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A Union at the Nissan Plant: The Big Topic for the Mississippi NAACP

JACKSON, Miss.–The state’s NAACP leadership wanted to talk about healthcare, education, incarceration and voter rights at their annual Legislative Advocacy Day press conference at the state capitol Tuesday. But the big topic was worker rights, namely getting a vote for a union at the Nissan plant in Canton.

“Labor rights are civil rights,” said Sheala Wilson, who has worked as a technician at the Nissan plant for 11 years. 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.

Congressman Bennie Thompson, the state’s NAACP and even actor Danny Glover have supported establishing a chapter of the United Auto Workers, who were turned down at the Chattanooga Volkswagen plant.

Wilson said that’s because a state senator told the workers the plant would close if they allow a union. She said she did not believe closing would ever be a real possibility at Nissan.

She and NAACP of Miss. Pres. Derrick Johnson both said they’d like to see three Senate bills, (SB2797, 2653 and 2473) which they see as anti-union and anti-worker, thrown out.

Johnson said Nissan should do what the Volkswagen plant did, even if Mississippi workers eventually vote a union down.

“That was a great opportunity to model themselves after Volkswagen. The workers’ voice was heard,” he said.

But, unions weren’t the only focus of the press conference. Health care, particularly the expansion of Medicaid, was a topic for Corey Wiggins, chair of the NAACP Health Committee.

“Infant mortality, obesity, diabetes, the rate of stroke, cardiac arrest, all issues we can help solves…by expanding Medicaid, access to healthcare,” he said.

“It is an investment in the people of the state. It is an investment in the economy. By expanding Medicaid we increase jobs in this state, providing opportunities for people to get good jobs, regardless of education. Not just jobs as physicians and nurses, but X-ray techs, IT people within the health care sector.”

Johnson and other guests also focused on reducing incarcerations, saying they support the bi-partisan Criminal Justice Task Force and drug courts.

On the topic of voter ID, Johnson said the organization’s stance will not change. They oppose it as disenfranchising voters and believe it is a holdover from Mississippi’s days of intimidating and oppressing minority voters.

The organization also backs an across the board raise for teachers, now, not over time, and “without gimmicks”, said Johnson.

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