Actor Danny Glover might be getting too old for Mel Gibson’s craziness but he’s still down to take a stand for the working man. On the opening day of the Detroit auto show the longtime political activist joined forces with the Mississippi Alliance for Fairness at Nissan (MAFFAN). Their gripe: Workers at Nissan’s Canton, Mississippi plant are being threatened out of voting to unionize their workforce.
Nearly 5,000 people work at the Canton plant where vehicles such as the Altima, Xterra and Frontier are manufactured. It’s one of the largest employers in the region, which is particularly crucial in Mississippi as it was determined to be the poorest state in the country during 2012.
"When workers at Nissan began to organize a union, Nissan responded with implied threats that they would leave Mississippi if workers unionized," said the Rev. R. Isaac Jackson, president of the General Missionary Baptist State Convention of Mississippi and chair of MAFFAN.
In addition to the alleged threats, T-shirts were circulated amongst factory workers that read “If you want a union, move to Detroit.”
The UAW backs MAFFAN’s goal to start a union in Canton but as a right to work state Mississippi isn't the ideal location for such an endeavor.
"The right to work doesn't mean you don't have the right to organize," Glover said. "They have unions in South Africa and Japan. We're only asking for the right to vote on a union and not face intimidation."
David Reuter, Nissan's vice president of corporate communications was quick to throw a damper on surfacing media attention to Glover's appearance on behalf of MAFFAN.
"Those allegations are unfounded," he said. "As to the T-shirts, those are freely worn by some of our employees as a show of support for the company.”
"We have a large contingent in our plant who want to make sure the union understands they don't want a union in our factory."
In 2001 workers at the Nissan factory in Smyrna, Tenn. voted down unionizing by a two-to-one margin. Unionizing efforts failed again in 2005 and 2007 in the Canton plant. The issue under discussion currently is whether or not the Canton plant employees even feel comfortable discussing unionization as a possibility.
Jalopnik reports that Morris Mock, a plant employee of more than 10 years said Nissan has held meetings with workers where they’ve been shown movies of factories in Detroit closing down.
"They tell us that if we get a union, this may happen to you," he said.
Michael Carter, another employee of the plant with more than ten years experience under his belt said workers are hesitant to report injuries they suffer because they’re required to visit a Nissan doctor who often recommends they get back to work before they’ve had a chance to heal.
"It's not about pay; it's about respect," said Carter.
Reuter insists that "No intimidation of any kind will be tolerated from anyone in our company.” He also noted that annual manufacturing wages in Canton have gone up since the Nissan plant arrived there and are now “one of the highest, if not the highest manufacturing wages in Mississippi”.
Be that as it may you’d think simply holding a vote on unionization would call both sides’ bluff if they have one at all. Glover made it clear he thinks the labor issues facing employees of the Canton plant is emblematic of a larger ongoing dialogue.
"What they do, the work they will do, will excite and also push forward, the movement for all workers," he said. "Their relationship to all workers is fundamental. That relationship is about the right to organize, the right to have a fair wage and benefits, and the right to be able to stand up — as those workers in Mississippi did almost 45 years ago — and say that 'I am a man.'"