CANTON, Miss. – Pat Ruffin admits she’s scared.
But, the Nissan auto worker told a crowd of approximately 50 at the Holiday Inn Express recently, she’s also tired.
“I’m sick and tired of the videos about plant closings,” she said. “That’s intimidation. That scares me. I have a family. I have bills.”
Ruffin was one of eight employees at the giant Nissan plant in Canton to appear before the newly formed Mississippi Alliance for Fairness at Nissan to tell their stories about working at a plant where pro-union sympathies are strongly discouraged. A growing number of workers in recent months have called for an election to determine whether the United Auto Workers should represent them.
The plant employs roughly 3,300.
“Talking about a union, that is forbidden at Nissan,” Ruffin said. “They try to persuade you against unions. I want to hear both sides. I’m tired of Nissan’s side.”
Coworker Douglas Brooks agreed. “I come to work and I give my best, 100 percent. We are people with families and lives. If we live in America, let’s act like we live in America,” he said. “Being from Mississippi doesn’t mean we’re all morons. There’s got to be something good about unions because they’re still around.”
Workers told a panel that included local ministers and officials such as state NAACP President Derrick Johnson that they face increasing pressure from company managers and officials to disavow any interest in joining the UAW. They are routinely called into one-on-one meetings and into group sessions where anti-union videos are shown. Some workers said their pro-union sympathies have put them under increased scrutiny from managers for any slight infraction that could lead to getting them fired.
“They probably got a picture of me up at HR (Nissan’s human resources office) with a big X across it,” openly pro-union Nissan employee Wayne Walker said. “A union troublemaker. … When you first come to this place they put the fear of a union in you. Keep you fearful. They’ll say, `You lucky to have a job.’ We want a union and a contract.”
Nissan officials did not speak at the gathering. However, Nissan spokesman Travis Parman said in an earlier interview that “our communications meetings with employees are not new. We continuously and routinely meet with our employees to openly discuss matters pertinent to our business.”
Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn has made no secret of his anti-union views and once strongly warned Nissan workers that a union “is not in your best interest” shortly before an election at the company’s plant in Smyrna, Tenn. Workers there rejected the union.
“We believe that as American citizens we have a right to free choice,” Alliance chair Isiac Jackson Jr. told the workers. “God gave us a right to choose. We’re going to be out there walking the line for you.”
Jackson said the Alliance’s next goal is to gain entrance into the plant, where members can tell the other side of the union story.
Nissan worker James Brown said he believes Nissan workers in Canton would support a union if a fair election were held. “The key is to take fear and intimidation away. This is the key to having a fair election,” he said. “So many of my co-workers say they want it but are afraid to come out publicly.”
Nissan Workers in Mississippi Tell of Fear and Intimidation
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