In a closely-watched organizing drive in the South, auto workers at a Nissan plant in Canton, Mississippi, voted against unionizing this week, with more than 60% of the factory's roughly 3,500 workers casting 'no' ballots.
The vote is the latest in a series of losses for the United Auto Workers, one of the country's most significant blue-collar unions, which has been trying to organize factory workers in the increasingly non-union South for more than a decade. It also represents a frustration for labor advocates who had hoped the drive could be a sign of renewed energy and strength on the left.
The UAW's most recent union drive at a Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee, in 2014 similarly ended in a 'no' vote, though by a closer margin than Friday night's count.
"The result of the election was a setback for these workers, the UAW, and working Americans everywhere, but in no way should it be considered a defeat," said UAW President Dennis Williams in a statement Saturday, promising the union will continue to be "on the front lines" of the fight for "job security, safe working conditions and collective bargaining power" for Nissan workers.
Nissan spokesperson Parul Bajaj said in a statement to BuzzFeed News that "the voice of Nissan employees has been heard" with the vote and that the company "believe[s] this outcome positions Nissan to be competitive in the future."
"Our expectation is that the UAW will respect and abide by their decision and cease their efforts to divide our Nissan family," she said.
Pro-union employees in the majority-black workforce at the Canton plant had used the slogan "Labor rights are civil rights" in their campaign, drawing parallels to Martin Luther King Jr.'s campaign for sanitation workers' labor rights before his death.
Christopher Milton, a machinist who has worked on the plant since it opened in 2003, said the need for a union became clear when the company froze workers' pensions and reduced their healthcare benefits.
"Having a written contract is one way to keep the things we need," he told BuzzFeed News.
Stephanie Sutton-Johnson, who has also worked at the plant for more than a decade and who opposed the drive to unionize, said that she thought the Nissan plant in Canton offered one of the better jobs available in the area.
"Some of these guys who come from the chicken plant or the hamburger places, this is their first real job with benefits," she said, citing a 401(k) retirement account Nissan pays into, as well as vacation days.
Ahead of the drive, Nissan waged an aggressive anti-union campaign, including an advertising blitz, dedicated website, videos, and daily roundtable meetings with all workers.
The UAW maintains that the company illegally threatened that workers would lose their jobs if they unionized, and that they held illegal captive-audience meetings. Organizers have filed unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board over the allegations. Nissan denies the claims.
Both Sen. Bernie Sanders and Tom Perez, former Labor Secretary under President Obama and current chair of the Democratic National Committee, expressed their support for the pro-union workers ahead of the vote.
President Trump, who was elected in part on a campaign of populist, pro-worker rhetoric, has not commented.
Cora Lewis is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
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