Nissan workers reject unions pitch

It is not particularly surprising that the United Auto Workers lost the vote last week to unionize the Nissan auto assembly plant in Canton.

What is somewhat surprising is the huge margin of defeat.

The UAW may try to paint a brave face on the outcome or charge the Japanese automaker of illegal interference in the election, but the result - a nearly 2-to-1 vote against the union - was a stinging rebuke to the UAW’s years of overtures to the company’s workers.

The outcome reinforces the message that similar elections around other Southern automotive plants have sent: namely, that not only employers but the workers themselves see more potential cost than benefit from unionizing.

It’s well-established that what played a big part in luring automakers to put assembly plants in the South over the past couple of decades - besides the hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer-financed incentives - has been the lack of a significant union presence.

The unions, in their time, might have helped curb many of the worst abuses that some employers perpetrated against workers in their pursuit of higher profits. But in recent times, the unions themselves came to be perceived as the problem, demanding unreasonable concessions from employers that made the companies’ products uncompetitive. The automotive industry has been a prime example, where the Big Three domestic manufacturers - General Motors, Ford and Chrysler - were losing market share to foreign-owned companies, which could spend more of their money on improving their vehicles rather than appeasing labor demands.

The workers at Nissan, by and large, were not willing to take the chance that any boost they might get in pay and benefits from unionizing could eventually jeopardize their jobs, which are already among the highest-paid manufacturing jobs in Mississippi.

The UAW says it will press claims against Nissan that the automaker intimidated workers to vote “no.” The National Labor Relations Board will have to decide whether there is any basis for those allegations.

From what was reported, it seems as if Nissan simply conducted an aggressive marketing campaign against the union referendum, mainly stressing to employees how good they already had it.

If the company stepped over the line, that wasn’t what caused the union’s defeat. The margin of the loss was so large that it’s doubtful the vote would have been successful if Nissan hadn’t said a word in its defense.

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