Dozens of personnel at Nissan’s massive manufacturing facility in Tennessee declined to unionize, marking a crucial setback for labor activists who had hoped to make the carmaker the first unionized Japanese automaker in the United States.
In a vote supervised by the National Labor Relations Board, workers at the plant in Smyrna chose not to join the United Automobile Workers (UAW) by a margin of 712 to 626. The outcome was a major victory for Nissan, which had launched an intense lobbying campaign to dissuade workers from unionizing.
The loss was a bitter disappointment for the UAW, which had sought to organize the facility since 1989. The union had complained that Nissan systematically blocked its attempts to unionize by intimidating workers and threatening to cut pay and benefits if they joined the UAW.
The vote was held after weeks of heated debate, with both sides making their case through radio and television ads, robocalls, and direct mailers. Nissan argued that unionization would hurt the plant’s competitiveness, while the UAW argued that workers were forced to work long hours in hazardous conditions and were denied fair wages and benefits.
The UAW vowed to continue to fight for the rights of workers at the Tennessee plant, saying in a statement that it would “not give up until we achieve justice for the workers of Nissan in Smyrna.”
Analysts say the vote is a major blow to the labor movement, which has seen its influence in the auto industry decline in recent years. It also raises questions about the future of the UAW, which has seen its membership decline in recent years due to a shift in production to non-unionized plants.
The defeat at the Tennessee plant is a reminder of the challenge labor activists face in the 21st century, when union membership is at its lowest level since the 1930s. While the UAW has had some successes in recent years, such as organizing workers at Fiat Chrysler in 2015, the vote at Nissan underscores the difficulty of unionizing in an increasingly competitive global auto industry.