Greetings from Canton, Miss., where Payday is getting ready to hit the road. Donate so that we can be back with even more labor reporters.
We have learned some new details of the defeat of Nissan, as workers there are preparing for a new NLRB election.
Hundreds of Temps Added to Bargaining Unit Before Vote
In interviews with workers, it has become clear that Nissan promoted hundreds of temporary workers to full-time “pathway” status in the months leading up to the union election. Many workers complain that the new “pathway” employees were tough to organize since many of the workers felt a debt of gratitude to management for promoting them.
Nissan denied allegations that they promoted temps to counter the union election.
“Over the last few years, Nissan has hired converted more than 1,500 associates to technicians. None of this was tied to [union activity]” says Nissan spokesperson Parul Baraj.
Renault Nissan Acquired the Anti-Union Services of Littler Mendelson
Payday Report has learned that Nissan obtained the law firm of Littler Mendelson. Nissan confirmed in an email to Payday Report that Littler Mendelson was indeed their law firm that was used at Nissan.
UAW President Addresses Corruption Scandal and Mississippi Loss in Detroit Free Press Op-ed
UAW President Dennis Williams detailed the allegations against a former high-ranking union official, who, according to a Department of Justice indictment, conspired with Chrysler executives to use more than $2 million from the UAW-Chrysler National Training Center for personal use. During the Canton UAW drive, anti-union advocates used this story to paint the union in a negative light.
In an op-ed for the Detroit Free Press, Williams wrote:
But as painful as these charges of criminal conduct have been for me and the entire union, I have never once questioned the fundamental integrity of our organization. Since news of this situation became public, our opponents have gleefully pushed their PR machine into overdrive to besmirch the entire union based on the conduct of just a small handful of bad actors, and advance their anti-worker agenda.
That brings me to the Nissan vote. We cannot know for sure what role the indictments played in the election, but there is no doubt it had an impact as we had a solid majority prior to the filing for election. We went into this organizing drive with high hopes. The UAW has a proud history in the south with more than 55,000 active members and 60,000 retirees. Last year alone more than 1,323 workers in the south voted to join the UAW, including Volkswagen workers in Tennessee who came back after a defeat in 2014 and voted to join us. The reason for their support is clear: the UAW delivers for our members.
We Interview a Worker Tom Perez Interviewed First
Folks, before you read us, hear it from workers themselves in their context. If you watch our 21-minute interview with Nissan worker Robert Hathorn, you will get a sense of the investment we put into high quality investigative labor reporting here at Payday.
We’d like to say the Hathorn interview was an exclusive, but it turns out Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez scooped us back in 2015 when he interviewed Hathorn at the White House. (Check out Tom Perez’s full 6-minute interview.)
Back in 2015, Perez invited Robert Hathorn to speak at event at the White House with President Obama on the crisis of permatemps like himself in the auto industry in the South.
Bernie Sanders and Perez both decided to get into the labor reporting ballgame on Nissan. In March, Sanders released his own Nissan video from the Nissan Workers’ Center shortly before the March for Mississippi.
Sanders’ video was a classic labor reporting gold record—amazing material, but it only garnered 6,615 views—a classic labor reporting gold record problem.
Perez Tried to Tip Payday Off to Robert Hathorn; We Didn’t Get The Message
Back in April, Tom tried to tip us off to talking to Robert Hathorn, telling Payday in an exclusive interview in Louisville that Hathorn had inspired him to make the landmark decision to get the DNC involved in the fight against Nissan:
“Robert was his name, but I don’t recall his last name,” says Perez. “He’s what they call a ‘permatemp.’ That’s an oxymoron—it should be an oxymoron. How can you be a permanent temporary employee? He is a second-class citizen in the Nissan plant.”
Perez’s pace of speech begins to pick up rapidly as he’s agitated by the issue.
“He has had the indignity of training permanent employees, who make much more than him,” Perez told Payday in April. “He has to work something like 55 hours to make what someone doing identical work makes in 40 hours. That’s not right, that’s not who we are. Nissan is making a tremendous amount of money and they don’t need to make money on the backs of their workers.”
Showing ambition as a freelance labor reporter, Perez landed a freelance story for the USA Today Network, which owns the major print outlet in Mississippi—the Clarion-Ledger—as well as the Detroit Free Press. In his August 3 op-ed, Perez wrote:
Last summer, we invited Robert to help us draft the Democratic Party’s platform. The best way to build an economy that works for everyone, he said, is to protect the right to bargain and organize collectively” Perez wrote. .”He also said his story in not unusual. It can be told by factory workers throughout the country who deserve a voice. That’s why Democrats support the workers in Canton fighting to unionize under the United Auto Workers.
Nearly every Nissan plant around the world is unionized, and they have managed to make a profit while still providing good middle-class jobs. The plant in Canton should be no exception. It’s time for Nissan to stop putting their thumb on the scale of justice and let workers decide for themselves.
