CANTON, MISS. – Major national elected and civil rights leaders—including U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT), actor Danny Glover, NAACP President Cornell William Brooks, and former Ohio State Sen. Nina Turner — hand delivered a letter to Nissan officials at a factory in Canton, Miss. Saturday, demanding the company halt its ongoing harassment of African-American workers who are organizing to form a union.
Delivery of the letter, which called for Nissan to respect its workers’ right to vote for a union free from fear and intimidation, marked the culmination of a march by hundreds of workers, politicians and civil rights leaders, who flooded the streets of Canton holding signs that read, “Workers’ Rights = Civil Rights” and “We Deserve Better.”
“I am proud to join in fighting to give workers at Nissan’s Canton, Mississippi, plant the justice, dignity and the right to join a union that they deserve,” said Sen. Sanders. “Nissan has union representation at 42 out of its 45 plants around the world. The American South should not be treated differently. What the workers at the Nissan plant in Mississippi are doing is a courageous and enormously important effort to improve their lives.”
In addition to Sanders, Glover, Brooks and Turner, U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss), Sierra Club President Aaron Mair, Mississippi NAACP President Derrick Johnson, and UAW President Dennis Williams joined the march and participated in the letter delivery.
The protest was organized by the Mississippi Alliance for Fairness at Nissan (MAFFAN), a coalition of civil rights leaders, ministers and worker advocates that has been supporting the Nissan workers who are joining together for a voice on the job.
“Nissan’s illegal harassment of workers here in Canton has crushed the dreams that many of us had when the company opened its factory doors, but we have not given up hope,” said Rev. Isaic Jackson, chair of MAFFAN. “Now, our hope for a better future comes from the workers at Nissan who are speaking out and fighting back against the civil rights abuses they face, and we will support them every step of the way.”
As scrutiny of the company’s civil rights abuses intensified this week here in the U.S., Nissan also drew fire from elected officials abroad. On Friday, leading politicians and presidential candidates in France, the home country of Nissan’s corporate partner, Renault, released a series of videos vowing support for Nissan workers who are organizing at the Canton plant.
“It’s empowering to see so many leaders, both here and abroad, offering their support to us as we speak out against Nissan’s attacks on our civil rights at the plant,” said Nissan employee Morris Mock, who works on the paint line at the Canton plant. “I have two daughters, and I want them to grow up in a community where they will have a real shot at a good future and a decent living. That’s why I’m going to keep fighting for good jobs at Nissan’s plant, no matter what it takes.”
Nissan began operating in Canton in 2003 amid high hopes for Mississippi workers. The state gave Nissan $1.33 billion in tax breaks with the belief the company would bring good-paying, full-time jobs to the community. But despite expectations, Nissan has instead repeatedly violated the rights of its workers.
In late 2015, the National Labor Relations Board charged Nissan and a temporary worker agency with violating workers’ rights in Mississippi. The Labor Board found that Nissan unlawfully threatened to close the plant if workers unionize; threatened employees with termination for union activity; and unlawfully interrogated employees. Nissan has “been interfering with, restraining and coercing employees in the exercise of their rights,” the Labor Board said.
“Nissan workers are carrying on the fight for freedom and equality that took place here in Mississippi decades ago at the height of the civil rights movement,” said Glover. “Equal rights means the right to have a voice on the job, and workers will keep fighting until they have a seat at the table with all the other stakeholders of Nissan.”
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has issued multiple citations against Nissan for violations of federal safety and health laws. The most recent citations, issued in February, found that Nissan “did not furnish employment and a place of employment which was free from recognized hazards that were causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm to employees.”
Nissan’s Canton assembly plant produces models including the Altima, Frontier, Murano, and Titan. The company recently touted that its Altima model was the top selling car among African-American consumers for 2016.
Supporting Voices from Across the Country:
Former Ohio State Sen. Nina Turner said: “Workers at the Canton plant know they deserve more in a job—yet every time they stand up for themselves, the company retaliates with illegal threats and intimidation. Workers’ rights are civil rights, and attacks like these to silence the voices of a predominantly African-American workforce will not go overlooked.”
UAW President Dennis Williams said: “For too long, multi-billion dollar companies have sacrificed workers’ rights and safety in order to better their bottom line. But the workers at Nissan’s Canton plant are saying ‘enough.’ Their bold actions will inspire thousands of others throughout the South to speak out for good jobs, and we’ll be with them every step of the way until Nissan provides the economic opportunity it promised this community.”
Sierra Club President Aaron Mair said: “Corporations must be held accountable for their treatment of their communities – not just their effect on the environment, but also local economies and the workers they employ. If Nissan wants to be a truly green transportation company, it must not only manufacture environmentally friendly vehicles, but also respect workers’ rights on a global and local scale. Racial justice, environmental justice, and worker justice are inherently linked, and the Sierra Club will continue to stand with Canton workers until they receive the respect they deserve.”