Actor Danny Glover, Nissan workers protest for union consideration

Detroit — A group advocating for the right to vote on the unionization of a Nissan plant in Mississippi accused the automaker of intimidation at a protest Monday morning in Detroit.

Highlighted by the appearance of actor activist Danny Glover, members of the Mississippi Alliance for Fairness at Nissan (MAFFAN) held its protest mere steps away from Cobo Center and the 2013 North American International Auto Show.

According to the group, workers who show any interest in talking about organizing the plant in Canton, Miss., are intimidated by management hints that the plant would close if they unionized.

“When workers at Nissan began to organize a union, Nissan responded with implied threats that they would leave Mississippi if workers unionized,” said the Rev. R. Isaac Jackson, president of the General Missionary Baptist State Convention of Mississippi and chair of MAFFAN.

The UAW is supporting the group in its efforts to start a union at the factory, which has 5,000 full and contract laborers.

According to Jackson, employees at the Canton plant — which assembles seven different vehicles, including the Titan and Frontier pickups, Armada and Xterra SUVs, Altima sedan and two Nissan vans — have been seen wearing T-shirts reading “Want a union? Move to Detroit.”

MAFFAN also stated that salaries and benefits to contract employees at the plant were half of its full-time workers.

Glover noted that like Mississippi, Michigan is now a right-to-work state.

“The right to work doesn’t mean you don’t have the right to organize,” Glover said. “They have unions in South Africa and Japan. We’re only asking for the right to vote on a union and not face intimidation.”

David Reuter, Nissan’s vice president of corporate communications, denied the accusations Monday.

“Those allegations are unfounded,” said Reuter, who is in Detroit for the auto show. “As to the T-shirts, those are freely worn by some of our employees as a show of support for the company.

“We have a large contingent in our plant who want to make sure the union understands they don’t want a union in our factory.”

Reuter pointed out the annual manufacturing wage in the Canton area has increased since Nissan moved its plant into the area.

“Their annual average wage is one of the highest, if not the highest manufacturing wages in Mississippi,” Reuter said.

“As for unionization at the factory, that is something for our employees to decide, and we respect their right to do so. But when you get to the bottom line, we know internally that there is little interest in being unionized.”

Michael Carter is one of the workers at the Canton plant who is pushing for the right to vote on a union.

“It’s not about pay; it’s about respect,” said Carter, who earns $23.50 an hour. “We want a voice in what’s going on at the factory.”

The UAW has been frustrated in its efforts to organize Nissan workers in the South.

In 2001, workers at the Nissan factory in Smyrna, Tenn., plant voted down the union by a two-to-one margin. The union failed again in 2005 and 2007 to garner any interest in the Canton plant as well.

“This is not only a fight for the workers in Mississippi, it’s for all workers,” Glover said. “For the right to stand up and say ‘I am a man.'”

tgreenwood@detnews.com

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