Nashville, Tenn. — Several dozen of the thousands of workers at a Nissan factory in Tennessee will hold a long-delayed vote on Thursday to unionize. Those leading the drive hope for an elusive victory at a foreign-owned auto assembly plant in the traditionally anti-union South.
After years of legal wrangling that spanned two presidential administrations, organizers successfully argued that the group of 75 tool and die technicians are eligible for standalone representation because they have highly specialized skills for jobs that cannot be performed by others at the facility. Are. The Japan-based company has argued that the workers are not sufficiently isolated from other plant workers to be eligible for their own unionized bloc.
Organizers cited several reasons for unionizing at the Nissan plant in Smyrna, about 25 miles (40 kilometers) outside Nashville. These include retirement, work-life balance and health care issues they want to discuss.
Nationwide, several high-profile unionization campaigns — at Starbucks, Amazon, Apple and other companies — have brought organized labor into a renewed spotlight as of late, even as union membership rates hit an all-time low last year. The number of workers belonging to a union actually rose 1.9% to 14.3 million, but it failed to keep pace with the higher overall employment rate.
A federal ruling in 2021 nearly killed the union campaign in Smyrna. After reversing that decision this year, organizers said the election could now be a close call rather than an easy win, saying the years of waiting had taken a toll on the campaign.
A National Labor Relations Board official sided with Nissan in June 2021, ruling that the small group of workers could not vote to unionize without adding thousands more employees at the plant. The union did not pursue a facility-wide vote.
But once the US Senate completed its confirmation of the new Biden administration appointees, control of the board shifted from Republicans to Democrats. The panel overturned the previous decision last month, giving the union the go-ahead for the vote.
Since plant workers first reached out to the machinists union in 2020, some supporters have left, others have retired and some have moved to union workplaces elsewhere, said Tim Wright, southern region with the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers Grand Lodge Representative for.
“This two-year process has cooled this campaign down to the point where it’s going to be a close election,” Wright said in an interview on Tuesday. He said he hoped the campaign could generate “discussion” with other activists as well.
A spokeswoman for Nissan, which has about 7,000 workers at the Smyrna facility, has said the company believes its workplace is “stronger without the involvement of third-party unions,” like the machinists’ union. Nevertheless, it emphasized that employees have the right to decide whether or not to join a union – a right that has been enshrined in federal law since the 1930s.
Unions faced opposition from Republican politicians when they attempted to organize foreign automakers in the South, including in Tennessee. Still, it doesn’t appear that GOP officials have tried to put too much weight on Nissan’s campaign.
Tennessee already has a large union presence at one American automaker: General Motors’ plant in Spring Hill has thousands of production and skilled trade workers represented by the United Auto Workers union.
In a radio ad for the campaign – which included former University of Tennessee and Pittsburgh Steelers football player Ramon Foster – the machinist union listed its representation of some workers at the Trance Company, Tennessee Valley Authority, Arnold Air Force Base, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, NWI Thrown light on. In aero and rail industry.
Nissan works with organized labor in the rest of the world, but votes to unionize roughly at two of Nissan’s plants in the US have been close. Smyrna workers rejected the plantwide union in 2001 and 1989 under the UAW.
The automaker’s other US assembly plant in Canton, Mississippi, rejected facility-wide representation by the UAW during a 2017 vote.
The margin was much closer in 2014 and 2019 at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee, where workers twice rejected the factory-wide union under the UAW.
A year after the failed 2014 vote, 160 Chattanooga maintenance workers won a vote to form a smaller union, but Volkswagen refused to bargain. The German automaker had argued that the bargaining unit also needed to include production workers. As a result, a 2019 factory-wide vote followed.
There’s also an open question about whether workers at four massive new factories planned by Ford in Kentucky and Tennessee by 2025 with the aim of hiring about 11,000 workers will unionize. The three plants — two in Kentucky, one in Tennessee — will be built with SK Innovation, Ford’s South Korean corporate partner, to produce electric vehicle batteries. Fourth, in Tennessee, will build the electric F-Series pickup truck.