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Tough Laws, Reduced Ranks _ What Next For Unions?

Everlyn Cage, a Nissan worker, wants UAW representation. "A union," she says, "would help us have a voice at the plant. It would help us sit down and negotiate our safety."

Cage says Nissan has used "fear tactics," including roundtables with company officials suggesting the plant will close if workers unionize. Similar complaints have come from some Smyrna workers. Many colleagues, she says, tell her they'd support a union "but they don't want to come out publicly. They say, 'We have families and children and we need our jobs.'"

Nissan says accusations of intimidation are "simply false." It also notes the company didn't lay off any U.S. workers during the recession when demand dropped and workers shifted to non-production jobs without getting pay cuts.

Kimberly Ragsdale, a Nissan worker in Canton, says her job helped finance two of her kids' college educations â¿¿ something that would have been impossible in her previous $10-an-hour position driving a forklift.

She thinks unions are pointless. "Why," she asks, "would you pay somebody to talk for you when you have the freedom to voice your own opinion?"

Her message for union supporters: "If they're not satisfied with Nissan, they should leave and leave us alone. If it was that bad here, why have you been here all these years?"

It's no surprise the UAW faces an uphill battle in red-state Mississippi, where unions represent a small fraction of workers.

But last fall in Pennsylvania, workers at JWF Industries, a metal manufacturer for the defense, oil and gas industries in Johnstown, voted 194-38 against joining the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers.

Bill Polacek, company CEO and son of a union steelworker, appealed to his workers, saying he could point in every direction to unionized companies that were vacant or torn down. "If the union can promise you job security, why are all these companies not here anymore?" he says he told them. "A union can't promise you anything. All they can do is promise you union dues."

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