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.

Unions join fight to save health care

When the 115th Congress opened, the Republican leadership made it clear that killing the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, was their first priority.

But killing Obamacare is only their first order of business. Their goal is to change the way that Americans obtain health insurance. If they succeed, Medicare will be privatized, many low-income workers will no longer be eligible for Medicaid, and employee health insurance plans will be greatly diminished.

But workers took their first stand in the battle to save health care on January 15 when tens of thousands of people attended Save Our Health Care rallies held in more than 40 cities across the US.

Labor unions played a key role in organizing the rallies that were sponsored by Our Revolution, the political organization that grew out of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign.

The biggest Save Our Health Care rally took place in Warren, Michigan where 10,000 people braved frigid weather to hear speeches by Sen. Sanders, other elected officials, and Cynthia Estrada, vice president of the United Autoworkers (UAW).

Estrada said that we’re telling Republican leaders who want to gut Medicare, Medicaid, and Obamacare that “we the people are not going to let that happen.”

Estrada also said that union members would be joining people in the streets to make sure that everybody has health care insurance.

“In the UAW, we have health care, and every day it’s a fight to keep it, but I know that the great UAW members standing over there,” said Estrada pointing to the large contingent of UAW members attending the rally. “Are going to fight for everyone who doesn’t have health care because health care is a right for all.”

National Nurses United members were on hand at rallies in Chicago; Portland, Maine; Columbus, Ohio; Los Angeles; Sacramento; San Francisco; Fort Lauderdale; Fort Worth; and Washington DC.

“On this day of action we are standing with our elders, our friends, and family, along with many of our elected representatives to say NO to the Republicans’ disastrous proposals,” said Deborah Burger, co-president, National Nurses United. “At this moment of tremendous confusion about the future of health care in the US, nurses are saying, now is the time to move forward with Medicare for all.”

Shortly after the new Congress convened, the Republican controlled Senate and House of Representatives voted for procedural motions that are the first steps toward killing Obamacare, which has provided heath care insurance for 20 million people who otherwise couldn’t afford it.

And soon after his inauguration, President Trump signed an Executive Order that the new President hopes will lead to the repeal of Obamacare.

The Republican strategy is to repeal Obamacare but then delay implementation of the repeal until they can figure out how to replace it.

But the Congressional Budget Office reported that doing so could cause 18 million people to lose their health care insurance and cause private health care insurance premiums to increase by as much as 20 percent to 25 percent.

While Obamacare has its problems, it has been a life saver for many like those at the Warren rally who carried signs reading, “KILLING OBAMACARE KILLS PEOPLE LIKE ME.”

For Republicans, killing Obamacare is only the first step toward radically restructuring health care.

House Speaker Paul Ryan and Rep. Tom Price, the nominee to lead the Department of Health and Human Services, want to privatize Medicare.

Their scheme would do away with single payer, government-run Medicare and replace it government vouchers that seniors would use to purchase individual health insurance plans.

For many if not most seniors, purchasing individual health care policies would lower the quality of the health care that they receive.

Speaker Ryan also wants to deregulate Medicaid and let states make their own rules for who qualifies for Medicaid, which will leave many low-income and elderly Medicaid recipients with no and little health care coverage.

Rep. Price has sponsored legislation that among other things would provide employers with tax incentives to eliminate their employee health insurance plans as a way of encouraging more workers to purchase private health insurance plans.

Addressing the Warren rally, Sen. Sanders told the crowd that the first order of business of the Save Our Health Care movement is to stop the repeal of Obamacare, but the fight for health care for all must go beyond saving Obamacare.

“Our job today is to defend the Affordable Care Act,” said Sanders. “Our job for tomorrow is to create a Medicare for all, a single-payer health care system,” that provides the same high quality of care that seniors receive through Medicare to everyone in the US.

Honeywell workers reject company’s latest offer

After enduring a lockout that has lasted six months, workers at two Honeywell plants in South Bend, Indiana and Green Island, New York, on November 12 rejected the company’s latest contract proposal.

“We’ve been out here for too long to cave for something like this,” said Tom Simpson, a member of UAW Local 9 to the South Bend Tribune.

