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article imageNissan workers reject union bid at Mississippi plant

By Joseph Szczesny (AFP)     Aug 5, 2017 in Business

Nissan has defeated a bid by the United Auto Workers to unionize employees at a factory in the US Deep South, ending a bitter contest that critics said laid bare a racial divide in the company.

Some 60 percent of the approximately 3,500 workers in the Mississippi factory rejected the union in the vote that ended Friday, according to results released by the National Labor Relations Board, with pro-union employees vowing to continue their fight.

In a statement following the tally's release the company said it believes the outcome "positions Nissan to be competitive in the future" and urged the United Auto Workers union to end its bid to organize employees.

Nissan had been accused of conducting a vicious anti-union campaign at the plant -- where 80 percent of the blue-collar work force is African-American, and about 3,000 temporary and contract employees working at the plant were not eligible to cast a ballot.

"It ain't over yet," Michael Carter, a Nissan employee who helped lead the union drive, told a crowd of more than 100 union supporters after the votes were counted.

"We are never giving up," he added.

After years of work trying to organize foreign car factories in the South, UAW president Dennis Williams called the results a setback for workers -- but said defeat should not be conceded.

"Nissan and its anti-worker allies ran a vicious campaign against its own workforce that was comprised of intense scare tactics, misinformation and intimidation," he said.

A complaint by the NLRB Friday accused Nissan of threatening employees with termination because of union activities, and threatening to close the plant if workers voted to unionize, charges Nissan vehemently denied.

"Nissan is running one of the nastiest anti-union campaigns in the modern history of the American labor movement," Gary Casteel, secretary-treasurer of the UAW, said in a recent statement.

- Jobs for depressed region -

The factory sits in what is historically one of the poorest areas of the poorest state in the union, according to government census data.

Companies often choose to locate in the US South, where wages are low, unemployment is high and the states are generally anti-union.

While the pro-union forces managed to ring the plant with supporters as the voting began Thursday, workers opposed to the union had fought back on social media and local talk radio.

The anti-union campaign said the UAW's presence had forced plants to close in other parts of the country and said the union used dues money to support Democratic political candidates like Hillary Clinton.

Nissan said the plant, which sits along the freeway just north of the state capital of Jackson, employs 6,400 workers, adding a measure of prosperity to a depressed region.

Prior to the vote's conclusion factory worker WaShad Catchings, 37, said the company seems to have different standards for its plants in Mississippi

He has worked for Nissan since the plant opened in 2003 and gradually came around to supporting the UAW.

"We don't want to bankrupt the company but we want to negotiate," he said. "We want a seat at the table. Let's negotiate. That's not too much to ask."

The Delta, as the region is known, is considered the birthplace of the Blues, and residents are predominantly African-Americans, the descendants of the slaves and later poor share croppers who made the region one of the most important cotton-growing regions in the country.

Machines now harvest the cotton but poverty and limited education have restricted economic opportunities.

The UAW has leveraged its history of support for the Civil Rights movement to establish a foothold in the community.

Prior to the vote Harley Shaiken, a labor expert at the University of California-Berkeley, said a loss would not necessarily end the drive to organize.

"I know the union isn't going away," Shaiken said. "They have succeeded in building a real social movement around the plant."

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