Right to Work and the Auto Industry

Over 27 years ago, on February 3, 1981, the Nissan Corporation started, what has become, a mass migration of the auto manufacturing industry away from the stagnation of Detroit and the Midwest’s forced-unionism environs to a new day, and a new way, in the Right to Work South, when it chose Smyrna, Tennessee for the site of its first ever U.S. production plant.

Mealand Ragland-Hudgins of the Tennessean.com chose the 25th anniversary of the plant’s production start to report on how it came about:

The first Nissan vehicles rolled off the factory floor in June 1983, essentially becoming a catalyst for thousands of additional auto industry jobs to follow.

“Nissan led the way for Tennessee’s emergence into the auto industry,” said U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., who was governor when the state courted Nissan as a major employer. He said Nissan also considered Kentucky as a location for the assembly plant, but chose Tennessee because of its state’s “right-to-work law” and because of its investment in a four-lane highway system.

What people forget is just how risky any new investment in the auto industry was at that time. But the promise of a brighter future in Right to Work Tennessee made the risks worthwhile.

The Japanese automaker’s decision came as much of the nation was coping with a deep recession.

“Up until that time the automobile companies had all stayed in the Midwest,” Alexander said. In 1981 and 1982, the Big Three automakers — General Motors, Ford and Chrysler — were enduring record high layoffs of full- and part-time employees amid a slow economy. Layoffs totaled nearly 270,000, according to newspaper reports.

Read on to learn more about this historic event.