Mississippi Longing: Auto Workers Demand a Voice

April 8, 2013
By Marc Bussanich

Two Nissan autoworkers from Missisippi at NY Auto Show

Lee Ruffin (l.) and Christopher Milton

New York, NY—On the last weekend of the New York Auto Show two autoworkers from Canton, Mississippi who work for Nissan spoke to passerby about their multi-year struggle to join the United Auto Workers. Lee Ruffin and Christopher Milton have been working at the plant when it opened in 2003. They both want a voice on the job because the company is demanding the workers do more work without increasing their pay. (Watch Video)

Ruffin and Milton said Nissan initially paid decent wages and benefits, but after five years the company slashed contributions to the workers’ pensions and shifted higher health care costs onto them.

After the company took those actions, Ruffin, Milton and plant workers began to meet to build a campaign to win union recognition. As expected, Nissan reacted by waging an all-out anti-union campaign, although Nissan employs unionized workforces in Japan and Brazil.

“Nissan has been intimidating us by showing anti-union videos and threatening to close the plant. But we want to have a fair election without feeling intimtidated,” said Ruffin.

Ruffin works in final assembly and Milton works in the stamping, tool and dye department. They make numerous models, including the Ultima, Frontier, Xtera, Titan and Armada. While the company has threatened to close the plant, Milton believes it’s all hot air.

“I don’t think there’s no other place they can really go. We’ll be making eight different models soon and in three years we’re supposed to supply 85 percent of all Nissan cars in the North American market. They would lose money if they tried to move. I’m not concerned about the plant closing,” said Milton.

Just as AFL-CIO’s Richard Trumka told LaborPress recently, both Ruffin and Milton believe they’ll prevail in joining a union. Although some of the plant workers are fearful of retaliation and scared by threats of the plant closing, Milton seemed optimistic.

“I’m hoping. Progress looks really good. We’re getting lots of support from students, [the actor] Danny Glover, the clergy and elected officials,” he said. 

April 8, 2013

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