Earlier this month, top executives at Nissan North America received a letter from supporters of the Mississippi Alliance for Fairness at Nissan (MAFFAN), a coalition of civil rights leaders, ministers and worker advocates who support Nissan employees’ efforts to form a union.
The two-page letter — signed by prominent supporters including U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, NAACP President William Cornell Brooks and Sierra Club President Aaron Mair — laid out three basic demands for the company on behalf of employees at its central Mississippi assembly plant, which produces models including the Altima, Frontier, Murano and Titan.
■First: Immediately cease intimidation and threats by plant managers against Nissan employees who want a union. This demand follows a complaint by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) that found Nissan unlawfully threatened to close the Canton plant if workers unionize, threatened employees with termination for union activity and unlawfully interrogated employees. Nissan has “been interfering with, restraining and coercing employees in the exercise of their rights,” according to the NLRB.
■Second: Ensure a safe workplace in Canton, and provide Nissan employees with the training and equipment necessary to avoid debilitating injuries caused by punishing production quotas. This demand follows multiple citations from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration against Nissan for violations of federal laws. The most recent citations, issued last month, found that Nissan “did not furnish employment and a place of employment which was free from recognized hazards that were causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm to employees.”
■Third: Meet with representatives of MAFFAN and the UAW 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. This demand follows a recent rally and march in which an estimated 5,000 Mississippians joined arms to deliver a simple message to the gates of the Nissan plant: Workers’ rights are civil rights.
Most carmakers in the U.S., when presented with these kinds of basic demands — stop threats and intimidation, ensure a safe workplace, and meet with employee representatives — would do the right thing and try to rectify the situation. Instead, Nissan’s response to Sanders, Brooks, Mair and others amounted to a snub: “We respectfully decline your request for a meeting.”
Unfortunately, Nissan’s refusal to abide by federal laws and its unwillingness to come to the table is part of a troubling pattern. Two years ago, the U.S. State Department even offered to mediate the situation in Canton, saying that worker complaints were “material and substantiated and merit further examination.” However, the company rejected the government’s offer, leading the State Department to say that it “regrets Nissan’s unwillingness to participate in the process.”
As an employee at the Canton plant — one of only three Nissan facilities in the world without unions — I find the whole thing discouraging. But my co-workers and I aren’t giving up.
Despite Nissan’s repeated violations of federal laws, and refusal to come to the table, we’re going to keep pushing for a union. That’s because we believe all Nissan employees in Canton deserve better — and that workers’ rights are civil rights.
Robin Moore is an employee at the Nissan plant in Canton, Miss.
Labor Voices columns are written on a rotating basis by United Auto Workers President Dennis Williams, Teamsters President James Hoffa, Michigan AFL-CIO President Ron Bieber and Michigan Education Association President Steven Cook.