Mississippi Nissan workers seek State Department help in dealing with company

United Auto Workers President Bob King announced Apr. 28 that his union and IndustriALL, the global union, have asked the State Department to mediate the battle between the auto giant and workers at its Canton, Miss. plant who are trying to unionize.

The unions say that it makes sense to go to the State Department for help because the U.S. has signed onto Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, a document promulgated by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). The U.S. is an active member of the OECD.

OECD guidelines call for ethical behavior by multinational corporations in the areas of human rights, fighting corruption, paying fair tax rates, and care for the environment, among other things. The guidelines also mandate fair employment policies and require neutrality when workers decide to organize a union.

The OECD is the economic and social policy forum of the most advanced industrial countries. The OECD Guidelines include labor standards established by the International Labor Organization (ILO) and require multinational corporations to “respect the right of workers employed by the companies to establish or join trade unions and representative organizations of their own choosing.”

In order to be a member of OECD a country must maintain a National Contact Point (NCP) that can serve as a forum for mediation and conciliation when there is a dispute regarding implementation of the OECD guidelines. For the U.S. that NCP is a group of experienced mediators form the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service working together under the administrative control of the State Department.

Although actual copies of the union request for State Department involvement are unavailable due to confidentiality requirements built into the process it is all but certain, union sources say, that the request includes documentation of threats against union supporters by Nissan.

Nissan denies that is has threatened union supporters in any way. “Nissan respects the labor laws of every country in which we operate,” the auto giant said in a statement.

The union is not alone, however, in its claims that union supporters are being threatened and intimidated. Actor Danny Glover, local elected officials, and churches have supported the union’s claims. The NAAP  said in its own report last year that there had been “detailed systematic management predictions that Nissan would close the factory if workers choose a union.”

“Nissan is a global company that should abide by global standards that the United States and other countries have agreed upon,” said UAW President King. “The OECD Guidelines offer a way for the UAW, IndustriaALL, and Nissan to talk to each other in a neutral setting overseen by professional mediators.”

The union hopes that by petitioning the State Department together with IndustriALL, it will be able to intensify worldwide support for the Canton, Miss. workers.  IndustriALL represents 50 million workers in 140 countries in the mining, energy and manufacturing sectors. Most Nissan workers outside the United States are members of the global union.

They also would like the NCP in the United States to collaborate with the NCP counterpart in Japan and then for the NCPS in the Netherlands and France to get on board. Nissan is a Japanese corporation linked by cross ownership to Renault, the French auto giant. Carlos Ghosn, the CEO of Renault, is in charge of Nissan too.

“There is potential here for a multinational mediation process,” said Lance Compa, an international labor law and labor rights scholar at Cornell University who is advising the UAW in this matter. He noted that labor unions successfully used an international mediation process ten years ago when they organized a clothing plant in India owned by the French multi-national manufacturer, Pinault-Printemps-Redoute. “It would be a classic labor-management mediation, but this time under international labor standards,” Compa said.

The U.S. NCP has three months to decide whether to offer mediation services to the parties. The UAW, IndustriaAll and Nissan must all accept the offer for mediation if the mediation is actually to take place.

Photo: Brazilian autoworkers are backing their brothers and sisters at the Nissan plant in Mississippi. Do Better Together Facebook page


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.