As Perez’s story went to press, Sanders also decided to suit up for a big league ballgame as a labor reporter. Writing for the Guardian, he cited reporting by Payday Senior Labor Reporter Mike Elk.
Watch our video with Robert Hathorn talking about the situation.
Loomis Calls Out Armchair Leftists’ Hot Takes on Nissan Loss
University of Rhode Island Labor Historian Erik Loomis called out a piece authored by People Wasn’t Made To Burn author Joe Allen that ran widely at a bunch of left outlets.
“We could blame the UAW here in cliched pieces about how LABOR IS DOING IT WRONG and needs MORE SOCIALISM, such as this ridiculous Joe Allen summary that could have been written before the campaign even began,” Loomis wrote on his popular blog Lawyers, Guns & Money.
“That essay shows no understanding of conditions on the ground or the organizing campaign or Nissan’s counter campaign. Instead, it’s just boilerplate leftist critique of labor that’s been around for decades. If we get at people who know what they are talking about, we see what really happened.”
Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild Shines in Nissan Reporting
While Loomis recognized Payday’s reporting, he also recognized the reporting of another Washington-Baltimore NewsGuild member Dominique Briggins, an organizer with Jobs with Justice, who traveled down to assist the UAW in their organizing effort.
A graduate of Atlanta Clark University, Briggins had previously worked to organize Nissan workers in Georgia and Tennessee as a college student.
Briggins describes her experience as an African American woman on the most recent effort in Nissan:
Operating in a state scarred by slavery, Jim Crow laws, and the struggle for civil rights, Nissan has a shameful record of oppressing its predominantly African-American workforce and suppressing their votes. It’s no accident that the Canton plant is one of only three Nissan facilities in the world where the corporation resists working people negotiating over the terms of their work. During the most recent presidential election, managers told some employees they could not make any accommodations for them to vote if they were scheduled for 12-hour shifts that conflicted with voting hours.
The New York Times referred to the union election as “racially charged.” African Americans working for Nissan say the company rewarded white employees with promotions, and outside the plant, race baiters used propaganda to sway votes. White supremacist groups distributed a racist anti-union flyer urging people to vote against joining in union.
History is not lost on this moment. Yesterday marked the 52nd anniversary of the Voting Rights Act. The federal government prohibited discrimination in voting a century after the abolishment of slavery. It tamped down on laws in southern states designed to suppress the civil rights of African Americans and the poor. Nissan depriving thousands of southern, Black Americans of their freedom to vote and take part in democracy is an affront to all those who devoted their lives in the fight for voting rights in this country.
American Prospect Looks at the Long Term
Justin Miller, another labor reporter and member of the Washington Baltimore NewsGuild writing for the American Prospect, gives the long-term perspective on what the loss means:
For decades, industrial unions have tried to make headway in the South, where manufacturers both foreign—like Airbus, Mercedes Benz, Toyota, and Volkswagen— and domestic—like Boeing—have set up shop, drawn by the region’s low wages and historic aversion to unions.
Forty of Nissan’s 42 plants around the world are unionized—as are the vast majority of other foreign-owned multinationals’. Corporations that wouldn’t think of going non-union in Europe or Japan become militantly anti-union when they move into the South.
The unsuccessful campaign in Canton epitomizes the immense challenges that weakened unions face as they try to survive, shore up strength, and expand in a globalized economy that is squeezing workers more and more. The continued failures prompt important and ongoing debates about unions’ approaches to organizing strategy—and the degree to which they may be repeating the same mistakes over and over again. But they also bring into stark relief the question of whether labor unions can make any meaningful organizing gains without a complete overhaul of the nation’s labor laws.
The answer, increasingly, appears to be, “no.”
Leaving Mississippi, We Will Be Back with More Labor Reporters
Folks, Payday is leaving Mississippi right now, and we promise to be back with even more reporters. We need your help to do it.
Check out our video page on YouTube and take some time to watch our interviews. We are doing work here that historians will later use in their analysis.
Here is a sample of what we have done so far:
Watch: Payday em Portugues em Canton, Mississippi – Brazilian Autoworkers Speak Out Against Nissan (August 6)
‘Nissan, you made us mad’: union promises to fight Mississippi defeat (August 5 in The Guardian)
EXCLUSIVE: Nissan Workers Talk Their Struggles With One-on-One Anti-Union Meetings (Video) (August 3)
Nissan Attacked for One of ‘Nastiest Anti-Union Campaigns’ in Modern US History (August 2 in The Guardian)
An Inside Look at the 14 Year Campaign to Unionize Nissan in Mississippi (July 25 in The Guardian)
EXCLUSIVE: Our Revolution Chairman Larry Cohen Calls for Nationwide Action to Back Mississippi Nissan Workers (July 14)
See ya next week folks.
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.