Auto workers at Canton, Mississippi Nissan plant to hold union election
Danny Glover meeting with workers in Mississippi. | Joseph Atkins

CANTON, Miss. (PAI) — Capping a multi-year organizing drive with notable civil rights overtones, the United Auto Workers filed union recognition election cards on July 11 for a vote among workers at the Nissan auto plant in Canton, Miss. They seek it on July 31-August 1.

If the UAW wins at Nissan, where 4,000 of the 6,000 workers are eligible to vote, it would be a major step in the union’s long campaign to organize so-called “transplant” auto plants in the worker-hostile South.

The “transplants” are factories that foreign and some domestic automakers deliberately establish in Dixie to avoid unions and worker demands for decent wages and benefits. Firms also try “divide and conquer” tactics pitting whites against African-Americans.

Nissan’s Canton plant is one of only three non-union Nissan factories worldwide, UAW said. The other two are in anti-union Tennessee. There, UAW lost narrowly at Volkswagen’s Chattanooga plant after heavy-handed political interference from Republican state officials, including the governor and Sen. Bob Corker, the city’s former mayor.

Key issues in the organizing drive at Canton are wages, benefits, “and an end to unreasonable production quotas and unsafe conditions in Mississippi,” Nissan technician Nina Dumas, a 5-year veteran, told UAW. “The company doesn’t respect our rights. It’s time for a union in Canton,” Dumas added. The election would be among blue-collar workers like her.

Nissan labor law-breaking accompanied UAW’s organizing drive, leading to complaints to the National Labor Relations Board. Violations included letting Nissan’s temp-hire agency, Kelly Services, break labor law by “interfering with, restraining and coercing employees in the exercise of their rights.” The temps work alongside full-timers in Canton, making far less.

Another complaint to the NLRB said Nissan unlawfully threatened to close the Canton plant – which Mississippi heavily subsidized through tax breaks and other aid—if workers unionized. Nissan also threatened to fire pro-union workers, which is illegal.

“When we speak out to demand basic protections, Nissan threatens and harasses us,” McRay Johnson, a 5-year technician at the plant. “Employees need and deserve representation in the workplace.”

The Nissan workers have drawn statewide support, notably from African-American churches and civic groups and the state NAACP. A mass march for the workers in May drew 5,500 people and speakers included Sen. Bernie Sanders, Ind.-Vt., and noted pro-worker actor Danny Glover. Last year, the state earned a reprimand from the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur for Human Rights, Maina Kiai, for its anti-union culture. More than half of the Nissan workforce is African-American.

“Nissan spends hundreds of millions of dollars a year marketing itself as a socially responsible carmaker, even going so far as to brag about its appeal to African-American car-buyers,” said 14-year technician Rahmeel Nash. “But behind the scenes, the company is violating the labor rights of African-American workers who make those cars.”


CONTRIBUTOR

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Press Associates Union News Service provides national coverage of news affecting workers, including activism, politics, economics, legislation in Congress and actions by the White House, federal agencies and the courts that affect working people. Mark Gruenberg is Editor in chief and owner of Press Associates Union News Service, Washington, D.C.

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