The lockout began in May when members of Local 9 in South Bend and UAW Local 1508 in Green Island rejected Honeywell’s contract proposal that would have raised health care premiums, raised health care deductibles by as much as 400 percent, frozen pensions, stopped company pension contributions, and given the company complete control of the workers’ health care plan, which meant that the company could impose more benefit reductions without bargaining with the union.

“We’ve got a lot of people that relied on the quality insurance they had,” said Adam Clevenger to Workers Independent News. “And what they want to offer now is gonna just put a burden on those people and what they’ve worked for all these years.”

In its latest proposal to end the lockout, the company offered to limit premium increases to 15 percent per year for the next five years and make contributions to workers’ health savings accounts to offset some of the higher premium costs.

But Honeywell’s proposal still included major reductions to the workers’ health care and pension benefits.

Honeywell is hardly a struggling company that can ill afford to provide quality health care and retirement security to its workers.

It ranks 75th on Fortune’s list of the world’s 500 largest companies.

It employs about 350 production workers at its South Bend and Green Island facilities, where it produces wheels, brakes, and fuel systems for commercial and military aircraft.

But it  is a highly diversified company that owns manufacturing facilities all over the US and the world that produce consumer products, automation and control systems, and other aerospace products.

It even owns a uranium processing plant in Metropolis, Illinois.

It also is a very rich company. According to Bloomberg, with $9.1 billion in cash on hand, “Honeywell International, Inc. has more cash than almost every one of its peers.”

Only General Electric and Boeing have more.

But instead of using a pittance of its pile of cash to maintain quality health care and retirement security for its workers in South Bend and Green Island, Honeywell is looking for other ways to spend its money.

It recently announced that it was raising its annual investor dividend by 12 percent..

It is also about to go on a buying spree. Bloomberg reported in March that Honeywell was planning to spend $10 billion to buy other companies.

In a report to investors, Honeywell said that it had already spent $2.5 billion on new acquisitions and $1.9 billion to repurchase stock from investors.

Meanwhile, its workers in South Bend and Green Island have endured a six-month lockout over what amounts to a tiny fraction of the company’s cash stash.

Locked out Honeywell workers demand withdrawal of government contract

Locked out Honeywell Aerospace workers on September 21 blocked traffic outside of a federal office building in Albany, New York to demand that the government stop supporting the lockout.

The lockout began four months ago when workers at Honeywell factories in South Bend, Indiana and Green Island, New York rejected a Honeywell contract proposal that would have eviscerated their health care plan, eliminated their pensions, reduced overtime pay, and ended cost of living raises.

Ignoring the lockout, the US Department of Defense on September 12 announced that it was awarding Honeywell an $18.3 million contract to manufacture replacement brakes for the Navy’s F/A 18 multi-role combat jet.

“We believe the government should stop giving new contracts or extending old contracts to a deplorable company that is locking out its workers and destroying good, middle-class jobs,” said Julie Kushner, director of United Autoworkers (UAW) Region 9A.

Workers at the South Bend plant are members UAW Local 9 and those at Green Island are members of Local 1508.

Members and leaders from other unions, clergy members, and community supporters demonstrated their solidarity with the locked out workers by joining them in the street outside the O’Brien Federal Office Building in Albany.

“Our federal tax dollars should not be supporting a company that puts profits before people,” said Mario Cilento, president of the New York State AFL-CIO. “It is unconscionable that Honeywell Aerospace is benefiting from a multimillion dollar defense contract while locking out the dedicated men and women who possess the necessary job skills required to safely manufacture the wheel and braking systems for our military. Honeywell’s action is an outright attack on the middle class. This contract should be suspended until Honeywell acts responsibly and negotiates a fair contract with our members.”

“We drove up from Eastern Long Island (New York) and are prepared to be arrested today to make the point that taxpayer money should not be used to line the pockets of union busters like Honeywell CEO David Cote, who put profits before the safety of our men and women in uniform, and the flying public,” said Brian Schneck, president of UAW Local 259 as he prepared to join other protesters in the street.

There was some hope that Honeywell would be willing to reach a fair agreement on a new contract when the two sides resumed bargaining on September 12 and were joined by a federal mediator.

But the bargaining session adjourned after two days.

“The company arrived for bargaining with no new proposals and the ones we eventually received during the week did not move us closer to a contract,” said Tim Vogt, a 29-year Honeywell employee and president of Local 1508.

