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.

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.

Teamsters confront XPO CEO for ignoring workers

As Bradley Jacobs CEO of XPO Logistics delivered his keynote speech to a conference on global logistics being held in Long Beach, California, he could faintly hear his name being called.

The faint voice grew louder, and as it turns out, it wasn’t a single voice; instead, it was the united voice of 100 Teamsters and their supporters, who had marched into the hotel lobby where the conference was being held chanting, “Bradley Jacobs you can’t hide, we can see your greedy side.”

Some of the members of the group chanting in the hotel lobby were XPO workers who voted to join the Teamsters in union representation elections. Even though XPO workers voted to unionize in a number of election overseen by the US National Labor Relations Board, Jacobs and XPO’s executive management refuse to meet and bargain with the new Teamster members.

The new union workers at XPO say that they unionized because of low pay and the lack of benefits.

“XPO’s Board of Directors just authorized a $110 million stock bonus plan for Bradley Jacobs. Meanwhile, my coworkers and I package and distribute parts for military helicopters to governments all over the world, yet at $12 an hour we can’t support our families without government assistance,” said Monica Abraham, an XPO warehouse worker in New Haven, Connecticut.

Instead of listening to the workers’ grievances, Jacobs ignored them and tried to block their attempts to unionize.

“When we raised concerns with management we were ignored, so we decided to organize,” said Ryan Janota, a freight driver at XPO in Aurora, Illinois. “Instead of respecting our rights, XPO spent a fortune on high-priced union-busting consultants to try and silence us. It didn’t work and we elected to join the Teamsters so Bradley Jacobs will have to listen!”

New XPO Teamster members were joined in the hotel lobby by shorthaul truck drivers at the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles. They work for XPO, but, according to the workers, the company misclassifies them as independent contractors.

“Because XPO treats us like employees but pays us as ‘independent contractors’ and deducts their truck expenses from our paychecks, there are many weeks when we don’t even earn the minimum wage,” said Luis Meza, an XPO shorthaul driver. “This is abuse and that’s why my co-workers and I have filed lawsuits against XPO.”

The drivers’ suit alleges that XPO has committed  wage theft by misclassifying them as independent contractors.

XPO workers and other Teamsters were joined in the hotel lobby by members of Clergy & Laity United for Economic Justice, a faith-based social justice organization and the Los Alliance for a New Economy.

William Carr, a Catholic priest from Los Angeles spoke to Jacobs from the hotel lobby over a bullhorn.

“The Church teaches that worker rights are God-given rights,” said Carr. “These workers are here today demanding to speak to you Bradley Jacobs. You have repeatedly refused to meet with them. You must stop interfering with and begin respecting  the XPO workers’ federally protected right to organize a union. This is a God-given right.”

“What you’re doing is immoral,” said another clergy member who didn’t give his name. “Listen to your workers.”

Latino workers fight for a union after being locked out

A group of Latino workers in a suburb south of Chicago continue to fight for their right to join a union even though their employer has locked them out.

Their struggle began in October when 70 workers at National Pasteurized Egg (NPE)/Michael Foods of Lansing, Illinois walked off the job to protest sexual harassment, unequal pay, poor safety conditions, and work shifts that can last as long as 27 hours.

After the walkout, the workers signed union authorization cards expressing an interest in joining United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 881.

They returned to work, but two weeks later were locked out by the company, which hired workers through a temporary agency to replace them.

NPE/Michael Foods operates a regional egg processing plant that before the lockout employed about 140 workers at its facility in Lansing.

NPE became NPE/Michael Foods in September, when NPE was  acquired by Post Holding, the third largest cereal company in the US that makes a number of familiar brand name cereals such as Cocoa Pebbles, Shredded Wheat, Raisin Bran, and Grape Nuts.

Post has been expanding and in 2014 purchased Michael Foods, a producer of egg and other food products.

In September 2016, Post purchased NPE, which produces cage-free and hard-boiled eggs at three plants including the one in Lansing, and combined it with Michael Foods.

