Bernie Sanders Joins Groups Urging Nissan to Stop Fighting UAW

  • Sierra Club, NAACP to also sign letter on Mississippi plant
  • Decade-long union campaign enlists politicians in France, U.S.

The United Auto Workers’ decade-long drive to organize a Nissan Motor Co. plant has found a supporter in Senator Bernie Sanders, who plans to hand-deliver a letter urging the automaker to drop its opposition to the union at the Mississippi site.

“These workers have shown incredible courage in standing up and fighting back, and they deserve my support -- and I think they deserve support from progressives all across this country,” Sanders said in a telephone interview Friday. The anti-union pressures facing workers in Mississippi may be the worst of any place in America, he said.

The Vermont senator intends to deliver a letter addressed to Jose Munoz, the chairman of Nissan’s North American unit, on Saturday following a march to the automaker’s plant in Canton. Signers including Sanders and actor Danny Glover refer in the letter to a 2015 National Labor Relations Board complaint regarding alleged anti-union conduct by Nissan management and recent occupational safety citations at the plant.

‘Deserve Better’

“We believe that Nissan employees in Canton deserve better -- and that workers’ rights are civil rights,” the letter reads, according to an advance copy obtained by Bloomberg News. “We look forward to the courtesy of a response.”

The mobilization is the latest step in a lengthy campaign by the UAW at the facility located in the mostly non-unionized U.S. South. Representing workers at the Nissan facility would mark a significant victory for the UAW, which has largely failed to organize Japanese, German or Korean automakers’ U.S. plants. As right-to-work laws encroach on longtime strongholds in the North and Midwest, union enrollment has dropped to a record low.

Nissan’s response to the union campaign has included holding mandatory anti-union meetings for employees, according to the UAW. The 2015 NLRB complaint alleges Nissan management illegally threatened to fire employees or close the plant if they joined the UAW. The company denies the claims.

“The allegations made by the union are totally false,” Nissan spokesman Brian Brockman said in an email. “Nissan respects and values the Canton workforce, and our history reflects that we recognize the employees’ rights to decide for themselves whether or not to have third-party representation.”

Nissan will work with the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration to resolve in the near future two recent safety citations and continues to work with the federal agency to prevent future issues, Brockman said.

Other signers of the letter Sanders plans to deliver will include the presidents of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Sierra Club, the environmental group that’s helped promote the Nissan Leaf electric car.

Southern Labor

Nissan produces the Altima sedan, Murano crossover, NV vans and Frontier and Titan pickups in Canton, according to a company website.

The Canton rally follows a series of high-profile setbacks for organized labor in the South. In 2014, employees at Volkswagen AG’s Chattanooga, Tennessee plant voted against the UAW despite the company’s official neutrality -- though a smaller unit at the same plant approved unionization the following year.

Employees at Boeing’s North Charleston, South Carolina, plant voted 3-to-1 last month against joining the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, following an anti-union campaign that workers said included frequent mandatory anti-union meetings as well as a flurry of ads on local TV.

Sanders has a long history of lending support to organized labor campaigns. He delivers a much bigger spotlight following his showing against Hillary Clinton in the 2016 Democratic presidential primary.

French Support

The UAW has also found support in France. The nation’s government is a major shareholder of Renault SA, Nissan’s alliance partner.

“We cannot accept that France and the French state shareholder of Renault scoff at the claims of their workers in the United States, while claiming to defend them in France,” Yannick Jadot, the former French green party presidential candidate, said in a French-language video posted on Twitter Friday.

Sanders suggested President Donald Trump should follow his example. “It would be wonderful if tomorrow as we rally in Mississippi in support of workers who want a union, if President Trump would sent out a little tweet saying ‘I support the Nissan workers in their struggle for decent wages, decent benefits, and for a safe work environment.’ Now that would be a remarkable tweet.”

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