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UAW Loses Bid to Enter Nissan Plant

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Nissan North America employees voted 2 to 1 Wednesday to reject representation by the United Auto Workers, spurning the union’s attempt to organize its first U.S. factory fully owned by a foreign company.

Workers at the Japanese auto maker’s assembly plant in Smyrna, Tenn., about 25 miles southeast of Nashville, voted 3,103 to 1,486, or 67.6%, against affiliating with the union.

The UAW has been unable to organize workers at any of the “transplant” factories, or those built by Japanese and German auto makers in the U.S. The margin of the loss means the union remains unlikely to be able to organize workers at other transplants, labor experts said.

The rejection put the UAW “back to square one” in trying to organize foreign auto makers, said Harley Shaiken, a professor at UC Berkeley and noted authority on labor relations. “It’s bad news for the union, a big setback.”

Dan Gaudette, senior vice president of U.S. manufacturing for the unit of Nissan Motor Co., said: “The majority of our employees have made it clear that they have no interest in being represented by the UAW.”

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“Most union elections become a contest between the employees and the union,” he said in a statement. “The contest has been a long and hard one, and it’s been disruptive, but our employees have made their choice clear.”

It was the fourth attempt by the UAW in 12 years to unionize the Nissan plant, and the second campaign to result in an election. The last vote, in 1989, had an almost identical result, with 69.5% of eligible voters rejecting UAW representation.

Bob King, the UAW’s vice president in charge of organizing, accused Nissan of a “campaign of fear and intimidation” that he said had tried to turn workers against the union.

“In this election and in far too many union elections, employers threaten workers with loss of jobs, plant closings, moving to Mexico, loss of wages and benefits, and many other threats,” King said in a statement.

He said Nissan had “conducted extensive illegal surveillance” of workers involved in pro-union activities at the plant. Nissan executives were unavailable Wednesday to respond to that charge.

The result, Shaiken of Berkeley said, does not weaken the union in its core area of strength, the traditional Big Three auto makers: General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co. and DaimlerChrysler’s Chrysler Group.

“They represent still a critical mass,” he said. “Tomorrow the UAW will be as strong going into negotiations as they were this year. I don’t interpret this as the beginning of the end of the UAW.”

The union has suffered from declining membership for years, falling from about 1.5 million 20 years ago to fewer than 700,000 last year. Along the way, Japanese and German auto makers have made huge gains in the U.S. market for new cars and trucks.

“The union will probably now back off the seriousness of organizing the transplants,” said Michael Flynn, director of the Office for the Study of Automotive Transportation at the University of Michigan.

“Nissan really pulled out all the stops,” Flynn said. “The timing of the announcement of the Maxima probably played a role.”

Nissan announced last month that it will move production of the next-generation Maxima sedan to Smyrna in January 2003 as part of a plan to expand production from 400,000 to 500,000 vehicles--and thus increase jobs at the plant, which opened in 1983.

Smyrna already assembles the Altima sedan, Frontier pickup truck and Xterra sport-utility vehicle. Nissan is building a factory in Mississippi that will produce a full-size pickup and SUV and the company’s next-generation minivan.


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