Employees Demand Carmaker Respect Workers’ Rights to Vote for a Union without Fear of Retaliation
Canton, Miss. — Citing a pattern of labor abuses by Nissan against its predominantly African-American workforce in Mississippi, employees today announced plans to vote on a union at the company’s Canton assembly plant.
Nissan employees, with legal and technical assistance from the UAW, filed paperwork with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) seeking a representation election for blue-collar employees at Nissan’s Canton plant — one of only three Nissan facilities in the world, including two in Tennessee, where workers are not represented by a union.
“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 Nissan technician who has worked in the plant for five years. “The company doesn’t respect our rights. It’s time for a union in Canton.”
Nissan employees say a union is needed in Canton to initiate collective bargaining — a right guaranteed to union represented employees in the U.S. The NLRB describes collective bargaining as an effort to bargain in good faith about wages, hours, vacation time, insurance, safety practices and other subjects.
Nissan began operating in Canton in 2003 amid high hopes for central Mississippi workers. The state gave Nissan more than $1.3 billion in incentives in hopes the company would bring good-paying, full-time jobs to the area. Instead, Nissan has repeatedly violated workers’ rights.
In November 2015, and thereafter, the NLRB issued a complaint against Nissan and the company’s temp-worker agency Kelly Services for violating workers’ rights by “interfering with, restraining and coercing employees in the exercise of their rights.” The NLRB complaint alleges that Nissan unlawfully threatened to close the Canton plant if workers unionized and also threatened employees with termination. NLRB complaints are heard by NLRB administrative law judges.
“When we speak out to demand basic protections, Nissan threatens and harasses us,” said McRay Johnson, a technician in the Canton plant who also has been there for five years. “Employees need and deserve representation in the workplace.”
In addition to the NLRB’s complaint, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued multiple citations against Nissan for violations of federal safety and health laws in Canton. The most recent citations, issued in February 2017, found the company “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.”
“Every day, we literally are risking our lives at Nissan,” said Rosiland Essex, a technician who has worked at Nissan for 14 years. “We deserve better.”
Nissan employees’ move to form a union comes four months after the historic “March on Mississippi,” when an estimated 5,000 workers and civil-right activists converged on the Canton plant to demand that the company respect workers’ rights. Organized by the Mississippi Alliance for Fairness at Nissan (MAFFAN) — a coalition of civil-rights leaders, ministers and worker advocates — the march featured U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, Sierra Club President Aaron Mair, former NAACP President Cornell William Brooks, actor Danny Glover and others.
Nissan’s Canton assembly plant produces models including the Altima, Frontier, Murano, and Titan. Annually, Nissan touts that its Altima model is the top selling car among African-American consumers in the U.S.
“Nissan spends hundreds of millions of dollars a year marketing itself as a socially responsible carmaker, even going so far as to brag about its appeal to African-American car-buyers,” said Rahmeel Nash, a Nissan technician who has worked at the Canton plant for 14 years. “But behind the scenes, the company is violating the labor rights of African-American workers who make those cars.”
Employees have requested that the union vote take place over two days on July 31 and August 1. The NLRB may set another date.
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