Japanese Transplants and Union Membership: The Case of Nissan Motor Manufacturing Corporation
Laws, Joe, Tang, Thomas Li-Ping, SAM Advanced Management Journal
The major purpose of the present paper is to discuss the failure of unionization efforts at the Nissan Motor Manufacturing Corporation (NMMC), in Smyrna, Tennessee. First of all, we will provide brief backgrounds on several subjects: the decline of unions in the United States in general, organizational culture, Japanese management philosophy, Japanese organizational culture, Japanese transplants in the United States, and the Nissan Motor Manufacturing Corporation.
Henry Ford began production of the original Model A in 1903. By the spring of 1914, Ford was turning out two products at his Highland Park factory: Model Ts and a continuous stream of enlightened industrial pilgrims. In the early 1980s, a new pilgrimage route emerged, with Japan as the destination instead of Detroit. Just as Henry Ford's mass production methods diffused throughout the world, the Japanese production method (lean production) and management philosophy began to spread (Davenport & Tang, 1996; Rhody & Tang, 1995; Womack, Jones, & Roos, 1990). This diffusion occurred in two ways: the Japanese built plants in the U.S., and the American producers adopted the Japanese lean production method and management philosophy.
Honda made the Japanese automobile industry's first serious foreign investment with its Marysville, Ohio, complex that began assembly in 1982. Nissan, Toyota, and Mazda soon followed. A total of 11 Japanese transplants and joint ventures between Japanese and American manufacturers are now in operation. These Japanese transplants assemble about 1.4 million cars annually on the American mainland, which will account for slightly more than 20% of the automobiles produced in North America by the end of the decade (Womack et al., 1990).
The Decline of Union Membership
For the past several decades, researchers and managers of human resources in the U.S. have witnessed an unparalleled overall decline in union membership (Singer & Tang, 1996). Economic, political, and demographic changes account for the dramatic decline since the 1950s. First, the economic climate of the country has experienced significant changes, including a shift from manufacturing to service environment, an increase in white collar workers and women entering the labor market, and an erosion of the traditional union labor base. Second, the passage of the Labor-Management Relations Act in 1947, the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act of 1959, the defeat of the 1978 labor law reform bill, and the change in the composition of the National Labor Relations Board's (NLRB) membership by President Ronald Reagan have led labor decisions to favor management.
Third, an increase in tactics designed to combat unions, particularly the use of sophisticated anti-union consultants, has resulted in a decrease of almost 50% between 1980 and 1982 in the number of annual union elections held and the number of employees involved in these elections. Unions have lost 75% of decertification elections. Finally, there has been a decrease in demand for union representation by nonunion workers due to an increase in the satisfaction of nonunion workers with their jobs and a decline in nonunion workers' belief that unions are able to improve wages and working conditions (Farber, 1990). American unions have lost 5.2 million members since 1975, with 3.1 million of these losses occurring during the first half of the 1980s (Chaison & Rose, 1990). While unions at one point in our nation's history served their purposes well, some have come to believe that they have outlived their usefulness.
* The Union Quandary
GM Strike in 1996. "I'm depressed. I'm depressed. No money," stated the first laid-off worker, as Ted Koppell interviewed the strikers at the General Motors plant in Michigan on March 20, 1996 (Nightline, 1996). This worker's problem could be felt by thousands across the U.S. as the initial strike at a brake plant in Dayton, Ohio trickled down to every GM plant in the United States. …