Today, bus manufacturer New Flyer of America released a document outlining a diversity initiative that the company is calling a “Community Benefits Framework.” The Framework includes a slate of wholly unenforceable, hollow promises on serious issues like diversity, health and safety, training, and more.
In October, a diverse coalition of workers and community groups, including the NAACP, released a report revealing allegations of discrimination, harassment, and retaliation. Instead of dealing with these complaints, New Flyer began the process of creating what community members and workers called a fraudulent “Community Benefits Framework.”
Drafted by a New-York based consultant without connections to the Anniston community, the Framework released today is nothing more than a heavy-handed attempt to shut down the coalition, the Alabama Coalition for Community Benefits, which has been organizing to hold New Flyer accountable by demanding the company negotiate real programs to solve the problems raised by workers through a national Community Benefits Agreement.
A national CBA is a legal agreement that would establish real and enforceable commitments around equitable hiring practices, training, and apprenticeship programs. The company’s Framework is decidedly not an agreement – the document was developed by the company itself, with the help of a consultant, not through negotiation with workers or Anniston community members. New Flyer’s Framework is a mere PR exercise aimed at appeasing investors and manufacturing the consent of their workforce.
The Framework itself is deeply flawed. For one, there is a clear lack of enforceability: New Flyer says they will receive quarterly reports on their progress towards commitments, but these reports will go to New Flyer leadership and TDC; there is no indication that they will be made public. Moreover, the Framework does not actually establish what those commitments are. The Framework says New Flyer will pay the prevailing wage for the area, but does not say how they will calculate it. The company does not make any commitments around benefits at all. They promise a “social service” program for “employees in need,” without recognizing that if New Flyer were providing living wages and benefits, their employees would not be in need. They also do not say how many employees this program will cover. New Flyer says they will work to “bolster community outreach, recruitment and placement” for workers who do not traditionally have access to manufacturing careers, but do not set any actual targets around diversity. Nor does New Flyer identify concrete steps the company can take to foster diversity aside from promising to “base all employment decisions on job requirements.” New Flyer isn’t committing to clear numbers or benchmarks in any of their promises. And on top of all of this – New Flyer is planning to enforce the Framework itself, rather than having alleged violations be adjudicated by a neutral third party.
New Flyer cannot be trusted to enforce these commitments itself. For example, the framework states that “New Flyer has robust whistleblower, incident reporting, and investigation processes that ensure safe disclosure, confidentiality, and non-retaliatory behavior.” However, when Alabama A&M University surveyed workers in New Flyer’s Anniston plant about whether they had faced retaliation for complaining about discrimination, health and safety problems, or other working conditions, four of the twelve workers who reported filing complaints said they faced retaliation, saying that they were given too much work or particularly hazardous work in response.
One of the Framework’s goals is to increase compliance and accountability with local agreements, and the document highlights a handful of public contracts with transit agencies that have included Jobs to Move America’s good jobs and equity policy, the U.S. Employment Plan. Unfortunately, not only has New Flyer failed to live up to the jobs and wage commitments outlined in these contracts, the company has actively hidden information about these broken promises from the public through protracted and costly litigation. A company that refuses to be held accountable for broken promises in public contracts is not a company that can be trusted to fulfill and enforce promises outlined by a private consultant.
Our coalition has raised concerns about TDC, the nonprofit that New Flyer has engaged. TDC has no meaningful connections to the local community. On its website, TDC says that it helps its business members in “accessing business opportunities at agencies and institutions across the country,” and that it “engages” elected leaders to “ensure that the field is level to allow our corporate membership to participate without hindrance.” It is difficult to imagine how an entity so focused on the pecuniary interests of corporations seeking to profit from public transit can prioritize the often conflicting interests of affected workers, local residents, and the public.
The Alabama Coalition for Community Benefits continues to call on New Flyer to come to the table to negotiate a real Community Benefits Agreement. New Flyer’s main competitors in the electric bus industry, BYD and Proterra, have already negotiated or are in the process of negotiating CBAs. By refusing to negotiate, New Flyer is an outlier in this industry. Only a real CBA, negotiated with real workers and community members, will do.