A U.S. labor board has cleared the way for 86 technicians at Nissan Motor Co's Smyrna, Tennessee plant to vote on whether to join a union, rejecting the automaker's claim that the unit should include thousands of production workers.
The Democrat-controlled National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in a ruling on Thursday said the tool and die workers have special skills and separate supervision, making them distinct from production employees, backing the International Association of Machinists.
The NLRB overruled a 2021 decision by a regional official who said any election should also involve employees on the production line because they share working conditions.
The ruling comes after the NLRB in December made it easier for unions to carve out small groups of an employer's workforce.
The board threw out a Trump-era standard that curbed unions' ability to organize smaller units, which business groups say fracture workplace and complicate collective bargaining.
The new union-friendly test does not apply to Nissan's case, but the board on Thursday said that under an older standard, a unit of workers who practice a distinct trade was appropriate.
Unions have struggled for decades to unionize the Japanese automaker's Smyrna factory, which opened in 1983, and other auto plants in the U.S. South. In 2001, workers in Smyrna voted overwhelmingly against joining the United Auto Workers union.
Nissan in a statement provided by a spokesperson said it disagreed with the decision, but respected its employees' rights to vote on union representation.
The Machinists union said in a statement that the decision sets a strong precedent that "craft units" should be approved.
"It is unfortunate that a broken and painstakingly long NLRB process has again allowed a company to put the brakes on workers obtaining a voice on the job without delay," it added.