Voting begins in union election at Nissan plant
Voting has begun in the election to determine whether Nissan workers in Canton, Mississippi, will join the United Auto Workers union.
Polls opened at the Nissan Canton Vehicle Assembly Plant at 2 a.m. central time Thursday. Voting is scheduled to conclude at 7 p.m. Friday. The results will be announced by the National Labor Relations Board, which is supervising the balloting.
The election follows two previous failures by the UAW to organize workers at Nissan’s plant in Smyrna, Tennessee.
After other rejections in the union’s quest to represent workers employed by foreign automakers with factories in the South, this week’s vote has been seen as the best chance for the UAW to gain a foothold there.
The last days of the campaign were being conducted against a backdrop of last week’s indictment of Monica Morgan-Holiefield, 54, of Harrison Township, and Alphons Iacobelli, 57, of Rochester Hills.
They are charged with siphoning money that was meant for employee training to pay for personal expenses and travel in violation of the Labor Management Relations Act.
Morgan-Holiefield, who was married to the late UAW Vice President General Holiefield, is charged with participating in a multi-year enrichment scheme that allegedly included paying off her $262,000 mortgage and buying $30,000 in airline tickets, using money that was supposed to benefit blue-collar FCA workers.
Iacobelli, a former top labor negotiator at Fiat Chrysler, is accused of pocketing employee training funds to pay for a $350,000 Ferrari 458 Spider, two solid-gold Mont Blanc pens costing $37,500 each, a swimming pool and more.
The UAW and its supporters have accused Nissan of seeking to block efforts to unionize by its workers in Mississippi, in violation of federal labor protections.
They cite allegations from employees about receiving pressure from supervisors to vote “no” on unionization since the petition for the election was filed July 11.
Nissan, which builds Altimas, Frontiers, Muranos, Titans and NV commercial vans in Canton, has denied allegations of intimidating its workers there, and said the factory has a safety record that’s “significantly better” than the national average.
The company has argued there is not sufficient interest among its workforce in joining the UAW, pointing out that efforts to unionize at its Smyrna, Tennessee, plant failed in 1989 and 2001.
On Nissan’s local employee website and Facebook page, the Japanese automaker has posted news stories about the indictments and talked about the union’s legal troubles in presentations to workers.
“Voters have the right to know the company’s perspective on what we believe is in the best interest of our team and our plant, as well as important information about the UAW and about union representation,” Nissan said when asked about the latest twist in its “vote no” campaign.
Gary Casteel, the UAW’s secretary-treasurer and director of the union’s transnational department, dismissed the idea that the allegations against its former leaders would harm the union’s chances of winning the Mississippi election.
“This was an isolated incident involving a rogue individual in our organization and a rogue individual in the corporation,” he said in a statement. “No union funds or dues were involved. Regardless, we dealt with it swiftly and decisively, and we have fully cooperated with authorities.”
The union election in Mississippi is being closely watched as a sign of the UAW’s vitality outside of the midwestern hub of the Detroit Three automakers.
Despite its two previous failures at Nissan, the UAW has experienced recent successes in smaller elections in the South.
Skilled-trades workers who maintain machinery and robots at Volkswagen’s factory in Chattanooga voted for UAW representation by a margin of 108-44 in a 2015 election.
That vote took place 20 months after the union was narrowly defeated in an election involving all hourly employees.
UAW President Dennis Williams has expressed optimism that the election will turn out in the union’s favor.
But he cautioned last week at the union’s headquarters in Detroit that “any campaign you do is an ongoing evaluation.”
Kristin Dziczek, director of the Industry, Labor and Economics Group at the Center for Automotive Research, said the skirmishes over the UAW-Fiat Chrysler scandal that have roiled the Nissan election have the potential to color union elections for the foreseeable future.
“Companies will portray the union in certain ways, and this certainly does give them ammunition to use against the UAW or to publicize against the UAW,” she said.
“I think it’s a shame there are a few bad apples on both the company and the union’s sides that are tarnishing the reputations of both,” Dziczek said. “I think companies will try to use this for many years to come.”
Jim Lynch and Melissa Burden contributed.