Can Nissan Organizers Ever Pass Finish Line in Mississippi?

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By Jaclyn Diaz

The United Auto Workers’ latest attempt to organize an auto plant in the South will likely end the way other union campaigns below the Mason-Dixon Line have ended: in failure, a Mississippi-based management professor told Bloomberg BNA July 11.

Another labor professor sees a path to victory in the Magnolia State.

The National Labor Relations Board’s regional office in New Orleans July 10 received the UAW request to hold the election. Employees asked that the vote take place July 31 and Aug. 1, but the NLRB could set a different date, according to the union.

The UAW has tried to organize workers at the Canton, Miss., plant since the early 2000s and has struggled for decades to win representation at a Southern manufacturing facility.

“I don’t think they’ll do much better in Canton,” Professor Robert K. Robinson, chairman of the University of Mississippi’s Department of Management, told Bloomberg BNA.

Nissan says its 6,400 Canton employees are provided with good, stable jobs with the best wages and benefits in the state.

“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,” Brian Brockman, spokesman for Nissan North America, said in a statement to Bloomberg BNA.

The company would not comment beyond what it said in its statement.

Canton Win Still Possible

A professor at Indiana University believes the UAW could prevail at Nissan. A majority of workers at the plant are black, the union has said. The racial makeup of the employees may have prompted the UAW to approach organizing as a civil rights issue, Professor Paul Mishler told Bloomberg BNA July 11.

The UAW used support from the NAACP, actor Danny Glover, and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) to its advantage, Mishler said. Sanders, Glover, and the NAACP appeared at a rally in March to support workers at Canton.

“I actually think there’s a chance” the UAW can win, Mishler said.

Mississippi is a tough nut to crack, but the state is different than other Southern states, Mishler said. “It’s been known that Mississippi is a special state,” he said, noting that it has the lowest standard of living, lowest wages, and highest levels of voter disenfranchisement for black residents.

Southern Organizing Not Unheard Of

UAW represents other workers in the South, a union representative told Bloomberg BNA.

Local 42 was certified by the National Labor Relations Board in December 2015 to represent a unit of maintenance employees at the Nissan Chattanooga plant. The company refused to bargain with the union and challenged the board certification in a federal appeals court.

A UAW representative noted that workers at General Motors in Spring Hill, Tenn., and at the company’s plant in Arlington, Texas, are represented by the UAW.

History Shows More Success in North

The UAW hasn’t won a representation election in Mississippi since 1990, when it successfully organized a unit of 67 employees at a legal services organization, according to National Labor Relations Board election data compiled by Bloomberg BNA.

The South doesn’t have a tradition of labor unions. That’s why there’s a good chance the UAW won’t be successful in Canton, Robinson said.

“It’s not like you’re trying to organize someone in Youngstown, Ohio, where Daddy and Granddaddy all were part of a union,” Robinson said. “That just doesn’t exist” in the South, unlike in the North where industrialization took hold far earlier than in the agrarian-focused South, he said.

He points to recent issues the UAW and other unions have faced in organizing Southern workers.

The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers lost a February election to represent approximately 2,850 production employees at the Boeing Co. in North Charleston, S.C.

Workers at the Nissan plant in Smyrna, Tenn., rejected UAW representation in 2001 by a 2-1 vote. Production and maintenance workers at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tenn., rejected UAW representation in 2014.

“It seems to me like they’re betting on a losing horse,” he said.

UAW in Mississippi

The Canton plant is part of Nissan North America, which is owned by Nissan Motor Co. in Japan, Groupe Renault in France, and Renault-Nissan BV in the Netherlands. The workers employed at the Canton plant build the Nissan TITAN, NV Cargo, NV Passenger, Murano, Frontier, and Altima.

The Canton plant is one of only three Nissan facilities in the world, including two in Tennessee, where workers aren’t represented by a union, the UAW said July 11.

Union representatives have said the company’s anti-union tactics, coercion, and threats over the years obstructed workers’ rights to organize.

The UAW alleges that company supervisors threatened employees with termination and other forms of reprisal because of union activity. The union has filed a number of unfair labor practice charges against the company since 2015.

“Filing charges with the NLRB is a common tactic in an organizing campaign. Nissan abides by U.S. labor law and respects the employees’ rights to choose if and how they wish to be represented,” Nissan’s Brockman said in the statement.

A consolidated complaint alleging unfair labor practices states that a hearing on those issues will go to an administrative law judge “on a date and time, and a location, to be determined.”

How the election petition will affect the ULP process is still unclear, a UAW representative told Bloomberg BNA.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jaclyn Diaz in Washington at jDiaz@bna.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Peggy Aulino at maulino@bna.com; Terence Hyland at thyland@bna.com; Chris Opfer at copfer@bna.com

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