Post reported net sales of $5 billion during its fiscal year 2016 and an operating profit of $545.7 million.

The walkout by NPE/Michael Foods workers in Lansing began October 17 about six weeks after Post announced its acquisition of NPE.

The workers who walked off the job returned to work on October 22, but on November 7 when they showed up for work, the company informed them that they were being replaced by temporary workers hired through NEXUS, a temporary staffing agency operating out of Hammond, Indiana.

The company also hired a security company called AFIMAC, which assists companies manage strikes and high risk employee terminations.

Despite being locked out, the workers continued to fight for the right to join a union.

They filed for a union representation election.

On November 17, 100 locked out workers rallied at the NPE/Michael Foods processing facility in Lansing.

The rally took place on the day before the union election was to be held.

The election took place, but the results are pending because the company challenged 107 of the votes.

Jorge Mujica of Arise Chicago, a faith labor worker center that has been supporting the NPE/ Michael Foods workers, said that the unofficial vote count was 115 yes votes for the union and 23 no votes.

Local 881 has filed charges against NPE/Michael Foods for retaliating against the workers and interfering with their right to join a union to improve their working conditions.

14,000 NYC Uber and Lyft drivers sign union authorization cards

Uber and Lyft drivers in New York City rallied at the city’s Taxi and Limousine Commission on September 27 for the right to join a union.

The drivers at the rally were among the 14,000 Uber and Lyft ride share workers in the city who have signed union representation cards in response to an organizing campaign initiated by the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 1181-1061.

Michael Cordello, president of Local 1181-1061 said that such a large show of support should not go unrecognized.

“We’re asking the commission to order Uber and Lyft and those other companies to negotiate with us, and we believe under their charter, (the commission has) the ability to do so,” said  Cordello to Vice News.

But there are several obstacles that Uber and Lyft drivers must overcome before they can join a union.

For one thing, they are classified as independent contractors, not employees which makes union membership for them problematic.

Independent contractors have no US labor law protections. Employers don’t have to provide them with minimum benefits such as overtime pay and unemployment insurance and can’t form unions to bargain collectively.

Local 1181-1061 says that it is unjust to deny union membership to ride share drivers, who are treated like employees but classified as independent contractors.

“We say that together we can change this injustice and make it possible for a person who wants to join a union to do so freely,” said Local 1181-1061 in a letter to ride share drivers.

In addition to putting pressure on the Taxi and Limousine Commission to order a union election, Local 1181-1061 is pursuing other routes to give ride share drivers the right to unionize.

“We are making progress on the legislative side with the city council and the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB),” said the local in another letter addressed to ride share drivers.

The union wants the city council to pass an ordinance similar to one passed last year by the Seattle City Council. The ordinance gives ride share drivers in that city the right to join a union.

The union also is monitoring an NLRB investigation involving Uber. The labor board is gathering information to determine the employment status of Uber drivers. If the NLRB determines that the drivers are in fact employees, then drivers will have the right to join a union.

The NLRB has issued a subpoena seeking information from Uber that will help the board make its determination. Uber is fighting the subpoena in court.

In response to the challenges to its labor practices, Uber has partnered with the International Association of Machinist and the Freelancers Union to create the Independent Drivers Guild in New York.

Guild representatives meet regularly with Uber’s management to address concerns raised by drivers, but Uber’s agreement with the Guild stipulates that fares can’t be discussed and that the Guild will not act as a collective bargaining representative.

ATU argues that the meetings between the Guild and Uber’s management are no substitute for collective bargaining that can reach an enforceable contract.

Without a union unfettered by rules created solely by the company “workers will never have the power to achieve what they need or want,” states Local 1181-1061 in its letter to drivers.

One of the things that Uber drivers need and want is some relief from the fare reductions that Uber implemented in January. The fare reduction means that Uber drivers must work longer and harder to maintain a decent income.

“Before they lowered the rates, I used to make $400 or more a day,” said John Zapata to Vice News. “Now I have to work harder for that–now sometimes there’s a fare for as little as $3.

