UPDATED: 7/11/17 4:31 pm ET - new story
Workers could vote as early as July 31 on whether to unionize the 6,400-worker Nissan plant in Canton, Miss.
The call for a quick vote comes after the UAW filed a petition for a vote Monday with the National Labor Relations Board -- its latest attempt in an uphill battle to organize workers in southern auto plants.
If successful, the vote would cap off a frustrating 14-year effort to organize the plant, rife with years of worker allegations of difficult working conditions and violated rights. UAW representation of the plant could also signal a breakthrough for labor unions in the South, where the auto union has made little penetration despite rapid, ongoing industry growth.
The campaign is the latest push to unionize Nissan's Canton plant, which makes the Altima, Murano, Frontier, Titan and NV commercial vans. The plant has never held a UAW vote there, despite the organizing efforts.
Nissan maintains that allegations of poor treatment, such as denied workers compensation, anti-union intimidation and unsafe conditions, are baseless.
“The 6,400 Canton employees are a key part of the Nissan family,” a Nissan spokesman told Automotive News. “We are proud to provide them good, stable, safe jobs with some of the best wages and benefits in Mississippi.”
The No 2. Japanese automaker has never welcomed a UAW presence at its facilities, unlike its Detroit 3 competitors. The UAW called for elections twice at Nissan’s larger U.S. plant in Smyrna, Tenn., but was defeated both times.
“While it is ultimately up to our employees who will represent them," the spokesman said, "we do not believe that UAW representation is in the best interest of Nissan Canton and its workers.”
A spokesman for the UAW said the organization has not heard back from the NLRB since filing the complaint Monday.
Nissan has been cited for six workplace violations over the past five years from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and multiple complaints from the National Labor Relations Board.
OSHA fined the Canton plant $20,000 in February for having insufficient lighting to indicate how to properly turn off machinery before fixing it.
The NLRB, in a March filing, claimed a supervisor warned employees that if the UAW began representing them, the plant would be forced to close. The complaint also alleges that Nissan management “threatened employees with termination because of their union activities.”
In the same March filing, the NLRB accused Nissan security guards of harassing pro-union workers and asserted that the automaker’s ban of photos and recordings is illegal.
U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders joined the dialogue in February when he accused the foreign automaker of worker intimidation and encouraged workers to voice their grievances.
“They think they can beat you guys up,” Sanders told a crowd of Nissan workers in Canton at a rally in March. “What you’re doing is courageous. It is enormously important. It impacts not only workers in that Nissan plant. If you win (a union vote) I think it’s going to spark probably all over the state, maybe all over the South, maybe all over the country.”
The plant's most recent complaint came in May, when the NLRB alleged “unlawful interference with the right of Canton workers” to attempt to solicit union support from other workers.
In 2016, 6.6 percent of workers in Mississippi belonged to a labor union, one of the lowest rates in the nation, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. About 10.7 percent of workers nationwide were members of a union in 2016, down slightly from the year before.
According to Dan Cornfield, labor expert at Vanderbilt University, opposition to labor unions is standard among American automakers.
“They just want to be free to hire and fire workers as they wish and to adjust workforces without restrictions from a third-party,” Cornfield said. “The non-union employer, by becoming unionized, would also pay higher wages to the workers.”
He added that anti-union efforts from southern politicians have heightened recently, often resisting collective bargaining groups due to economic development plans.
In 2014, workers at Volkswagen AG's plant in Chattanooga, Tenn., voted down the UAW by a tight 53 percent vote. A smaller group of skilled workers later voted to organize, but so far no contract for those workers has been negotiated.