A Southern Strategy for Unions

Hoping to win an upcoming vote at a Toyota plant in Georgetown, Ky., the UAW softens its image in an effort to gain a toehold in a region normally hostile to organized labor. Recent history's not on their side: the union lost a 2001 election in a Smyrna, Tenn., Nissan plant that seemed a good bet to unionize. To date, not a single foreign-owned auto plant in the South has union representation.

Instead of the "old approach" of leafleting workers at the plant, the new strategy is based on a resource center where workers can learn about the union in a "non-threatening environment," together with billboard ads and "media outreach."

Meanwhile, workers at a Nissan plant in Mississippi have met with UAW representatives to air their disgruntlement about working conditions, including low wages and lack of job security. "...[T]hey're firing people for speculative reasons," says a union official. Nissan was lured to the state with a $363 million incentive package (and the enthusiastic support of the local newspaper), plus the promise of non-union workers. Of course, the company has already hired union-busting lawyers.

Some, on the other hand, argue that the future of organized labor in the South may be found in poultry plants, or possibly Miami condominiums...