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Nissan taken to task locally for treatment of Mississippi workers
Charlotte protest part of Southeast effort
 
Published Saturday, January 28, 2017 3:37 pm
by Herbert L. White

PHOTO COURTESY ZOE BRIDGES-CURRY
Labor, community and faith activists protested in front of Scott Clark Nissan Saturday to protest the automaker's treatment of workers at its Canton, Mississippi plant.

Pro-labor activists want Nissan to treat its workers as well as the automakers’ vehicles.

A coalition of labor leaders, clergy, community and racial justice advocates gathered at Scott Clark Nissan Saturday to criticize Nissan for its treatment of African-American workers at its Canton, Miss., plant. The activists are launching an initiative across the Southeast to bring attention to Nissan’s 5,000 Canton workers, of which an estimated 80 percent are African American. There is no employee union, as Mississippi, like North Carolina, is right-to-work state.

“Workers’ rights are civil rights,” Charlotte-Mecklenburg NAACP Labor Chair Cindy Foster said. “We’re asking Nissan to do better by its hard-working employees, and we’re asking Nissan’s dealers and customers to join us to put an end to this unacceptable behavior by the company.” 

Nissan USA Corporate Communications Manager Parul Bajaj defended the automaker's record of supporting employees.

"Nissan's history reflects that we truly value our employees and respect their right to decide who should represent them. Nissan Canton and Smyrna employees enjoy good, stable, safe jobs with some of the highest wages and strongest benefits in Mississippi and Tennessee. The allegations being made against Nissan are completely unfounded."

Other protests are scheduled at Nissan dealerships in Greensboro, Raleigh, Atlanta, Birmingham, Ala., Nashville, Tenn., and New Orleans. The Alliance for Fairness at Nissan, a coalition of civil rights leaders, ministers and worker advocates, is hand-delivering letters to Nissan dealers detailing the treatment of plant workers and calling for an end to the automaker’s anti-union stance. 

The Canton plant opened in 2003 with an expectation to “bring quality jobs to our community for years to come,” Dr. Isiac Jackson, chairman of MAFFAN, wrote in the letters delivered to Nissan dealers, but “over time Nissan has decided to take a different path. Today, the company exploits its predominantly African-American workforce in a variety of ways.” 

Jackson pointed to excessive production quotas in Canton as well as inadequate safety equipment, Nissan’s growing reliance on temporary workers at lower wages for the same work as permanent workers and a campaign of coercion and intimidation to prevent them from forming a union. 

The Canton plant, which assembles eight models, including the Altima, Frontier, Murano and Titan, has a capacity of 450,000 vehicles annually. Federal authorities have cited the facility for work violations in recent years. In 2015, the National Labor Relations Board charged Nissan and a temporary worker agency with violating employee rights. Last year, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration cited repeated hazards at the plant. 

“People get hurt too often at Nissan and these injuries can rob us of our ability to provide for our families,” said Nissan worker Eric Hearne, who was at the Scott Clark Nissan protest. “We’re forced to decide if we should work with an injury, or report it and potentially lose our jobs. It strips away your dignity to feel like the company values production numbers more than the safety of the people who make it successful.” 

Protestors urged Nissan to end anti-union activities and allow elections for union representation. 

“Nissan spends hundreds of millions of dollars a year marketing itself as a socially responsible carmaker,” said Action NC Charlotte Director Hector Vaca. “It is unacceptable for Nissan to violate the civil rights of African-American workers in Mississippi. Whether it’s in Mississippi or here in Charlotte we refuse to allow any major company and employer like Nissan to treat our communities this way in 2017. It’s time for Nissan dealers and customers to recognize that what they’re selling and buying just doesn’t fit the image of what Nissan claims it’s producing.” 

 

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