Toyota’s announcement that it will resume construction of a car factory in Mississippi was a much-needed piece of good news for both the state struggling with persistent unemployment and the automaker trying to recover some goodwill after a recall crisis bruised its reputation.
But the decision drew fire from America’s largest auto union, which accused Toyota of shifting production from a union plant to a nonunion facility.
Toyota promised to hire 2,000 workers at its nearly complete factory in Blue Springs, Mississippi, and start producing Corolla sedans by the end of next year.
The plant has been on hold since late 2008, when Toyota suspended construction as the economy fell apart and sales of new cars and trucks collapsed in the U.S.
But Toyota’s decision to build Corollas there comes just weeks after announcing the sale of a California plant that also built the compact sedans.
To the United Auto Workers Union, the key difference was the California plant was unionized, while the Mississippi plant — like the rest of Toyota’s U.S. factories — isn’t.
The California plant, called New United Motor Manufacturing Inc., or NUMMI, was a joint venture with General Motors Co. Toyota closed its doors in April after GM pulled out of the venture under bankruptcy protection last year.
UAW President Bob King pledged to step up efforts to organize nonunion workers at Toyota factories and those run by other foreign automakers in the U.S. King, who was elected to head the union this week, used his acceptance speech on Thursday to accuse Toyota of shifting jobs to a location where it can pay lower, nonunion wages. He also said the move was designed to scare workers at Toyota’s other U.S. factories.