Workers at a Nissan plant in Canton, Mississippi voted last week to reject a bid to unionize, making it the third big loss for the United Automobile Workers (UAW) union in the southern United States within the past several years.
More than 60% of the Canton auto workers opposed the union.
However, the situation isn’t as cut and dry as it may seem. The UAW has moved on to legal action in response to the vote, claiming that Nissan employed fear tactics and intimidation to keep workers from voting pro-union.
“Perhaps recognizing they couldn’t keep their workers from joining our union based on the facts, Nissan and its anti-worker allies ran a vicious campaign against its own work force that was comprised of intense scare tactics, misinformation, and intimidation,” said UAW President Dennis Williams.
The UAW is alleging that Nissan illegally threatened to fire pro-union workers, as well as implying that the plant would close if it voted to go union. In addition, the UAW says they were provided with faulty information for contacting employees, and interested parties were kept under surveillance and rated depending on their opinions regarding the union.
The UAW’s campaign itself may have turned some workers off, though. Their tactics—comparing unionization to civil rights in a community that is primarily African-American—appears to have backfired on the union, which was accused of buying support from local rights activists. Enlisted names included the NAACP, U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), actor Danny Glover, and local clergy and politicians—many of whom were paid thousands of dollars for their work. And the passing out of t-shirts implying that an anti-union vote was essentially a vote for slavery was seen by some to have been a step too far.
“That’s an insult to me,” said Marvin Cooke, a Nissan paint technician. “I am nowhere near enslaved.”
In fact, this may be the main reason the unionization failed: many Nissan employees are content with their benefits and pay. Cooke earns $27 an hour, as do many plant veterans—only a few dollars less than what they would earn if they were unionized, and well above the median wage in Mississippi. Nissan also offers a 401k and four weeks of vacation a year.
On the other hand, a significant number of Nissan workers are contract employees who are not eligible for these benefits—or for voting for unionization.
For the time being, the fate of unions in the South appears to be on a downturn.