Nis­san ramps up anti-union push

Work­ers at 450,000-ve­hi­cle Mis­sis­sippi plant to vote in Au­gust

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - BUSINESS & FARM - JEFF AMY

CANTON, Miss. — The United Auto Work­ers faces a strong anti-union cam­paign from Nis­san Mo­tor Co. as it tries to gain a foothold in the union-averse South by or­ga­niz­ing work­ers at the Ja­panese au­tomaker’s Mis­sis­sippi plant.

As many as 4,000 work­ers will vote Aug. 3 and Aug. 4 at the ve­hi­cle assem­bly plant in Canton, just north of Jack­son. The union prom­ises it will help ne­go­ti­ate bet­ter working con­di­tions, ben­e­fits and wages at the plant. How­ever, man­agers warn that the union will ul­ti­mately hurt both the com­pany and the work­ers.

Union sup­port­ers tried to pres­sure Nis­san for years into stay­ing neu­tral, or at least ton­ing down its an­tiu­nion stance. But man­agers, while say­ing work­ers get to de­cide, are push­ing against the United Auto Work­ers. The com­pany is broad­cast­ing anti-union videos in­side the plant, and the union says su­per­vi­sors are pulling work­ers into pri­vate meet­ings to gauge union sup­port and per­suade work­ers against union­iz­ing.

The United Auto Work­ers has tried to bol­ster sup­port among the ma­jor­ity black work­force by link­ing union sup­port to civil rights, but even union sup­port­ers ad­mit man­age­ment’s mes­sage is caus­ing some pro-union work­ers to wa­ver.

“Peo­ple who were for the union are now un­de­cided,” said Shanta But­ler, a union sup­porter.

The stakes are high. The union has never or­ga­nized an en­tire for­eign-owned auto plant in the South, although it did win an elec­tion among main­te­nance tech­ni­cians at a Volk­swa­gen AG plant in Chat­tanooga, Tenn. For­eign au­tomak­ers came South in part to avoid unions, and most ben­e­fit from lower la­bor costs.

Work­ers at Nis­san’s plant in Smyrna, Tenn., re­jected the union in 1989 and 2001 votes,

but this is the first elec­tion in Canton. Though unions have strug­gled to crack South­ern auto plants owned by for­eign com­pa­nies, unions have pre­vailed na­tion­wide in 65 per­cent of elec­tions from Oc­to­ber through June, Na­tional La­bor Re­la­tions Board fig­ures show.

The top Nis­san ex­ec­u­tive in Canton ap­peared in the first video urg­ing re­jec­tion of the United Auto Work­ers barely a day af­ter the union an­nounced that it had filed a pe­ti­tion with the la­bor board to hold the elec­tion.

“We know the union will make prom­ises it can’t keep to get you to vote for the UAW,” Marsh said in a recorded video mes­sage to work­ers.

“But when you see the UAW’s empty prom­ises for what they re­ally are, and get the com­plete facts, the choice

is clear.”

Anti-union mes­sages from man­agers aren’t un­usual in la­bor elec­tions, but the pres­sure can be very un­com­fort­able for work­ers.

“It is of­ten very tense,” said Van­der­bilt Uni­ver­sity so­ci­ol­o­gist Dan Corn­field, who has stud­ied unions.

“It’s tense be­cause both sides feel a lot is rid­ing on it for them.”

United Auto Work­ers Secretary-Trea­surer Gary Cas­teel said the union’s goal is to help wa­ver­ing union sup­port­ers “have enough for­ti­tude” to stick with the union in the face of anti-union mes­sages. Nis­san con­tends the union his­tory of strikes and other ac­tions have caused eco­nomic losses for work­ers and au­tomak­ers; Nis­san main­tains its work­ers al­ready have good pay and ben­e­fits.

“I’ve never seen a more ag­gres­sive cam­paign,” Cas­teel said in a phone in­ter­view. “I’ve seen a lot as ag­gres­sive.”

Cas­teel called man­age­ment’s ef­forts “in­tim­i­da­tion,” but Nis­san spokesman Parul Ba­jaj re­jected that de­scrip­tion. Man­agers have said they’re giv­ing work­ers the facts about the auto union.

“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,” Ba­jaj said.

The union hasn’t al­leged any new vi­o­la­tions of fed­eral la­bor law. Fol­low­ing ear­lier United Auto Work­ers al­le­ga­tions, the Na­tional La­bor Re­la­tions Board charged, among other things, that man­agers il­le­gally ques­tioned work­ers and threat­ened to close the plant if it union­ized. That le­gal case is un­re­solved.

The 14-year-old plant is where Fron­tier and Ti­tan pick­ups, Mu­rano SUVs and NV vans are as­sem­bled. Its an­nual ca­pac­ity of 450,000 ve­hi­cles is about 8 per­cent of all Nis­san

ve­hi­cles made world­wide last year.

United Auto Work­ers sup­port­ers have protested against Nis­san’s op­po­si­tion to the union around the world, es­pe­cially in France. The French gov­ern­ment owns nearly 20 per­cent of the Re­nault Group, Nis­san’s busi­ness part­ner. Car­los Ghosn, Re­nault Nis­san Al­liance chair­man, told French law­mak­ers in 2016 that the al­liance “has no tra­di­tion of not co­op­er­at­ing with unions.”

Cas­teel said the union may raise Nis­san’s op­po­si­tion with French of­fi­cials, of­ten much more sym­pa­thetic to or­ga­nized la­bor than their Amer­i­can coun­ter­parts.

It’s un­likely pres­sure on Mis­sis­sippi work­ers will lessen be­fore they vote.

“They al­ways say the same old things and they al­ways do the same old things,” Cas­teel said.

“The rea­son they do them is be­cause they work.”

AP file photo

Pickup frames are sus­pended on the assem­bly line at the Nis­san Canton Ve­hi­cle Assem­bly Plant in Canton, Miss., in April 2016. An em­ployee vote at the plant on United Auto Worker rep­re­sen­ta­tion is set for Aug. 3 and Aug. 4.

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