UAW Vote At Mississippi Nissan Plant Begins Aug. 3
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A sensitive labor issue is the divide between temporary workers and full-time employees doing similar work for different pay. This is one of the factors behind an attempt by the United Automobile Workers, the UAW, to unionize Nissan's plant in Canton, Miss. It's an uphill battle since autoworkers in the South have repeatedly rejected unionization. Mississippi Public Broadcasting's Desare Frazier reports.
DESARE FRAZIER, BYLINE: Mcray Johnson, a pastor who works at the sprawling Nissan plant, will be voting yes. He's worked at the plant for nearly six years and says he's still paid temp wages.
How does that make you feel?
MCRAY JOHNSON: Not good when you've got to sit on one side of a truck and work and do the same job as the person that's for Nissan and gets $10 more than you.
FRAZIER: The plant produces up to 450,000 vehicles per year, including the Nissan Murano and Frontier pickup truck. Kinoy Brown has worked at Nissan for 14 years. He admits there have been some breakdowns in communication between the company and workers. But he believes the issues can be addressed without a union.
KINOY BROWN: I can't think of a job in Mississippi that is paying the wages that Nissan is paying, you know, for this area.
FRAZIER: Brown, who is the line leader, makes $26 per hour. He likes his pay and benefits, which includes a 401k plan. According to Nissan, for every job created at the company, almost three jobs are generated at other businesses in the state. Mississippi's Republican governor, Phil Bryant, has come out strongly against unionizing the plant. Bryant believes unions make companies less competitive.
PHIL BRYANT: You have to go no further than Detroit, once the world's automotive center, now almost - is a part of the Rust Belt.
FRAZIER: Despite the political opposition, union organizer Betty Jones is excited and hopeful about the vote. She says it's taken years to generate enough support to reach this point.
BETTY JONES: We're tired of crawling. We want to sit up at the table like adults and have a conversation, have a relationship. That's all we're asking for - a relationship with one voice with Nissan.
FRAZIER: Nissan has been getting its message out by featuring plant employees in TV ads.
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UNIDENTIFIED WORKER #1: For years, the UAW has targeted our plant to increase dues-paying members. We know that Nissan Canton is not perfect. But we do not believe the UAW is the solution.
UNIDENTIFIED WORKER #2: You can help send that message by voting.
FRAZIER: Last week, the National Labor Relations Board accused Nissan of violating its workers' rights to organize. The complaint contends a supervisor threatened employees with losing money or the closing of the plant if they vote yes. Nissan HR director Rodney Francis denies the company has broken any laws.
RODNEY FRANCIS: We're not trying to put out anti-union information or anything like that. The whole purpose of all of our communication is to educate.
FRAZIER: Nathan Shrader is a political science professor at Millsaps College in Mississippi.
NATHAN SHRADER: The Deep South is notorious for just not be a hospitable place for workers' rights. There are the right to work laws in place in many Southern states that attempt to prevent unions from organizing.
FRAZIER: Workers have two days to cast their ballots for or against joining the United Automobile Workers. For NPR News, I'm Desare Frazier in Jackson, Miss.
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