Former contract workers key in Mississippi Nissan union vote

A bid by workers at Mississippi’s Nissan Motor Co. plant for United Auto Workers representation could turn on a key voting bloc — 1,500 workers who are Nissan employees today, but were initially hired through contract labor agencies.

Those workers say they make less than longtime Nissan employees and have worse benefits, and UAW supporters say that’s a disparity they’d like to address through contract negotiations.

“I think it’s very unfair because we’re doing the same job,” said Shanta Butler, a union supporter who started as a contract worker at Nissan in April 2014. “I think we should be gradually allowed to make our way up to what they’re making.”

Nissan, for its part, refuses to discuss specific wage and benefit levels.

“Both Nissan technicians and associates enjoy long-term, stable jobs with some of the most competitive wages and benefits in Mississippi,” spokeswoman Parul Bajaj said in a statement.

Contract work and workers on second-tier pay scales has also been a major irritant for union supporters at automakers nationwide. The unionized Detroit Three agreed to gradually end second-tier wage scales in their most recent UAW contracts, and UAW Secretary-Treasurer Gary Casteel said there are limits on contract workers. But Casteel said that “Southern workers and this model of temporary labor” may erode the high wages traditionally paid by automakers.

“They keep lowering the wages and lowering the benefit levels,” Casteel told The Associated Press in a phone interview.

The Center for Automotive Research found in 2015 that Nissan’s pay and benefits cost $42 per hour per worker, much less than the $65-an-hour cost for workers at Daimer AG’s Mercedes-Benz plant in Alabama, or the $58-an-hour cost for General Motors workers. Both GM and Nissan have given pay raises since then.

Contract workers are part of what holds the costs down, and also make it harder for the company’s employees to fight back, said Dan Cornfield, a Vanderbilt University…

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