ANNISTON, ALABAMA—On Tuesday, February 4, 2020, the Alabama Coalition for Community Benefits – a coalition of workers and civil rights, faith, labor, and community groups – sent a letter to bus manufacturer New Flyer Industries denouncing the company’s recent announcement of a diversity initiative as a phony campaign deliberately designed to undermine the ongoing fight of Alabama community and workers for a Community Benefits Agreement.
A second letter, sent to New Flyer CEO Paul Soubry and from the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (CBTU) called on New Flyer to address the concerns of workers in its Southern plants who have reported racial discrimination, sexual harassment, retaliation, and dangerous working conditions.
The Alabama Coalition for Community Benefits, which includes organizations such as Greater Birmingham Ministries, the Alabama NAACP, and Jobs to Move America and members of nearby communities, has been organizing for months to demand the company seriously address issues of racial discrimination, sexual harassment, retaliation, and dangerous working conditions that workers in the company’s Southern plants have reported facing.
The coalition has asked New Flyer to negotiate a Community Benefits Agreement (CBA), a legally enforceable agreement that would commit the company to equitable hiring practices, training, apprenticeship programs, and other high-road standards.
“This is a sham. New Flyer is choosing to ignore its own workers and turn its back on our coalition. They’re waging a deceptive PR campaign,” says Charles Crooms, a former worker at New Flyer’s Anniston plant and a community organizer with Jobs to Move America.
New Flyer’s latest move came in the form of an announcement on Martin Luther King Jr. Day that the company had engaged a New York-based consultant, the Transportation Diversity Council (TDC), to create a so-called “Community Benefits Framework.”
The Alabama Coalition’s letter points out that any meaningful attempt at diversity and inclusivity must start with the workers and communities directly affected by the company’s actions. TDC, the New York-based consultancy, was recently hired by New Flyer to develop a “Community Benefits Framework” for the Anniston, Alabama factories, even though TDC told Coalition representatives that it had no previous experience working in Alabama or designing Community Benefits Agreements.
The Coalition writes, “it is all too obvious to us that you have hired this outside consultant rather than deal directly with [our] concerns.”
“Alabamians are tired of New Flyer being a bad neighbor and a worse boss. This is a company that massively benefits from our public dollars. And they can’t even show our communities the respect of coming to the table and taking our coalition seriously,” says Scott Douglas, the executive director of Greater Birmingham Ministries and board member of Jobs to Move America.
“That New Flyer is conducting this astroturf campaign in the name of Dr. King is a disgrace. Taking diversity and racial justice seriously means centering the demands of the community members and rank-and-file workers organizing for justice,” says Benard Simelton, president of the Alabama NAACP.
The second letter from the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (CBTU) was also sent to New Flyer’s CEO Paul Soubry. In the letter, the CBTU expresses solidarity with the Alabama Coalition for Community Benefits and calls on New Flyer to negotiate a real CBA with the Coalition.
“New Flyer is making a big mistake by shunning the workers and community members organizing for a national CBA. But make no mistake about it: this underhanded attempt to shut down their campaign won’t go unnoticed and it won’t work,” says Carl Kennebrew, the president of IUE-CWA, a member of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (CBTU), and a board member of Jobs to Move America.
New Flyer is North America’s largest bus manufacturer. The company has several large non-union factories across the American South and receives more than 60 percent of its revenues from public contracts and subsidies.
In October 2019, Jobs to Move America released a report with preliminary findings from an academic survey conducted by researchers at Alabama A&M University (AAMU) that detailed workers’ allegations of harassment, mistreatment, sexual harassment, and anti-union practices in New Flyer’s Anniston plant.