By Jack Weatherly
An updated study showing the major impact of the automotive industry on Mississippi’s economy was released Thursday as an election approaches at the Nissan plant in Canton in which the workers will decide whether to unionize.
Participants in the press conference at the Greater Jackson Chamber Partnership in Jackson voiced support for workers’ right to vote Aug. 3-4 about whether to affiliate with the United Auto Workers.
Scott Waller, interim president and chief executive of the Mississippi Economic Council, the state chamber of commerce, noted that the study was promised a year ago when an interim report was released.
However, the timing of the report by the National Strategic Planning and Analysis Research Center at Mississippi State University, coupled with current Nissan television ads touting its positive impact in the state – is helping to draw attention to the election.
The UAW did not immediately respond to the report.
Workers favoring the union say collective bargaining would improve pay and working conditions. Nissan management opposes the UAW, saying it would hurt the Canton plant’s economic competitiveness.
The UAW has never won a union vote at any of the South’s foreign-owned auto assembly plants.
“While it is ultimately up to our employees who will represent them, we do not believe that UAW representation is in the best interest of Nissan Canton and its workers,” Nissan spokesman Paul Bajaj said earlier this year.
According to the report, automotive industry employment grew by more than 64 percent from 2010 through 2016, reaching 18,251 statewide with an average wage of $50,510 compared with the state average of $37,642 for all jobs. The Nissan plant employs about 6,500.
The interim report last year touted state and local tax revenues of more than $300 million, compared with the $568 million cited in Thursday’s report.
The industry contributes $5.7 billion toward the state’s gross product, which was $107.7 billion in 2016, according to the Federal Reserve Bank.
Nissan opened the state’s first automotive assembly plant in 2003, followed by Toyota in 2011 at Blue Springs, which now employs about 1,500. The statistics include tire-manufacturing by Yokohama Tire in West Point and an expansion of Cooper Tires. Continental Tire is putting in a facility in Hinds County that is expected to employ 2,500, though it is not included in the NSPARC study.
Included in the industry is PAACAR in Columbus, which started making truck engines in 2010.
The study reports 18,251 jobs directly created by the industry and 55,000 directly and indirectly.
“Dozens of companies have located in Mississippi because of the favorable tax structure, willingness of the state and local governments to partner with them and a workforce that produces highly skilled labor,” said Duane O’Neill, president and chief executive of the Greater Jackson Chamber of Commerce and co-chairman of Move Mississippi Forward, which describes itself as “a community voice for economic development.”
Rev. Dr. Dolphus Weary, co-chairman of Move Mississippi, said the industry “has changed our state for the better.”
Mississippi is one of several Southern states that have attracted foreign automakers in recent decades, and unions have made little if any inroads in representing workers in those plants.
The UAW reported in the spring that membership rose by 7,300 workers in 2016 to 415,963, the seventh straight year of small gains for the American labor union, according to Reuters news service.
The UAW’s ranks are down dramatically from the more than 700,000 members it had in 2002 and from its all-time high of nearly 1.5 million members in 1979, Reuters reported.
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