Nissan workers ready for UAW to show them the upside of collective bargaining
By Alice Thomas-Tisdale
Jackson Advocate Publisher
Mississippi has few laws protecting workers’ rights. Because of fear of being fired, the average worker is hesitant to consider the potential benefits of collective bargaining, which include job security, improved workplace safety practices, and a more robust wage and benefits package. For one of Mississippi’s largest employers, Nissan Canton, that may soon change.
A growing number of Nissan Canton workers are publicly voicing their disappointment in the company that came to Mississippi 12 years ago with pockets full of promises. Bold headlines like “Nissan to hire 1,300 new workers” excited everyone. Nissan located a major manufacturing plant in Canton. Prior to the opening of the company’s facility in 2003, there were no automotive assembly facilities in Mississippi.
Less than four years later, over one million cars had been built at the Canton site, and in 2011, the plant reached its two-millionth vehicle milestone. Also in 2011, Nissan began producing commercial vehicles in Canton and announced it would begin producing the Nissan Xterra SUV and Frontier pickup models at the central Mississippi facility. Impressive accomplishments.
However, many Nissan Canton workers now are asking: “But at what price?”
In a stunning turn of events, a 20-member delegation of Canton workers stood in solidarity at a public hearing. This diverse group of men and women – young and old, black, white and brown – demanded that Nissan Canton cease its actions of denying them the right to organize and be represented by a union. This right is guaranteed by the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”).
The delegation members allege that Nissan Canton management is forcing workers to watch anti-labor union videos, and intimidating workers by threatening to fire them if they engage in union organizing activities.
The public hearing was conducted by members of the newly formed community watchdog group, the Mississippi Alliance for Families at Nissan. The group is headed by Rev. Isiac Jackson, Jr., who also serves as President of the 400-member General Missionary Baptist State Convention of Mississippi. Other members are: Tyson Jackson, Rims Barber, Rev. Reginald Buckley, Rev. C.J. Rhodes, Derrick Johnson, Bishop Ronnie Crudup, Senator Kenny Wayne Jones, Charlie Horhn, Cassandra Wetlchin and Rev. Gary Adams.
In 1935, Congress enacted the NLRA to protect the rights of employees and employers, to encourage collective bargaining, and to curtail certain private sector labor and management practices that can harm the general welfare of workers, businesses and the U.S.
Collective bargaining through unions provides a vehicle for workers’ voices to be heard when wages, benefits, workplace safety, and seniority and other job security issues are negotiated with employers. NLRA prohibits employers from interfering in workers’ union organizing activities. The law clearly states that it shall be an unfair labor practice for an employer to interfere with, restrain, or coerce employees in the exercise of the rights guaranteed by the NLRA.
Nissan Canton is a foreign-owned company. The Japanese auto maker claims it has not broken any American laws. David P. Reuter, Vice President, Corporate Communications, Nissan Americas, states, “Nissan has an excellent and direct relationship with our employees, which has been supported by their repeated votes to not bring a union into our facilities. At Nissan, we are all able to work together as one team in an atmosphere of mutual cooperation, without the interference and disruptions that often result from a union. Nissan prefers to deal with employees directly, rather than through an outside party.”
Employee Pat Ruffin draws a completely different picture. She told members of the Mississippi Alliance for Fairness at Nissan: “A video plays talking about unions close down plants and plants go to Mexico. … It scares me, intimidates me. I have a family. We’re forbidden to talk about unions at work. I’m tired of Nissan’s side. I want the union side.”
The same story of anti-union videos, anti-union talks, plant closings and severe consequences was told by J.B. Brown, Rosalind Essex, Michael Carter, Lee Ruffin, Douglas Brooks, Morris Mock, Wayne Walker, Washad Catchings and several others who were taped to conceal their identities.
