Mississippi auto workers accuse Nissan of anti-union labor violations

A new report chronicles employee issues, calls on Nissan to allow workers to vote on union representation

Nissan assembly line workers give a 2007 Nissan Titan its final inspection Thursday Sept. 21, 2006 at the Nissan North America Canton, Miss., assembly plant.
Mark Elias/Getty Images

According to a report released this week, Nissan has allegedly violated international labor standards by using what the report describes as anti-union tactics at its Canton, Miss., plant.

The report, published by Mississippi NAACP President Derrick Johnson and international labor law scholar Lance Compa, accuses Nissan of threatening employees who want to unionize and intimidating them in one-on-one meetings between workers and management.

The company's alleged anti-union tactics are chronicled in extensive detail in the 46-page report. The tactics include "mandatory "captive audience" meetings, individual sessions with supervisors, closed-circuit television presentations, surveillance and interrogations. The authors of the report say "Nissan management has relentlessly and repeatedly implied to its workforce that the plant faces the risk of closing down if the workers decide to have a union."

"It's constant discouragement," Rafael Martinez, an employee at the plant, said in the report. "Discouragement is a powerful thing. You don't feel like doing anything. The sad thing is, it works."

In a statement to Al Jazeera, Nissan strongly denied the allegations.

"This UAW-commissioned report is neither objective nor credible and simply restates two-years' worth of false allegations by the union," the automaker said. "Nissan has never violated labor standards and would never tolerate threats or intimidation of our employees. Nissan will continue to abide by U.S. labor laws and support the rights of employees to decide whether they wish to be represented by a union."

The Canton plant has nearly 4,000 employees and produces the popular Nissan Altima sedan, Titan truck and Armada SUV among other models. Employees interviewed for the report, which received financial and logistical support from the United Auto Workers union (UAW), list a host of other problems at the plant besides the anti-union stance the company has taken.

Employees say Nissan also blames the UAW for the financial problems of the "Detroit 3" — General Motors, Ford and Chrysler — and refers to employee efforts to form unions as the efforts of a "third party."

The report contains a transcript from an April 2005 meeting that highlights Nissan management's criticism of the union, and the potential for plant closures and layoffs if employees were to join the UAW:

"The UAW's record is one of plant closings, layoffs, decline of market share," the transcript from the Nissan meeting reads. "Nissan's record in the U.S. is one of building new plants, hiring to increase market share ... Virtually all of the new jobs in the auto industry are non-UAW companies. Virtually all of the plant closings and layoffs in the auto industry are predicted to be UAW-represented companies."

The report says workers also accuse Nissan management of favoritism among employees, issuing retaliatory job assignments, allowing pay disparities between the Canton plant and the Nissan plant in Smyrna, Tenn., denying them bathroom breaks and freezing their pension plans among other things.

"A lot of us who have been here longer see the need for a union," said Everlyn Cage, another plant employee. "But the younger people who went through all these meetings, they are scared about losing their jobs if they get involved."

Nissan says that in the 10 years the Canton plant has been open, employees have "chosen to maintain a direct relationship with the company rather than inviting an outside party like the UAW to speak for them." The report contends that Nissan has mounted an aggressive campaign to prevent workers from having a vote to elect union representation.

Employee Betty Jones agreed in the report that fear is what keeps she and her co-workers from unionizing.

"I love what I do. I love the people in this plant," said Jones. "I give the company more than 100 percent every minute of every day. But they just want us to come in and work and keep quiet. A lot of people do that because they're scared. That's the problem, the fear. We just want a fair election without the fear."

Al Jazeera

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