DETROIT – Nissan denies accusations by UAW President Dennis Williams it is trying to intimidate workers at its Canton, MS, assembly plant into voting against union representation.
Between 3,500 and 3,800 of the 6,400 workers at the Mississippi plant are eligible to vote in the certification election to be held Aug. 3-4 under National Labor Relations Board supervision, Williams says. Those not eligible to vote include contractors and temporary workers.
“If the vote was held today, I feel very strongly we would win,” Williams tells reporters during a meeting at UAW headquarters here.
However, he says the biggest issue at Canton is Nissan’s efforts at intimidation, with supervisors calling workers into one-on-one meetings and warning the plant could close if workers choose union representation. At least one worker has been dismissed for wearing a pro-union T-shirt, Williams says.
“The biggest thing you have to overcome in organizing is fear,” he says of the latest chapter in the UAW’s decades-long effort to organize workers at foreign automakers’ plants in the South. “There is a strong group of people who wanted to have the union.”
“They have a lot of issues at Nissan,” Williams says. “They’re at-will workers at Nissan. They want a voice. Workers are no different than when I was in the (shop.) They need secure wages and benefits, (but) an employer, at the stroke of a pen, can take your benefits away.”
Nissan assembles 450,000 Altimas, Frontiers, Muranos, Titans and NV commercial vans annually at the Canton plant, which opened in 2003.
The upcoming vote will be the UAW’s third attempt to organize Nissan workers in the U.S. South; it lost two previous elections at the Smyrna, TN, plant. The union has not disclosed the number of Canton employees who signed a petition requesting a vote on union representation.
The union’s allegations of intimidation are “totally false,” Nissan spokeswoman Parul Bajaj says in a statement emailed to WardsAuto.
“Nissan respects and values the Canton workforce, and our history reflects that we recognize the employees’ rights to decide for themselves whether or not to have third-party representation,” Bajaj says.
“Voters have the right to know the company’s perspective on what is best for our future and the full story about what it means to have a union. The union only wants employees to hear one side of the story. The company has the right and obligation to provide employees with full information, and it will continue to do so.”
Williams said one difference between the UAW’s campaign at Canton and the campaign at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, TN – where VW has refused to bargain with a small group of skilled-trades workers who voted to join the UAW in December 2015 – is that the union has not faced pressure from outside political figures.
“We’ve had great community support,” as well as support from unions in France, Brazil and Japan, he says.
Williams tells reporters that, although the union is focused on Nissan’s Canton plant, it still is pushing to organize workers at electric-vehicle manufacturer Tesla’s assembly facility in Fremont, CA.
“We have an ongoing campaign at Tesla and we’re gaining ground, but it’s going to take some time,” he says, adding he is willing to meet with Tesla co-founder and CEO Elon Musk.
The UAW president also says he has met with Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and other Trump Admin. officials to discuss revisions to NAFTA.
“I told them my concern is (if) you don’t have the right substance, it could wind up not being good for American workers. It isn’t what you said, it’s in the details,” he says.
“The only thing that will fix NAFTA is an effort to raise wages in Mexico. Companies in Mexico are exploiting workers,” Williams says, noting Mexican workers cannot afford to buy the vehicles they build.
Williams also tells reporters the union will keep pressure on any Detroit-based automaker considering importing more vehicles built in Asia.
“I do have a concern about the vehicles that are produced in China and South Korea,” he says. “We have not abandoned that philosophy that you should build them where you sell them. We’re on (General Motors) all the time about that.
“I’m not happy with the Envision,” Williams says of the China-built midsize luxury CUV that GM has imported to the U.S. since mid-2016. “If they want to build it in China, they can sell it China.”
With GM scaling back production at car plants in Hamtramck, MI, and Lordstown, OH, the UAW is actively pursuing conversations with GM executives about new products for those plants, Williams says.