Mississippi Nissan workers to vote on union

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.

Nissan in Mississippi refuses meeting with fact-finding French lawmaker

Management at the Nissan factory in Canton, Mississippi refused to meet with a French lawmaker investigating charges that Nissan is violating workers free speech and free association rights by intimidating and harassing workers trying to form a union.

Christian Hutin is the deputy chairperson of the French National Assembly’s Social Affairs Committee. The French government is a Nissan shareholder, and Hutin is trying to find out if the French government is supporting activity that violates core principles of the French nation.

“France is a country of fundamental rights, and those fundamental rights are the rights to express yourself, it’s the right to associate, and the right unionize or not,” said Hutin in an address to the National Assembly before he left for Mississippi on his fact finding mission.

Hutin told his colleagues that he and other members of the Assembly had heard that workers at the Canton plant who are trying to form a union “are discriminated against, threatened, (and) intimidated” by management and that he was going to Canton to find out if these charges are true.

The Canton plant is owned by the Renault Nissan Alliance, a global manufacturing organization that unites two worldwide auto brands, Nissan and Renault.

The French government owns a 20 percent share of Renault and Renault owns a 43 percent share in Nissan.

Nissan recognizes unions at its plants in Japan, South Africa, Brazil, and other countries, but has conducted an anti-union campaign in Canton, where workers are trying to join the United Autoworkers (UAW).

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in December charged Nissan with violating US labor law which protects workers who want to form a union from retaliation by their employer.

Among other things, the NLRB charged Nissan’s top management with stifling workers’ right to free speech, illegally questioning workers about their union activity, threatening union supporters with retaliation for the union support, and threatening to move work at the plant to Mexico if workers voted to join a union.

Despite the company’s threats and harassment, Nissan workers continue their efforts to build a union at Nissan.

“With a union, workers can sit down with management to discuss the important issues of working conditions, policies, pay and benefits, as well as ways to improve the company’s processes and products,” reads an explanation of why workers need a union on the union organizing campaign’s website.

One of the issues that union supporters want to negotiate with the company is Nissan’s misclassification of many of its workers as temporary workers.

The UAW, which has been helping Nissan workers to organize, estimates that 40 percent of the 5000 workers at the Canton plant are classified as temporary workers, the overwhelming majority of whom are African American.

Many of these temporary workers, like Robert Hathorn, have been on the job for years.

In June Hathorn testified at the Democratic party’s platform committee that Nissan misclassifies workers as temps to avoid paying decent wages and providing good benefits.

“I was hired by Kelly Services three years ago to work at the Nissan plant,” said Hathorn, a production technician. “When I was hired, I was given less pay and benefits than permanent employees. This was because Nissan didn’t put me on the payroll, they put me on the payroll of Kelly Services. But Kelly wasn’t my real employer. They only interviewed me and gave me paycheck.”

After working as a temporary worker doing the same work as permanent workers for two years, Hathorn finally had the chance to become a permanent employee.

“But as a former temp, I will never receive full Nissan pay and benefits,” said Hathorn. “I currently earn about $12,000 less per year than I would according to the Nissan pay scale.”

Hutin said that Nissan workers need a collective voice on the job to address the inequities like the ones described by Hathorn and that he was disappointed that Nissan refused to meet with him.

He also said that when he returns to France he will inform “the French government and the French President Hollande about the anti-union practices in Canton.”

“Workers rights are human rights,” said Hutin. “In my opinion, the French government cannot ignore Renault-Nissan’s anti-worker culture and its decision to thumb its nose at US and international authorities.”