Union talk escalates as Nissan workers rebut claims made by UAW
Wednesday, March 1, 2017 6:00 PM
Several workers at the Nissan Vehicle Assembly Plant in Canton say that allegations made about unsafe working conditions and intimidation by senior executives over pro-union activity are baseless and false.
The Nissan Murano is one of eight different styles made at the Canton Vehicle Assembly Plant.
This comes on the heels of a scheduled march and rally Saturday which will feature U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, who unsuccessfully ran for the Democratic presidential nomination last year. Hollywood actor Danny Glover, U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson and other pro-union leaders will march towards the plant this weekend to address grievances, citing “Workers’ Rights equal Civil Rights.”
Claude Potter has been with the Nissan plant since it opened 14 years ago and has works as a repair technician.
“I’m just curious to see how many of (the people marching) actually work here at the plant,” Potter said, noting there isn’t as much union support in Canton as the United Auto Workers lead some to believe.
In order to have a union election, 30 percent of the 6,400 workers have to sign cards. Then, 50 percent, plus one have to vote to form a union. Although there have been multiple attempts to rally for a union over the last 14 years, the UAW has never reached the 30 percent threshold to even have an election.
“I guarantee you it ain’t gonna be overwhelming people that work inside the plant that’s out there marching,” Potter said.
Potter is anti-union and said the UAW is not needed in Canton.
“Are there issues, there are,” he said. “I’m sure there are issues where you work. We might not agree with everything that goes on but I promise you I don’t think a union is an answer to the issues.”
Potter also disagrees with the narrative from the UAW that they were called into Canton by workers and didn’t just show up out of the blue.
“They’ve been here as long as I’ve been here trying to get in,” he said. “From day one it’s been people out here from UAW trying to get a vote in the plant. They came because they see an opportunity to try and raise more money.”
Alexandra Landing started work 14 years ago, too, when the plant first opened. She worked for 12 years as a repair technician and in pre-delivery before receiving a promotion to supervisor two years ago.
She said the UAW has really amped up union efforts in the last five years or so, calling members and meeting them at their homes trying to push them to sign UAW cards.
“When I was a technician they came by my house unannounced several times,” she said. “My children were in my yard. They would talk to my children and say, ‘Tell your mom to call us.’”
Landing said it got to the point where she had to “get nasty” with them on the phone to leave her and her family alone.
“When Nissan came I was a single parent with a child trying to make a great life for her,” she said. “I got a job paying much more than the $12-$13 an hour I was making. I don’t have a college education, only a high school diploma.”
She met her husband at Nissan and have been able to pay for three children to attend college.
“I worked very, very hard for 12 years to attain some personal goals to show my children anything is possible,” she said.
As far as unsafe working conditions, Landing said the company has an open door policy and scheduled forums where workers are able to meet and discuss issues with management where grievances are addressed.
“Any opinion can be taken seriously if it’s presented in the correct way,” she said. “Everybody has a right and reason for their own opinion, but whatever those opinions are you can’t push them off on someone else.”
She said she takes issue with allegations that supervisors threaten workers with their jobs if they try to organize because she didn’t witness that when she was on the line and doesn’t do that now in a supervisory role.
What bothers her even more though is the pro-union faction equating working conditions with civil rights given Mississippi’s dark history on the subject.
“I take offense to it,” Landing, who is African-American, said. “It bothers me for you to say that your civil rights are being violated because you feel like something is not going your way. It’s a tagline or words to incite. It’s offensive to my aunt, to my grandmother, to people who have really gone through civil rights struggles.”
Helelaine Osborn gets angry when she hears “Workers’ Rights equal Civil Rights.”
Like Potter and Landing, she has been with the plant since it first opened and works on pre-delivery, being one of the first to drive the cars off the line.
“I’m an African-American woman; what right are you saying they’re violating,” she charged. “It’s so unfair to all the people that marched that was for civil rights. The people that died. The people that sacrificed. It’s so unfair to them to use something that was so hard. We have come a long way and I know we still got a ways to go but why would you use something like that for your gain.”
She said it would be different if people were mistreated or if 80 percent of the workforce was white instead of it being 80 percent black.
Osborn said there are things she would like to see changed at Nissan but echoed the open door policy and said “Nissan is not a perfect company, but we live in an imperfect world.”
She said if you ask people who are pro-union why they are pro-union she can’t get any real details out of people.
“It’s people that want something for nothing — they want to do less work,” she said. “Most of the people I know that is pro-union — and I hate to say this — are lazy people. They always had a complaint about something.”
Multiple attempts to contact pro-union employees and members of the UAW for comment were unsuccessful.
One pro-union employee was scheduled for a telephone interview and never called. Attempts to reach others by Facebook and other means were unsuccessful.
UAW Treasurer Gary Casteel, who has been very vocal about the Canton plant in other publications including The Clarion-Ledger, was unavailable for comment. In the Ledger article, Casteel called the Canton plant the “poster child of worker oppression.”
On Wednesday, the Journal was sent a press release stating the march was to “demand that the company respect is workers’ right to vote for a union free from fear and intimidation.”
Morris Mock, a Nissan employee at the Canton plant, said in the statement they need a union for collective bargaining over safety issues and other matters.
“Nissan employees are working under punishing production quotas and unsafe conditions in Canton, and the company does not respect our rights on the job,” Mock is quoted in the release. “We risk our lives every day because Nissan refuses to make the plant safe, and when we speak out to demand basic protections, the company threatens and harasses us.”
He added, “That’s why we’re joining together to demand the good jobs that our community deserves, and we won’t back down until we win the freedom to stand together in a union.”
“I am proud to join in fighting to give workers at Nissan’s Canton, Mississippi, plant the justice, dignity and the right to join a union that they deserve,” Sen. Sanders stated in the release. “Nissan has union representation at 42 out of its 45 plants around the world. The American South should not be treated differently.”
The march will begin at 12:30 at the Canton Sportsplex at 501 Soldiers Colony Road before protestors march approximately two miles to the assembly plant.