Nissan pursued by UAW amid Geneva's glitz
Photo credit: Peter Brown
The UAW hoped to steal some of Nissan Motor Co.'s limelight at the Geneva auto show today by holding a press conference there to accuse Nissan of mistreating its nonunion U.S. factory workers.
The message might not reverberate with international media focused on sports cars and European luxury models. But the event underscored how the union intends to hound Nissan at international venues.
"We want Nissan to stop intimidating workers from speaking in support of a union. Nissan should give equal time in the workplace for workers to hear the union side of why unions might benefit us so we can have a union vote free of fear and intimidation from the company," Mississippi Nissan worker Willard "Chip" Wells said in a statement.
"Nissan recognizes unions in its plants in countries all over the world, but they prevent it in Mississippi. We don't want to be treated like second-class citizens in our own country anymore."
Today's press conference required the union to transport a UAW staff contingent, Mississippi organizers and a small number of Canton, Miss., employees to Switzerland to discuss Nissan's nonunion U.S. operations.
A Nissan spokesperson had no comment on Tuesday when asked about the UAW's plans.
The UAW is campaigning to unionize Nissan's 5,000-worker assembly plant in Canton, where it builds multiple models. The union also recently met with workers at Nissan's U.S. plant in Smyrna, Tenn.
The organizers already have reached into the glittering world of auto shows once this season to air their fight with Nissan. The UAW picketed during the Detroit show in January.
The union contends Nissan is attempting to intimidate its Canton employees into shying away from an organizing vote. Nissan maintains that it has an exemplary record in treating workers fairly.
The UAW has failed in two previous attempts to organize Nissan's U.S. workers.
UAW PRESS RELEASE: Nissan workers and the civil rights leaders travel to Geneva Motor Show
Workers and Mississippi community leaders reveal how Nissan treats its employees
Workers from the Nissan plant in Canton, Mississippi in the United States will join members of the Mississippi Alliance for Fairness at Nissan (MAFFAN), an organization representing clergy, elected officials, civil rights activists and students, in Geneva on March 6 to reveal how Nissan treats its employees. The group will detail how Nissan is ignoring international labor standards, including freedom of association and the right to engage in collective bargaining by denying workers in its Mississippi plant a fair union election and using a campaign of fear to discourage employees from considering a union.
"Nissan lets us know, they don't want a union in Mississippi," said Mississippi Nissan worker Michael Carter. "They try to scare you about unions. They imply the plant will close if we support a union. We need a fair process so that workers can make up their own minds. Nissan recognizes unions in its plants around the world. Why not in Mississippi?" added Carter.
Nissan has run a fear campaign to prevent workers from organizing a union, which has included:
Holding anti-union meetings and roundtable discussions to create an atmosphere of fear;
Showing plant-wide, anti-union videos on TV monitors during the workday;
Implying to workers that unionization results in plant closure or lay-offs.
Nissan workers in the U.S. cannot rely on weak U.S. labor laws to adequately protect their fundamental right to organize. Nissan workers are asking the company to abide by principles for a fair election, including:
Prohibiting the union or employer from disparaging the other side;
Providing equal time and access to union supporters to speak with workers when the employer holds a meeting against the union on company time;
Prohibiting the use of coercion, threats and intimidation to prevent workers from exercising their right to join or refraining from joining the UAW.
"Nissan and its Alliance partner Renault, recognize and bargain collectively with unions at their operations in Japan, South Africa, Russia, Spain, the United Kingdom, Mexico and Australia," said Reverend Melvin Chapman, pastor of the Sand Hill Missionary Baptist Church and member of the Mississippi Alliance for Fairness at Nissan. "This is the civil rights fight of our time – the right to have a free and fair election process, one without fear. We are bringing Mississippi to Geneva to let Nissan know that what is happening in Mississippi is unacceptable," Chapman added. MAFFAN was founded after Congressman Bennie Thompson, who represents Canton, Mississippi in the U.S. House of Representatives, called on Mississippi leaders to form a committee to stand up for Nissan workers.
MAFFAN members will be in Geneva to ask everyone to look further, beneath the shine, to understand the issues in Mississippi.
You can reach Lindsay Chappell at email@example.com.