Tensions are high as the vote to unionize the Nissan Plant in Canton, gets underway today. Some 4,000 of the plant's 64-hundred workers have two days to cast their ballots for or against joining the United Auto Workers Union. MPB's Desare Frazier reports.
Community Activists and Nissan workers rallied over the weekend in Canton, urging employees to vote yes to a joining the United Auto Workers Union.
"Make no mistake about it. They make maximum profit, not just profit, maximum profit because they have a whole fleet of workers that never it paid what they're worth, never get benefits, never have job security," said community activist.
These workers say they want better pay and health benefits along with a pension. Also workers want a way to transfer temporary employees to full-time. McRay Johnson is voting yes. He's worked at the plant for nearly six years and says he's still paid temp wages.
"How does that make you feel" asks Frazier. Not good when you've got to stand on one side of a truck and work and do the same job as the person that's full Nissan and gets $10.00 more than you," said Johnson.
Kinoy Brown has been with Nissan 14 years. He opposes bringing in a union. The line leader makes $26 per hour. He likes his pay and benefits.
"I can't think of a job in Mississippi, that's paying the wages that Nissan is paying, for this area, matter of fact way over, way over Mississippi's annual household income," said Brown.
The state's average household income is just over $39,000 annually. Marvin Cooke, a technician at the plant, doesn't trust the UAW. In fact, a scandal has erupted in Detroit, involving the union and officials with FIAT Chyrsler accused of embezzling money. Cooke says wages at Nissan are competitive and many companies don't offer pensions any more. He says they have a 401-K plus, an additional payment is added to their account once a year.
"To me I think if a union doesn't get in, I have more job security with the union out of the company versus being in the company. That's what I believe," said Cooke.
For Morris Mock whose been with Nissan 14 years, safer conditions at the plant is a big concern. He says the air conditioning is cut-off in certain zones to save money. He also wants to see machines ergonomically safe for any size worker to use.
"We have a lot of workers falling out in different areas because of heat exhaustion. Just the way workers are being treated, " said Mock
Governor Phil Bryant has come out against unionizing the plant.
"You have to go no further than Detroit, once the world's automotive center, now almost, it is a part of the rust belt," said Bryant.
Nathan Shrader is a political science professor at Millsaps College. He says many in the south don't have experience with unions and false information is repeated as fact.
"The reason for Detroit's decline had very little if anything to do with organized labor and lots to do with other factors from economics, to over reliance on a single industry, to cheaper foreign competition over throughout the decades," said Shrader.
Shrader says historically unionizing plants in the deep south has been a challenge because of Right to Work laws.
"The deep south is notorious for just not being a hospitable place for workers rights. There are the right to work laws in place in many southern states that attempt to prevent unions from organizing," said Shrader.
Union organizer Betty Jones works at Nissan. She's hoping for better things from the company like collective bargaining. Jones says the plant opened in 2003 and it's taken years to generate enough support to reach this point.
"We are tired of crawling. We want to sit up at the table like adults and have a conversation, have a relationship. That's all we're asking for is a relationship. One voice with Nissan," said Jones.
Nissan is running TV ads and messages on social media featuring employees who don't support unionizing the plant.
"For years the UAW has targeted our plant to increase dues paying members. We know that Nissan-Canton is not perfect. But we do not believe the UAW is the solution. You can help send that message by voting," Nissan Vote video.
Signs have sprouted-up at homes and business on both sides of the issue. Workers say the company is handing out T-shirts that say "vote no." Now, the National Labor Relations Board is charging Nissan with violating workers' rights. A supervisor is accused of threatening employees with losing money or the plant closing if they vote yes. Robert Francis is the Human Resources Director at Nissan.
"It's a false allegation. A false accusation, part of a number of allegations that have been made against the company and we certainly will have an opportunity to defend ourselves as this process goes through. But those allegations are false," said Francis.
A clear majority or fifty-plus one must vote yes in order to join the United Auto Workers union. Worldwide, 42 of Nissan's 45 plants are all unionized, except three, two in Tennessee and one in Mississippi. While some worry the fallout from a yes vote could mean Nissan leaves the state, others say a win here will open the door for other plants in the south to unionize.