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.

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.”

1984’s Big Brother alive at Nissan auto plant in Mississippi

A report by the Mississippi NAACP and a prominent international labor attorney shows anti-union tactics used by Nissan management in Canton, Mississippi to be eerily similar to those of the notorious Big Brother, the fictional dictator of George Orwell’s novel 1984.

According to Choosing Rights by Derrick Johnson, president of the Mississippi NAACP, and Lance Compa, an international labor law scholar at Cornell University, “Nissan (at the Canton plant) has sustained a campaign of psychological pressure against organizing rights.”

The company’s anti-union campaign consists of surveillance and intimidation of union supporters, a ubiquitous set of television monitors that broadcast pro-company messages, which from time to time include subtle and not so subtle anti-union messages, and retaliation against and isolation of union supporters. On company premises, management has censored the pro-union message while allowing only anti-union propaganda to be presented in company sponsored meetings.

The report goes on to say that, Nissan also implies that if workers choose to become union members the plant will be shut down and work moved elsewhere.

These tactics, say the report, violate internationally recognized labor standards that Nissan claims to support and practice

The findings of the report are based on extensive interviews with Nissan workers. The UAW commissioned the report, but UAW staff and officials were not present at any of the interviews.

The authors offered Nissan a chance to reply to the charges against it and published those replies in their report.

While pay and benefits at Nissan’s Canton plant exceed those of most industrial jobs in Mississippi, workers have a number of concerns that led some to contact the UAW and ask for its help in forming a union.

Some of these concerns include, on-the-job favoritism, health and safety problems, lack of input about how to improve their jobs and production, and the company’s tendency to blame workers unfairly for product defects.

Nissan at Canton also relies heavily on temporary workers who make $12 an hour, well below the rate of full-time workers.

Perhaps most galling is the fact that workers in Canton make $2 an hour less than Nissan workers in Smyrna, Tennessee.

Pro-union workers hoped to address these collective concerns through collective efforts, but Nissan has tried to thwart their efforts.

One way that Nissan tries to blunt organizing is by broadcasting an anti-union message on television monitors throughout the plant.

“Every negative thing about Detroit or the UAW goes on the monitor,” said Rafael Martinez in an interview with the authors. “They want to make us think that Chevy is in trouble, and it’s all because of the UAW. Everything is negativity, negativity, negativity. They cherry-pick the news they want to present. Nothing is on there when UAW members get a bonus or a UAW plant adds a shift.”

These messages are presented in continuous loops that makes them inescapable.

Nissan also holds captive audience meetings where attendance is required. At these meetings only anti-union messages are allowed.

“I was one of the people who called the UAW in 2004,” said Rosalind Essex to the interviewers. “A bunch of us were upset about the way some things were going on in the plant, the way they treated people. After union reps came and talked with some of us, the company set up roundtable meetings for everybody. We had to go to these meetings.”

“My section’s roundtable was during the morning shift.” said Jeff Moore. “First the plant manager showed a slide show on how the UAW messed up the auto industry, and if they come here they will mess up Nissan. Then the department manager talked about UAW plants downsizing while Nissan is putting new vehicles into Canton, like if we have a union they will pull out production. It was completely biased.”

Workers also say that Nissan has taken note of who the union supporters are and keeps track of them.

“Whenever anybody asked a question (at the roundtable meeting), the HR rep took notes,” Moore said. “It was obvious they were keeping track of people’s ideas about the union. A lot of people had questions but they didn’t ask because they were afraid the company would retaliate.”

Nissan’s actions, write Johnson and Compa, violate Principle 3 of the United Nation’s Global Compact, a set of principles that socially responsible businesses agree to abide by and to which Nissan purports to adhere.

Principle 3 states that “businesses should uphold the freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining.”

Union supporters at Canton aren’t asking for anything more than what Nissan claims to stand for. They want an open and honest discussion about the benefits of union membership and the right to choose whether to belong to a union without interference from the company. In short, they want fairness at Nissan.

