The United Auto Workers union is trying to make inroads with a foreign automaker’s factories in the U.S., and is attempting to unionize two Nissan plants in Tennessee and Mississippi. The Detroit News reports that UAW employees are trying to convince workers at the Nissan factories that pay disparities exist between the locations. The union also claims Nissan has belittled the UAW and warned employees against involvement — accusations that Nissan strongly denies.
After signing new labor contracts with Detroit’s Big Three domestic automakers last year, the UAW has made it clear that its next goal is to organize labor unions at transplant factories — that is, plants on American soil that are owned by foreign automakers. We had previously heard that the UAW was focusing its attention on unionizing plants owned by Volkswagen and Mercedes-Benz parent Daimler, but now it seems the group is aggressively pursuing Nissan workers instead.
The UAW has reportedly been courting workers from the Nissan plant in Canton, Mississippi since late 2011. Among the group’s tactics has been pointing out pay gaps between that factory and another Nissan one in Smyrna, Tennessee. The UAW alleges that workers in Canton are paid $1.50 less per hour than their counterparts in Smyrna. Moreover, the group claims that Nissan workers are “forced” to listen to anti-union meetings several times per week.
“At these meetings, company management tries to scare workers about unionization, interrogates them about their support for the union, and tries to convince them not to support a union,” UAW president Bob King told the The Detroit News.
Nissan spokesman David Reuter denied all the accusations, and told us that, “Nissan’s wages and benefits are competitive, and Nissan has never laid off a single employee in the nearly 30 years it’s had manufacturing operations in the U.S.” He said that while Nissan has provided employees with information on the UAW, the company hasn’t “intimidated” or “pressured” workers about the issue.
The UAW tried to organize the Smyrna plant in 1989, but 70 percent of employees voted against the move. The union tried again in 2001, and 68 percent of workers voted against unionizing. The UAW tried to gain a foothold at the Canton plant in 2005 and 2007, but both times the group failed to establish enough support to call an election on unionizing.
“The UAW’s efforts at organizing our facilities are not new to Nissan,” Reuter said. “Each time the UAW conducted a campaign that led to a union election at one of our plants, employees voted overwhelmingly against organizing.”
The Nissan plant in Canton, Mississippi opened in 2003 and can build about 400,000 vehicles annually. It currently produces the Altima, Armada, Titan, and NV commercial van. The plant in Smyrna, Tennessee opened in 1983 and has an annual capacity of 550,000 vehicles. Today it is responsible for the Altima, Frontier, Maxima, Pathfinder, and Xterra. Later this year, production of the Xterra and Frontier will shift to Canton, making room for Smyrna to begin producing the Nissan Rogue and Leaf, and Infiniti JX.
Sources: The Detroit News, Nissan