THE UNITED Auto Workers union and automaker Nissan said on Monday that they reached an agreement to let workers at a Nissan plant in the southern state of Mississippi vote on whether to unionise.
Controversy over unionisation at the largely African-American plant in the town of Canton, which opened in 2003 and employs 6,400 people, has raged for years. In May the UAW filed a complaint with the federal National Labour Relations Board claiming that Nissan was using deterrence tactics against workers who showed signs of unionising.
Nissan said in a statement: ‘We do not believe that UAW representation is in the best interest of Nissan Canton and the people who work here. However, it is ultimately up to the employees to decide.’
The NLRB will supervise the August 3-4 vote, the UAW said. The UAW said on Monday: ‘Acting on behalf of Nissan employees, the UAW today reached an agreement with Nissan to hold a two-day union representation election, supervised by the National Labour Relations Board (NLRB), on Thursday, Aug. 3, and Friday, Aug. 4, in Canton, Miss.
‘In an election petition filed with the NLRB, Nissan employees originally sought to schedule the election earlier that same week but instead agreed to the Aug. 3-4 dates offered by the company.
‘In announcing the election dates, the UAW criticised Nissan for stepping up efforts to intimidate employees following the July 11 announcement that an election petition had been filed.
‘In the days following the petition, Nissan employees have reported widespread pressure by company supervisors in one-on-one meetings and in videos broadcast inside the Canton plant.
‘Because of Nissan’s actions, which are inconsistent with the company’s stated principles of neutrality, the UAW said it will prepare a new round of unfair labour practice charges to submit to the NLRB.
‘Nissan’s treatment of workers in Mississippi is contrary to statements made last year by Carlos Ghosn, chairman and CEO of the Renault-Nissan Alliance. In a February 2016 hearing before the French National Assembly, Ghosn denied allegations that Nissan opposes employee representation in Mississippi, claiming the company “has no tradition of not cooperating with unions”.’
Gary Casteel, secretary-treasurer of the UAW and director of the International Union’s transnational department, noted the disconnect between Ghosn’s political statements and Nissan’s actual behaviour in Canton.
‘Over the past six days, Nissan has made it abundantly clear that it does not respect its Mississippi employees’ rights to vote in a free and fair election,’ Casteel said. In fact, the company is running one of the most aggressive anti-worker campaigns that we’ve seen in modern US history.’
Casteel added: ‘We call on Nissan to immediately respond to demands by civil-rights leaders in Mississippi to meet with employee representatives in order to discuss conditions for achieving neutrality and ensuring that Nissan employees in Canton can vote on a local union in a free and fair election.’
The UAW noted: ‘The Mississippi Alliance for Fairness at Nissan (MAFFAN) – a coalition of civil-rights leaders, ministers and worker advocates – has blasted Nissan for violating workers’ rights following the company’s skirmishing with federal authorities.
‘Between November 2015 and May 2017, the NLRB issued a series of complaints 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 alleged that Nissan unlawfully threatened to close the Canton plant if workers unionised and also threatened employees with termination. In addition to the NLRB’s complaint, the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has issued multiple citations against Nissan for violations of federal safety and health laws in Canton.
‘The most recent citations, in February 2017, found the company “did not furnish employment and a place of employment which was free from recognised hazards that were causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm to employees”.’
Many manufacturers, particularly automakers, have set up plants in the US south where unions are not as ingrained in the social fabric. In March, one-time US presidential contender Bernie Sanders spoke in favour of unionisation in Canton in an appearance that doubled as Democratic Party outreach.
Sanders was accompanied by actor Danny Glover and officials from the NAACP, the largest African-American advocacy group in the United States. Organisers demanded that the company halt what they said was ‘ongoing harassment of African-American workers who are organising to form a union.’ They allege that Nissan threatened to illegally shut down the facility and terminate employment if workers unionised, and unlawfully interrogated workers.
• About 350 employees of TVS Supply Chain Solutions recently voted by a margin of 2 to 1 to join the UAW and have a voice at their workplace. The National Labour Relations Board election took place July 5-6, and TVS employees will be become members of UAW Local 282.
‘This is my first experience with the UAW and I welcome this victory and a chance to have a voice at the table. We did not do this alone. There was a lot of hard work and a lot of support from the UAW region for this,’ said Tim Kabhuba, a material handler with TVS for seven years.
‘This just makes good economic sense as a way to improve our wages and benefits,’ said materials handler Alfred White. ‘We wanted to organise before and the company told us we didn’t need a union and they would take care of us. They just didn’t do that. They didn’t think we could get the votes to make this happen, but we showed them.’
TVS employees are responsible for warehousing, sequencing, assembly and parts distribution.
‘We applaud the hard work that went into this organising drive and welcome our newest members into our region,’ said UAW Region 5 Director Gary Jones. I would like to give thanks to UAW Locals 2250, 282, and 1887 for their support and assistance to TVS employees as they organised and brought this drive to a successful conclusion.’
• On Monday, the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), a union representing over one million retail workers, sent a letter to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) calling for a thorough investigation of Amazon’s proposed acquisition of Whole Foods.
Following Amazon’s announcement, UFCW International President Marc Perrone wrote in a CNN op-ed that ‘the hard-working men and women who work at Whole Foods now face an uncertain future’ due to the Amazon model for grocery stores. His letter to the FTC expands on that theme, saying, in part: ‘Amazon’s acquisition of Whole Foods is not about improving customer service, products or choice.
‘It is about destroying Whole Foods jobs through Amazon-style automation. We strongly urge the FTC to carefully review this merger. We believe a fair and impartial analysis will prove that Amazon’s acquisition of Whole Foods is a competitive threat to our economy that will hurt workers and communities.’ UFCW is not the only one with concerns about the merger.
• Rep. Ro Khanna ,who represents part of the Silicon Valley area, has said he is ‘deeply worried’ about the Amazon-Whole Foods deal and has called for a ‘reorientation’ of antitrust decision-making to include concerns like how a merger will effect jobs, wages, innovation, and small businesses.
• Consumer Watchdog sent a letter calling on the FTC to block the merger and detailing the numerous instances where Amazon ‘persistently engaged in unfair and deceptive practices’ that misled customers into thinking they were getting a steep discount.