It’s devastating news that working people at Nissan’s Canton, Mississippi plant lost their fight to come together in union with United Automobile Workers (UAW). The automaker’s extreme actions robbed its employees of a free and fair vote, and it’s not possible to accept the results at face value.
Last month, Nissan’s autoworkers in Canton decided they wanted to vote and have a say over their working conditions. They were motivated to innovate where Nissan failed to, seeking the safe, healthy, and dynamic workplace the profitable company promised when it opened the plant 15 years ago.
Fed up with unsustainable wages, mounting workplace safety concerns, permatemp jobs, and punishing shifts, the men and women building Nissan’s cars saw a real opportunity for change. Twina Scott, who has worked for Nissan for 14 years, believed she and her co-workers could solve these problems by coming together in union. “What I know is we need a voice in that plant,” the mother of two said.
Twina and her teammates called on their employer to “Do Better.” Instead, Nissan launched an all-out attack on those who dared to stand up for the right to earn a fair return on their work.
According to employee reports, and complaints from federal authorities, the auto giant threatened, coerced, and retaliated against those who supported joining in union. Nissan issued salacious claims that a union would lower wages, harm benefits, or even cost jobs. Managers screened anti-union videos on a continuous loop in plant breakrooms and pulled individuals into intimidating meetings to pressure them to vote against their own interest. The company even fired one person for wearing a pro-union T-shirt, while supervisors wore anti-union shirts to work.
Operating in a state scarred by slavery, Jim Crow laws, and the struggle for civil rights, Nissan has a shameful record of oppressing its predominantly African-American workforce and suppressing their votes. It’s no accident that the Canton plant is one of only three Nissan facilities in the world where the corporation resists working people negotiating over the terms of their work. During the most recent presidential election, managers told some employees they could not make any accommodations for them to vote if they were scheduled for 12-hour shifts that conflicted with voting hours.
The New York Times referred to the union election as “racially charged.” African Americans working for Nissan say the company rewarded white employees with promotions, and outside the plant, race baiters used propaganda to sway votes. White supremacist groups distributed a racist anti-union flyer urging people to vote against joining in union.
History is not lost on this moment. Yesterday marked the 52nd anniversary of the Voting Rights Act. The federal government prohibited discrimination in voting a century after the abolishment of slavery. It tamped down on laws in southern states designed to suppress the civil rights of African Americans and the poor. Nissan depriving thousands of southern, Black Americans of their freedom to vote and take part in democracy is an affront to all those who devoted their lives in the fight for voting rights in this country.
“American workers need champions more than ever,” said UAW President Dennis Williams. “The workers of Nissan deserve to have the job security, safe working conditions, and collective bargaining power that come only from belonging to a union. Despite the setback, working people of the UAW will continue to be on the frontlines of that fight for all workers.”
The men and women assembling cars in Canton cracked open the door to expose what corporations (like Nissan) in the Deep South still try to get away with. The arc of justice is a long road, and at the end, working people can and will win the freedom to transform their jobs, their lives, and their communities.