EXCLUSIVE: Our Revolution Chairman Larry Cohen Calls for Nationwide Action to Back Mississippi Nissan Workers

Mike Elk was the only national reporter to attend the 5,000 person Historic "March on Mississippi" against Nissan.

Greetings from back on the farm in Goshen, Ky., where the sheep are just as strange as always and we’ve got the Osborne Brothers on cuz I’m homesick for the hills of Eastern Tennessee.

This week Payday is exhausted and bringing you a special Canton, Mississippi Payday Report.

A Special 1 Year Anniversary Lunch Pail Award to My Hero, Larry Cohen

This week’s Payday Report, the first Payday Report of Payday’s second year in existence, goes out to retired CWA President and Our Revolution Chairman Larry Cohen, the Omar Bradley of labor leaders, a soldier’s soldier.

As a PTSD survivor stemming from workplace death coverage, my former union President Larry Cohen played a key role in helping me get treatment. In my darkest days, he was always there for me the way a true labor leader would always be.

Once in the summer of 2013, I remember him taking me out for lunch and talking about how Ralph Fasanella, overcome his struggle with PTSD by learning how to organize differently; he learned to paint the scenes of modern American labor history

Larry told me that to overcome PTSD, I would have to learn how to do labor reporting differently. Payday was my dream to do labor reporting differently to design my own ADA accommodation to deal with my struggles with the sometimes triggering topics of workplace death.  

This was an exhausting week when we published two stories, a video, and raised a lot of money. So we are putting out a special Payday Report in honor of my hero, Larry Cohen.

Nearly two years ago, Larry Cohen retired from CWA and planned to enjoy retirement. He claimed in extensive conversations that he was gonna take time off, travel, relax, and swim nearly every day

Then, the political revolution of the Bernie movement happened and anyone who knew Larry knew he would want to be in the trenches brainstorming with frontline organizers.

Still at age 67, Larry Cohen is speaking loud and getting others to realize that they can raise their voices a lot higher.

EXCLUSIVE: Our Revolution Chairman Larry Cohen Calls for Nationwide Action for Nissan Workers

Early this morning around 5:59, when Payday Senior Labor Reporter Mike Elk was out talking to sheep, he got a text from Our Revolution Chairman Larry Cohen.

The message was urgent, as the labor movement prepares for the largest private sector union election in the South since the election at the 5,000-worker strong Smithfield Foods plant in Tar Heel, North Carolina in 2008.

Cohen was eager to encourage activists around the country to find ways to link up with the UAW and participate in solidarity events with Canton, Mississippi, Nissan workers. That way, if workers get fired, Nissan knows that it’s going to hurt its brand all over the country.

“If U.A.W needs support asking Nissan for neutrality during the election period Our Revolution and many labor and community organizations will answer the call,” Cohen texted Payday Report at 6:04 A.M this morning.

Cohen stated that it was vital for groups all over the country to give support to community groups in Mississippi to keep folks energized.

In Mississippi, workers have been subjected to rumors and sometimes even threats from management, as the NLRB found in a 2015 warning, that Nissan would shut down the plant if it unionized. Many feel that if the UAW is to win there that the union will need to have massive community support to embolden the workers.

“Local Community leaders and Our Rev members can make it clear that the Mississippi working men and women stand with Nissan workers,” the spiry retired labor leader texted Payday at 6:13 this morning. “The organizing at Nissan benefits workers across the state.”

UAW Asking for NLRB Election July 31 – August 1

According to the New York Times, the UAW estimates that the size of the bargaining unit is expected to be approximately 4,000 workers.

The UAW is asking the NLRB to hold the vote on July 31 and August 1.

A quick election could boost the feeling of momentum toward the union that many in the plant are feeling after a popular worker, Calvin Jones, was suspended in late June.

Following the historic 5,000-person “March for Mississippi” earlier this year and the recent election of radical attorney Chokwe Antar Lumumba in nearby Jackson has many community activists feeling like they have the momentum in the street, churches, and barbershops of the Delta to push back against the company’s air war.

To win in Canton, Mississippi, the workforce, which is 80 percent African-American, will require a community effort on a scale not seen in the region in decades. 

Nissan Anti-Union Campaign Likely to Get Aggressive

An election of this size in Mississippi is a herculean undertaking, as Nissan has already launched an aggressive anti-union campaign. Many workers are likely to get scared as they face an increase of one-on-one anti-union meetings.

“When we speak out to demand basic protections, Nissan threatens and harasses us,” said McRay Johnson, a technician at the plant in a statement put out by the UAW.

In 2015, the National Labor Relations Board charged that the company and its temporary employee agency provider, Kelly Services, violated workers’ rights, with one manager threatening to close the plant if it went union. Although Nissan has said it is defending itself against the charge, the NLRB added new complaints against Nissan and Kelly Services in April of this year for threatening to close the plant if workers unionized. The NLRB also charged the company with breaking labor law by having security personnel perform unnecessary security stops on union members.

Workers at Nissan are also likely to face community pressure from others to vote against the union.

“Under U.S. law, we have the right to provide employees with all the facts to ensure that they make the best decision for them and the Canton community,” wrote Nissan spokeswoman Parul Bajaj wrote in an email to CBS News earlier this week. “We intend to exercise that right.

Following the defeat of Boeing’s union drive, where $485,000 was spent on anti-union TV ads, Nissan began running its first TV ads against the union drive in Canton.

Help Payday Raise $300 for a Cameraman To Fly to Mississippi

The workers in Canton are likely to face a massive barrage of anti-union propaganda in the media. Therefore, it’s important for publications like ours to focus all of our attention on them as well as a few other emergencies.

So, help us cover Canton, Mississippi right, just like we covered the Volkswagen drive in Chattanooga.

In March, Payday was the only national print outlet to send a correspondent down to Canton to cover the 5,000-person historic “March on Mississippi” against Nissan. (While there, Payday Senior Labor Reporter Mike Elk even winded up filing a dispatch for the Guardian on the march.)

Now, we want to go back to cover the historic union election at Nissan in a few weeks. We have already raised enough money to cover hotel, gas, and the salary of a cameraman for one week.

If we can just raise another $300 we will be able to fly him in. So donate today.

Mike Elk is a member of the Washington-Baltimore NewsGuild and is the senior labor reporter at Payday Report. He previously served as senior labor reporter at POLITICO and has written for the New York Times. He also writes the Guardian.

Follow him on Twitter @MikeElk or email him: [email protected]

About the Author

Mike Elk
Mike Elk is an Emmy-nominated labor reporter and alumni of the Guardian. In addition to filing nearly 2,000 stories from 46 states, Elk traveled with Lula from Sáo Bernando do Campos all the way to the Oval Office in the White House. Credited by the Washington Post for being the first reporter to track the strike wave systematically, Elk started Payday Report using his NLRB settlement from being illegally fired for union organizing in 2015. He lives in his hometown of Pittsburgh and works frequently in Rio de Janeiro, where he attended college at PUC-Rio. He speaks both Portuguese and Pittsburghese fluently. His email is [email protected]

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