Large rally and march boost Nissan workers union drive

It looked like a river of red as pro-union workers and their supporters wearing red t-shirts marched to the Nissan factory in Canton, Mississippi to deliver a letter to management.

The letter demanded that Nissan stop harassing and intimidating African-American workers who are trying to organize a union at Nissan.

Before the march, workers rallied at an empty field near the auto plant to hear speakers express their support for the workers’ organizing drive.

The march and rally were organized by the Mississippi Alliance for Fairness at Nissan (MAFFAN), a coalition of civil right leaders, ministers, and labor rights activist, and supported by the United Autoworkers (UAW).

Nissan workers in Canton have been fighting for a union for years.

Danny Glover, a well-known actor and leading civil rights and labor rights activist, praised the workers for standing up to company threats and intimidation and said that they have support from all over the world.

Glover noted that in addition to people from all over the US expressing their support for the Nissan workers, union workers at Nissan plants in Europe, South America, and Japan came to Canton to show their solidarity.

Whatever Nissan does to undermine your strength,” said Glover at the rally. “We’re here to stand with you; we’re right behind you; we’ve got extra backbone to help you stand up for your rights.”

Pro-union workers say they need a union because Nissan does not care about their health their safety, or their dignity.

They point to the death of Nissan worker Derrick Whiting who passed out and died while working on a production line.

Workers at the scene report that as Whiting lay dying, Nissan continued to run the production line.

They point to a recent snow storm that caused hazardous road conditions that threatened the safety of drivers.

Despite the safety threat, Nissan ordered its workers to come to work or face losing their jobs.

They point to the large number of temporary workers at the plant who have worked at Nissan for years but are still classified as temporary workers.

These so-called temps are paid less than permanent workers and have few if any benefits.

They point to the lack of safety at the Nissan plant.

According to the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which investigated safety problems at the Canton plant, Nissan “did not furnish employment and a place of employment which was free from recognized hazards that were causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm to employees.”

An estimated 80 percent of the production workers at the Canton plant are African-American, which makes the fight for worker rights at Canton a fight for civil rights.

Derrick Johnson, president of the NAACP said that shortly after Nissan opened the Canton plant in 2003, the offices of the NAACP began receiving complaints of mistreatment at the plant.

Johnson said that the NAACP got involved in supporting the Nissan workers because “we understand that an injustice to any of us is an injustice to all of us.”

“Workers rights are civil rights,” continued Johnson. “It’s about the right of workers not to be exploited for cheap labor or for free labor.”

The anti-union drive by Nissan labor is an effort “to keep labor cheap by intimidating labor,” said Johnson.

Cornell Brooks, president of the NAACP nationally, said that it gave him “great pleasure to stand in solidarity with workers who are simply trying to be recognized not just as workers but as people and citizens.”

The Nissan workers also heard that the Sierra Club, the nation’s largest environmental group, is supporting Nissan workers right to organize.

Aaron Mair, president of the Sierra Club whose father was an autoworker and a UAW member, told the workers that the fight for worker rights intersects with the right to a clean environment.

“You can’t have clean air, clean water, clean soil if you have a degraded labor force,” said Mair.

Mair said that the Nissan workers had the 2.8 million members of the Sierra Club on their side.

“If organized labor falls, we all fall,” said Mair.

The final speaker was US Senator Bernie Sanders.

“The eyes of the country and the world are on you,” Sanders told the Nissan workers. “You have shown incredible courage standing up for justice, standing up for a union.”

Sanders went on to say that unions are more important than ever.

“The middle-class is shrinking,” and the only way to reverse is trend and win decent wages for all workers is to unionize more workers, said Sanders.

Nissan reported $6 billion in profits and paid its CEO $9 million, but it continues to participate in a race to the bottom when it comes to paying its workers, continued Sanders. Nissan needs to share its wealth with workers who create it.The only way that they’re going to do that is if the workers have a union.

Sanders told Nissan that it should stop its intimidation campaign against union supporters and allow workers to vote on a union.

“Allow workers the freedom to vote their conscience,” said Sanders.

Supporters of Nissan workers: “Worker rights are civil rights”

A group that included civil rights activists, clergy, local elected officials, union members and leaders, and students on January 26 demonstrated outside of a Nashville Nissan dealership to protest civil rights violations at the Nissan factory in Canton, Mississippi.

“We are proud to stand with our friends in Mississippi to call attention to civil rights abuses at Nissan’s assembly plants,” said the Rev. Ed Thompson, chair of Nashville Organized for Action and Hope (NOAH), a coalition of faith leaders, community organizations, and labor unions. “We believe workers’ rights are civil rights. We’re asking Nissan to do better by its hard-working employees, and we’re asking Nissan’s dealers and customers to join us in this cause.”

The Nashville demonstration was the first of a series of planned actions being taken to raise awareness of troubling conditions at Nissan’s Canton factory, which manufactures several Nissan models including the Altima, Frontier, Murano, and Titan.

Workers at the Canton Nissan factory have become concerned about safety at the factory, a punishing production quota that exacerbates safety problems, a two-tiered wage system that pays temporary workers much less and provides fewer benefit than permanent workers, and the company’s campaign of coercion and intimidation directed at workers who want to form a union.

Workers who have been trying to form a union local of the United Autoworkers (UAW) have seen their safety deteriorate since the plant was opened in 2003.

“People get hurt too often at Nissan and these injuries can rob us of our ability to provide for our families,” said Ernest Whitfield, a 13-year Nissan employee in Canton who attended the Nashville demonstration. “We’re forced to decide if we should work with an injury, or report it and potentially lose our jobs. It strips away your dignity to feel like the company values production numbers more than the safety of the people who make it successful.”

The US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in July fined Nissan for safety violations at the Canton plant that that caused serious injuries to two workers. According to OSHA, both workers were hospitalized because of falls caused by slip hazards that the company failed to correct. One fall happened in October 2015; the other in February 2016.

At the Nashville demonstration, a delegation delivered a letter to the dealership’s owner from the Mississippi Alliance for Fairness at Nissan (MAFFAN), a civil rights coalition supporting the Canton Nissan workers.

The letter, signed by Dr. Isiac Jackson, president of the General Missionary Baptist State Convention of Mississippi and chairman of MAFFAN, says that despite promises that Nissan would “bring quality jobs to our community for years to come, over time, Nissan has decided to take a different path. Today, the company exploits its predominately African American workforce in a number of ways.”

Speaking at the Nashville demonstration, Vonda McDaniel, president of the local labor council, criticized Nissan for the disparity between what it says are its values and the way that it conducts itself at the Canton plant.

“Nissan spends hundreds of millions of dollars a year marketing itself as a socially responsible car maker,” said McDaniel.. “But the reality is, Nissan is turning a blind eye toward workers’ rights and safety problems at its assembly plants. It’s time for Nissan dealers and customers to recognize that what they’re selling and buying just doesn’t fit the image of what Nissan claims it’s producing.”

Similar demonstrations are planned for Nissan dealerships in Atlanta, Birmingham, Alabama, Charlotte, North Carolina, Greensboro, North Carolina, New Orleans, and Raleigh, North Carolina.