For their part, anti-union workers highlighted the U.A.W.’s contributions to local civil rights and religious groups, accusing the union of seeking to buy support in the African-American community.
In the end, though, basic economics combined with a fear of change may have carried the day. Veteran workers at the plant make about $26 per hour, typically only a few dollars less than veteran workers represented by the union at the major American automakers, and well above the median wage in Mississippi.
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.” He 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 a 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. 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.
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’…