Workers at the Nissan auto plant in Canton, Mississippi, rejected a unionization effort by the United Auto Workers (UAW) on August 3-4, leaving intact the union’s record of unsuccessful organizing attempts at foreign-owned auto plants in the South.
The UAW has never fully organized a foreign-owned auto plant in the South, so it knew it faced an uphill battle when it launched the effort more than five years ago. The union enlisted the support of local churches and mobilized college students and community and religious leaders to form the Mississippi Alliance for Fairness at Nissan, a group that included the NAACP.
The unionization effort at the Canton plant, which makes pickups and SUVs, also saw support from actor Danny Glover and Bernie Sanders, the U.S. senator from Vermont and former presidential candidate.
The alliance used the slogan “Labor Rights Are Civil Rights” as it campaigned for union representation at the Canton facility, where the majority of the workforce is African-American.
Arguments pro and con
Supporters of the UAW said workers needed a union to give them a voice in their workplace. Union supporters said the UAW could prevent arbitrary treatment by managers and empower workers to bargain for better pay, working conditions, and safety protections. They pointed to a worker in Mississippi who lost several fingers on an assembly line and a Tennessee employee who was killed on the job.
Workers opposed to unionization rejected the idea of a union speaking for them. They also cited the economic woes of General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler and didn’t want to burden an employer that pays them well. Unionization foes also pointed to the UAW’s record on strikes, plant closings, and layoffs and the belief that unions make a company less flexible and unable to meet the demands of the market.
About 3,700 of the 6,400 people who work at the Canton plant were eligible to vote. Excluded from the vote were managers, engineers, clerical workers, guards, and numerous contract laborers provided by employment agencies. The Mississippi Manufacturing Association reported that 97% of eligible voters turned out to vote, with 63% voting against the union and 37% voting for the union.
Although the vote went against the UAW, the union is challenging the election, alleging that Nissan’s communications before the election intimidated and threatened employees into believing that the facility might close or that layoffs would occur if the union was voted in. It is illegal to make such threats in response to union organization. Nissan blamed the UAW for the troubles of General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler and said it was merely trying to counter the UAW’s “false promises” to workers.
If the union is successful in its challenge, another vote could be held or Nissan could be forced to recognize the UAW as the representative of the employees as though the union was successful in the election. If the challenge is rejected, the Nissan facility will continue as nonunion.
More information on the vote will be available in the September issue of Mississippi Employment Law Letter.