Union campaign at Nissan plant gets community support

Betty Jones, Lee Ruffin, Morris Mock, Michael Carter, and many other workers at the Nissan auto plant in Canton, Mississippi  want to organize a union, so that they can have a voice on the job. Nissan management has mounted an aggressive campaign to keep workers from organizing a union.

Nissan’s tactics have sparked outrage not only among pro-union workers at the plant but among community leaders in Canton, located about 30 miles north of Jackson, and in the rest of the state. The Mississippi Alliance for Fairness at Nissan (MAFFN), whose members are religious, civil rights, political, and student leaders, recently traveled to the North American International Auto Show in Detroit where they held a press conference to demand that Nissan stop its harassment of pro-union workers and allow a fair union election to take place.

 “When workers at Nissan began to organize a union, Nissan responded with implied threats that they would leave Mississippi if workers unionized,” said Reverend R. Isiac Jackson, Jr., president of the General Missionary Baptist State Convention of Mississippi and MAFFN chair. “While we welcome the presence of foreign-owned companies like Nissan in Mississippi, we will not tolerate a company treating Mississippians as second class citizens. The Mississippi Alliance for Fairness at Nissan will carry the message in Mississippi, in Detroit and everywhere insisting that Nissan allow a fair process that allows workers to freely decide on unionization.”

Morris Mock, a technician at the Canton plant, described some of the company’s tactics.

“Since Nissan opened their plant, they have been campaigning to keep out a union,” Mock said “The company does individual anti-union talks with workers including interrogating employees about their views on the union; they have shown anti-union videos; have held anti-union groups meetings; individually warned key leaders of our effort not to be involved; created a climate of fear by implying the plant will close; and demonized the UAW as a horrible organization.”

Workers like Mock, Jones, Ruffin, and Carter would like to join the United Autoworkers (UAW) so that they can collectively address problems on their job.

For example, they are concerned that Nissan relies heavily on so-called temporary workers to do the same work as permanent Nissan workers.

Lee Ruffin works side-by-side with temporary workers who often are long-term employees but are paid less, have fewer benefits, and no job security.

Ruffin thinks that workers who do the same work should receive the same pay and benefits and have the same level of job security.

Ruffin and other Nissan workers have noticed that Nissan is filling many of its new production job openings with temporary workers, which makes the permanent workers uneasy about their own job security and their ability to protect their pay and benefit package.

Having a union at the plant would give workers a voice to address this problem.

Union supporters want a say in plant safety, working conditions, pay, and benefits, and they want input into how to improve plant processes and products.

One of the workers’ pet peeves is that Nissan pays auto workers at its Smyrna, Tennessee plant more money even though they do the same work.

Derrick Johnson, Mississippi NAACP president and member of MAFFN, said that joining a union to have a voice on the job is a civil and human right. “The NAACP and labor unions have long history of collaboration,” said Johnson. “The NAACP fully supports (the Nissan) campaign, and believes the campaign is a strong example of that partnership.”

Johnson also said that Nissan has a double standard when it comes to dealing with unions in the US. It recognizes and bargains with unions in Japan, South Korea, Australia, Mexico, Russia, Spain, and the UK.

The Mississippi Student Justice Alliance (MSJA) has also joined the campaign to support the Canton Nissan workers.

“When one of richest auto companies comes to Mississippi and starts paying new production hires half of what regular workers make, and makes them temporary workers, that is unacceptable to youth,” said Tyson Jackson, an MSJA leader . “Union busting is unacceptable to us. This is like Freedom Summer because this is a civil rights fight. The right to organize a union free of fear and intimidation is a basic civil and human right.”

To make a union representation election at fair, MAFFN, MSJA, and the pro-union workers at the plant want Nissan to allow union supporters equal time during the anti-union meetings that the company holds during work hours. Nissan, so far, has refused.

“We need equal time to hear the union’s side of whether we should have a union at Nissan,” said Carter. “That has been our demand to Nissan. If you can show an anti-union movie for 15 minutes on company time then we, the union supporters, should be given 15 minutes on company  time.”

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