By on October 3, 2017

Nissan titan assembly Canton Factory

The South has been a longstanding hurdle for the United Auto Workers. Having been unsuccessful in its efforts to organize foreign-owned automakers outside its Midwestern stronghold for years, the UAW is running out of options. Mercedes-Benz, Volkswagen, and Tesla have all managed to stave off unionization and many wondered what the UAW would do after its most recent loss at a Nissan plant in Canton, Mississippi.

It decided to double down.

Despite losing the vote by a fairly crushing margin, the UAW has sought intervention through the National Labor Relations Board by formally accusing Nissan of playing dirty. But how the legal proceedings will play out is a matter of some controversy, and the group’s strategy is somewhat muddled. 

The union has provided the NLRB with evidence of what it calls a ratings system Nissan used to track its employees’ willingness to organize. The UAW had been making public claims that the automaker waged an ugly campaign against it prior to August’s vote, and the Labor Relations Board has pursued some of those charges. Among them are allegations that Nissan threatened to fire employees for union activity and corporate rumors that the plant would be abandoned if its workforce elected to organize under the UAW.

Nissan has publicly stated that all the claims against it are categorically false. But Bloomberg cited two sources as validating the automaker’s surveillance measures.

Eric Hearn, who’s been with Nissan since 2012, said he confronted his supervisor before the vote, asking whether the company was rating employees based on their union stance. The supervisor said he was “quite sure” that was the case. Hearn later returned to the plant with a shirt reading “I am not a -2,” a reference to the rating he heard Nissan gave to the most pro-union employees.

Hearn also stated he believed workers in favor of unionizing were being surveilled by management and security. He made mention of an instance when he and other pro-union employees attempted to sign up their peers at the factory entrance as high-ranking staffers stood by. In addition to the proposed monitoring, Hearn noted it also worked as an intimidation tactic against prospective converts. “They wouldn’t even look at you,” he said.

One former supervisor, Calvin Ealy, backed up some of those claims. Fired in 2013, Ealy said company officials requested he provide information about how employees were likely to vote.  “I knew at the time it was wrong — I considered it to be spying – but hey,” he said. “I needed a job, to take care of my family.”

However, the UAW’s goals are a little perplexing on the subject of surveillance. While the allegations point to some shady behavior, monitoring employee sentiments isn’t illegal. “The employer doesn’t have to blind his eyes, cover his ears and pretend that he doesn’t know,” said former NLRB member Marshall Babson.

It won’t be a legal issue until the Labor Relations Board decrypts how Nissan obtained the information and what it did with it afterward. For example, asking managers what their employees are up to isn’t against the law, but convincing them to check up on union activities might be. Likewise, any threats or rewards promised as a result of supporting or opposing unionization is extremely illegal. Both of those matters are incredibly difficult to prove, however.

The list itself could be damning enough. Wilma Liebman, who chaired the NLRB through the Obama administration, said if employees were informed of the ratings system’s existence, that alone could be illegally coercive. “There’s this implied message that the company people will be rewarded and the union adherents will suffer,” she explained.

Even some management-backing firms agree that the list was a bad idea. “It’s going to be very hard to explain what legitimate purpose you’re using that list for,” said Brian Paul, who trains companies on how to effectively oppose unionization.

However, the NLRB might not be as willing to listen to union concerns under the current administration. While President Donald Trump has urged automakers to stay within the countries, he’s also acknowledged that heading south would be a wise tactic — suggesting those companies would possess a stronger bargaining position with employees not operating under the UAW.

Current NLRB chairman Philip Miscimarra also has an extensive history representing companies against workers. In fact, we couldn’t find a single instance where the inverse was true while he was a practicing lawyer. It was also assumed he was tapped by Trump specifically to roll back the NLRB’s pro-union policies (implemented during the Obama administration). At the very least, he has been accused of holding a rampant pro-business stance by labor groups.

However, Miscimarra has said he will be leaving his post in December due to “personal reasons.” That means the UAW might find itself dealing with someone more sympathetic to their position before the year is out.

[Image: Nissan]

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18 Comments on “How Will the UAW’s War With Nissan End?...”

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Even if Nissan overextended its reach in taking the pulse of its workers re: unionization, it won’t change the outcome of a 2:1 vote against UAW representation. They could vote over and over again, and the UAW won’t get a majority.

    • 0 avatar

      @SCE to AUX – True but continuing to fight the issue publicly with a great amount of noise may be designed to create/maintain/increase rumblings within the blue collar ranks at other targeted manufacturers and keep things stirred up.

