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Nissan workers denied right to organize

23 October, 2013Ten-hour shifts, removed pensions, low pay, and forced to work nights and weekends. Add to that implicit threats of closure of the factory or pay decrease when workers voice their desire to form a union. This is the reality of workers at the Nissan plant in Canton, Mississippi.

A report by international labour law scholar Lance Compa and the Mississippi NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) describes how Nissan violates international human rights standards of workers who want to organize and bargain collectively. Workers at the plant have been told to participate in round table meetings held by management where the message is clear, through talks and videos – if you form a union in the US, the plant will close. When workers point out that this does not happen at other Nissan plants around the world, the answer is “in the US union closes plants”.

Sheila Wilson, is a technician at the Nissan plant in Canton, Mississippi, and says that threats also include a pay decrease.

“We as workers are asking for a fair trade union election without intimidation from the management.”

“Nissan is not living up to the standards of worker treatment enshrined in International Labour Organisation, ILO, core labour standards, UN human rights principles and other international norms. It also belies Nissan´s own public commitments to honour international standards through its memebership in the United Nations Global Compact,” says Lance Compa. “Workers´ descriptions of how they are treated behind the walls of the massive Nissan plant in Canton, Mississippi, affirm that Nissan is systematically interfering with the internationally recognized right to form a union.”

Sheila tells of ten-hour shift, six days a week. For the temporarily employed the working hours are twelve hours a day, seven days a week. And up until an hour before the end of a shift, workers can be told to work extra hours. These long and taxing shifts have a huge impact on family life. Workers struggle to balance work and family and divorce rates are soaring. 

“We can´t manage that balancing act,” Sheila continues. “And last week, without any discussion, we were informed that we would have to work night and weekend shifts as well. It strongly affects the children and there are a lot of health issues. It is not a safe way to be.”

Cassandra Welchlyn is on the board of the Mississippi All for fairness at Nissan. The organization was formed two years ago, as a response to the effect Nissan had on the local community in Canton.

“When Nissan arrived in Canton a little over a decade ago expectations were high that they would treat their workers correctly. And we still expect that”, Cassandra says. “The civil rights struggle in Mississippi has taught us that you can´t silently stand by when people´s rights are violated. The Mississippi workers are denied the right to organize; a fundamental human and international right.”

The Nissan plant at Canton produces 300 cars per shift, and there are three eight-hour shifts per day. And yet workers’ pensions were recently removed. Sheila Wilson earns 23 dollars/hour; including her latest pay increase in six years of 50 cents/hour. Temporary workers earn even less; 12,50 dollars per hour, and they have no health benefits. Work related accidents have increased, and workers have been fired for their injuries, only to be replaced by cheaper, temporary workers.

Says Sheila Wilson:

“We are asking Nissan to allow for a free trade union election without intimidation and without violating international labour law. We will continue to spread this message around the world: Nissan, please respect us and our rights as workers.”

IndustriALL Global Union supports the plight of the workers at Nissan´s plant in Canton, Mississippi.

“Our role is to ensure that everyone has a free choice to join a union. We stand by the workers and fully support their claims for internationally recognized labour rights such as the right to organize and to collective bargaining,” says Secretary General Jyrki Raina.