After losing union vote Nissan workers determined to continue the fight
UAW President Dennis Williams at a rally near the Nissan plant in Canton Mississippi. | Rogelio V. Solis/AP

CANTON, Miss. – After a massive campaign of corporate bullying, funded in part by the Koch brothers and the American Enterprise Institute, workers lost their vote last week for a union at the Nissan plant here.

In an election supervised by the National Labor Relations Board workers who were not misclassified as “independent contractors” voted 2,244 to 1,307 against union representation. Some 2,000 largely pro-union workers, hired by Kelly Services, are ineligible to vote because they are technically employees of another company.

The voting, which took two days, began less than a week after the NLRB issued the latest in a string of unfair labor practice rulings against the company.

“The courageous workers at Nissan, who fought tirelessly for union representation alongside community and civil rights leaders should be proud of their efforts to be represented by the UAW,” said Dennis Williams, president of the union.

“The result of the election was a setback for these workers, the UAW and working Americans but in no way should be considered a defeat.

“Perhaps recognizing they couldn’t keep their workers from joining our union based on the facts, Nissan and its anti-worker allies ran a vicious campaign against its own workforce that was comprised of intense scare tactics, misinformation and intimidation.”

The unionization drive at the plant had the support of the state’s NAACP organization.

“We will continue to support Nissan workers in their fight for fair wages, benefits and adequate pensions,” said Derrick Johnson, the President/CEO of the National NAACP. “Furthermore, we are shocked by Nissan’s illegal intimidation tactics against its workers this week.”

For now, Nissan management appears to be gloating over the results.

“With the vote, the voice of Nissan workers has been heard,” declared Nissan spokesperson Paul Baraj, after the vote. “Our expectation is that the UAW will respect and abide by their decision and cease efforts to divide our Nissan family.”

The Nissan workers, however, seem to have their own ideas about where they go from here. And the union, possibly with the backing of the NLRB, could theoretically end up with a new election in as soon as six months.

“It ain’t over yet,” local union leader Morris Mock said to a crowd of workers after the vote. “We are going to fight a little harder next time because we never give up.”

Workers at a barber shop in nearby Jackson on Saturday said that some groups of people in the plant shouted “six months” after they learned the results of the vote. That is the length of time the union hopes it would take for the NLRB to approve a new election.

This spring over 5,000 participated in the March for Mississippi against Nissan. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., helped lead the march. Since then almost 400 additional workers at the plant joined the union.

Powerful politicians in Mississippi came down on the side of the company.

“If you want to take away your job, if you want to end manufacturing as we know it in Mississippi, just start expanding unions,” Republican Gov. Phil Bryant said over and over again on local TV and in paid ads.

Perhaps one of the scariest attacks on the union mounted by the company were thousands of closed-door one-on-one sessions held between a single worker and a boss.

After shutting the door behind them in an often windowless room the bosses would ask the worker how he or she felt about the union. In those meetings the worker was told the company might move out of Canton altogether and that the union would usher in a period of inflexible rules including stopping bosses from doing favors like granting time off to workers who need the time.

Many workers at the plant drive leased Nissan vehicles that they got at reduced rates by virtue of working at the plant. In the closed-door meetings they were threatened also with loss of their vehicles.

Following their union recognition election loss the Auto Workers are also now pondering if they can sue Nissan in federal court to deter future company labor law-breaking if and when the union tries to organize the plant again.

But that request for a federal judge’s injunction will depend on two steps: whether a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) administrative law judge agrees with instances UAW cites about the giant car-maker’s illegal actions, and then on whether NLRB officials take the case to federal court, seeking an enforceable injunction against the firm.

The Nissan vote is important to both UAW and the entire labor movement. The UAW has, for years, tried to break through at Southern “transplant” auto plants, many deliberately built by foreign automakers in worker-hostile union-hating Dixie.

And the labor movement overall is at its weakest in the South, thanks to a history there of de-industrialization, political hostility and corporate and political use of black-white tensions to divide and conquer workers. As a result, Southern states are the least-unionized in the U.S.: Mississippi (6.6 percent), Tennessee (5.7 percent) and South Carolina (1.6 percent, dead last in the U.S.), which is home of a Mercedes-Benz plant.

Political interference led to an earlier narrow UAW loss at VW’s plant in Tennessee. Nissan’s law-breaking, its large advertising campaign and in-plant intimidating anti-union forced meetings led to the Canton defeat, UAW President Dennis Williams said.

“We’re disappointed but not surprised by the outcome in Canton,” said UAW Secretary-Treasurer Gary Casteel, who directs the union’s transnational department. “Despite claiming for years to be neutral on the question of a union, Nissan waged one of the most illegal and unethical anti-union campaigns that I’ve seen in my lifetime.”

The civil rights groups, including the state NAACP, plan to keep the pressure on Nissan, too, UAW said. The Mississippi Alliance for Fairness at Nissan (MAFFAN), a coalition of faith and community leaders, will keep working with labor allies at Nissan plants around the world to keep pressuring the company to follow labor law.

They will particularly concentrate on France, where Nissan’s chairman told French federal legislators several months ago that the firm follows international worker rights standards, and would do so in Mississippi. The French lawmakers were holding hearings on the issue because the French automaker Renault – which is 20 percent government-owned – is Nissan’s largest shareholder.



Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.

John Wojcik
John Wojcik

John Wojcik is Editor-in-Chief of People's World. He joined the staff as Labor Editor in May 2007 after working as a union meat cutter in northern New Jersey. There, he served as a shop steward, as a member of a UFCW contract negotiating committee, and as an activist in the union's campaign to win public support for Wal-Mart workers. In the 1970s and '80s, he was a political action reporter for the Daily World, this newspaper's predecessor, and was active in electoral politics in Brooklyn, New York.