DENNIS SEID: Union will try to make attempt at Toyota, too

By Dennis Seid/NEMS Daily Journal

If some reports are to be believed, Nissan is guilty of human rights and civil rights abuses at its Canton plant. And that, according to organized labor representatives and union supporters, is why workers should be given a choice on whether to unionize or not. Bringing in a union, proponents say, ensures workers’ rights are protected.
AFL-CIO President Robert Shaffer told the Clarion-Ledger that he has gotten several calls from Nissan employees complaining about the Japanese automaker’s handling of workers compensation claims.
But at a news conference to talk about unionizing last week, the talk mostly was about fair wages, not human rights and civil rights abuses, according to the paper.
So what does the United Auto Workers, the union representing automotive workers, intend to do?
Let’s backtrack to last year, when UAW President Bob King said his 300,000-strong union was going to target foreign automakers in the U.S.
“It is critically important for our membership to organize those facilities to keep the companies where we already represent workers competitive,” he said. “We need to make sure that companies compete on the basis of engineering, design, quality and innovation – not on who can pay their workers the least.”
According to the Center for Automotive Research, the biggest foreign automaker in the U.S., Toyota, pays its nonunion workers about the same in wages and benefits – about $55 an hour – as unionized U.S. automakers.
We don’t know what’s really going on at Nissan any more than we know what’s really going on at Toyota’s plant in Blue Springs in terms of labor-management relations.
But wouldn’t it be suicide to treat workers so badly that a third party has to be brought in? And that’s what a union would represent.
We do know about 2,000 people work at Toyota Mississippi. Production workers make $15.65 to $21.65 per hour, while skilled workers start at $22.58 and go to $27.88 per hour.
Manufacturing, which makes up anywhere from a quarter to a third of the jobs in Northeast Mississippi, pays on average about $15 an hour in the region. So by that benchmark, Toyota workers are paid competitively.
In addition, Toyota’s team members get a generous benefits package, including free generic prescriptions and full-coverage family health insurance that costs a tenth of what most workers pay at other companies.
Last fall, King threatened to boycott individual dealers of non-U.S. automakers but backed off.
“We’re shifting our strategy a little bit. We are not going to announce a target at all,” King said. “We are not going to create a fight.”
The UAW said a more diplomatic approach “will yield better results than an adversarial approach.”
Having been shut out of foreign automakers’ plants so far in the U.S., Nissan may crack open the door for the UAW.
You can bet the union has its eyes on Toyota, hoping to grow its shrinking membership.
Which means any slightest hiccup or incident will likely be pounced upon.
Dennis Seid is the business editor at the Daily Journal. Reach him at (662) 678-1578 or dennis.seid@journalinc.com.