Nissan also pays a roughly similar percentage of employees’ incomes into their retirement accounts as do the Michigan automakers.
Before coming to Nissan more than 14 years ago, “I didn’t have a 401(k), I had one week of vacation,” said Marvin Cooke, a Nissan paint technician who was previously an assistant manager at a Shoney’s restaurant. “Now, I have four weeks’ vacation. I’m off on every holiday. Nissan has provided a great living for me.”
Mr. Cooke voted against the union.
While a significant number of workers at the plant, which has a total work force of nearly 6,500, are contract workers who earn lower wages than employees, they were not eligible to vote in the union election.
Publicly, Nissan emphasized how the plant was an economic lifeline for workers in the area, including one commercial in which a Mississippi pastor described how people were “fluctuating back and forth looking for jobs” before the plant arrived, but could now “come through the door knowing the lights are on, the water is running.”
The message resonated with many workers, although some found it condescending. “They were telling African-Americans look what they provided for us, but I had a job before I came to Nissan,” said David Brown, who was undecided the week before the vote but ended up supporting the union. “I had a house already, had cars already. Nissan didn’t provide me with it.”
In meetings between management and workers, and in a video featuring the plant’s top official, Nissan was more menacing, suggesting that a union would put workers’ jobs at risk.
“They’ve come out with some of the nastiest, most unprecedented attacks I’ve seen in the 20 years I’ve been doing this,” said Gary Casteel, the second-ranking official at the U.A.W. “This issue of threatening to close a facility is the worst threat you can put toward an employee.”
At one point leading up to the vote, managers delivered a slide presentation warning that in the event of a strike, most employees who walked out would not be guaranteed jobs afterward. Many workers appeared to find the presentation alarming, even though strikes are rare in the industry and replacing production workers could be difficult.
Another manager emphasized in a meeting that Nissan could decide not to automatically deduct workers’ union dues, in which case the union would end up sending workers a regular “bill.”
“It was just to deter…