One month after announcing $1 billion in new investments in Tennessee, Nissan North America Inc. faces a surprise obstacle: a third UAW attempt to bring the union to Nissan's factories.
The union's timing may seem strange. Organizing efforts traditionally do poorly when a company is expanding, as Nissan is preparing to do.
But observers of the latest Nissan campaign say the union is attempting a rapid, low-profile organizing bid. Nissan insiders admit the effort has taken the company by surprise.
The UAW has failed repeatedly at organizing most U.S. plants owned by overseas automakers. The typical approach: Spend months wooing workers and persuading them to sign cards of support before calling for a binding plant election.
The drives have been highly visible, using billboards, TV commercials and - lately - the Internet.
A Nissan spokesman said the union has been handing out leaflets and inviting Nissan's 5,700 employees to off-site meetings. Otherwise, the UAW has not declared its presence.
A source familiar with the new organizing campaign says the union may attempt to quickly call for an election at Nissan's Smyrna, Tenn., car and truck plant before amassing a large pool of signature cards.
Harley Shaiken, a labor professor at the University of California at Berkeley, said attempting to mount a new Nissan campaign might not be such a long shot.
'Trying this during a big plant expansion can cut both ways,' Shaiken said.
'Yes, expansions tend to relieve whatever labor pressures are going on in a plant by offering people promotions and new jobs. But a big expansion can sometimes exacerbate the tensions inside a company.'
The union's urgency could be a race against the clock, an effort to try another organizing drive before the announced expansion begins.
Nissan announced in July it will hire 2,000 workers in Smyrna and at its Decherd, Tenn., engine plant. In 1998, Nissan slogged through a downturn that required the Smyrna plant to run just four days a week for months. But the introduction of the Xterra sport-utility last year breathed new life into the company, and now it is running overtime.
PRESSURE FROM RENAULT
Nissan also is under the control of France's Renault SA, which wants the U.S. subsidiary to expand. Shaiken speculated the union might be hoping for a more supportive reception from Renault than from Nissan in past years.
When the UAW lost its 1989 election in Smyrna, employees and the company CEO at the time, Jerry Benefield, paraded around the plant in celebration.