Ex-con­tract work­ers at Nis­san plant paid less, get union pitch

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - BUSINESS & FARM - JEFF AMY

CAN­TON, Miss. — A de­ci­sion at Mis­sis­sippi’s Nis­san Mo­tor Co. plant on United Auto Work­ers rep­re­sen­ta­tion will hinge on a key vot­ing bloc of 1,500 Nis­san em­ploy­ees who were ini­tially hired through con­tract la­bor agen­cies.

Those work­ers say they make less than long­time Nis­san em­ploy­ees and have worse ben­e­fits, and union 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 longterm, sta­ble jobs with some of the most com­pet­i­tive wages and ben­e­fits in Mis­sis­sippi,” spokesman Parul Ba­jaj said in a state­ment.

Con­tract work and work­ers on sec­ond-tier pay scales have also been a ma­jor ir­ri­tant for union sup­port­ers at au­tomak­ers na­tion­wide. Union­ized au­tomak­ers Ford, Gen­eral Mo­tors and Chrysler agreed to grad­u­ally end sec­ond-tier wage scales in their most re­cent United Auto Work­ers con­tracts, and union 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 said.

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 Daim­ler 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 so­ci­ol­o­gist who has stud­ied unions.

“The pres­ence of con­tract work­ers re­duces the bar­gain­ing power of full-time work­ers,” he said.

Be­tween 3,500 and 4,000 of the 6,400 work­ers at the Nis­san com­plex just north of Jack­son are ex­pected to be el­i­gi­ble to vote in the elec­tion set for Aug. 3-4.

It’s the first- ever union elec­tion at the Can­ton plant, al­though the United Auto Work­ers lost two ear­lier votes at Nis­san’s other Amer­i­can assem­bly plant in Smyrna, Tenn. Union sup­port­ers say the United Auto Work­ers could help ne­go­ti­ate bet­ter wages, ben­e­fits and work­ing con­di­tions at the plant. The com­pany is urg­ing work­ers to re­ject the union, say­ing the United Auto Work­ers would be an eco­nomic

bur­den.

The Ja­panese au­tomaker has em­ployed some con­tract work­ers in Can­ton since the plant opened in 2003. While the com­pany prides it­self on never hav­ing laid off a di­rect Nis­san worker — though it cut their hours dur­ing the re­ces­sion — con­tract work­ers were cut as car sales plum­meted. Nis­san turned to con­tract work­ers in a big way when pro­duc­tion be­gan to re­bound in 2011.

The prac­tice of adding tem­po­rary la­bor dur­ing pro­duc­tion in­creases and new model launches is com­mon prac­tice across the au­to­mo­tive in­dus­try, Ba­jaj wrote.

To­day, all new pro­duc­tion work­ers at Nis­san’s two assem­bly plants, plus its en­gine plant in Decherd, Tenn., are ini­tially hired through con­tract

agen­cies, Ba­jaj said. In Can­ton, Kelly Ser­vices wrote in a June em­ploy­ment list­ing that pay starts at $13.46 an hour, ris­ing as high as $17.30 an hour, with the chance to join Nis­san per­ma­nently within six months. But work­ers who make the switch stay on the same wage scale, said Akemp­tisha Bai­ley of Can­ton, who started with Kelly in 2012 and is now a su­per­vi­sor in the paint shop.

Nis­san tech­ni­cians hired be­fore the re­ces­sion make a top wage of $26.02, union of­fi­cials say, while new con­verts are lim­ited to a top wage of about $24 an hour. That dif­fer­ence could be worth more than $4,000 a year in pay.

The com­pany says it be­gan con­vert­ing some work­ers at the three plants to its pay­roll in 2012, the same year the union pub­licly protested the use of

tem­po­rary work­ers, al­though fig­ures pro­vided to the Mis­sis­sippi state au­di­tor show di­rect Nis­san em­ploy­ees didn’t be­gin to rise sig­nif­i­cantly un­til 2014. Ba­jaj said the com­pany has put 1,500 work­ers on its pay­roll in Can­ton from Kelly and Minact Lo­gis­ti­cal Ser­vices, a ma­te­ri­als han­dling con­trac­tor, the first time Nis­san has ever re­leased num­bers.

Bai­ley said that join­ing Nis­san’s pay­roll was great “morale-wise.” Be­cause she’s a man­ager, she can’t vote in the elec­tion, al­though she op­poses the union.

“I can put food on my ta­ble with­out wor­ry­ing about hav­ing to pay my light bill,” she said, say­ing her fam­ily’s eco­nomic se­cu­rity is much im­proved.

Union sup­port­ers say re­liance on con­tract or tem­po­rary em­ploy­ees is still a prob­lem in Can­ton. They ar­gue that it un­der­mines the bar­gain that Nis­san made with Mis­sis­sippi in ex­change for what could be more than $1 bil­lion worth of sub­si­dies and tax breaks over 30 years.

“We can­not have per­matemps here,” union sup­porter Rah­meel Nash said. “That’s not what you promised the state of Mis­sis­sippi. You promised the state of Mis­sis­sippi that we would have good-pay­ing, full­time jobs.”

Nis­san hasn’t been ac­cused of vi­o­lat­ing the le­gal re­quire­ments of its in­cen­tive agree­ments, and Ba­jaj said Nis­san has lived up to the spirit as well, in­vest­ing $3.3 bil­lion.

“Nis­san is proud to call Mis­sis­sippi home, and it is clear that we have had been a ma­jor con­trib­u­tor to the state since ar­riv­ing in 2003,” she wrote.

AP file photo

An assem­bly line worker uses a lift to move a back seat into a new Nis­san Al­tima sedan at the Nis­san Can­ton Ve­hi­cle Assem­bly Plant in Can­ton, Miss.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.