Nissan workers in Mississippi vote on whether to unionize

CANTON, Miss. (AP) — Workers at Nissan Motor Co.’s Mississippi assembly plant voted Thursday to decide whether to be represented by the United Auto Workers union.

The voting by 3,700 assembly and maintenance workers began before dawn inside the plant. The National Labor Relations Board will accept the secret ballots through 7 p.m. Friday.

On one side are workers who say they need a union to give them a voice in their workplace, to protect against arbitrary treatment, and to bargain for better benefits and pay.

Other Nissan employees reject the idea of a union speaking for them. They fear the UAW would be an economic albatross, burdening an employer who pays them well.

Outside analysts assume the union is an underdog, since the UAW has never fully organized a foreign-owned auto plant in the southern United States. But no one knows for sure.

“The vote will tell us the truth,” said Bo Green, a Nissan worker who opposes the union.

The UAW’s only foothold among these carmakers in the South so far is a local representing maintenance workers at a Volkswagen AG plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee. But globally, Nissan’s Canton Vehicle Assembly Plant and two plants in Tennessee are the exceptions — everywhere else in the world, the company’s factories have unions.

It’s not an overstatement to say the world is watching — French politicians have been involved, and crowding into a sweaty union meeting Tuesday night were actor Danny Glover, a Brazilian unionist and a Japanese journalist.

About 6,400 people work for Nissan and its suppliers in Canton, where Frontier and Titan pickups, Murano SUVs and NV vans are assembled. But only direct employees can vote. Excluded are managers, engineers, clerical workers, guards, and hundreds of contract laborers who do the exact same work on the factory floor.

Union supporters say the UAW can prevent arbitrary treatment by managers and empower workers to bargain for better pay, working conditions and safety protections. They point to a worker in Mississippi who lost several fingers on an assembly line, and another in Tennessee who was killed on the job.

Foreign automakers came to these states in part to avoid unions and keep wages low. Mississippi, for its part, granted the Japanese-based company subsidies and tax breaks that could be worth more than $1 billion over 30 years.

When he was Senate Majority Leader, Mississippi Republican Trent Lott promised that Nissan would “revolutionize” the state’s economy, and Mississippi’s business…

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