Nissan Workers Plan to Push Back Following Loss
By Mike Elk
Following an ugly campaign, Nissan workers in Canton, Mississippi, lost a historic union election by a margin of 2,244 to 1,307 last week.
Workers say that they aren’t giving up in their attempts to organize. The union immediately pledged to challenge the results at the National Labor Relations Board.
Late last month, the NLRB charged Nissan with illegally threatening workers and bribing workers to vote against the union. On the day of the election, the UAW filed seven more unfair labor practice charges with the NLRB. If the federal body decides that Nissan broke the law, it could order another election within six months.
Workers say that during the next 6 months the union will have to prove the promises made by the company to stop the union drive were empty.
“[Nissan] is going to play this nice guy role for about 3-6 months…then everything will go back to normal,” says Nissan worker Robert Hathorn. “Then, the same people who voted against us are gonna be the same ones leading the campaign more than we are.”
They say that despite not having a union, workers will have to continue to advocate for small everyday changes. Doing so they say will prove necessary to showing that the union, not Nissan, truly has workers’ interests at heart.
“They don’t understand that they are the union,” said worker Michael Carter. “There is not a third party coming in there, the union is already in there, and that’s what we gotta make them understand, that they are the union.”
The odds are long, but workers say they are ready to push again.
“We are gonna get a lot of people laughing at us, tell us we told you so,” says UAW activist Betty Jones. “I’m used to that, I’ve been dealing with that for years.”
“People throw stones especially when you organize something. So you have to be a strong person in order to do this and my co-workers who surround me are strong people”.
Watch as Payday Report and Real News team up to cover how Nissan Workers plan to push back as they continue to organize at Nissan in Canton, Mississippi.
MIKE ELK: You were saying this is the beginning of a war here?
ROBERT HATHORN: Yeah.
MIKE ELK: Do you think folks are going to be able to maintain and stay positive?
ROBERT HATHORN: My people are going to stay positive.
MIKE ELK: Yeah?
ROBERT HATHORN: We don’t fall down and tuck our tails and cry and join the other side, like somebody said. But everything that the company is going to do, like it’s going to be… It’s already etched in stone. Basically what’s going to happen, I’m going to tell you what’s going to happen. Okay, they’re going to play this nice guy role for about three or six months or anything like that then everything will go back to normal. The same people that voted against us, they’re going to be the same ones that’s going to be leading the campaign more than we are. I’m not going to say anybody I told them so.
MIKE ELK: No.
ROBERT HATHORN: Because I don’t believe in that. Because I believe in old school. Fall down. Get back up. You learn your lesson. It’s time for them to do the same thing.
MIKE ELK: What’s it like … this is a question for everyone and feel free to chime in … to be in a workplace where folks you know that switch from being yes votes to no votes? How do you welcome them back into the fold?
ROBERT HATHORN: Easy. I treat them just the same as just coworkers because I guarantee the same people that voted against it, something’s going to happen to them that they’re going to complain about something, they’re going to come to all of us, the people who actually know the labor laws, the people who actually speak out. They’re going to say, “he’s dead … ” so and so, “I told him … ” so and so. All that I can say is you should have signed that card. Next time, I don’t have to tell you to sign the card. You’re going to sign the card when I’d be telling you because you already know how it works out.
MIKE ELK: Yeah. You’re saying folks are going to start coming to you guys. You’re going to have to start acting like a union even though you’re not the majority to show strength.
ROBERT HATHORN: We never stopped acting like a union.
BETTY JONES: You have to realize the message is still the message.
ROBERT HATHORN: Yeah.
BETTY JONES: I mean because it’s a night, it don’t mean the message change. I mean we’re still going to go out and fight for worker’s rights. We’re still going to go on there Monday morning and say, “Hey, talk about safety. We’re going to talk about healthcare. We’re going to talk about pension.” The message is still the same. You just you fall down. You get back up. We’re let down today, but Monday morning, we back at work again and we’re going to still be talking to our coworkers about organizing.
MIKE ELK: Yeah. How much energy do you think this is going to add? This is a long fight.
BETTY JONES: Yeah, it is. Yeah, it is. I mean, we’re going to get a lot of people laughing at us saying “We told you all so.”
ROBERT HATHORN: Finger pointing.
BETTY JONES: Yeah, all of that. I … used to that. Been dealing with that for years. It’s nothing, just I’m a walking to something different in my life because people throw stones, especially when you trying to organize something. You have to be a strong person in order to be able to stand out. My coworkers that surround me, they are strong people. A lot of people can’t do what we do. They know we strong and we know they are coming. It’s not going to be a surprise for me. I’m going to go in there Monday morning, do like I always do, “Good morning. How everybody doing? Let’s make something shake.” That’s what we’re going to continue to do.
MIKE ELK: Where do you think the turning point was?
MICHAEL CARTER: The round table.
BETTY JONES: Yeah, the roundtables, the scare tactics.
MICHAEL CARTER: The anti-roundtable. The first of the roundtables, I believe, didn’t faze anybody.
BETTY JONES: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
MICHAEL CARTER: We knew that was coming. We expected that. But the second roundtable is when they would start the real fear tactics, plant closures, losing benefits if you form a union. Those type of tactics really turn … start getting people to think about, “Well, I don’t know if I really want to do this. I need to think about this twice.” That second set of roundtables and fear and strikes. That’s what turned the table.
MIKE ELK: What affect did the one-on-ones had after that?
