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By Bob King
Driving north from Jackson, Miss., on Interstate 55, there's a massive Nissan automotive plant parallel to the highway. It stretches for miles, with nearly 5,000 workers assembling vehicles inside. While the plant is impressive, a growing coalition of Mississippi religious and civic leaders and students are spreading the word across the nation and globally about Nissan's actions behind those walls that aren't so impressive: Intimidating workers and denying them their fundamental right to a fair union election.
Congressman Bennie Thompson called on Mississippi leaders to stand up for Nissan workers who are seeking to organize a union, and last summer, the Mississippi Alliance for Fairness at Nissan (MAFFAN) was formed.
MAFFAN members are very clear in their purpose. They're happy Nissan provides jobs for their community, but they refuse to accept the intimidation campaign Nissan is waging against workers. Nissan has even implied plant closure if workers exercise their right to form a union. But how can this be true when Nissan recognizes unions all over the world — including its home country, Japan?
Dr. Isiac Jackson Jr., who is MAFFAN chair and president of the General Missionary Baptist State Convention of Mississippi, said it best: "We will not tolerate Nissan treating Mississippians as second-class citizens. We will carry the message in Mississippi and to the world insisting that Nissan allow a fair process that allows workers to freely decide on unionization."
Today, Nissan workers and MAFFAN members are at the United Nations in Geneva, taking that message to the world and to consumers at the International Motor Show.
The fair process Jackson wants is more than a good idea, it's a right. The UN's Global Compact states forming a union is a universal human right. MAFFAN leaders are asking Nissan to allow workers a fair union election, where workers are able to hear both sides, free from intimidation and threats. In a fair, democratic election, union supporters will be allowed equal access and time with workers.
Under these common sense principles (which the UAW calls the Principles for Fair Union Elections), workers can truly make an informed decision about unionization.
Workers want a voice in the workplace to end unfair practices, such as Nissan's business practice of employing a significant percentage of temporary workers, called "Nissan Associates." Temporary workers do exactly the same work as regular employees, but for less pay, less job security and limited benefits. They often put their life plans on hold, hoping to become permanent Nissan employees, but it's unlikely they will ever be hired permanently.
Mississippi workers want to form a collaborative relationship with Nissan built on mutual respect, cooperation and trust. They want to be partners in creating quality products at the best value, so both Nissan and workers can prosper. Nissan should welcome that proposition.
I agree with Mississippi leaders: We cannot stand by and allow this foreign company to treat American workers like second-class global citizens. As president of the UAW, I'm encouraged to see local community leaders standing up for workers.
Until they can freely decide whether to have a union, Mississippi workers need support - from MAFFAN, the UAW and the global community.
Bob King is president of the UAW. Thiis opinion piece originally appeared in the March 6, 2013 edition of the Detroit News.