Nissan criticized for civil rights abuses against African-American workers

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Protesters gathered Saturday at the Scott Clark Nissan dealership to advocate for civil rights abuses against African-American Nissan employees.

Members of the group said they are trying to educate Nissan dealers and customers on the autormaker’s treatment of workers at Nissan’s manufacturing plant in Mississippi.

At Nissan’s Canton plant, there are about 5,000 workers, 80 percent of whom are black.

“We are proud to stand with our friends in Mississippi to call attention to civil rights abuses at Nissan’s assembly plants,” Charlotte NAACP labor chair Cindy Foster said. “Workers’ rights are civil rights. We’re asking Nissan to do better by its hard-working employees, and we’re asking Nissan’s dealers and customers to join us to put an end to this unacceptable behavior by the company.”

In addition to Charlotte, peaceful protests this week are scheduled at Nissan dealerships in Atlanta, Birmingham, Alabama, Greensboro, North Carolina, Nashville, Tennessee, New Orleans, and Raleigh, North Carolina.

The protests are being led by local leaders, including Foster and Action NC Charlotte Director Hector Vaca, and the Mississippi Alliance for Fairness at Nissan, a coalition of civil rights leaders, ministers and worker advocates.

Dr. Isiac Jackson, chairman of MAFFAN, said that punishing production quotas in the Canton plant, as well as a lack of adequate safety equipment, are just part of the problem.

He said the company has relied heavily on temporary employment agencies for hiring, paying lower wages to temporary employees for the same work as permanent workers.

The group is also accusing Nissan management of running a campaign based on intimidation to keep workers from speaking about the union.

In late 2015, the National Labor Relations Board charged Nissan and a temporary worker agency with violating workers’ rights in Mississippi.

Last year, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration cited repeated hazards at the Canton plant.

“People get hurt too often at Nissan and these injuries can rob us of our ability to provide for our families,” said Nissan worker Eric Hearne, who showed up at the Scott Clark Nissan dealership protest in Charlotte. “We’re forced to decide if we should work with an injury, or report it and potentially lose our jobs. It strips away your dignity to feel like the company values production numbers more than the safety of the people who make it successful.”

Nissan’s Canton plant does not have an employee union.

Protesters want Nissan to stop conducting anti-union activities at both locations, and allow free and fair elections among employees who want union representation.

“Nissan spends hundreds of millions of dollars a year marketing itself as a socially responsible car maker,” Action NC Charlotte Director Hector Vaca said. “It is unacceptable for Nissan to violate the civil rights of African-American workers in Mississippi. Whether it’s in Mississippi or here in Charlotte we refuse to allow any major company and employer like Nissan to treat our communities this way in 2017. It’s time for Nissan dealers and customers to recognize that what they’re selling and buying just doesn’t fit the image of what Nissan claims it’s producing.”

On Saturday, Nissan released the following statement:

Nissan's history reflects that we truly value our employees and respect their right to decide who should represent them. Nissan Canton and Smyrna employees enjoy good, stable, safe jobs with some of the highest wages and strongest benefits in Mississippi and Tennessee. The allegations being made against Nissan are completely unfounded.