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, Miss. (AP) — Nissan Motor Co. has declined to talk to union supporters about conditions at its Mississippi assembly plant after a March 4 pro-union rally headlined by U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders.
A March 14 letter from Nissan executive Scott Becker to the United Auto Workers union declines to address demands presented after a March 4 pro-union rally. Among other things, the union had demanded that Nissan discuss a neutrality agreement with the UAW covering an employee vote on union representation. Becker described claims that Nissan is improperly intimidating pro-union workers as "categorically false."
"It would be inappropriate to have discussions with your union regarding employees at Nissan's manufacturing plant in Canton, Miss., without your union first having obtained the support of a majority of employees at that plant," Becker wrote in a letter to UAW President Dennis Williams. The union provided a copy of the letter to The Associated Press.
It's the latest rebuff by Nissan in the UAW's years-long campaign to organize workers at the 6,400-employee complex. Nissan's management opposes unionization in Canton, although Becker wrote that "Nissan fully respects the rights of employees to unionize or not to unionize, as they choose."
The UAW has long struggled to unionize foreign-owned auto plants across the South. It has lost two votes at Nissan's plant in Smyrna, Tennessee, and no vote has ever been held in Canton. In Mississippi, the UAW has tried to build support for unionization by linking it to civil rights for African Americans. It has also tried to pressure the Japanese automaker through the French government's ownership stake in Nissan's business partner, the Renault Group.
Sanders, a Vermont independent, as well as NAACP President Cornell William Brooks spoke at the rally. Brooks told the AP in a phone interview that he's disappointed that Nissan responded only to the UAW and not to other speakers.
"If it's good enough for the company to create products around the world with unions at their side, why is this not the case for Mississippi and why can't we talk about it?" Brooks said, noting Nissan's only nonunionized plants are in Mississippi and Tennessee. "It's perplexing as a matter of logic and it's insulting as a matter of respect."
The Rev. Isiac Jackson, who chairs the Mississippi Alliance for Fairness at Nissan, said he's willing to abide by a vote's outcome, as long as it happens on more favorable terms.
"Let them vote a union in or vote a union out and the union moves on and I shut up," Jackson said.
But many Nissan employees say they don't want a union, and the company says it's the UAW that's unfairly pressuring the company.
"Nissan respects and values the Canton workforce, and our history reflects that we recognize the employees' rights to decide for themselves whether or not to have third-party representation," spokeswoman Parul Bajaj said.