WASHINGTON, March 3 – Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) will join civil rights and labor leaders Saturday outside a Nissan Motor Co. plant in Canton, Mississippi, to demand that the automaker respect the rights of workers to form a union.
“I am proud to join the fight to give Nissan’s workers the justice, dignity and the right to join a union that they deserve,” Sanders said. “What the workers are doing is a courageous and enormously important effort to improve their lives.”
Nissan has union representation at 42 out of its 45 plants around the world, but not in Mississippi or Tennessee. “The American South should not be treated differently,” Sanders said.
The plant is in a state where the overall poverty rate of 22 percent and childhood poverty of more than 31 percent are the worst in the county. The official unemployment rate of 6.5 percent ranks Mississippi 46th among all states. Only 6.6 percent of Mississippi workers are labor union members. That number is increasing but still low compared to almost 11 percent nationwide.
The Mississippi Alliance for Fairness at Nissan organized the March on Mississippi. Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), actor Danny Glover, NAACP President Cornell William, former Ohio state Sen. Nina Turner and Mississippi NAACP President Derrick Johnson also will join the rally and march. Building on demonstrations last month at Nissan dealerships across the South, Saturday’s rally will begin at 12:30 p.m. CST at the Canton Sportsplex before demonstrators march two miles to Nissan’s assembly plant.
The Canton plant opened in 2003 after Mississippi lawmakers gave Nissan $1.3 billion in tax breaks in hopes of creating good-paying, full-time jobs. Despite expectations, Nissan repeatedly has violated the rights of its workers. Most recently, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration on Feb. 10 proposed a $21,000 fine because a poorly-trained assembly line worker lost three fingers. The National Labor Relations Board in 2015 found that Nissan unlawfully threatened to fire workers and close the plant if workers unionize. A new complaint was filed with the board late Thursday accusing the company of unlawfully ordering workers to stop leafleting in a plant parking lot.
“It’s time for Nissan to walk the walk when it comes to the civil rights of its employees,” worker Robin Moore wrote in an op-ed published Thursday in The (Jackson, Mississippi) Clarion-Ledger. “Back when the plant opened,” she added,” people in Mississippi had high hopes that Nissan would bring good jobs to the impoverished and overwhelmingly black community of Canton. And I for one am grateful for my job. But in the years since, things have gone down. Nissan has driven down pay, eliminated benefits and imposed punishing production schedules while skimping on basic health and safety equipment.”