MICHAEL CARTER: I don’t think the one-on-ones had that much of affect. I think just like the roundtables when you’re in there as a group … because they split us up. They took the strong pro-union people and they put us together. When they first set of roundtables, they mix us up because they didn’t know there’s going to have that much push back. But now after they did that one, they knew how it was done, so they put all the pro-union together and then all the antis together so we couldn’t influence anybody as much anymore. We couldn’t get our message across. A lot of people are still lost. They don’t understand. They don’t understand that they are the union. There’s not a third party coming here. The union is already in here. We just not recognized. They don’t understand that. That’s what we got to continue to do. Make them understand that they are the union. We make that plant run. Without us, that plant does not run.
MIKE ELK: How do you show to them on a day-to-day basis you’re the union?
MICHAEL CARTER: You just got to continue talking to them, continue to … just keep talking, keep talking. Something’s going to sink in because something’s going to happen. In that plant, people don’t move until they get stuck in a situation.
MIKE ELK: Do you feel that workers who’ve been there a shorter period of time are more susceptible to fear?
MICHAEL CARTER: Yes. I feel that.
MIKE ELK: Why?
MICHAEL CARTER: Because they hadn’t been there. They don’t understand that we’ve been here 14 years. They don’t understand what it took for us to get there. When we first started, Nissan was very strict. You couldn’t miss one or two days, and they would write you up and say, “Hey, you miss one day. You’re being fired.” Where now, they got more leeway. They miss three or four days, nobody says anything to them. If Nissan went back the way they were, then they will understand how we feel. We’re the veterans. We knew what it took to get here. The people that’s in here now feel like that Nissan has given them something. When you give something, that’s a gift. If I give you $100, that’s a gift. You did nothing to get that. I gave that to you. Nissan didn’t give me anything. The state of Mississippi gave me an opportunity to have this job and I did everything else. I filled out the application. I submitted the application. I went to the interviews. I did the drug test. I did 40 hours of unpaid training not knowing whether I would have a job, okay?
That’s what I did because I wanted to work at Nissan. Nissan didn’t give me anything. Everything that I’ve got right now, I worked my ass off of it. They didn’t give me nothing. Until they understand that, then they going to be lost. That’s what we got to make them understand.
BETTY JONES: I think that Pathway change their mind as well. They did. When they was saying we’re going to lose our jobs and the plant going to close, the turnaround was when they got those shirts.
ROBERT HATHORN: That’s what I think did it.
BETTY JONES: It really did.
ROBERT HATHORN: It was like a disease, a plague.
BETTY JONES: They feel like they was really a part of the company.
MIKE ELK: How many people were wearing shirts like that?
ROBERT HATHORN: Everybody. I had people that was telling me like, man. They come up and-
BETTY JONES: They was like in droves.
ROBERT HATHORN: I’m still voting yes. I’m just wearing this shirt, it’s a free shirt. So I said, “Okay, I got a free shirt for you. I’ll bring it tomorrow.” Okay, so I bring the shirt. “I’m good, man. I’m good.”
BETTY JONES: As soon as the Pathway come over to Nissan, the first thing they do, get a lease vehicle. When Nissan say, “We’re going to take away your lease vehicle,” everything turn around. The more they were saying it, the more people was wearing their shirts.
ROBERT HATHORN: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
BETTY JONES: There are no union shirts.
ROBERT HATHORN: That was the main thing they was worried about.
BETTY JONES: That was-
ROBERT HATHORN: I’m going to tell you something. I have a lease car. If I’m not afraid to lose my lease car, you see what I’m saying?
MICHAEL CARTER: They make too much money off of these cars.
ROBERT HATHORN: Right, they make too much money. It’s 15% of their sales.
MICHAEL CARTER: In a business sense they’re not going to cut theirselves out of their business.
ROBERT HATHORN: They’re not going to cut that.
MICHAEL CARTER: It’s free advertising.
ROBERT HATHORN: Just so to touch on what you said earlier about the employees has been there the least set of time they want it, a lot of fear, and all of that. It’s true because when I first started there in orientation, they strictly told us “There are going to be some people out there wearing UAW shirts, trying to form a union. Do not talk to them. If you do, you lose your job because Nissan doesn’t support a union. If the union comes in, they’re going to close the plant down.” Blah, blah, blah, and stuff like that which I already knew they was bunch of lies because, like I said, I worked a union job before.
MIKE ELK: Yeah.
ROBERT HATHORN: If they told me that … They told me that, like, four years ago, I know they still telling people that.
MICHAEL CARTER: They are.
ROBERT HATHORN: You know, because I have asked people and people that, you know, in the process of being Pathways, sign a card. “No, I’m not trying to lose my job.” So I know where they came from.
BETTY JONES: The Nissan ran a dirty, dirty campaign.
BETTY JONES: They really did. I mean they came out with everything to the lies … I mean, how can HR wear a no-union shirt? I thought they-
MICHAEL CARTER: They’re supposed to be neutral.
BETTY JONES: Right. Really? Then you got a supervisor and you got some of the technicians we know wearing union shirt and some wearing a no-vote. How are you going to supervise all of us and you’ve taken one side. I know that you’re company or whatever, but I just think they should have just left the supervisor out and let us stay-
ROBERT HATHORN: As the employees.
BETTY JONES: Yeah, employees. Okay, you ran your anti or no-videos, and put your memos out. Okay, that’s fine. But the day they wore them shirts, it was just like a disgrace. It was like a slap in our face, like we didn’t amount to anything. We didn’t mean anything to the company.
MIKE ELK: What’s next? After you go back to work, what’s the next couple of months like?
ROBERT HATHORN: I’d say they lit the torch. I’m going to carry the torch back to them.
BETTY JONES: Still the same message.
CASTES FOSTER: The one’s that said “No”, is going to see something within them six months and it’s going to be all right here with us. That the company is going to help us win. Isn’t it a campaign. They don’t even realize it because they’re not going to keep their word. Once a snake, always a snake.