JACKSON, Miss. – With a union election scheduled this week, the National Labor Relations Board is charging that Nissan violated workers’ rights at its Mississippi plant by engaging in anti-union activity.
The board alleges a supervisor acted illegally on March 30, well before workers filed for a vote asking that the United Auto Workers to represent them. A vote to decide that question is scheduled Thursday and Friday among about 3,700 workers at the plant in Canton, just north of Jackson, Miss.
The United Auto Workers union and its supporters seized on the amended complaint Monday to press their claims that Nissan’s ongoing anti-union campaign is unfair and illegal.
“If we lose, it’s a direct result of the unlawful behavior and threatening and intimidating and coercing of workers, and it’s not over,” UAW Secretary-Treasurer Gary Casteel told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. The union has been threatening to file additional charges with the labor board, but has not yet done so.
Nissan spokeswoman Parul Bajaj said the company denies the specific behavior alleged in the complaint, as well as broader UAW claims that the Japanese automaker’s anti-UAW is illegal or amounts to intimidation.
“We’re staying within the law,” said Rodney Francis, the plant’s human resources director, in an interview with the Associated Press by phone. “We have the right to communicate our positions.”
The new complaint is an allegation and the company has until Aug. 11 to respond. Eventually, a judge could decide whether Nissan committed the acts.
The complaint alleges that a supervisor improperly interrogated workers about their position on the union, threatened that workers could lose wages and benefits if they supported the UAW, and that the plant could close if workers backed the union. The complaint also claims the supervisor implied that employees could get better benefits and job conditions if they rejected the UAW.
The UAW has alleged 13 times since late 2015 that Nissan or contract labor provider Kelly Services have broken laws against anti-union activity in Canton. The labor board has found enough merit in eight of those claims to include them in its formal complaint.
Casteel said that one-on-one meetings between workers and supervisors, as well as Nissan statements about how UAW representation could spark layoffs are further violations of federal law.
“If your employer said all these things to you and you were considering unionization, they’re directly threatening your livelihood,” Casteel said.
Francis, though, said it’s the UAW that’s overplaying its hand, making promises it can’t deliver on, such as claiming it would restore a traditional pension plan that the company froze.
“They continue to make false promises about job security, and saying they’re going to bring pensions back,” he said.
Nissan expressed concern that the UAW would try to stop the election because the union fears a loss, but Casteel said union supporters have worked too hard to be denied a ballot.
“They deserve a chance to vote,” he said.
Casteel, though, said it was possible the union would pursue more charges after the election, as it did when it lost a plant-wide election at Volkswagen AG in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, Jackson Mayor Chokwe Lumumba and Canton Mayor William Truly, all Democrats, held a news conference Monday to support the UAW.
“We have to be clear that we are a business-friendly state,” Lumumba said. “However, we demand that our businesses be friendly to our workers. No longer can we subscribe to the notion of exploiting workers.”
Republican Gov. Phil Bryant and leaders of business groups oppose the UAW.
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