March 8, 2017 – Under the industrial din of conveyor belts and humming machinery a lone figure will collapse. He will fall to the floor never to get up again. He will lay there unattended by medical personnel and, after a long, empty time, he will die. He will die there on the floor of the plant, his fellow workers and friends looking on from their stations with impotent fury. He will die there, but the assembly lines will not take notice and they will not stop.
This is not a tale of fiction. It is what happened on September 22, 2015 to Derrick Whiting, a Canton Nissan factory worker. It happened to him and it will happen again if Nissan does not change how it treats its workers. It will keep happening if Nissan’s workers are not given a voice.
On Saturday, March 4th these workers raised their voices and, buoyed by a choir of community, religious, and national leaders, these Mississippians marched to make their voices heard.
United States Senator Bernie Sanders, Congressman Bennie Thompson, Ohio State Senator Nina Turner, Actor Danny Glover, NAACP National President Cornell Brooks, One Voice, the MS State Conference NAACP, the Mississippi Alliance for Fairness at Nissan (MAFFAN), the A. Philip Randolph Institute (APRI), Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the General Missionary Baptist Convention, ACLU of MS, the MS Low-Income Child Care Initiative (MLICCI), the United Auto Workers (UAW), and many many more joined Nissan workers, local officials, civic organizations, church groups, and a wealth of other engaged community members marched in Canton to protest the campaign of intimidation Nissan has waged against their workers in retaliation to their desire to form a union to protect their lives and interests.
This is despite the fact the facility in Canton is one of two Nissan plants in the United States that does not have a union. In fact, all other Nissan plants across the globe are unionized. Our state laws discourage the formation of unions which proved to be one of the main reasons Nissan chose to build their facility in Mississippi.
As a right-to-work state, Mississippi is apathetic to workers and downright hostile to unions. The result is a state that creates a safe haven for businesses that thrive on the exploitation of its work force.
The Nissan plant in Canton is a fine example of this brand of corporate callousness.
There are those that say that Worker’s Rights are not the same as Civil Rights. However, many would find that position untenable when they discover that the workers at Nissan have been suffering under the corporate yoke of predatory car leasing, volatile and inconsistent work schedules, and eternal temporary employment status despite promises to the contrary. The effect of which has left its workforce in a perpetual state of economic insecurity and employment vulnerability. This is in addition to the physically hazardous environment endured by the workers. The facility at Nissan has been cited and fined for numerous and repeated OSHA violations since its opening. In that time, workers have been injured and workers have died. All because of Nissan’s established disregard for its workers’ basic human right, their Civil Right, to work in the safest environment possible and to be able to speak freely against substandard treatment without fear of retribution. Acknowledging this, the French Parliament spoke out, as a shareholder, against Nissan’s treatment of its workers on its 2016 visit to Mississippi.
And when workers began talking of their desire to form a union to protect their rights and their interests, Nissan actively moved to opposed them, routinely engaging in acts of intimidation and retaliation against its workers including a closed circuit broadcast of an anti-march commercial shown to all workers to discourage their participation.
It did not have the desired effect.
Some will point out that Nissan brings millions of dollars to the State, but that doesn’t make what it does to its employees right. It only makes it profitable.
As a last ditch effort, on the day of the March, Nissan sought to disrupt their workers’ attempt to organize by closing the plant in the hopes that, desperate for a day off after excessively long schedules, workers would stay home and not stand against them.
As it turned out, Nissan was wrong.
Saturday’s March on Mississippi happened because our families, our neighbors, and our friends, the workers at Canton Nissan are being mistreated and abused by a plant that puts profits before people.
They deserve better. Mississippi deserves to BE better.
The alternative is a state that offers nearly unlimited power for employers, and little to no protection for employees, tax exemptions for businesses, and lack of job security for workers. The alternative is a state where an employer can fire an employee at any time for any reason (excluding the few federally protected classes), but an employee isn’t guaranteed equal wages for his or her equal work. The alternative is a state boasting lower wages overall and a greater gender-wage disparity than the national numbers as right-to-work states, like Mississippi, earn on average 3.1% lower wages than their non-right-to-work counterparts.
The alternative is a state were women still only earn 77% the income of males for the same work and African American women earn even less at an average 55% that of white males.
All Mississippians deserve to work in a state were both their labor and their rights as people are valued.
Today the fight is with Nissan, but the mistreatment of any one of us is a mistreatment of all of us. And the fact of the matter is WE DESERVE BETTER.