Nissan Accused of 'Nastiest Anti-union Campaign' in Modern U.S. History

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

The United Auto Workers has accused Nissan of illegally intimidating workers at its Canton Manufacturing and Assembly Plant in Mississippi, calling its activities one of the “nastiest anti-union campaigns in the modern history of the American labour movement.” The alleged misdeeds include running anti-unionization videos on loop in factory break rooms and convincing plant managers to pull workers aside to discourage them from voting in favor of the UAW this Thursday and Friday.

However, if Nissan is guilty of rabid anti-union measures, the UAW is likely guilty of countering the company with its own door-to-door campaign. Southern states haven’t been as receptive to unionizing as the UAW would like, and the organization has doubled its efforts to get the Canton workers on board, hoping to negotiate higher wages and improved benefits.

UAW Secretary-Treasurer Gary Casteel said the union is confident a majority of workers support unionization but expressed bitterness toward the automaker’s tactics to dissuade them.

“I’ve not seen it worse,” he said in an interview with Automotive News. “I’ve seen some crazy employers. But these guys’ rap sheet now reads like Al Capone. They just break law after law. Most companies of this size, if you look at any of them, have certain things they just don’t do because it’s unethical.”

While the Capone reference is probably ill-advised, considering labor racketeering was a common practice for the famous gangster, his annoyance with Nissan is understandable since his success is dependent upon beating it. But Nissan has a lot to lose if its Mississippi workforce unionizes. Many automakers shifted assembly to the southern United States to avoid paying the higher wages associated with northern, UAW-affiliated plants.

The extent of Nissan’s in-house propaganda is currently unverified, but public displays of union opposition exist. The automaker has taken out anti-union ads that run on local television networks and enlisted the help of Republican governor Phil Bryant. “If you want to take away your job, if you want to end manufacturing as we know it in Mississippi, just start expanding unions,” Bryant said last week.

However, Casteel said it goes much further than that, accusing Nissan of threatening or bribing workers to vote no while also forcing them to attend routine anti-union roundtable group meetings.

“It’s a mixed bag,” he said. “I’m sure they’re deterring some people, but others are saying, ‘I’m not going to take this or be pushed around on this issue.'”

Nissan has called the UAW’s intimidation claims “baseless” and “false,” saying it respects the rights of its roughly 3,700 workers at the Canton plant to choose whether to unionize. “Nissan employees have the right to know the company’s position regarding UAW representation in our plant, as well as important information about the UAW,” a Nissan spokeswoman said in an official statement. “The UAW has advocated employees only hear one side of the story — the union’s side — and that’s wrong.”

“The latest UAW corruption scandal in Detroit and the history of strikes, layoffs, and plant closures at UAW-represented plants, along with the many false claims and promises made by the UAW during this campaign are among the many reasons we do not believe UAW representation is in the best interest of the employees of Nissan Canton,” she continued.

The scandal she’s referring to is the Justice Department’s allegation that late UAW Vice President General Holiefield and former FCA labor chief Alphons Iacobelli conspired to s teal millions of dollars from a corporate training fund to buy things for themselves — $37,500 pens, for example.

“We were apprehensive about some of [Holiefield’s] behaviors, so we cut him out of the leadership team,” Casteel said, regarding Holiefield’s exit from the union in 2014. “Lo and behold, when we found out, we took every action to cooperate with [the U.S. Justice Department]. It’s the actions of one individual.”

On Friday, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) — the independent US government agency responsible for enforcing US labor law — filed the latest in a series of complaints against Nissan. The NLRB believes Nissan violated the law in its anti-union sessions by warning workers would lose wages and benefits if they supported the union, while also promising raises to management who encouraged employees to vote “no.”

Meanwhile, UAW is under pressure from the Mississippi Manufacturers Association, which has come out against unionization. “I have not heard any articulation by the UAW as to why they need a union and what benefits there would even be,” said Jay Moon, the association’s chief executive. “We don’t believe that anybody ought to be between the employee and the employer.”

Moon’s assertion is that the union desperately needs more member dues in order to survive, something Casteel refutes based on the organization’s growth over the past decade. He claims the push to unionize is all about corporate accountability and fairness.

“If you told somebody years ago we’d be paying people $12.50 an hour assembling cars, nobody would’ve believed you,” he said. “We talk about American jobs and bringing jobs back onshore, but the bigger issue is when you bring them back, what are the conditions of them? The standard of living these jobs create is not good.”

The final vote that decides whether the Canton factory unionizes (and opens up the South to UAW), takes place at the end of the week.

Matt Posky
Matt Posky

A staunch consumer advocate tracking industry trends and regulation. Before joining TTAC, Matt spent a decade working for marketing and research firms based in NYC. Clients included several of the world’s largest automakers, global tire brands, and aftermarket part suppliers. Dissatisfied with the corporate world and resentful of having to wear suits everyday, he pivoted to writing about cars. Since then, that man has become an ardent supporter of the right-to-repair movement, been interviewed on the auto industry by national radio broadcasts, driven more rental cars than anyone ever should, participated in amateur rallying events, and received the requisite minimum training as sanctioned by the SCCA. Handy with a wrench, Matt grew up surrounded by Detroit auto workers and managed to get a pizza delivery job before he was legally eligible. He later found himself driving box trucks through Manhattan, guaranteeing future sympathy for actual truckers. He continues to conduct research pertaining to the automotive sector as an independent contractor and has since moved back to his native Michigan, closer to where the cars are born. A contrarian, Matt claims to prefer understeer — stating that front and all-wheel drive vehicles cater best to his driving style.

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  • Jacob_coulter Jacob_coulter on Aug 03, 2017

    I guess the 1st Amendment only applies to Unions and not owners of a company.

  • Dr. Claw Dr. Claw on Aug 05, 2017

    The only difference between Southern states with their resentment for actual paid labor and Mexico, China, (anywhere they offshore and "people" complain about) is that it's in the U.S.A. and thus somehow "better". It's the same "race to the bottom" BS that ought not to be tolerated, but...

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