Organized labor leaders are licking their wounds after workers at a Mississippi Nissan plant overwhelmingly voted to reject unionization and maintain a direct relationship with their employers, and that’s view that’s becoming more and more attractive to employees in Right to Work states.
By the lopsided vote of 2,244-1,307, Nissan employees resisted the high-dollar effort by the United Auto Workers, or UAW, to become the voice for all workers at the facility. And while labor officials are protesting the vote, Right to Work activists are cheering a major win.
“I don’t know that the UAW ever made a case for why joining the union and having the union have monopoly control over all these workers’ situations and their contract and everything else was a good deal for the workers in Mississippi,” said Patrick Semmens, vice president for public information at the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation.
He says the UAW leaders seemed to focus mainly on why unionization would be good for them.
“It was very clear why the UAW, from an organizational standpoint, wanted a victory in the South in a Right to Work state to show that they can organize a plant that wasn’t part of the traditional Big Three (of General Motors, Ford and Chrysler),” said Semmens.
“The fact that that’s in the institutional interest of the UAW from their headquarters in Detroit doesn’t do much for workers in Canton, Mississippi, where they see these jobs as far better than any of the other options in their community,” added Semmens.
In the end, the UAW lost the vote by more 25 percent despite spending huge amounts of money and bringing in pro-union figures to help make the sale.
“We don’t know exactly how much they spent on Nissan but I would not be surprised if it’s seven figures. They’ve been working there for years. They flew down Bernie Sanders and Danny Glover just in the past couple of weeks. This is an all-out, full court press but obviously they didn’t make the case to workers, who ultimately voted against the UAW,” said Semmens.
And what would be the impact if the workers did choose to unionize?
“If this vote had gone the other way, the UAW would have been installed as the monopoly bargaining representative. That means they represent every single worker, not just those who voted ‘yes’ but all of them, including those who don’t want anything to do with the union and think they’d be better off representing themselves,” said Semmens.
“A worker’s freedom is being taken away, where they’re told you can no longer go into your boss and say, ‘Hey, maybe I have an idea for how to make things work better,’ or ‘Here’s a problem I have. I’d like to work to find a solution.’ Instead, you have to go through the union as an intermediary between the worker and management,” said Semmens.
Semmens points out that UAW membership, which is now a bit more than 400,000, is a about a quarter of what it was a few decades ago. And he says it’s not because of a lack of jobs in the auto industry. He admits times are tougher for the Big Three, but that’s only part of the story.
“In the Right to Work states, we’ve seen a booming auto industry: Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Volkswagen, all these foreign-based automakers are creating massive investment and tens of thousands of jobs,” said Semmens.
However, the results in Canton are not official. That’s because the UAW accuses Nissan of pressuring workers to reject unionizing and the National Labor Relations Board is now investigating the issue. Semmens says the overwhelming vote should put an end to the protest but he acknowledges that the process has to play out.
“It’s certainly true that this is not completely over yet, but obviously the margin of victory for those who opposed the UAW in Mississippi is pretty substantial. It’s certainly going to make it more difficult for union organizers to get this election overturned,” said Semmens.
Semmens also finds the accusations against Nissan curious given what he says are frequent heavy-handed tactics from the unions themselves in these votes. He says a recent ordeal when workers tried to get rid of their UAW affiliation in neighboring Alabama is a good example.
“It took them five votes because the UAW kept overturning the vote to actually vote out and remove the UAW. In one case, they even got the vote overturned because a worker from another facility owned by the same company came and told the workers, and this was totally truthful, factual information, that he made more money than workers under the UAW contract,” said Semmens.
Semmens says the UAW would be smart to encourage voluntary unionization, but he says the thirst for power inside big labor makes that impossible.
“Unfortunately, organized labor as a whole, and the UAW as one of the major unions, has embraced the idea that what they need is more government power to compel workers to be part of the union, to make it easier to organize workers and that sort of thing,” said Semmens.
“So they’ve focused far too much on getting the government to give them power over workers and over companies instead of actually convincing workers that joining voluntarily would be a good decision for them and that paying dues might actually be a good use of their money,” said Semmens.