Renee Brand is the Vice President of Communications Workers of America (CWA) Local 7304 in Minnesota. Together with Local 7304 President John Desm, Renee organizes her coworkers who manufacture buses for the Canadian-based company New Flyer Industries in a bright and orderly factory on the edge of St. Cloud, MN.
Renee is proud of her factory, which produces 4 completed buses per day for far-flung cities like Baltimore, Calgary and Los Angeles. She enjoys her job as a bus painter, saying, “I don’t like sitting at a desk, I’d have a real hard time with that.”
Under Renee’s watch, the factory remains healthy and safe. She points to a huge orange crane marked ‘7000 pounds’ and says wryly, “I used to operate that crane, kinda scary. I guess I took it pretty seriously. I was like, ‘no no, slow it down. I don’t want us to drop this.’”
When a safety challenge arose after the bus frames were sprayed with zinc and other coatings to prevent corrosion, the union and managers at the factory were able to collaboratively come up with a solution that now allows the bus frames to settle, before the next phase of production begins. Renee explains that, “some painters were complaining they weren’t feeling well when the frame came right from having things sprayed on them, because of the fumes. It was a process. You know we had people who said they weren’t feeling well, and then we said hey, maybe there’s some chemical things going on.”
Renee champions mobility and opportunities for advancement for workers at the New Flyer plant. She explains that when she started in the Paint Dept. she had never painted anything but a house before. Years later, she has lots of experience: “I was a paint assistant, then a decal position became open and I wanted to try that,” she says. “And then I became a painter. If I wanted to become an assessment technician, I could.” Renee says that “now, there’s more training” for new employees, and that internal promotions are possible: “we have hired from the paint assistant pool” for new painter positions.
Renee knows that a good, union job can make a big difference in people’s lives. She shares a story about one of her colleagues, a woman of color who came to Minnesota from Chicago she said, “with nothing.” Now, this woman and several of her family-members work at the New Flyer factory and she has told Renee, “this company saved my family.”
Renee is excited to take action through her union, CWA, to advocate for the Jobs to Move America program. Jobs to Move America has the potential to stimulate more good, unionized manufacturing jobs like the ones Renee and her colleagues have at New Flyer.