Days before a potentially historic union vote at the Nissan plant in Canton, Mississippi, the car company has been accused of running one of the “nastiest anti-union campaigns in the modern history of the American labour movement”.
The vote, a fiercely contested effort by the United Auto Workers (UAW) union to represent a foreign automaker’s US plant, is planned for Thursday and Friday this week. It comes as US unions are hopeful they can overturn a series of defeats as they seek to build membership in southern states, where manufacturers have moved to take advantage of lower wages and non-union workforces.
In the closing days of the campaign, which has attracted support from the former presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders, UAW officials and their allies have become increasingly confident of victory even as managers have pressured workers to vote no. “People are rallying,” says Frank Figgers, co-chair of the Mississippi Alliance for Fairness at Nissan.
The UAW is undertaking an extensive door-to-door campaign to visit workers in their homes to discuss the union. The UAW has shipped in staff from all over the country to help in the effort.
Other unions from around the south have shipped in organizers from across the country to assist in the outreach to the plant’s nearly 4,000 workers.
Nissan has responded with fierce opposition. The company has blitzed local TV with anti-union ads and stands accused of both threatening and bribing workers to vote no. It requires workers to regularly attend anti-union roundtable group meetings as well as one-on-one meetings with their direct supervisors, some of whom have worn “vote no” T-shirts to work.
The Republican governor, Phil Bryant, has also come out hard for Nissan. “If you want to take away your job, if you want to end manufacturing as we know it in Mississippi, just start expanding unions,” Bryant said last week.
Washad Catchings, a Nissan worker, said: “There is no atmosphere of free choice in the Canton plant, just fear, which is what Nissan intends.”
Late Friday, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), the independent US government agency responsible for enforcing US labor law, filed the latest in a series of complaints against Nissan.
The NLRB alleged that Nissan had violated the law in these anti-union sessions by warning that workers would lose wages and benefits if they supported the union.
The NLRB also found that a supervisor at the plant told workers that if they spoke out against the union, he would personally ensure that they received increased wages and benefits.
“Nissan is running one of the nastiest anti-union campaigns in the modern history of the American labor movement,” said the UAW secretary-treasurer, Gary Casteel, in a statement regarding the most recent NLRB charges. “The company’s investors as well as socially conscious policy makers in the US and around the world need to understand what’s happening in Mississippi and join local civil rights leaders in calling for a halt to Nissan’s illegal and unethical behavior.”
This isn’t the first time that NLRB has cited Nissan. In 2015, the watchdog charged Nissan and its temporary employee agency provider, Kelly Services, with violating workers’ rights. This April, the NLRB charged Nissan and Kelly Services with threatening to close the plant if workers unionized. The NLRB also chargedthe company with breaking labor law by having security personnel perform unnecessary security stops on union members.
Nissan has denied all the charges including the most recent one issued by the NLRB and plans to appeal them. “Today, the UAW has launched another set of baseless allegations against Nissan Canton,” wrote the Nissan spokesperson Parul Baraj in a statement. “The UAW can now continue its campaign of deception and empty promises as they work to divide the Canton workforce.”
Nissan says it plans to continue its attempt to campaign against the union as the election approaches. However, some workers said Nissan’s campaign was backfiring. “It’s almost overkill,” Morris Mock, a Nissan employee, said. “It looks like the company is being more desperate in their attempt to fight the union.”
Ultimately, Mock remains confident that the anti-union strategy won’t work. “Workers are numb to it,” says Mock. “Most of them been in there 14 years, and in 28 days, you can’t convince a Nissan worker that you are a good company.”