Bernie Sanders to Lead Mississippi March Against Nissan

(CN) – Sen. Bernie Sanders will be marching in Mississippi on Saturday to protest what he is calling civil rights abuses by Nissan against its mostly African-American workforce.

The March on Mississippi – expected to draw thousands of civil rights leaders, elected officials and celebrities like Danny Glover – will end at the automaker’s Canton factory to demand that it respect the rights of workers to form a union.

“I am proud to join the fight to give Nissan’s workers the justice, dignity and the right to join a union that they deserve,” Sanders said in a statement. “What the workers are doing is a courageous and enormously important effort to improve their lives.”

Nissan has union representations at 42 out of its 45 plans worldwide, but not in Mississippi or Tennessee, according to Sanders’ office. Roughly 80 percent of the 5,000 workers at the Canton plant are African-American.

“The American South should not be treated differently,” the independent senator from Vermont said.

The march, organized by the Mississippi Alliance for Fairness at Nissan, comes after several rallies last month at Nissan dealerships across the South and is expected to be the largest in the state in years.

Opened in 2003 with $1.3 billion in tax breaks from Mississippi lawmakers anticipating the creation of good-paying, full-time jobs, Nissan’s Canton plant has been dinged for a string of violations against its workers.

In February, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration proposed a $21,000 fine because a poorly trained assembly line worker lost three fingers. In a 2015 opinion, the National Labor Relations Board found that Nissan unlawfully threatened to fire workers and close the plant if workers unionize.

A new complaint was filed with the NLRB on Thursday accusing the company of ordering workers to stop leafleting in a plant parking lot.

Nissan said in a statement to the Mississippi newspaper The Clarion-Ledger that the allegations against it “are completely unfounded.”

“Nissan’s history reflects that we truly value our employees and respect their right to decide who should represent them. Nissan Canton employees enjoy good, stable, safe jobs with some of the highest wages and strongest benefits in Mississippi,” the company said.

The March 4 rally will begin at 12:30 p.m. at the Canton Sportsplex before demonstrators march two miles to Nissan’s assembly plant.

Expected to march alongside Sanders and Glover are NAACP President Cornell William, Mississippi Rep. Bernie Thompson, former Ohio State Sen. Nina Turner and Mississippi NAACP President Derrick Johnson.