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Union Forms at Tuscaloosa Plant, Could Have Implications in Mississippi

TUSCALOOSA, Ala.–A union is not what many state officials want at any of Mississippi’s auto manufacturing plants, but the United Auto Workers of America have been pushing hard in the past couple of years. Now a United Auto Workers union has been chartered not far from Mississippi’s eastern border, and it’s being seen as a possible gain for the union that wants to have a charter at the Nissan plant in Canton.

The charter was formed Friday, according to the Birmingham Business Journal. It’s at the Mercedes-Benz plant.

The two parties worked with support from the Daimler World Employee Committee and the German automotive trade union IG Metall to form UAW Local 112.

“Mercedes-Benz is one of the most storied brands in the history of the global automotive industry, and that’s in large part because of the company’s workers,” said UAW President Dennis Williams in a press release. ”It’s time for the committed and hard-working employees at MBUSI to have the same representation that Daimler employees enjoy around the world.”

That representation has been championed in Mississippi by figures like Danny Glover, who has appeared at numerous rallies, Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-2nd Dist.), and the NAACP.

“Labor rights are civil rights,” said Sheala Wilson, who has worked as a technician at the Nissan plant for 11 years. She spoke in February at the NAACP’s annual rally at the capitol, where unions were the big topic.

She said whenever there’s union talk, there’s usually a roundtable meeting with management where she says the workers are intimidated.

When pressed for specifics, she said, “When I say intimidated, I mean that we have a roundtable meeting where they say if we have a union the plant will close…that it’ll move back to Japan.”

When asked why she wanted to have a union, Wilson said it is so the voice of the workers can be heard.

“We just had a big schedule change that we had no input on,’ she said, adding that changes like that affect families.

Nissan has repeatedly denied any intimidation, but as of yet has not allowed for a vote by workers on whether they should have a union.

But if current state leadership has its way, putting a union at that plant, or any other in the state, would take a monumental push.

“I believe that Mississippi’s right-to-work status is a competitive benefit for the state, and I intend to keep it that way,” said Gov. Phil Bryant after he signed the three Senate bills this year, which pro-union activists have decried as anti-worker.

“Mississippi has some of the lowest union participation in the country, and these bills send a message that we will not tolerate efforts like intimidation.”

Here is a summary of the bills:

Senate Bill 2473 prohibits an organization, corporation or individual from damaging or threatening to damage property or products and protects employees from being harassed into surrendering their rights in the midst of a unionization drive.

Senate Bill 2653 prevents organized picketing efforts from blocking building entrances and sidewalks and private residences during labor disputes.

Senate Bill 2797 makes clear that local governments do not have the authority to force employers to use organized labor to reach peace agreements or collective bargaining agreements.

On March 13, Gov. Bryant signed a fourth bill in the package. Senate Bill 2689 ensures that employers can continue to screen employment candidates for criminal backgrounds and prevents local jurisdictions from imposing ordinances to interfere with an employer’s ability to conduct such background checks.

At the Tuscaloosa facility, UAW said the primary focus of Local 112 will be to “ensure plant safety, support improved ergonomics in the workplace and create pathways to permanent employment for more than 1,000 temporary workers” at the plant.

Much of that echoes what union officials have said about the Mississippi push.


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