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Nissan Workers Look to NY Labor for Support

April 21, 2014

UAW's Scott Sommer welcomes Nissan workers to New York.
UAW’s Scott Sommer welcomes Nissan workers to New York.

By Marc Bussanich

New York, NY—Richard Trumka, the AFL-CIO prez, was at last year’s auto show at the Javits Center and said Nissan workers working in Mississippi would have a union. One year on, Nissan workers came to New York again, this time asking the New York labor movement for its muscle to help them finally form a union in the Deep South. Video

At a press conference at City Hall on Thursday, April 17, Nissan workers Betty Jones and Chip Willard Thomas Wells Jr., spoke about the intimidation they’re facing from Nissan management at the Nissan plant in Canton, Mississippi because they’re trying to form a union.

They came to New York because they want New York’s labor, civic and religious organizations to help them in their struggle and also to join them in Mississippi to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Summer, the campaign also known as the Mississippi Summer Project that helped to register many African-American voters in Mississippi. 

A march to the Nissan plant will culminate a week’s worth of activities during the Freedom Summer’s 50th.

Jones and Wells Jr. received a big labor welcome in New York from the United Auto Workers and the New York State AFL-CIO.

Scott Sommer, a UAW regional director in New York, said the UAW has a long history of fighting for civil rights.

“That struggle still continues in Mississippi. We’re going to be heading down to Mississippi this summer to fight for civil rights and those civil rights are labor rights,” said Sommer. “Until we conquer the final frontier of economic rights, we will not be able to succeed in our fight for civil rights.”

Mario Cilento, New York’s AFL-CIO prez, said Nissan workers in the South deserve the right to join a union, especially as Nissan workers in Europe and Japan are unionized.

“That greater quality is the intersection between labor rights and civil rights,” said Cilento.

He pledged that New York’s 2.2 million union members, the largest in country, would provide support to Nissan workers.

“We will work with the UAW to make sure that our brothers and sisters throughout the state get down to Mississippi this summer to support our brothers and sisters in the South.”

Public Advocate Tish James also pledged her support.

“I join with the Nissan workers to tell Nissan to respect the rights of workers. They should allow the workers to organize,” said James.

Chip Wells Jr., the Nissan worker, said in the video interview that the company targeted him for retaliation when he gave an interview to a local TV station in Mississippi. He wasn’t fired, but he was shook up by the experience.

“They put my picture up in the guard shack. Somebody put tattoo tears under my left eye and across my forehead like I was a terrorist or a gangster,” said Wells Jr.

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