(Bloomberg) -- A group of around 86 Nissan North America Inc. technicians at a Tennessee manufacturing plant can vote on unionization, the US labor board ruled, rejecting the company’s argument that any union election should include thousands more employees.

The tool and die technicians “are highly skilled,” “have separate supervision” and are performing functions that are distinct from their co-workers, a panel of three Democratic members of the US National Labor Relations Board wrote in their Thursday ruling, which overturned a decision by a regional director of the agency.

The ruling removes an obstacle for workers at the Nissan Motor Co. facility, in Smyrna, Tennessee, to vote on whether to join the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, commonly known as the Machinists. Organized labor has struggled to establish footholds at foreign automakers’ US plants. Workers at a Mississippi Nissan plant voted against joining the United Auto Workers in 2017.

The NLRB’s general counsel issued a complaint in 2017 accusing Nissan of making anti-union threats at that Mississippi facility, including threatening to shut down the plant if workers unionized. Nissan denied wrongdoing in that case, which was settled in 2018.

“While we do not agree with the Board’s position, our history reflects that we respect the right of employees to determine who should represent their interests in the workplace,” a Nissan spokesperson said in a statement.

The Machinists union, which petitioned for a vote two years ago, praised the decision but criticized the long wait to receive it. “This ruling sets a strong precedent going forward that appropriately classifies standalone craft units,” the union said in an emailed statement Friday. “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. The IAM will discuss the ruling and its consequences with this group of skilled tool and die maintenance technicians at Nissan to determine the best path forward.”

(Updates with company and union statements from fifth paragraph)

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