“They dropped the fares so much that we have to work 15, 16, 17 hours a day to make some money,” said Peter Acosta to Vice.

In addition to drivers wanting to organize a union, Uber is facing other problems resulting from the way it treats its employees.

In June, the New York Taxi Workers Alliance filed a wage theft suit against Uber for not paying overtime to its drivers.

The Alliance in July joined two former Uber drivers who lost their jobs in filing a suit to compel New York’s Labor Department to investigate unemployment insurance claims by the two drivers and other Uber drivers seeking unemployment insurance.

The suit contends that the drivers earned wages, which makes them eligible for unemployment insurance. Uber claims that the drivers’ earnings were not wages because the drivers were independent contractors.

In August, a judge overturned a settlement in a class action lawsuit claiming that Uber misclassifies its drivers. The settlement required Uber to make payments to the plaintiffs but left open the question of whether they were employees or independent contractors.

According to Local 1181-1061, Uber’s labor practices are impoverishing hundreds of thousands of workers.

Whether these practices are allowed to stand will have an impact on the millions of workers who like Uber drivers are misclassified as independent contractors instead of employees.

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.”

T Mobile workers step up their organizing campaign

T-Mobile Workers United (TU) solidified their position as a permanent force for worker rights at the US’ third largest wireless carrier when on July 25 it opened its first field office in Wichita, Kansas.

“T-Mobile workers in Wichita are ready for a seat at the table, and the opening of this local office is proof of the momentum of our campaign to come together as workers and collectively bargain with our employer,” said Angela Melvin, a customer service representative at T-Mobile’s call center in Wichita. “We have come such a long way in building our union at T-Mobile, and I know there is much work to be done.  I cannot wait to see what the building of this union has in store for us!”

TU has been fighting since 2008 to improve workers lives at call centers and retail stores owned by T-Mobile and T-Mobile’s affiliate MetroPCS.

As a result of TU’s work, T-Mobile workers now have paid parental leave, a scheduling policy that doesn’t punish people for being sick, and the right to speak freely on the job..

In April, TU took another step toward becoming a more effective organization by electing chief stewards at seven T-Mobile call centers.

The stewards will listen to workers as they talk about the changes that they would like to see at the company, lead the workers’ meetings with management, train others on labor laws and workplace rights, and truly represent the workers’ voice at T-Mobile.

The ultimate goal of TU is to win a collective bargaining agreement that ensures that these victories can’t be taken away and that more improvements can be achieved.

Melvin discovered what it looks like to work in a call center where workers belong to a union when she took a recent trip to Germany to address the annual stockholders meeting of Deutsche Telekom, T-Mobile’s owner.

Deutsche Telekom’s workers belong to a union called ver. di.

“What I took away is that the Germans are a great role model on how to treat employees with dignity and respect,” said Melvin. “What I loved most about their call centers is how the environment was a smaller work space and not so hectic with noise and other distractions and that their metrics just don’t randomly change from month to month. It is also amazing to learn that they have unlimited paid sick days and they are an extremely productive company. I also love their scheduling model, which provides predictable schedules for a whole year that take workers’ personal situations into consideration and is not based on performance.”

Ver. di has taken a special interest in the union organizing drive undertaken by TU and together with the Communications Workers of America (CWA), which has been supporting TU, has established the TU Council, a cross Atlantic organization of T-Mobile and Deutsche Telekom workers that fosters cooperation between the two companies’ workers.

As a gesture of solidarity with their counterparts in the US Lothar Schröder, a leader of ver.di, attended TU’s office opening in Wichita.

“Ver.di and CWA have been working in solidarity and friendship together for many years,” said  Schröder, who is also the vice chairman of the Deutsche Telekom board of directors. “Forming TU in 2008, we made an important and unique step for the global labor movement in furthering our international union cooperation. Now with the opening of the TU field office in Wichita, we continue on this path. Ver.di and I are committed to do what it takes so that T-Mobile workers can freely decide whether they want to join a union to have a voice in the workplace.”