After bitter campaign, Nissan Mississippi employees reject UAW

By Graeme Roberts | 7 August 2017

Nissan said employees voted to reject the United Auto Workers (UAW) effort to unionise the Canton, Mississippi plant by nearly a 2-to-1 margin. The NLRB conducted election tally was 2244 to 1307, opposing the UAW.

The union in turn claimed "an unprecedented campaign of corporate threats and intimation" employees tonight "fell short in their bid for a union".

According to the automaker: With this vote, the voice of Nissan employees has been heard. They have rejected the UAW and chosen to self-represent, continuing the direct relationship they enjoy with the company. Our expectation is that the UAW will respect and abide by their decision and cease their efforts to divide our Nissan family. Now that the election is complete, Nissan will focus on bringing all employees back together as one team, building great vehicles and writing our next chapter in Mississippi.

"We appreciate the National Labour Relations Board's role in conducting a fair election."

The UAW claimed voting began last week, less than a week after the NLRB issued the latest in a series of unfair labour practice complaints against issan.

"The courageous workers of Nissan, who fought tirelessly for union representation alongside community and civil rights leaders, should be proud of their efforts to be represented by the UAW," said president Dennis Williams in a statement. "The result of the election was a setback for these workers, the UAW and working Americans everywhere, but in no way should it be considered a defeat. 

"Perhaps recognising they couldn't keep their workers from joining our union based on the facts, Nissan and its anti-worker allies ran a vicious campaign against its own workforce that was comprised of intense scare tactics, misinformation and intimidation."

Ahead of the vote result, in its latest complaint against Nissan, the NLRB alleged the company recently threatened a loss of wages and benefits if employees support a union, threatened closing of the Canton plant if employees support a union, interrogated employees about union support, and promised increased benefits and improved working conditions if employees oppose a union. 

Canton is one of only three Nissan facilities in the world, including two in Tennessee, where workers are not represented by a union. 

Acting on behalf of Nissan employees and in response to the events of recent weeks, the UAW filed a new round of unfair labour practice charges with the NLRB shortly before the polls closed in Canton. The charges allege additional violations of the National Labor Relations Act, including widespread surveillance of worker union activity, threats that benefits would be taken away if the Nissan Canton workforce votes for UAW representation, termination of a pro-union Kelly [Services, a supplier of contract temporary labour] worker, threatening another worker that she could be terminated if the UAW was to become the representative of Nissan workers, a threat that UAW's bargaining with Nissan would be futile, and Nissan's denial of equal access to voters. 

"We're disappointed but not surprised by the outcome in Canton," said Gary Casteel, secretary-treasurer of the UAW and director of the international union's transnational department. "Despite claiming for years to be neutral on the question of a union, Nissan waged one of the most illegal and unethical anti-union campaigns that I've seen in my lifetime."

Clearly, Nissan will not honour workers' right to be free of coercion and intimidation without a binding court order requiring the company to stop."

The UAW and the Mississippi Alliance for Fairness at Nissan (MAFFAN), a coalition of faith and community leaders, pledged to redouble efforts to work with labour allies at Nissan plants around the world to keep pressuring the company and to educate the French government about Nissan's threats and intimidation against its predominantly African-American workforce in Mississippi. With an approximately 20% stake in Renault, the French government is the largest shareholder in Renault, which in turn is the largest shareholder in Nissan.

Reuters noted the vote at the end of a bitterly contested campaign extended a decades-long record of failure by the union to 'organise' a major automaker's plant in the US south.

It said the vote at the Canton plant could leave the UAW weakened ahead of contract negotiations with the Detroit Three automakers in 2019 when many analysts are predicting a cyclical slump for US auto sales.

The last failed UAW vote in the US south, at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee in 2014, was far closer than the tally in Mississippi.

Pro-union workers have told Reuters the Nissan plant - which builds Murano sport utility vehicles, commercial vans, and Titan and Frontier pickup trucks - has a poor safety record and the automaker moved them to a 401(k) defined retirement plan from a traditional pension fund.

The UAW had put 10 years of groundwork into the vote at the Mississippi factory after two unsuccessful attempts at a plant in Tennessee, only to fall well short in a bitterly contested campaign that the union maintained was a continuation of the civil rights struggle of the 1960s.