After years of working to unionize workers at the Nissan plant in Canton, the United Auto Workers is shifting its strategy and going international with its concerns about conditions at Nissan’s Mississippi plant.
On Dec. 20, the Detroit-based union announced cases in three countries against French automaker Renault, which has a strategic partnership with Nissan, as well as against Nissan and the joint corporation. The complaints were filed in The Netherlands, Japan and France with the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), an international nongovernmental organization whose members share information about economic development and trade. Its member organizations, which includes the United States, represent 63 percent of the world’s gross domestic product.
The union wants the OECD to support its efforts in putting “an end to the systematic, prolonged and serious violations of labor rights that have been taking place at Nissan North America Inc.’s plant in Canton, Mississippi,” the UAW said in a European press release.
“The Renault-Nissan Alliance’s repeated failures to address the serious workers’ rights and civil rights violations in Mississippi are deeply troubling to the UAW and the workers’ allies, in the U.S. and around the world,” said UAW Secretary-Treasurer and Transnational Department Director Gary Casteel in a press release.
The move marks a shift in strategy for the UAW. A 2013 report from the auto union outlines its grievances, which include the large number of workers hired through lower paying temporary-employment firms instead of directly by Nissan. They say temporary workers earn on average $12 per hour with few opportunities for wage increases compared to top-level Nissan direct workers, who earn more than $23 an hour.
They also allege that management at the Canton facility is not responsive to complaints about safety and health concerns at the plant.
“Run the line, run the line, run the line,” is management’s mantra, said Morris Mock, a paint technician at the Canton plant and a direct Nissan employee.
Mock, who is frequently quoted in the media criticizing working conditions at the plant, said workers frequently suffer lacerations but are afraid to report the injuries to the facility’s in-house medical department.
“We want them to fix the things that are broken and in a timely manner,” Mock said, referring to workers’ concerns about safety and ergonomics.
In February 2015, Nissan rejected an offer from the U.S. State Department to mediate the ongoing dispute with the UAW, explaining to Reuters at the time that “long-established guidelines for bringing a union vote already exist.”
In its most recent complaint, the union wants the OECD to determine whether Renault, Nissan and the companies’ joint partnership, Renault-Nissan, violated OECD guidelines about procedures for resolving disputes between corporations, trade unions and individuals.
Nissan, responding through a corporate statement to Mississippi Today, said the decision to join a union is up to individual employees.
“We support employees’ right to choose who represents them,” Nissan’s statement said. “Nissan employees enjoy secure jobs, strong benefits, a working environment that exceeds industry standards, and an open dialogue based on transparency and mutual respect.”