UAW Says Nissan Threatens Workers in Organizing Drive

The United Auto Workers, trying a third time to organize Nissan Motor Co.’s U.S. workers, accused Japan’s second-largest automaker of threatening to shut its Canton, Mississippi, factory before it allows the union in.

“At Nissan in Mississippi, they’re threatening workers there that they’re going to close the plant and that’s baloney,” UAW President Bob King said in an interview yesterday. Nissan workers are “being lied to by the American management. The American management violates workers’ rights every day.”

Organizing the U.S. factories of Asian and European automakers is critical to the future of the union, where membership has fallen by three-quarters since 1979. The UAW has twice failed to win votes to represent workers at Nissan’s Smyrna, Tennessee, factory and King didn’t meet a self-imposed deadline to organize a so-called transplant by the end of 2011.

“We’ve got very aggressive campaigns going on at the transnationals,” King said. “We know that’s key long-term to the success of our membership and the long-term security of our membership.”

Nissan denied that it’s threatening to close its Mississippi factory where it hired 1,000 workers last year, helping bring employment there to more than 5,000. The plant builds the Altima sedan, Titan pickup, Armada sport-utility vehicle and the NV commercial van. The company said last year it was adding production of the Sentra sedan, Frontier pickup and Xterra SUV. The Murano SUV is to be added in 2014.

“This is simply not true,” Camille Young, a spokeswoman for Nissan’s Canton plant, said in an e-mail. “Threats of job loss are not part of our communications with our employees and intimidation of any kind will never be tolerated. Nissan follows the letter and spirit of the law.”

King’s View

King said he’s disappointed with how the union’s organizing drive is going at Nissan and is seeking the involvement of the Yokohama, Japan-based automaker’s senior management.

“There’s a lot of integrity with Japanese management in Japan,” King said. “I’m hopeful that top management will soon realize and will then step in and correct the violations of worker rights that are going on.”

King accused Nissan’s U.S. executives of violating labor standards established by the United Nations Global Compact, the International Labor Organization and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The Detroit-based union has sought help from Nissan’s Japanese unions, King said.

“We’ve had tremendous support from the Japanese autoworkers saying to their management, ’You aren’t understanding the truth,’” King said. “‘American management is violating your principles, they’re violating your commitments and they’re violating workers’ rights.’”

1979 Peak

“Nobody is violating my rights,” Corey Garner, a production technician at the Canton plant since it opened in 2003, said in a phone interview yesterday. “Things are not bad in Canton. We make a decent wage, especially for this area, it’s one of the better jobs.”

Garner said he’s seen a “small amount” of Canton plant employees wearing t-shirts and buttons and passing out flyers in support of the UAW. “If you poll the plant you’ll see it’s a small number of people who want to join,” said Garner, 36, who isn’t backing the UAW drive.

King said the union is accelerating a public relations campaign “to expose the violations of human rights that are going on at the Nissan facilities in both Mississippi and Tennessee.” Actor Danny Glover spoke out for Mississippi workers outside the Detroit auto show in January.

The UAW’s membership peaked at 1.5 million in 1979. At the end of 2011, the figure was 380,719.

The UAW lost votes at Nissan’s Smyrna factory in 1989 and 2001 by 2-1 margins. The union must convince at least 30 percent of workers at the Canton factory to sign a petition seeking representation before a vote will be set by the National Labor Relations Board. For a union win, a majority of workers must vote for UAW representation.

The only U.S. auto-assembly plant with UAW representation that’s operated by an international carmaker is Mitsubishi Motors Corp.’s Normal, Illinois, factory.

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