MIKE ARMOUR: Let's move forward with union-free global automakers

By Mike Armour

With over 3,500 Mississippians employed by global auto manufacturers, we are blessed to have this industry in our state. And there is more good news on the horizon, with international automakers and their suppliers planning to open even more facilities in Mississippi, which will mean thousands of new jobs.
But this growth could be in jeopardy if the union bosses and the United Auto Workers have their way. Yes, the same UAW that had played a major role in breaking the back of Detroit’s “Big Three” now wish to destroy the auto industry in the south.
The UAW plans to unionize employees of global automakers, and it’s even resorted to some threatening tactics in the process. This development is bad news for Mississippians who have benefited from the thousands of good paying jobs and the growth of this industry in our state.
The partnership between international automakers and Mississippians has been so successful that two towns located near a Toyota plant currently under construction are trying to expand their city limits to be closer to this plant. The towns of Sherman and Blue Springs hope that this move will create even more demand for residential, commercial and industrial development.
Even if these towns are not rezoned, Sherman, Blue Springs and the entire region will benefit from the new jobs and construction projects that are created because of this new plant. That’s a good thing, unlike what happened when the UAW took down Detroit, causing thousands of UAW workers to lose their jobs and many plants to be closed.
The UAW’s motive is clearly driven by one thing: membership dues. UAW President Bob King said so himself. At a political action conference of union members and retirees, King said, “If we don’t organize these transnationals, I don’t think there’s a long term future for the UAW – I really don’t.”
The UAW has seen its membership numbers plummet over the last few decades, dropping from a high of 1.5 million in 1979 to less than 400,000 today. Since the UAW is hemorrhaging members because of its actions with Detroit’s Big Three, it is turning to successful global automakers.
But international auto manufacturers have been good to our state. Nissan’s plant in Canton expanded in 2008 and brought more jobs to our state. With our pro-jobs climate and strong support from our elected officials and leadership from the private sector, more expansion for global automakers in Mississippi is possible. That is, as long as the union doesn’t get in the way.
Certainly, the global automakers operating in our state were drawn to Mississippi because of its right-to-work status, enabling businesses to operate without having their employees intimidated or coerced into joining a union. Unions still exist, but employees can decide whether they want to be part of a union and pay dues – or not. Most of the people in Northeast Mississippi remember the Penn Tire strike that shut down the plant and put hundreds out of work.
This business-friendly measure will not change if the UAW enters Mississippi. But it could certainly make it more difficult for global automakers to do business in the state. Global automakers already provide competitive wages and benefits, while giving employees an open line of communication to management.
Mississippians recognize this fact.
Considering that demand for jobs at auto plants in our state remains high, Mississippians are clearly comfortable working for a global automaker without a union.
If the UAW gets involved, these international automakers may decide that it is not worth it to expand their U.S. operations. If that happens, we will say goodbye to a golden opportunity for economic growth.
Let’s keep moving forward with the global automakers in our state. They are good partners and have already provided Mississippi with so much. We need to make sure that it stays that way and that the UAW stays out of Mississippi.
Mike Armour, a Tupelo resident, heads the Mississippi Division of Applachia, a component of the Appalachian Regional Commission. Contact him at marmour@comcast.net.