Auto workers’ union rolls the dice at Nissan’s Mississippi plant

CANTON, Miss (Reuters). For nearly a decade, United Auto Workers have been trying to organize workers at the Nissan Motor Co Ltd (7201.T) assembly plant here, challenging the company’s wages, safety record and commitment to a fair dealing with African-American workers.

Since Thursday, about 4,000 workers in one of the largest industrial employers in Mississippi give their votes, affecting not only their own future, but also the union.

Another failure in the organization of the southern car factory left the UAW weakened ahead of negotiations on a contract with automakers Detroit Three in 2019, when many analysts predict that car sales in the US will be in a cyclical downturn.

The organizational vote, which the UAW demanded last month, split workers at a plant in Canton, where Nissan Murano sports cars were built, commercial vans and pick-up trucks Titan and Frontier.

Union workers said that the plant is in a bad condition and complains that the company has switched to a plan with a fixed contribution of 401 (k) from the traditional plan.

“It’s not about wages, I’m worried about safety issues at the plant and about my pension,” says 51-year-old Patricia Ruffian. “They say if we vote for the union, we will not have anything, we must start from scratch, and this is not so.”

The UAW also claims that Nissan illegally threatened workers that if they vote for the union, the plant will close. Based on these requirements, the US National Labor Relations Board has published a number of complaints that Nissan has repeatedly made in recent years. The automaker denies the charges. The election results can be challenged, which will lead to a test of how Trump NLRB will deal with contentious labor issues.

Rodney Francis, director of human resources at the Nissan plant in Canton, said: “The rights to work concern the right to organize or not to organize. All we do is provide employees with facts so that they can make an informed decision, and, in the end, this is what they choose. ”

Nissan has strong supporters at the plant that point to a history of problems in Detroit union cars and reject the UAW arguments that black workers are not fair.

“Black people are doing much better here since Nissan came,” said 52-year-old Tony Jacobson, who is black. He worked at the plant since its opening in 2003 and was $ 28 per hour, which is comparable to the maximum rate for union workers in General Motors Co (GM.N) or Ford Motor Co (F.N.). “I’m trying to save our livelihood, I do not want Canton to be like Detroit.”

The UAW, like other large industrial unions, struggled to expand membership, as manufacturers moved to work abroad or to states such as Mississippi that allow workers to avoid membership in trade unions even in union stores.

The Union organized smaller car suppliers in the south of the United States, but for decades it was not possible to organize all workers in a large southern automobile complex. Politicians in the region used a low trade-union approach as a point of sale to attract more investment in production.

“If the union wins, it will encourage others in the South to form an alliance,” said Vanderbilt University employment analyst Daniel Cornfield. “If the company wins, it will complicate the work of UAW in other regions of the South.”

“Changed the landscape”

Scott Waller, president of the Economic Council of the Mississippi (MEC), State Chamber of Commerce, said that Nissan “changed the landscape” in Mississippi. Nissan was the first automaker to find a large assembly plant in the state, but since the Mississippi won the tender at the plant in 2000, it provided significant investment for other automotive giants such as Toyota Motor Corp (7203.T) and Continental AG (CONG .DE ).

The number of working vehicles in the state increased to 18,000 in 2016 from 11,000 in 2010. According to government statistics, the average automaker in Mississippi earned $ 50,510 in 2016, which is 34 percent above the state average.

Voting for a union representation at the Nissan Canton plant “can affect the ability of this plant to compete and the ability of the Mississippi to compete in the field of economic development,” Waller said.

Workers at the Nissan Canton plant earn less hourly wages and benefits than union workers in the United States. See Image File

The union linked the issue of payment with the argument that Nissan had undermined progress in civil rights.

“There is a huge problem in the race, there is a problem of civil rights, and the history of Mississippi plays in this narrative,” said UAW cashier secretary Gary Castel.

Dolf Wari, co-chairman of the Mississippi Forward Movement and long-term black supporter of racial unity, said,

When he visited the Nissan plant in Canton, Wari said: “My antenna was in search of the same situation,” but instead he found a factory where 46 percent of the managers were black.

“This is a new Mississippi,” Viry says of the plant. “I do not think that the old arguments 50 years ago will help us move forward.”

But the Reverend Ishiyak Jackson, the pastor of the church-missionary Baptist freedom in Canton, said the Nissan plant management is working to ensure that employees do not vote for union management, which is reminiscent of the time when the Mississippi leaders tried to prevent black citizens from voting.

“Now just let everyone vote,” he said. “And if they vote against the union, then everyone will do their thing.”

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