Toyota's announcement that it will resume construction of a car factory in Mississippi should have been a much-needed piece of good news for the automaker Thursday.
Instead, it drew fire from America's largest auto union, which accused Toyota of shifting production from a union plant to a nonunion facility.
The company, looking to win back some goodwill after a recall crisis bruised its reputation, promised to hire 2,000 workers at its nearly complete factory in Blue Spring, Miss., 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.
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 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. 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.
"We're going to pound on Toyota until they recognize the First Amendment rights of those workers to come into the UAW," King said at the UAW national convention in Detroit.
King pledged a banner campaign at Toyota dealerships to tell customers that Toyota puts profits before people.
His attacks against Toyota follows an election in which critics accused him and predecessor Ron Gettelfinger of making too many wage and benefit concessions to automakers when they restructured last year.
Toyota sokesman Mike Goss said that Toyota closed NUMMI, which employed 4,700 people, because it could not afford to run the plant alone after GM withdrew, but that labor costs were not a significant factor.