Nissan offering buyouts to Tennessee employees

Published 2:45 pm Thursday, July 31, 2008

Nissan North America Inc. said Wednesday it will offer buyouts to about 6,000 employees at the company’s two Tennessee plants and eliminate a night shift at one plant because rising fuel prices and the economic downturn have slowed sales of trucks and sport utility vehicles.

The technicians and salaried employees at the assembly plant in Smyrna and powertrain plant in Decherd will be offered a lump sum of $100,000 or $125,000 depending on tenure, as well as medical and car purchase benefits, the company said.

Nissan spokesman Fred Standish said that even though the company is ending night shift truck production effective Aug. 11, it does not plan any layoffs.

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“We’ve never laid off anybody in Smyrna and we don’t intend to do it now,” he said.

Standish said employees on the shift that is being eliminated are expected to either take buyouts or move into jobs made vacant from other workers taking the buyouts.

“There’s going to be a lot of movement and realignment,” he said.

The two plants have about 1,200 more employees right now than they need, he said.

About 775 employees at the two plants took a buyout offered last year. That package included a $45,000 lump sum payment and $500 for every year of service.

Of the more generous package being offered this year, Standish said, “More incentive speaks for itself. We need to get our size of employment right vis-a-vis the market.”

Many automakers are seeing sales slump this year as gas prices have surpassed $4 a gallon and the housing market’s decline has squeezed consumer spending. U.S. auto sales were down about 10 percent in the first half of this year, with SUVs and other light trucks posting an 18 percent drop.

General Motors Corp. said this week that it will cut shifts at plants in Ohio and Louisiana as part of its plan to reduce truck and SUV production by 300,000 units this year while adding boosting output of the fast-selling Chevrolet Malibu and Cobalt cars.

Standish said Nissan has no immediate plans to increase car production in Smyrna, about 20 miles southeast of Nashville, but he added, “Our plants are very, very flexible. If everybody wants an Altima tomorrow we can certainly crank it up.”

Last week, Ford Motor Co. announced plans to retool two U.S. plants to make small, fuel-efficient vehicles instead of trucks and SUVs.

Employees who accept Nissan’s buyout offer before the Sept. 12 deadline can chose whether they would like to participate in 2008, 2009 or 2010, according to a news release from the company. Employees will also have the opportunity to sign up again in 2009 and in 2010 but the benefit levels will not be as generous.

Nissan employs about 5,500 hourly and salaried employees at its Smyrna plant, which builds the Altima coupe, sedan and hybrid, the Frontier pickup, Xterra SUV, Pathfinder SUV, and Maxima sedan. Between 4,500 and 5,000 workers there are eligible for the buyouts, Standish said.

About 1,000 of the 1,100 hourly and salaried employees work at the powertrain assembly plant in Decherd, about 60 miles northwest of Chattanooga, are eligible.

The announcement comes a week after Nissan dedicated it’s new North America headquarters in Middle Tennessee.

On the Net:

Nissan Motor Co.: http://www.nissanusa.comw