. We also want to be treated this way. We also want to be treated fairly. We want these benefits. We want this coverage. We want this retirement plan; we want this 401k.'"

The potential impact goes beyond the factory floor, according to Alexander Hertel-Fernandez, associate professor of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University.

He said research confirms that higher wages and improved working conditions can stimulate local economies.

"When workers have higher wages and better working conditions, it allows them to better participate in their local communities, better support their families," said Hertel-Fernandez. "And I think there's good reason to think that this is going to help the local community in which the plant operates."

He predicted the efforts in Alabama will help amplify the future UAW efforts in the South.




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