Morris Mock, who first thanked Nissan for his job, said, “We want to be treated fairly. We are forming a union to give us a voice in addressing issues of fairness, on-the-job and job security at Nissan. We want our employer, Nissan, to allow us to make our own choice about a union and stop using intimidation to prevent us from exercising our basic rights. Nissan says the UAW just wants our money, but these people are putting their families on hold to help us. Everyone is scared. I’m scared but we are going to fight to the end. We need equal time. If they speak against us, we should have an opportunity to talk as well. Don’t silence our voice. Globally there are unions. What’s going on in Mississippi?”
The loudest cry came from plant worker Wayne Walker after he read the crux of the National Labor Relations Act to the listening audience at the public hearing. “Guess who doesn’t follow the law? NISSAN! I’ve been here nine and a half years. I was brought up in the church. I believe in doing what’s right. When I started at Nissan I was foreseeing great things. After a few years, no pay increase, a diminished picture of me in human resources with an ‘X’ labeling me public enemy #1. There are tons of stories of intimidation. These people are ruthless. Nissan is plagued with the tyranny of evil men. They say without us we have no job, but without us, there is no plant.”
In response, Reuter said, “Our communications meetings with employees are not new. We regularly meet with our employees to openly discuss matters important to our business. These meetings take place all the time and at all of our facilities, and they are an important part of interacting with our teams to ensure direct, two-way communication. We have not tried to prevent the UAW from sharing information in any way in their own forums and on their own time. Nissan is committed to smart, sustainable growth that creates more long-term opportunities for current and future workers.”
After hearing testimony from Nissan employees, Mississippi Alliance for Fairness at Nissan Chair, Dr. Isiac Jackson Jr. stated, “Nissan attacks the entire community when it denies its workers, who are our family, our neighbors and our congregants, one of their most fundamental human rights. Nissan workers should not have to fear for their jobs because they want to form a union.”
The community group has asked Nissan to immediately halt the attack on workers, and allow workers to decide for themselves whether to organize. “We are committed to standing beside Nissan workers until Nissan workers achieve a fair process,” said Derrick Johnson, Alliance member, State President, Mississippi State Conference NAACP, and national board member, NAACP.
Opponents of collective bargaining are scared they may lose the ability to arbitrarily cut jobs, ship them overseas or reduce wages.
Jobs covered by collective bargaining decreased by about 10 percent from 1989 to 2010, according to the Economic Policy Institute (“EPI”). During that same time span, the average annual pay adjusted for inflation dropped by about $6,000 even as productivity increased by nearly 30 percent, according to the EPI.
States with higher levels of unionization have lower poverty levels, higher average incomes, lower workplace deaths, higher educational outcomes, and higher pension and health insurance coverage, according to Policy Matters Ohio, a nonpartisan think tank.
Your Rights in the United States
You have a legal right to:
- Join a union.
- Attend a union meeting on your own time.
- Talk to a union organizer.
- Declare yourself a union supporter.
- Assist in forming a union.
Employers are forbidden by law to engage in certain conduct. Your employer may NOT legally:
- Threaten you with discharge or punishment if you engage in union activity.
- Threaten to shut down business if workers form a union.
- Prevent you from soliciting members during non-working hours.
- Question you about union matters, union meetings, or union supporters.
- Ask you how you or other workers intend to vote in an election.
- Ask you whether you belong to a union or have signed up to join a union.
- Transfer you to or assign you to a less desirable work assignment because of your union activity.
- Threaten to terminate your benefits because you unionize.
- Threaten a layoff or loss of jobs in retaliation for voting for a union.
For additional information on workers’ rights, under Federal laws, to organize and join unions or engage in other collective bargaining activities, please visit the website of the National Labor Relations Board at www.nrlb.gov. This website contains a vast amount of information on Federal government protections for workers considering forming unions and those already in unions.
Should you believe that any of the Federal government laws protecting workers’ rights to participate in collective bargaining activities have been violated, please contact the National Labor Relations Board, the U.S. Department of Justice, and/or the Federal Bureau of Investigation.