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UAW blasts Renault-Nissan for refusing to meet with top French official visiting Mississippi

CANTON, Miss. — The UAW today criticized the Renault-Nissan Alliance for rejecting an offer to meet with a top official in France’s National Assembly who is leading the international charge to improve workers’ rights and working conditions at the Nissan assembly plant in Canton, Mississippi.

Renault-Nissan declined to meet with the Honorable Christian Hutin, member of the National Assembly and deputy chairman of its Social Affairs Commission, who today is visiting Mississippi on a fact-finding mission, and meeting with workers and civil-rights leaders. Hutin is calling for the French government to use its leverage as a major stockholder in Renault to help improve the situation in Canton. The French government has a 20 percent stake in Renault, which in turn is the largest shareholder of Nissan.

“It is deeply troubling that Renault-Nissan refuses to meet with Mr. Hutin who is on a good-faith mission to learn about the plight of workers in Canton,” said Gary Casteel, secretary-treasurer of the UAW and director of the international union’s transnational department. “This is just the latest development in a pattern of a bad behavior by the alliance, which refuses to engage with U.S. and international authorities on this matter.”

In 2015, Renault-Nissan rejected an offer by the U.S. State Department to mediate a dispute between the alliance and the UAW over claims of anti-union practices. Later that year, the National Labor Relations Board charged Renault-Nissan with violating workers’ rights in Canton, including threatening employees with termination over union activity.

“I am disappointed that Renault-Nissan officials declined to meet with me in Mississippi,” said Hutin, who earlier this month wrote to the alliance requesting a face-to-face conversation. “In my opinion, the French government cannot ignore Renault-Nissan’s anti-worker culture and its decision to thumb its nose at U.S. and international authorities.”

Hutin added: “Workers’ rights are, in fact, human rights. When I return to France, I will be informing the French government and the French President Hollande about the anti-union practices in Canton.” In June, Hutin authored a letter co-signed by 35 French and European policymakers asking Renault-Nissan to adopt a position of neutrality toward union organizing efforts in Canton.

A growing number of workers in Canton desire union representation due to poor working conditions, including widespread safety issues. By some estimates, as many as 40 percent of the 5,000 workers at the Mississippi plant have been hired as temporary employees who work for years earning significantly lower wages and benefits than regular employees. An overwhelming majority of temporary employees are African-American.

“We have bona fide civil rights concerns when it comes to Renault-Nissan and its poor treatment of workers in Canton,” said Derrick Johnson, state president of the Mississippi NAACP. “We cannot tolerate a disrespect for workers’ rights in Mississippi in 2016. Our state has come too far over the years to allow these kinds of abuses to persist.”

Recent Developments: Renault-Nissan in Canton, Miss.

  • April 2014: The UAW aligns with the IndustriALL Global Union in asking the U.S. National Contact Point (NCP) for the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development’s Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises (OECD Guidelines) housed at the U.S. State Department, for help in pressing its claims that the Renault-Nissan Alliance is violating worker organizing rights in Mississippi. The NCP works to further the OECD Guidelines in the United States. The UAW says the alliance is using “threats, intimidation and fear” to keep the union out of the plant, which violates guidelines of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. This request for help comes after the UAW attempted in good faith to reach a fair election agreement over several years without success.
  • January 2015: The U.S. NCP determines that the issues raised by the UAW and IndustriALL are material and substantiated. Renault-Nissan rejects the NCP’s offer to mediate a dispute between the alliance and the UAW over claims of anti-union practices. The NCP said in a statement its role had ended because “a voluntary mediation process could not be established since Nissan was not willing to participate. The NCP regrets Nissan’s unwillingness to participate in the process.”
  • December 2015: The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) charges Renault-Nissan and a contract worker agency with violating workers’ rights at the Mississippi plant. The UAW, which has long alleged that Renault-Nissan is intimidating workers, made the complaints leading to the charges. The NLRB complaint states that plant managers “threatened employees with termination because of their union activities … interrogated employees about their union support … [and] threatened employees with plant closure if they choose the union as their representative.”
  • February 2016: In a February hearing before France’s National Assembly, Carlos Ghosn, chairman and CEO of Nissan, Renault, and the Renault-Nissan Alliance, denies allegations that Renault-Nissan opposes employee representation in Mississippi, saying the alliance “has no tradition of not cooperating with unions.” The next day, in Brazil, union representatives deliver a letter to organizers of the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro stating that Renault-Nissan is violating Olympics sponsorship guidelines by undermining workers’ rights in Mississippi.
  • March 2016: On the heels of Ghosn’s seemingly pro-labor comments to the National Assembly, Renault-Nissan broadcasts a video inside the Mississippi plant in which a top plant manager states: “We believe that it is not in the best interest of our employees, our customers, or our community to have the UAW here.”
  • April 2016: A top official in the National Assembly calls on the French government to weigh in on behalf of Renault-Nissan workers in Mississippi who want to have a union vote without management intimidation and threats. Christian Hutin, deputy chairman of the Social Affairs Commission, calls on the French government to use its leverage as a major stockholder in Renault to help improve the situation in Canton. The French government has a 20 percent stake in Renault, which in turn is the largest shareholder of Nissan.
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