JACKSON, Miss.—Workers at an automotive seat factory in Mississippi are protesting what they claim are low wages and poor working conditions as they attempt to unionize in what could become a new front for the United Auto Workers (UAW) union in the state.
A group of workers and supporters at the Faurecia SA seating plant in Cleveland, Miss., plans to march in protest.
“We work an auto job and we’re getting paid like Wal-Mart wages,” said Jamarqus Reed, a 32-year-old Pace, Miss., resident who has worked at the plant for almost 10 years. “We’re trying to better ourselves.”
Nationally, the UAW has staked its future on unionizing auto factories in the southern United States, with limited success so far.
The union has been trying to organize Nissan Motor Co., Ltd.’s Canton, Miss., plant for years, and lost a 2008 worker vote at a Johnson Controls, Inc. plant in nearby Madison, Miss., that France-based Faurecia bought in 2011.
The UAW narrowly lost a unionization vote at the Volkswagen AG plant in Chattanooga, Tenn., last year, but the union has since qualified for a new labour policy at the plant that grants access to meeting space and to regular discussions with management.
The policy stops short of collective bargaining rights.
The union is also trying to organize Nissan’s assembly plant in Smyrna, Tenn., and Daimler AG’s Mercedes-Benz plant in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
Protesters say Faurecia employees make a top wage of US$11.64 per hour, while contract workers make US$7.73 an hour.
Company spokesperson Tony Sapienza said that with overtime, the typical Faurecia employee makes more than the US$27,000 a year that is the median wage around Cleveland, Miss.
Wages are often low in the heavily impoverished Mississippi Delta.
“We are very confident that we are offering a very competitive wage,” Sapienza said.
Organizers criticize company use of lower-paid contract workers.
Shannon Greenidge, a 44-year-old Cleveland, Miss., resident, said she worked for a labour agency for more than two years before being hired directly by Faurecia.
Greenidge said she makes US$9.29 an hour, and can’t save for retirement or to send her 11-year-old daughter to college.
“That’s not going to help me down the line in life,” she said.
Union supporters say as many as half the workers at the plant work for a contract-labour agency.
Sapienza said that while the number varies, the company expects 15 per cent of its workforce will be temporary employees this year.
The UAW has organized some Southern auto parts plants in recent years, including Faurecia plants in Cottondale, Ala, in 2012 and Louisville, Ky., in 2013.
The union lost a vote at a Faurecia plant in Tuscaloosa in 2013.
The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) said no petition has been filed seeking a union vote at Faurecia.
At least 30 per cent of non-managers must sign a petition for the board to set a vote.
Faurecia recognized the UAW without an election in Louisville after a majority of workers there signed union-support cards.
The latest Faurecia effort is similar to the Nissan push, including a community coalition supporting workers.
That helps offset the many business and political leaders who are openly hostile to organized labour in Mississippi, where just 4.5 per cent of workers were represented by unions in 2014—the third-lowest rate of any state.