Pastors blast Japanese auto-maker over labor standards

(Photo: Reuters / Gary Cameron)A 2013 all electric Nissan Leaf is seen at the Washington Auto show Feb. 6, 2013.

Geneva - Nissan was plugging in its Leaf electric car at the Geneva Motor Show when it came under fire for coming short in its commitment to the United Nations Global Compact relating to labor standards.

Two Baptist pastors, a member of the United Auto Workers and a factory technician from the company's Mississippi plant told journalists Nissan company is intimidating workers and not allowing them to freely decide on unionization.

"We are not here to hurt Nissan. We are here to partner Nissan. We want to be able to talk for the workers in a unified voice as a union," said Willard Thomas Wells Jr., a production technician from the Nissan Plant in Canton, Mississippi.

"Nissan recognizes unions in its plants in countries all over the world, but they prevent it in Mississippi," he said, noting that company bosses imply they will close the plant and move to Mexico if there is a union at the plant."

Wells said the issue was not about pay as the company is one of the best paying employers in Mississippi, which is considered one of the poorest of the U.S. states.

He said he was concerned about getting a representative voice on safety standards, whilst noting that the proportion of part-time workers at the plant is increasing faster than permanent employees.

In Geneva, workers from the Nissan plant in Canton, Mississippi in the United States joined members of the Mississippi Alliance for Fairness at Nissan, an organization represented by clergy, elected officials, civil rights activists and students.

In a press briefing held at the United Nations in Geneva the pastors from asserted that the Nissan- Renault group is ignoring international labor standards, including freedom of association and the right to engage in collective bargaining.

They said they are doing this by denying the 5,000 workers in its Mississippi plant a fair union election and using a campaign of fear to discourage employees from considering a union.

Rev. Melvin Chapman, pastor of Sand Hill Missionary Baptist Church in Edwards and Rev. Ceasar Allen, former pastor of White Oak Missionary Baptist Church in Jackson, Mississippi spoke in support of the unionization campaign.

"We will not tolerate Nissan treating Mississippians as second-class citizens," said Chapman. "We want the company to stop intimidating and threatening workers and to allow equal time for the union to talk about unionization.

"We will carry the message in Mississippi, nationally and to the world insisting that Nissan allow a fair process that allows workers to freely decide on unionization," said Chapman.

Nissan has insisted it is abding by the law and it is up to the workers to decide if they want to have a union.

Chapman said that from his community work he had seen that it is difficult for part-time employees to become settled members of a community as the have no job security and are not eligible for home mortgages.

Michele Martin, director of public relations for the UAW told Ecumenical News that in order for federal authorities to monitor a ballot at a factory 30 percent of the employees must support it.

"And there must be at least 50 percent support for unionization in order to get the recognition of the management," said Martin noting the unfortunately U.S. legislation to protectors workers is "very weak."

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