Renault-Nissan mistreats workers in Mississippi
While the world watched Olympic athletes compete in Brazil, employees of the Renault-Nissan Alliance protested how the automaker was violating the Olympic code of conduct by opposing union rights for workers in Canton, Miss.
Renault-Nissan’s plants in Mississippi and Brazil are worlds apart. But workers on both continents are aligned to promote meaningful representation for all employees.
Unfortunately, the Canton plant is one of the alliance’s few facilities in the world that has fought the presence of a union. The situation in Mississippi is disgraceful.
By some estimates, as many as 40 percent of the 5,000 workers at the Canton plant have been hired as temporary employees who work for years earning significantly lower wages and benefits than regular employees. Workers are concerned about safety issues inside the plant. An overwhelming majority of temporary employees are African-American, making this a civil-rights issue.
With all this in mind, paint technician Karen Camp traveled from Canton to the Olympics to join Brazilian allies in denouncing the alliance’s hypocrisy. While Renault-Nissan, as an Olympic sponsor, made assurances that “freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining are respected,” the alliance’s behavior in Canton demonstrates a decidedly different attitude.
Camp’s message burned as bright as the symbolic Olympic torch that she carried in protesting at a Nissan dealership in São Paulo.
“All we want in Mississippi is fairness, which is part of the Olympic spirit,” Camp said. “We want to be treated with the same respect as Brazilian workers. We want to put employees’ health and well-being above profits. We want to work in a non-hostile environment without being threatened. We just want to be treated like all decent people should be treated — with respect.”
While Camp and other employees are speaking out, Renault-Nissan is engaged in the worst kind of double-talk.
In a February hearing before the French National Assembly, Carlos Ghosn, chairman and CEO of Nissan, Renault, and the Renault-Nissan Alliance, denied allegations that the alliance opposes employee representation in Mississippi, saying there is “no tradition of not cooperating with unions.”
But the following month, on the heels of Ghosn’s seemingly pro-labor comments, the alliance broadcast a video inside the Mississippi plant in which a top plant manager stated: “We believe that it is not in the best interest of our employees, our customers or our community to have the UAW here.”
The reality is: In 2015, Renault-Nissan rejected an offer by the U.S. State Department to mediate a dispute between the alliance and the UAW over claims of anti-union practices. Later that year, the National Labor Relations Board charged Renault-Nissan with violating workers’ rights in Canton, including threatening employees with termination over union activity.
Renault-Nissan’s opposition to a union in Canton is contrary to its stated principles – to Olympics organizers, the French government and the rest of the world.
Going forward, the UAW calls on the Renault-Nissan Alliance to stop the double-talk and promote an environment of neutrality at the company’s Canton plant. Hard-working employees in Mississippi deserve the opportunity for employee representation – for themselves, their families and their future.
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.