Nissan reject mediation over harassment of US trade unionists
Nissan, the global automotive company, has refused an offer by the US government to mediate in the long standing union recognition dispute in Canton, Mississippi, issuing blanket denials of wrongdoing and invoking bizarre interpretations of US labour law to justify its stubbornness. Unions are seeking international support to push the company – which elsewhere in the world has a reputation for respecting workers’ rights – into mediation.
In 2014 the automobile workers’ union (UAW) – along with the global manufacturing union IndustriALL – sent a high level delegation to Canton to investigate allegations of anti-union practices by Nissan in the United States, which UAW and IndustriALL says violate the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)’s Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, which includes freedom of association and protection for trade union organising.
The delegation of sixteen union officials from six countries, including officials and lay representatives from Unite in the UK, were shocked to hear the stories of victimisation of union activists, threats of plant closure, management interference with workers’ organising efforts and unfair treatment of workers.
The State Department-based US National Contact Point (NCP) for the OECD Guidelines reviewed the evidence supplied by the unions and offered mediation in response to a “specific instance” filed by the UAW and IndustriALL, finding that “the issues raised by UAW and IndustriALL are material and substantiated and merit further examination.”
The UAW and IndustriALL accepted the NCP’s offer of mediation and joined a preliminary meeting in November with mediators from the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service to learn about the mediation procedures. Nissan, however, rejected the offer of mediation and refused to meet with mediators.
Remarkably, Nissan invoked US national labour law, arguing that taking part in mediation would somehow be in breach – much to the surprise of the NCP, who replied that it:
“strongly disagrees and is not aware of any applicable law or procedures that would weigh against offering its good offices in this case. The US NCP works to facilitate a dispute resolution that is mutually drafted/composed and accepted by the parties and that does not violate applicable law.”
The US Government is recommending that Nissan should “conduct a corporate-wide labour rights review” of its adherence to the OECD Guidelines and that Nissan should consider other forms of mediation to resolve the issues raised in the OECD case.
The US NCP also noted that it had shared information on the case with the NCPs of Japan, France, and the Netherlands – countries where Nissan cooperates willingly with trade unions – and that “those NCPs remain available to offer assistance to the parties.” Nissan, a Japanese corporation, is co-owned by the French company Renault which holds a 43.4% stake in Nissan (who in turn own 15% of Renault), creating a Renault-Nissan Alliance incorporated in the Netherlands.
Following the NCP’s final statement that
“Nissan refused to participate in the mediation and in so doing it also declined to participate in an information session … [the NCP] regrets Nissan’s unwillingness to participate in the process,”
the UAW and IndustriALL are now considering looking to the NCPs and unions in other countries in an effort to resolve the dispute. German unions have already had success in easing UAW into the southern US factories of Daimler and VW, and it is hoped talks with Japanese unions will deliver similar progress.
UAW President Dennis Williams said:
“It is clear Nissan behaves one way in some parts of the world but is grossly exploiting workers in the United States. The fact that the company continues to ignore the severity of the situation and its refusal to end these abuses or engage in dialogue that could result in a positive step forward for both workers and the company is absolutely unreasonable. ”
And Jyrki Raina, head of IndustriALL, whose 50m strong membership includes 150,000 Nissan workers as well as the majority of Renault autoworkers, expressed disappointment:
“UAW and IndustriALL affiliates have repeatedly made attempts to meet with Nissan North America to resolve this issue. Nissan’s unwillingness to engage in the OECD process sends a very worrisome message to its partners at Renault and Daimler as well as the global investment community. We have known Nissan for its respect of workers’ rights elsewhere in the world, but in the US we have heard evidence of intimidation and exploitation of its workers and their communities. This is a troubling step backwards for Nissan.”