Mississippi Nissan workers soundly reject UAW membership

Mississippi Nissan workers soundly reject UAW membership

Latest attempt to organize Southern plant fails by nearly 2-to-1 margin.

August 7, 2017
By Robert Schoenberger
Cars/Light trucks Manufacturing

Cleveland, Ohio – Nissan workers at the company’s Canton, Mississippi, plant overwhelmingly rejected union representation with nearly two-thirds of votes going against United Auto Worker membership.

”They have rejected the UAW and chosen to self-represent, continuing the direct relationship they enjoy with the company,” Nissan executives said. “Our expectation is that the UAW will respect and abide by their decision and cease their efforts to divide our Nissan family. Now that the election is complete, Nissan will focus on bringing all employees back together as one team, building great vehicles and writing our next chapter in Mississippi.”

The loss is a major setback for the union which has failed to organize Southern auto plants since the early 1980s. The 2,244 votes against UAW membership vs.1,307 for represents a 63% to 37% split – not even close to the 53% against/47% for at the last major UAW vote in the South, Volkswagen’s 2014 rejection of membership in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

For nearly 40 years, the UAW has tried to organize Honda plants in Ohio, Toyota operations in Kentucky, and Nissan plants in Tennessee and Mississippi without success. In those campaigns, the union has argued that it could win higher wages and benefits for workers. Union foes have pointed to massive layoffs as UAW-represented Ford, General Motors, and FCA US LLC plants and claims of union corruption.

The only major difference with the Mississippi UAW campaign was the inclusion of race relations. The Canton plant has a predominantly African-American workforce, and union organizers claimed disrespect for employees was a race issue. Organized labor supported the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, with UAW founder Walter Reuther funding much of Martin Luther King Jr.’s work and marching with him in the South on several occasions.

The UAW tried to highlight that history with workers during the unionization campaign, bringing in Civil Rights leaders and holding marches in central Mississippi to highlight worker complaints against the automaker.

UAW President Dennis Williams said, “The courageous workers of Nissan, who fought tirelessly for union representation alongside community and civil-rights leaders, should be proud of their efforts to be represented by the UAW. The result of the election was a setback for these workers, the UAW and working Americans everywhere, but in no way should it be considered a defeat.”

The UAW has filed multiple complaints against Nissan with the National Labor Relations Board, saying the election wasn’t fair, that employees were intimidated into voting against representation, that the union wasn’t allowed to present its case, and the managers threatened the jobs of people who said they would vote for representation. Such complaints have been a typical part of nearly every failed organization attempt in the South.

“Perhaps recognizing they couldn’t keep their workers from joining our union based on the facts, Nissan and its anti-worker allies ran a vicious campaign against its own workforce that was comprised of intense scare tactics, misinformation and intimidation,” Williams said.

Nissan did run an aggressive campaign to discourage employees from voting to join the union. A company website highlighted anti-union videos from current UAW members, posted news articles from various corruption scandals, carried anti-union commentary from business organizations, and detailed job losses at union-represented shops.

Certainly not helping matters was the latest UAW scandal – a week before voting began in Mississippi, a federal indictment accused FCA officials with colluding with a late UAW top officer to effectively embezzle money from a worker-training program.

Al Iacobelli, a former FCA labor relations leader, is accused of taking more than $1 million from the UAW-Chrysler National Training Center for personal benefit. And the widow of late UAW Vice President General Holiefield is accused of taking $1.2 million from the same fund, according to an indictment unsealed by a federal grand jury.

With Williams said the funds stolen were not UAW member dues and that the union considers itself a victim in the crime, anti-union campaigners in Mississippi use the news as evidence of union corruption.

Whatever reasons employees had for voting no, the result margins underscore a harsh truth for the UAW – when companies oppose membership, votes tend to fail by about a 2-to-1 margin at these Southern plants. The relatively close vote at VW in Tennessee was the result of a union-friendly atmosphere at the plant in which UAW officials were given access to employees to pitch union membership, and plant officials made no negative statements about the consequences of joining the union.

In that case, politicians from U.S. senators to the governor of Tennessee mounted a fierce anti-union campaign, something the UAW blamed for the 2014 loss.

About the author: Robert Schoenberger is the editor of Today's Motor Vehicles and a contributor to Today's Medical Developments and Aerospace Manufacturing and Design. He has written about the automotive industry for more than 17 years at The Plain Dealer in Cleveland, Ohio; The Courier-Journal in Louisville, Kentucky; and The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Mississippi.