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In an election held on August 3 and 4, the United Auto Workers (UAW) lost a bid to represent employees at Nissan’s plant in Canton, MS. Despite years of attempting to sway workers, the final vote was overwhelming: 2,244 votes against the union to just 1,307 in favor. In response, the UAW issued a boilerplate complaint that Nissan had engaged in a campaign of “intense scare tactics, misinformation and intimidation.” Of course, even if the UAW were correct, it’s unlikely to have led to such a resounding 2-1 margin of defeat. Instead, it seems workers reached their own conclusions about the UAW, and were unswayed by the parade of celebrities brought in to sing the union’s praises including Danny Glover, Senator Bernie Sanders, and Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez.
It will be interesting to see what the UAW does next. The union’s initial reaction was to fire off a new round of unfair labor practice charges with the NLRB. In theory, these could form the basis for a rerun election—although given the margin of the August 3-4 vote, the UAW might think better of taking a second bite at the apple.
The UAW might also take a page out of their Chattanooga playbook and attempt to form a micro-union, as they did when they lost an election at a Volkswagen plant. However, Nissan would almost certainly challenge the legality of a micro-union and given the changing composition of the NLRB, such a challenge very well might succeed.
The UAW could also look to other auto plants in the south, given the wide range of manufacturers operating in that region. But the union would be essentially starting from scratch, a daunting task given that 10 years of work failed to move Nissan employees.
Despite last week’s failure, the UAW can take some solace from the fact that they at least grew their membership during the eight years of the Obama administration (from 355,191 to 415,963). Not every union was so fortunate. The big prize, however, proved elusive. In the wake of the election results at Nissan, the UAW issued a fact sheet on “UAW Strength in the South.” It lists statistics such as organizing 1,323 members in Texas, Tennessee, and Kentucky over the past year, and notes that there are 66,000 UAW retirees living in the South. In the post-Obama era, perhaps that’s as good as it will get.