Labor Voices: Nissan union vote was influenced

Gary Casteel

Not long ago, Carlos Ghosn, chairman and CEO of the Renault-Nissan Alliance, made a statement to the French government.

In a hearing before the French National Assembly, Ghosn denied allegations that Nissan opposed employee representation at its assembly plant in Mississippi and assured French lawmakers that the company had “no tradition of not cooperating with unions.” With an approximately 20 percent stake in Renault, the French government is the largest shareholder in Renault, which in turn is the largest shareholder in Nissan.

Fast-forward to this summer: If what happened during the union election at Nissan’s Canton plant is any indication, there’s a disconnect between Ghosn and his team on the ground in Mississippi. Or, more likely, Nissan is purposefully saying one thing to socially conscious policymakers and investors across the globe but doing something entirely different in the U.S. South.

Nissan employees courageously fought for a local union and came within a few hundred votes of achieving their dream. All of us were disappointed by the outcome in Canton, but we weren’t surprised. Despite Ghosn’s testimony that Nissan was neutral on the question of a union, the company waged an anti-union campaign unlike any I’ve seen.

Beginning in mid-July, Nissan launched a barrage of threats and intimidation. Supervisors pressured employees with anti-union messages in group and one-on-one meetings. The company broadcast anti-union videos inside the plant instructing workers to “Vote No” and made a sizable anti-union television buy in the central Mississippi media market.

Six days before voting began, the National Labor Relations Board issued the latest in a series of complaints against Nissan. The complaint alleges that the company threatened a loss of wages and benefits if employees supported a union — and that Nissan even threatened closing the Canton plant if employees supported a union. Under these conditions, it was impossible for Nissan employees to have a free and fair election.

In a post-mortem analysis of the election, the American Prospect rightfully noted unions are “forced to operate within a woefully antiquated labor law framework while corporations brazenly operate outside that framework with little fear of consequences or retribution.”

That sums up what happened in Canton. Despite this setback, the UAW will maintain forward momentum in the South. We now have more than 55,000 members in the region — including nearly 3,000 who joined since 2014. And we’re not giving up on workers at Nissan in Mississippi.

On behalf of those employees, the union has filed a new round of unfair labor practice charges against the carmaker. If Nissan is found to have committed the violations alleged by the NLRB, the federal agency can seek a binding court order to stop the company from breaking labor laws in the future. Meanwhile, civil rights leaders are keeping up the pressure. The Mississippi Alliance for Fairness at Nissan, a coalition of faith and community leaders, is redoubling efforts to work with labor allies around the world to educate the French government about Nissan’s threats and intimidation against its predominantly African-American Mississippi workforce. Ghosn can keep offering lip service. But he and Nissan can’t escape the truth of what really happened in Canton.

Gary Casteel is secretary-treasurer of the UAW and director of the international union’s transnational department.


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.