Mississippi auto workers: worker rights are civil rights

Hundreds of auto workers and their supporters gathered this week at an auditorium at Tougaloo College in Jackson, Mississippi to demonstrate their support for a fair union election at the Nissan auto plant in Canton, Mississippi. Speakers at the meeting said that union membership is a civil right and that Nissan management has intimidated union supporters and unlawfully interfered with their right to form a union and bargain collectively.

Before the meeting began, union supporters spoke to Ed Schultz of MSNBC’s The Ed Show to explain the issues at stake. Derrick Johnson, president of the Mississippi NAACP, told Schultz that worker rights have always been a civil rights issue.

“The struggle we had to abolish slavery was about workers’ rights,” Johnson said. “The struggle in the 60s was about the right of workers being able to organize. Dr. King was assassinated as he was organizing workers in Memphis who wanted the right to have a voice as sanitation workers. So we see worker rights on the same playing field as voting rights, civil rights; it is about human dignity.”

Betty Jones, a Nissan autoworker and union supporter, told Schultz that union supporters at the plant aren’t anti-Nissan as David Reuter, vice-president of corporate communications for Nissan, told Schultz earlier; we just want to have a voice in company decisions that affect our lives. “We’re not here to bash Nissan,” Jones said. “We have ideas to make a better product (and we want to be heard.)”

Jones, an activist in the United Autoworkers organizing committee at the Canton plant, said that workers would also like to have a voice in addressing on-the-job health and safety issues.

Johnson said that scheduling problems make life difficult for workers on and off the job. “Workers at Nissan should be able to know when they come to work on Monday morning that they should be able to predict whether they’re going to be able to work three hours that day or 12 hours; whether they’re going to work a seven-day week or a five-day week,” Johnson said. “How can workers be expected to raise a family and have a quality of life if a company like Nissan doesn’t respect them as human beings.”

Speaking at the Tougaloo meeting, Reverend Dr. Isiac Jackson, Jr., chair of the Mississippi Alliance for Fairness at Nissan (MAFFAN),  said that Nissan has come to rely too heavily on permatemps, long-term temporary workers hired through an employment agency.

Permatemps work side-by-side with full-time Nissan workers but are paid less and have few if any benefits. Many of these permatemps have worked at the plant for more than a year.

When asked by the Associated Press how many of the 5,200 workers at the Canton plant are permatemps, Reuter refused to say, but speakers at the Tougaloo meeting said that the number of permatemps is large and growing.

Union supporters think that permatemps are exploited and deserve equal pay for equal work. The use of permatemps also threatens wages, benefits, and job security of the full-time workers.

These and other problems caused hundreds of workers at Canton plant to support unionization.

The company has said that it would remain neutral in a union organizing campaign, but has held a series of meetings with an anti-union message.

According to union supporters, company representatives at these meetings imply that workers could lose their jobs or have their hours cut back if they vote in a union.

Union supporters also say that supervisors and managers during private conversations with workers speak more frankly about the possibility of plant closures and the loss of work.

The company’s anti-union campaign caused religious, civil rights, student, and community leaders to stand up for the workers’ right to have a fair election at Nissan. They formed MAFFAN, which last month held a press conference at a Detroit auto show to publicize the campaign for a fair election. The group is planning similar events at auto shows in Chicago in February and Atalanta in March.

“We’re taking the story of Nissan throughout the state of Mississippi, the United States and the world,” said Reverend Jackson, president of the General Missionary Baptist State Convention of Mississippi. “We’ve told our community about Nissan’s threats and intimidation of workers and how they treat their Mississippi workers like second-class global citizens. It’s time the rest of Mississippi, the United States and the world knew how this global company is treating our fellow citizens who are simply asking for fair treatment and the right to vote on organizing without a fear campaign from the company.”

Johnson told Schultz that Nissan bargains collectively with unions in Brazil, South Africa, Japan, and other countries, but won’t afford the same rights to workers in Mississippi.

Two leaders from the labor movement in Brazil were at the Tougaloo meeting to support the Canton workers: Vagner Freitas de Moraes, president of CUT, the largest trade union federation in Brazil, and Joao Cayres, of CNM/CUT, the union representing Brazilian Nissan workers.

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.”