The United Auto Workers are still trying to unionize auto plants in at-will employment Southern states, and they've been trying for over a decade now with basically zero success even as the Great Recession mangled the industry and then the recovery under Obama.
But in the age of Trump, where auto sales are starting to slump again after several solid years, the push to unionize may become far more important in states where the focus on getting good high-paying jobs. The problem is nobody locally thinks unions are the answer anymore,.
For nearly a decade, the United Auto Workers union has tried to organize workers at Nissan Motor Co Ltd's (7201.T) assembly plant here, challenging the company's wages, safety record and commitment to treating African-American workers fairly.
Starting Thursday, the roughly 4,000 workers at one of Mississippi's largest industrial employers will cast their votes, affecting not only their own futures but the union's as well.
Another failure to organize a southern auto factory would leave the UAW weakened ahead of contract negotiations with the Detroit Three automakers in 2019, when many analysts forecast U.S. auto sales will be in a cyclical slump.
The organizing vote, which the UAW called for last month, has divided workers at the Canton plant, which builds Nissan Murano sport utility vehicles, commercial vans and Titan and Frontier pickup trucks.
Pro-union workers said the plant has a record of poor safety and complain that the company moved to a 401(k) defined contribution plan from a traditional plan.
"This is not about wages, I'm concerned about safety issues at the plant and about my pension," says Patricia Ruffian, 51. "They say if we vote for the union we're going to have nothing, we have to start from scratch, and that's not true."
The UAW also claims Nissan has illegally threatened workers that if they vote for the union, the plant will close. Based on those claims, the U.S. National Labor Relations Board has issued a number of complaints that Nissan has made that threat a number of times in recent years. The automaker denies the allegations. The outcome of the election could be contested, leading to a test of how the Trump-era NLRB will handle contentious labor issues.
Rodney Francis, director of Human Resources at Nissan's Canton plant, said, "Labor rights are about the right to organize, or not to organize. All we've been doing is providing employees with the facts so they can make an informed decision and at the end of the day this is about what they choose."
Nissan has strong supporters on the factory floor, who point to the history of problems at Detroit's unionized automakers and reject the UAW's arguments that black workers are not treated fairly.
"Black people are doing much better here since Nissan came," said Tony Jacobson, 52, who is black. He has worked at the plant since it opened in 2003 and makes $28 per hour - comparable to the top rate for unionized workers at General Motors Co (GM.N) or Ford Motor Co (F.N). "I'm trying to save our livelihoods, I don't want Canton to be like Detroit."
If you haven't noticed, the fearmongering from FOX and Friends (and friends) are that Detroit's economy was destroyed by unions, and that if places unionize in 2017, they'll simply go to another plant in another state without them and leave the community destroyed. Unfortunately, a lot of automakers and other large multinational corporations are big enough to do just that with their North American operations.
But unions have to start somewhere and grow membership or perish. We'll see what the vote turns out to be, but if it's anything like Volkswagen's plant in Tennessee a few years back, I wouldn't hold out for too much hope.