U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, spoke at the March on Mississippi in Canton on Saturday, March 4, supporting efforts of some workers at the Nissan plant to unionize.
Photo by Arielle Dreher.
JACKSON Auto industry workers, advocates and politicians marched on the Nissan Plant in Canton on Saturday to show support for a union and to urge workers there to unionize. The March on Mississippi drew U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, the president of the NAACP and the president of the United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America, called UAW, which is an international union.
Speakers rallied at the Canton sportsplex Saturday afternoon, and then attendees marched to the Nissan plant in Canton. Organizers estimated that approximately 4,000 people attended the event.
UAW President Dennis Williams highlighted the benefits of unionization, saying that in most of UAW's agreements with corporations, it has a right to send in international experts to investigate and determine what happened in work incidents. Overall, the benefit of unionization, he said, was collective bargaining.
"We know what it's like when a local union is formed; they elect their officials to go to the table to bargain for them because they've lived it in the workplace," Williams said Saturday. "They know the situation; this is not about being anti-Nissan; this is about a balance of power where workers have a voice in the workplace."
Ultimately, he said, "It is up to the Nissan workers to make it happen."
The Associated Press reported that the Canton Nissan plant faces citations from the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which outlined issues on the conveyor line and other necessary changes needed inside the plant. Previously, the company seemed to oppose a union at the plant, the AP reported, but now Nissan says the choice is up to workers. "Nissan respects and values the Canton work force, and our history reflects that we recognize the employees' rights to decide for themselves whether or not to have third-party representation," Nissan spokeswoman Parul Bajaj told the AP last week.
U.S. Congressman Bennie Thompson of Mississippi spoke at the rally Saturday, saying the gathering is about choice.
"This march is about whether or not workers, in their infinite wisdom, will choose what's in their best interests, or are they going to be continually conned by the company?" Thompson told the crowd on Saturday.
Thompson also criticized the company's policy on temporary workers. "So the con says you can come to work now, and down the road you will become a Nissan worker, but you're going to be a temporary worker for a long, long while, and those benefits that you thought you were going to get are going to come down the road after you quit becoming a temp," he said.
Sanders was the last speaker in the hour-long rally, and he called on Nissan to provide decent wages and benefits to Nissan employees. Sanders pointed to the state's high childhood poverty rate and the shrinking middle class in the country, saying the Nissan plant workers would likely make more if they unionize.
"So we say to Nissan, it's great that your CEO makes $9 million, it's great that you made $6 billion in profit, but you know what? Share some of that wealth with your workers," Sanders told the crowd on Saturday. "The reason that we see opposition to unions here in Mississippi and, in fact, all over the country is because unions work in providing increased wages and benefits."
College students from across Mississippi, union workers from around the country, and local advocates and Nissan plant workers attended the rally. On Sunday the AP reported that UAW charged Nissan Motor Co. for breaking federal labor laws on Thursday. Nissan spokespeople told the AP that they were investigating claims that Nissan workers were stopped from handing out literature and asking fellow employees to authorize a union vote.
Email state reporter Arielle Dreher at [email protected] and follow her at @arielle_amara for breaking news.