Workers at the Nissan auto plant in Canton, Mississippi will soon have a chance to vote on whether they want to join a union.
An organizing committee of Nissan workers assisted by the United Autoworkers (UAW) recently filed papers with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to hold a union representation election at the factory.
The workers asked that the election take place during a two-day period that begins July 31 and ends August 1. The NLRB will make the final decision about when the election will take place.
“Nissan employees want fair wages for all workers, better benefits, and an end to unreasonable production quotas and unsafe conditions in Mississippi,” said Nina Dumas, a member of the organizing committee who has worked in the plant for five years. “The company doesn’t respect our rights. It’s time for a union in Canton.”
Despite Nissan’s best efforts to tamp down support for the union, the organizing committee’s efforts gained momentum after a large march and rally called the March on Mississippi took place four months ago.
Five thousand Nissan workers and their community supporters marched through the streets of Canton up to the gates of the factory in a strong showing of solidarity.
The Canton Nissan workers are predominately African American. They make some of Nissan’s most popular vehicles including the Altima, Frontier, Murano, and Titan.
Nissan opened the Canton factory in 2003 after the state of Mississippi awarded it $1.3 billion in tax exemptions and other incentives.
Nissan in turn was to provide local workers with good jobs and a respectful work environment.
But instead, members of organizing committee say that Nissan has disrespected its workers.
“When we speak out to demand basic protections, Nissan threatens and harasses us,” said McRay Johnson, an organizing committee member who also has worked five years for Nissan. “Employees need and deserve representation in the workplace.”
Workers have also criticized Nissan for a lax safety culture at the plant.
The US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has issued multiple safety violation citations against Nissan.
OSHA’s latest citation said that Nissan failed to provide “a place of employment that was free from recognized hazards that were causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm to employees.”
“Every day, we literally are risking our lives at Nissan,” said Rosiland Essex, a 14-year Nissan employee. “We deserve better.”
Many members of the local community also think that Nissan workers deserve better.
In fact some of them have come together to form Mississippi Alliance for Fairness at Nissan (MAFN).
MAFN is composed of prominent civil rights and religious leaders as well as students and others active in the Black Lives Matter movement.
At a July 10 media conference announcing that workers had requested a union election, Dr. Isiac Jackson, Jr., pastor of Canton’s Liberty Baptist Church, president of the General Missionary Baptist General Convention, and chair of MAFN, spoke about the importance of having a union.
Belonging to a union means that workers have certain guarantees, said Dr. Jackson
“If you have a union, you’re guaranteed that when you get hurt on the job, you will be taken care of. . . You’re guaranteed that “nobody can just walk up to you and take away your job that guarantees the support of your family. . . “You’re guaranteed to have hours that allow you to go home and enjoy your family and have a sustaining live,” said Jackson.
“You’re job’s not done till you pull the (voting booth) lever,” said Jackson urging workers to vote for the union in the coming election.
MAFN played a leading role in organizing the March on Mississippi.
One of the speakers at the march was Derrick Johnson, president of the Mississippi NAACP and a leader of MAFN.
“Workers rights are civil rights,” said Johnson at the march’s rally. “It’s about the right of workers not to be exploited for cheap labor or for free labor.”
The anti-union drive by Nissan is an effort “to keep labor cheap by intimidating labor,” continued Johnson.
The strong show of solidarity at the March on Mississippi helped some Nissan workers gain confidence in the union drive even though Nissan has conducted an aggressive and perhaps illegal anti-union campaign.
According to the UAW, the NLRB found enough evidence to issue a complaint against Nissan charging it with illegal anti-union actions.
“The NLRB complaint alleges that Nissan unlawfully threatened to close the Canton plant if workers unionized and also threatened employees with termination,” states the UAW in a media release about the upcoming election.
As support for the union has grown, Nissan has stepped up its anti-union campaign. Anti-union media ads are running in the local media market, and the company continues to interfere with the workers’ right to belong to a union.
But union supporters at Nissan have a strong base of support inside and outside of the plant.
At the recent media conference announcing the union election, Bishop Thomas Jenkins said that the struggle for a union has been an uphill battle, but the workers have endured and are on the verge of victory.
“Workers have worked tirelessly to get to this moment,” said Jenkins. “Even though they have faced much intimidation (by Nissan).
Jenkins that workers have been forced to view movies intended to make them afraid to join a union and have been forced to attend small group meetings where they’re threatened for supporting the union.
“In spite all that, we’re going to win,” said Jenkins.