Honeywell continues to demand steep concessions from members of Local 9 and Local 1508 even though in 2015 the company reported $4.8 billion in profits and paid its CEO $25 million in salary, a bonus, and stock options.

The company has continued to operate its plants in Green Island and South Bend with replacement workers.

The UAW has charged that the Honeywell lockout is illegal, and the National Labor Relations Board  (NLRB) is investigating the charges.

In the meantime, people can show their support for the locked out workers by signing a petition addressed to Cote urging him to end the lockout.

Vogt said that Honeywell’s intransigence has wreaked havoc on workers who have made Honeywell a profitable company and its chief executive a multimillionaire.

“For me it’s devastating. Are my kids going to have a Thanksgiving this year? Are they going to have a Christmas this year? They’ve disrupted so many lives here. It’s a very, very, scary and dangerous situation that they put us all through,” said Vogt to New 10 ABC in Albany.

NLRB: Columbia grad student are workers, may join a union

The US National Labor Relations Board recently ruled that graduate students working as academic assistants at Columbia University are workers who have the right to join a union and bargain collectively.

A day after the ruling, a delegation of Columbia graduate students from the Graduate Workers of Columbia-UAW Local 2110 (GWC-UAW) delivered a letter to Columbia’s president Lee Bollinger urging him to allow a union representation election without interference and should graduate students vote to join a union to “immediately commence good­faith negotiations for a contract” should graduate students decide to join the union.”

“The NLRB clearly recognizes the increasingly indispensable role we play in carrying out Columbia’s world-class research and teaching missions—we teach hundreds of classes and help bring in roughly $1 billion in research grants each year,” reads a message to members on the union’s website. “Up to this point, Columbia has fruitlessly spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on an expensive outside law firm to oppose our right to a union. They say a union is ‘not necessary,’ yet Columbia still fails to fully address the constant insecurity and unpredictability of our working conditions. We hope they will do better moving forward, and more than 160 elected and community leaders told Columbia last year that they agree with us.”

Graduate students at Columbia began organizing their union in 2014 after New York University recognized the The Graduate Student Organizing Committee-UAW Local 2110, the union of graduate students at NYU.

What started as conversations among concerned Columbia graduate students quickly transformed into a campuswide movement.

In May 2014, GWC-UAW held its first town-hall type meeting. The meeting hall was packed with graduate students from more than 30 departments.

By June GWC-UAW had union activists in nearly every department at Columbia.

With an organization in place, the union began asking graduate students to sign cards signifying their interest in joining a union.

By the end of the semester, union activists had gathered 1700 union cards.

In December with the union cards in hand, a delegation from the union asked Columbia’s administration to recognize the union, but the administration ignored the request.

A week later, GWC-UAW filed a petition for a union election with the National Labor Relations Board, but an NLRB regional office denied the request.

It said that a previous NLRB decision called Brown University prevented the regional office from recognizing graduate students as workers.

The union appealed the regional office’s decision, and on August 23, the NLRB by a 3-1 vote overturned Brown and recognized graduate students who work as teaching and research assistants as employees.

In announcing its decision, the NLRB said that the Brown decision “deprived an entire category of workers of the protection of the (National Labor Relations) Act without convincing justification.”

More than a year and one-half elapsed between the time that GWC-UAW filed its petition and the final decision by the NLRB. During that period, GWC-UAW continued to organize, agitate and find ways to serve graduate students.

In the spring of 2016, international graduate students who are members of GWC-UAW organized a series of workshops to provide information on taxes and visas to other international student workers.

GWC-UAW members in the spring joined other low-wage workers in demonstrations for raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour and worked with the Graduate Student Advisory Council to improve pay and benefits for graduate students.

As a result, Columbia in May announced new benefits for graduate workers, including paid parental leave, a child care subsidy, and expanded fee waivers.

In July, Columbia announced that it would raise pay for graduate student workers.

The union applauded these gains but pointed out that they were the result of solidarity and collective action rather than the administration’s generosity and that much more needed to be done.

“With collective bargaining, we would have more power to build on improvements we have already won by joining together across campus over the last few years. We could not only bargain as equals for additional improvements, but could also secure those provisions in a contract that Columbia could not change without our agreement—as they do frequently with our health and dental benefits,” said the union in a message to members.

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.”