The Importance of the Worker Vote in Mississippi
By Derrick Johnson
With so many headlines and surprises this election year, it sometimes is easy to forget that election day is about more than choosing the next President of the United States. It is about seeing the political landscape around you and making choices based on your needs and interests. This is especially true for the citizens of Mississippi.
As a right-to-work state, Mississippi is less than friendly to workers and downright hostile to unions. The result is a state that offers nearly unlimited power for employers and little to no protection for employees, tax exemptions for businesses and lack of job security for workers. In Mississippi, not only can an employer fire an employee at any time for any reason (excluding the few federally protected classes), but an employee isn’t guaranteed equal wages for his or her equal work. This results in lower overall wages and a greater gender-wage disparity than the national numbers. Right-to-work states like Mississippi earn, on average, 3.1% lower wages than their counterparts in states with more worker protections. To make matters worse women only earn 77% the income of males for the same work. African American women earn even less at an average of 55% that of white males. Furthermore right-to-work states are not union friendly and Mississippi is no exception. Facilities like Canton Nissan have actively exploited the state’s lack of worker protection. Threats and intimidation against the Nissan workforce from the Nissan management has compelled One Voice, in partnership with the Mississippi Alliance for Fairness at Nissan (MAFFAN), the NAACP, and United Automobile Workers, to help combat Nissan’s anti-union campaign.
As if an oppressive workplace isn’t enough, Mississippi workers now have to face voting in a state with some of the most regressive voting laws in the nation. Voters must register 30 days before the election and voters must show state-issued photo identification before they are allowed to cast their vote. Mississippi also permanently bars individuals with certain felony convictions from voting. Since the erosion of certain sections of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that provided protections to voters in the South, workers and families seeking to cast their votes may also face an unknown voting precinct change, long lines, and/or broken machines. The Canton Nissan plant is notorious for last minute mandatory overtime work, and since many workers have long commutes to work Nissan workers have had to learn their rights despite this precarious situation. Canton Nissan workers have been educated about their right to complete an absentee ballot on election day if they have a work shift on November 8th since Mississippi does not offer early voting or Saturday voting programs.
To address these structural challenges, One Voice and the Mississippi State Conference NAACP manage an Election Protection program each year that provides a toll free number (1-888-601-VOTE) for individuals to call in on Election Day to report problems. Volunteers are recruited to manage the phone lines and travel to problem areas throughout the state. Several legal and civic organizations participate in this program including the MS Center for Justice, the MS Workers Center for Human Rights, Southern Poverty Law Center, ACLU of MS, the Magnolia Bar Association, and Planned Parenthood.
While Canton Nissan workers anxiously await a decision to allow a vote on their collective bargaining rights, they can now cast a vote on November 8th in honor of all of the workers who will not be able to vote this year. Take Derrick Whiting, who died on the Nissan plant floor last September while waiting on medical care or Terrence Mitchell, who died on his way to work last year.
This November, workers at Canton Nissan are committed to casting their vote. As they fight to improve issues and conditions that they face every day and describing plant conditions as a “plantation system” Nissan workers look forward to participating in this election and upcoming local elections this Spring.
Derrick Johnson, esq. is the founder and CEO of One Voice, Inc. One Voice, a LIFT grantee, is a civic engagement, non-profit organization working to democratize public policy whose work is designed to identify and address issues of public concern so that we can make a difference in the civic life of vulnerable and marginalized communities. The mission of One Voice’s is to ensure an equal voice to traditionally silenced communities across the South.
This blog is part of the LIFT Fund’s #workersvote series which highlights the impact that workers will have on elections across the country this Nov. 8th. Stay tuned to see how and why LIFT Grantees are educating and mobilizing their worker members around this year’s electoral cycle. Follow us on Twitter and FB to receive all blog updates.