Dozens of people at Nissan’s Smyrna, Tennessee plant will vote on their union -Dlight News

Dozens of people at Nissan's Smyrna, Tennessee plant will vote on their union

Nashville, Tenn. – Several dozen of thousands of workers at a Nissan factory in Tennessee will hold a long-delayed vote Thursday on whether to unionize. Those leading the drive are hoping for an elusive victory at foreign-owned auto assembly plants in the traditionally anti-union South. After years of legal wrangling spanning two presidential administrations, organizers successfully argued that a group of 75 tool and die technicians were eligible for sole representation because they had highly specialized skills for a job that could not be performed by others at the facility. The Japan-based company has argued that the employees are not sufficiently different from workers at other plants to be eligible for their own union group. Organizers cited a variety of reasons for the integration at the Nissan plant in Smyrna, about 25 miles (40 kilometers) outside of Nashville. Among them are retirement, work-life balance and health care issues they want to negotiate. Several high-profile unionization campaigns have given organized labor a renewed spotlight of late at companies nationwide, including Starbucks, Amazon, Apple and others, even as union membership hit an all-time low last year. The number of unionized workers actually rose 1.9% to 14.3 million, but failed to keep pace with the higher overall employment rate. A federal ruling in 2021 nearly killed Union Drive in Smyrna. After that decision was reversed this year, organizers said the election could now be a close call rather than an easy victory, saying years of waiting had taken a toll on the campaign. A National Labor Relations Board official sided with Nissan in June 2021, ruling that a small group of workers could not vote to unionize without including thousands more employees at the plant. The union did not pursue a facility-wide vote. But once the US Senate finished confirming new Biden administration appointees, control of the board shifted from Republicans to Democrats. The panel overturned an earlier ruling last month, giving the union the green light for the vote. Since workers at the plant first reached out to the machinists union in 2020, some supporters have quit, others have retired and some have moved to unionized workplaces elsewhere, said Tim Wright, the South Region Grand Lodge representative with the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers. “This two-year process, it cooled this campaign down to the point where this is potentially going to be a close election,” Wright said in an interview Tuesday. He said he hopes the campaign can create “buzz” with other workers as well. A spokeswoman for Nissan, which has about 7,000 employees at the Smyrna facility, said the company believes its workplace is “stronger without the involvement of third-party unions” such as the machinists union. Still, it insists that employees have the right to decide whether to join a union—a right that has been enshrined in federal law since the 1930s. Republican politicians face opposition when unions try to organize at foreign automakers in the South, including in Tennessee. Still, it doesn’t appear that GOP officials have tried to put much weight on the campaign at Nissan. Tennessee already has a large union presence among American automakers: the General Motors plant in Spring Hill has thousands of manufacturing and skilled trades workers represented by the United Auto Workers union. In a radio ad for the campaign—which featured former University of Tennessee and Pittsburgh Steelers football player Ramon Foster—the machinists union highlighted the representation of several workers at the train company, the Tennessee Valley Authority, Arnold Air Force Base, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, NWI. In the aero and railroad industry. Nissan works with organized labor in the rest of the world, but a vote to unionize widely at two Nissan plants in the US has not come close. Workers in Smyrna rejected a plantwide union under the UAW in 2001 and 1989. The automaker’s other US assembly plant in Canton, Mississippi, rejected facility-wide representation by the UAW during a 2017 vote. The margins were close in the 2014 and 2019 votes at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee, where workers twice rejected a factory-wide union under the UAW. A year after the failed 2014 vote, 160 Chattanooga maintenance workers won a vote to form a small union, but Volkswagen refused to make a deal. The German automaker argued that the bargaining unit needs to include production workers as well. Consequently, 2019 factory-wide votes followed. There’s also an open question about whether workers at four new factories planned by Ford in Kentucky and Tennessee by 2025, with the goal of hiring about 11,000 workers, will unionize. Three plants — two in Kentucky, one in Tennessee — will be built with Ford’s South Korean corporate partner, SK Innovation, to produce electric vehicle batteries. A fourth, in Tennessee, will build the electric F-Series pickup truck.
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