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Organizing Institute Apprentices Gear Up To Help Auto Workers Build A Union At The Nissan Plant In Canton, Mississippi

Published Thursday, March 10, 2016
by Sonia Huq/National AFL-CIO News Now

(CANTON, MISSISSIPPI) - Organizing Institute (OI) Apprentices have hit the ground running to help Auto Workers build a Union at the Nissan plant in Canton, Mississippi - a fight that’s been brewing over the past decade.  This is the largest class of OI apprentices to be part of any one campaign and it’s important because this is a historic campaign to show that Union Organizing is a Civil Right and to show that #BlackLivesMatter.

It’s not always about wages - That’s what OI Apprentices found out fast when talking to Auto Workers about what troubles they face in the workplace.  Though Auto Workers in the South are paid meager wages compared to their counterparts in other regions and sometimes other countries, what Workers really want in Canton is respect on the job.

The Auto Workers at Nissan told OI Apprentice Keith Crawford that they feel like they are treated like animals on the job.  Hearing their stories has been challenging, but Crawford is emphatic: “You need to commit to help people’s suffering.”  Crawford is from Memphis, Tennessee, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. died after marching with Sanitation Workers on Strike against deplorable Labor Conditions.  Crawford is as aspirational about the campaign with Auto Workers, hoping they make history by winning here in Mississippi.

LaQuinta Alexander is another Social Justice Advocate and OI Apprentice with roots in student activism.  When Trayvon Martin’s controversial death and the acquittal of the man who killed him sparked a sit-in at the Capitol in Tallahassee, Florida, that garnered national attention - she was there with the most committed Student Activists of Dream Defenders for the full 30 days and nights.  The experience emboldened her, though the measure failed to change the state’s Stand-Your-Ground Laws.

“I love it.  I love my people.  I love the new challenges and how every day is different.  I love every bit of it,” said Alexander, who learned to recognize the power of collective action to stir the national, and sometimes, global conscience, such as the beautiful solidarity between Brazil’s Auto Workers for those in Canton. “Your story has meaning - it has power.”

She wanted to be a Teacher, but Beatriz Guerrero found another calling after she says the Union Summer internship changed her life.  She worked on the Community Labor Environment Action Network's Carwash Campaign in Los Angeles, an eye-opening experience of the daily abuse Workers face.  “You hear about the Worker who gets run over by a car, see that he looks like your father and then feel the injustice when he’s fired and treated as expendable,” said Beatriz, who also remembers how her own father was fired for organizing in the 1980s.  It inspires her to work harder to make sure Workers’ spirits aren’t crushed with the challenges confronting them.

Another former Union Summer intern and current apprentice, Alex Rodie, was born and raised in Indiana.  He was deeply affected by the personal and professional accounts he heard about the power of Unions.  Rodie remembers his grandfather’s words about how he could not have supported a family without his Union’s support.  And like Guerrero, Rodie’s father also had tried to organize his workplace and even more significantly to organize with the UAW.

OI Apprentice Stacy Gray was a part of an exodus from the North in the elusive pursuit of a decent job.  She learned about the Union Difference when Michigan became a Right-To-Work (for less) State.  She knows what it’s like to scrap together a living as a Bus Driver, saving on child care costs by driving her own kids’ route.  Now, Gray is committed to move Working People to action.  “I’ve always been a ‘mini-revolution’ person, but as soon as it got too hot in the kitchen I found myself standing alone.  This apprenticeship will teach me to develop the support system and bring people in,” she said.

Workers at Nissan plants around the globe - in Brazil, South Africa and Japan - have a Voice On The Job, but while corporations have been getting millions of dollars in tax incentives to set up shop down South, too many see it as grounds for exploiting cheap labor.

That’s why Auto Workers in Canton want to be able to come together in a Union to voice their concerns and to work collectively to make Nissan better.

Let’s help build up the Union Movement and #OrganizeTheSouth!
 
Learn more about the Nissan campaign.

To Directly Access This Labor News Story, Go to: www.aflcio.org/Blog/Organizing-Bargaining/Organizing-Institute-Apprentices-Gear-Up-with-Autoworkers-to-Ask-for-a-Little-Respect.  Click here to learn more about the Nissan Campaign.

 

 

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