UAW President Dennis Williams said today the union has a good shot at winning a union election at Nissan’s plant in Canton, Miss., in two weeks.
The UAW appears to be facing tough odds in Canton, Miss. where several thousand Nissan workers will decide later this week whether or not they want to be represented by a union.
After 14 years of organizing efforts that have married civil rights messages with worker rights messages, the UAW decided to call an election. A victory at the Nissan plant would be a major victory for the union, which has long sought to organize auto workers in the South.
But the UAW faces an opponent that is waging an aggressive anti-union campaign and now must contend with explosive allegations revealed last week that a former Vice President General Holiefield worked with a former Fiat Chrysler Automobiles Vice President Al Iacobelli to take at least $2.2 million in company funds for themselves.
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Holiefield’s wife, Monica Morgan is accused of receiving more than $1.2 million in jewelry, clothing, trips and and mortgage payments that were orchestrated by Holiefield and Iacobellil. Holiefield, was not charged because he died in 2015.
“If Nissan cannot use this indictment to win next week, it probably deserves to lose, if for no other reason, election campaign malpractice,” said Gary Klotz, a corporate labor attorney . “And non-union employers will use this case, especially if it results in guilty pleas, trials, and sentences, to campaign against the UAW in future organizing drives against auto suppliers and UAW targets, despite the rarity of this kind of UAW corruption.”
Kristin Dziczek, head of the labor and industry group at the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, also said the indictments come at a bad time for the UAW. But Dziczek said the union probably should move forward with the vote because the Trump administration is moving quickly to nominate new to install two Republican labor attorneys to sit on the National Labor Relations Board.
“This would be as good of a time as any, given the current political climate and that we don’t know the full extent of the grand jury probe,” Dziczek said.
The UAW ramped up its organizing campaign at the Nissan plant in 2013 with the assistance of actor Danny Glover, local clergy and politicians. A website called Do Better Nissan is dedicated to highlighting allegations of unfair treatment of workers. The Mississippi Alliance for Fairness at Nissan — a coalition of civil rights leaders, ministers and worker advocates — has repeatedly criticized Nissan for pressuring workers to vote against the union.
While the union’s campaign to organize some automakers has appeared, at times, to stall in recent years, it has successfully organized a handful of plants operated by auto suppliers in the South.
The UAW also has is in a legal battle with Volkswagen rages on over the UAW’s right to represent skilled trades workers at the automaker’s plant in Chattanooga,Tenn. and actively trying to organize workers at Tesla’s plant in Fremont, Calif.
UAW Secretary-Treasurer Gary Casteel downplayed the potential harm the indictments could cause in an interview with the Free Press.
“It could possibly have an effect. But I am not really concerned. Because this is, by all accounts….about the act of a rogue individual,” Casteel said. “It has been well established that as quickly as we found out about it we took swift and decisive action.”
Indeed, the indictment, unsealed by a federal grand jury last week, shows that then UAW President Bob King began demanding financial records from Fiat Chrysler in October 2013 for the records related to the UAW-Chrysler National Training Center. The training center was jointly managed by the UAW and Fiat Chrysler, but operated as a separate entity.
Casteel said Holiefield, who was eligible to run for a second term as an elected official, was barred from doing so in 2014.
“We didn’t even have proof of what was going on, that did not come until 2016, but just because of our suspicion, in 2014, we excluded him from our list of candidates as an officer,” Casteel said.
Nissan took note of the indictments in a public statement it issued on Monday.
“The latest UAW corruption scandal in Detroit and the history of strikes, layoffs, and plant closures at UAW-represented plants, along with the many false claims and promises made by the UAW during this campaign are among the many reasons we do not believe that UAW representation is in the best interest of the employees of Nissan Canton,” the company said.
Casteel, who led the UAW’s campaign in 2014 at Volkswagen’s Chattanooga plant, said he is far more concerned about what he said are Nissan’s attempts to threaten and intimidate workers who are planning to vote in favor of UAW representation.
On Friday, the NLRB issued a complaint against Nissan saying that the company threatened several employees with termination because of their union activities in 2014. That complaint is based on charges filed by the UAW on behalf of six Nissan workers.
The UAW continues to receive complaints from workers who believe they are being intimidated and said the union’s lawyers are planning to file additional charges with the NLRB soon, Casteel said.
The NLRB has the power to set aside union election results after it occurs if there is evidence of too much tampering.
“The board could also find there is no way to have a fair election here because the saying is it is supposed to be a have a ‘clinical environment,'” Casteel said. “And if the clinical environment is sabotaged in some way, then, the board could find there is no way to have a free and fair election.”
Nissan fired back against those allegations, suggesting the UAW may not have even intended to go through with the election in the first place.
“It would not be surprising if the UAW’s primary motivation was to obtain employee contact information as part of the NLRB election process,” Nissan said in a statement. “The UAW can now continue its campaign of deception and empty promises as they work to divide the Canton workforce.”
About 6,400 workers are employed at the Nissan plant but only about 3,500 to 3,800 permanent Nissan workers will be eligible to vote. The rest of the workers are temporary or contract workers and would not be eligible. The union also has been critical of Nissan’s usage of temporary workers for a high percentage of its workforce.
Nissan has proven twice that it knows how to defeat UAW organizing campaigns. Workers at its plant in Smyrna, Tenn., voted against UAW representation in 1998 and 2001.
Despite all of the challenges, Casteel remains optimistic. He said the resolve of workers who support the UAW seems to be increasing despite company pressure.
“These workers are still wanting to fight,” Casteel said. “There are hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of them. It’s a substantial movement. We are certainly in a position to win an election, otherwise we would not have filed (for it).”
At Volkswagen, in 2014, the UAW the union came close to winning a majority support election in 2014 but lost 712-626.
At Nissan, Casteel said the automaker’s aggressive campaign could backfire but he was reluctant to make a prediction.
“It’s hard to say, its jut an all out pitched battle,” he said.
Contact Brent Snavely: 313-222-6512 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @BrentSnavely.
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