UAW Calls for Election in Mississippi

Posted by Olivia Grady on Thursday, July 13th, 2017 at 1:11 pm - Permalink

Nissan workers will decide the fate of their jobs

By Olivia Grady

On July 10, 2017, the United Auto Workers (UAW) union filed for a representation election with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) for the Canton, Mississippi Nissan plant. The workers are requesting an election on July 31st and August 1st on whether all Nissan production and maintenance workers at the Mississippi plant should be unionized, but the UAW’s current complaints about Nissan before the NLRB may postpone the election.

The UAW claims that Nissan has a pattern of labor abuses against its workers who are mostly African Americans. In its news announcement, the UAW cites a 2015 NLRB complaint claiming that Nissan threatened to close the plant if workers unionized and to fire pro-union workers. The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) also issued citations for violations of federal safety and health laws.

Nissan spokeswoman Parul Bajaj responded to the news of the filing by saying, “While it is ultimately up to our employees who will represent them, we do not believe that UAW representation is in the best interest of Nissan Canton and its workers.”

The UAW has been attempting to unionize workers in car manufacturing factories in the South for a number of years. In the Right-to-Work South, there is a significantly lower number of unionized workers.

For example, in February 2014, the UAW attempted to unionize the Chattanooga, Tennessee Volkswagen plant, but it lost the vote by less than one hundred votes. After this loss for the UAW, it tried to unionize a Mercedes-Benz plant in Vance, Alabama and a Honda plant also in Alabama, but it didn’t have the support needed to hold an election.

At the Nissan plant this year, the UAW is using a different strategy: progressive politicians and organizations. At a March 4, 2017 “March on Mississippi” event, the UAW gathered prominent progressive supporters, including U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (VT), Sierra Club President Aaron Mair, and former NAACP President Cornell William Brooks, to make the case for unionization to Nissan workers.

What the UAW fails to mention however is that the reason these workers have their jobs is because Mississippi is a Right-to-Work state. Employers, particularly auto companies, have moved from places like Detroit to the South because the South is friendlier to businesses and workers.

As James Sherk, formerly of the Heritage Foundation has explained, when accounting for cost-of-living differences, salaries in the South are not lower than in forced unionization states. In addition, Sherk notes, as of 2015 the South had a lower unemployment rate than the rest of the nation.

If the UAW wins an election at Canton, union members would be required to pay dues in order to keep their jobs. These dues help pay for the six-figure salaries of the officers and many of the employees at the union’s national headquarters. For example, UAW President Dennis Williams reported a salary of almost $200,000 for the union’s 2016 LM-2 filing.

Further, the Nissan Canton Assembly plant has had a tremendous impact on Mississippi’s economy. The plant opened in 2003 and was the first car plant in Mississippi. It produces the Altima, Frontier, Murano, NV Cargo, NV Passenger, Titan and Titan XD. More than 3.2 million cars have been assembled since 2003.

The plant generates $2.9 billion annually in state GDP and contributes $2.6 billion to disposable income. It also generates $300 million for the state and local government, and it’s created 25,000 jobs statewide. The average wage for the 6,400 jobs at the Nissan plant is higher than the average wage of $16.70 per hour in central Mississippi production. The company also has donated more than $13.6 million to local charities, and it has one of the most diverse workforces.

The UAW is a threat to the Nissan facility in Canton, and therefore a threat to the entire state economy.

Photo Credit: Arielle Dreher