      • 0 avatar

        bullnuke, exactly. Organized labor cannot ever back down. If they did, no one would join their ranks.

        Look at the strong-arm tactics conducted in the past. Maybe watch the movie “Kill The Irishman.” That stuff really happened.

        Ultimately, it is up to the workers themselves to succumb or continue to resist.

  • avatar

    I live in Ingersoll, Ontario, Canada where the GM plant has been on strike for a couple of weeks. The Union is attempting to do the impossible – stop the export of jobs to venues which offer a substantially lower cost per worker hour than North America can offer. I feel very badly – these workers are my neighbors in a tiny town of 12,000 people. But I don’t believe, Union or no Union, that automobile manufacturing has a viable future in North America when vehicles can be made more cheaply, at a higher profit, than they can here. A couple of brave Union stewards here in Nowhere Canada are not going to reverse international trade agreements such as NAFTA. It’s sad but inevitable.

    • 0 avatar

      Interesting perspective. But I didn’t follow how exactly NAFTA was causing the export of jobs from North America. Aren’t the first two letters in NAFTA North America?

      • 0 avatar

        The way I understand it is the NAFTA is 3-nation, US Canada Mexico. It controls the duties of vehicles brought across the border into the USA from Mexico and Canada, which are at the same level. Therefore, importing a cheaply built GM from Mexico is a lot more advantageous than importing an expensively built car here in Ingersoll, Ontario. So, if you were GM, why would you import expensive cars from Ingersoll, Ontario when you can import cheap ones from Mexico? Why would you employ 2800 Canadians at generous wages, benefits and pensions when you can employ 2800 Mexican citizens at a fraction of the cost? Why do you even need Ingersoll, Ontario? Ultimately, I don’t think they do and my neighbors are going to take a huge hit.

      • 0 avatar

        Canadians and Americans have a tendency to forget that Mexico is part of North America. If this is what we are seeing with @hamish42’s post then I do see his point.
        Canada in negotiations with the USA and Mexico has tried to bring into NAFTA “parity” language i.e. trying to level the playing field by requiring better wage/work standards in Mexico and to rally against “right to work” language in the USA. They don’t stand a hope in hell of succeeding since anything resembling socialism is anti-MAGA in a twisted sort of way.

  • avatar

    Your explanation is logical, but it doesn’t match up with your previous conclusion: “But I don’t believe, Union or no Union, that automobile manufacturing has a viable future in North America when vehicles can be made more cheaply, at a higher profit, than they can here.”

    Whether vehicles are assembled in Canada or Mexico, they are made in North America.

  • avatar

    How Will the UAW’s War With Nissan End?

    With Americans building quality cars in Tennessee, being paid fair wages, and without meddling, useless middlemen to take part of their wages from them simply for being meddling, useless middlemen.

  • avatar

    The UAW has played a dangerous game for decades by getting political on issues they have no business getting involved with, so don’t be surprised that people with different political opinions will reject you out of hand that otherwise would have maybe been interested in what you’re selling.

    You’ll notice though that almost every single expansion from any automaker is in a right-to-work state where the UAW has no foothold. Something tells me workers in those states have noticed also.

  • avatar

    At another OEM, people were told a few years ago: “Unionize and we move our production to Mexico”. They chase union reps by calling the cops when they are anywhere around their plant(s).

    • 0 avatar

      I don’t understand what’s wrong with telling the truth. They should just give out a list of the auto factories that have closed in the US. They all had one thing in common.

  • avatar

    Typical leftist behavior – when they can’t win in the marketplace of ideas to shift public opinion and win elections, they take their policies and positions to what they hope will be leftist leaning judges or government bureaus to thwart the will of the people, because obviously the “people” don’t know what is good for them.

    • 0 avatar

      Isn’t that normal left leaning behavior? I’ll start by saying that I’m a registered independent.

      It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that the left has groomed a huge portion of society to be completely reliant on the government- thru extreme overuse (and largely abused) social welfare programs and over reaching regulation and social intervention. They’ve seemingly eliminated the need for a desire for self improvement.

      The oddest part to me is that most leftists seem to not only approve of the government completely coddling all of human existence, they also seem to dislike governmental reliance. I can’t figure that one out.

  • avatar

    It’s strange that Volkswagen isn’t unionized. Company management indicated that they were open to unionization (and even welcomed it) before construction of the plant started. What caused them to change their minds? Was it because they didn’t see the UAW as being a partner like IG Metall?

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