“We feel horrible, it’s a matter of ‘Do I want to continue having a job and risk getting sick or my family sick? Or I don’t have enough money to pay my bills.’”
That’s what one worker for New Flyer, the largest bus manufacturer in North America, told the New York Post last week in a story about how the company’s abysmal handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Post reports that New Flyer continued to send technicians to bus depots — including depots where workers had tested positive for COVID-19 — without any warnings or personal protective equipment (PPE). Workers said that managers consistently downplayed the threat of the virus, refusing workers’ requests for PPE and flagrantly defying public health guidance issued by state officials.
Yesterday, New Flyer shut down seven plants across the country without offering workers any pay, ignoring demands made in a petition that garnered over 1,000 signatures that the company “make workers whole” throughout the duration of the COVID-19 crisis. The company is telling workers to apply for unemployment instead.
More than 500 workers at the company’s Anniston, Alabama plant will be hit particularly hard. Last year, Alabama state legislators cut the length of unemployment benefits from 26 weeks to as little as 14 weeks, and the state’s maximum unemployment payment — $275 per week — is tied for fourth-lowest in the country.
New Flyer isn’t the only company prioritizing profit margins over workers’ safety and livelihoods. Even elected officials have been caught in ham-fisted attempts to push through union-busting policies amidst the pandemic.
Workers across the country are taking matters into their own hands through collective actions — from sick-outs to wildcat strikes. Workers for Instacart, Whole Foods, and Amazon, among others, are rising up to demand hazard pay and better protection. Workers at General Electric are demanding the company use its full manufacturing resources to build ventilators.
Workers at New Flyer’s plants across the country are organizing too, demanding the company improve its leave policy to guarantee workers will be paid and that they will not lose their jobs if they, or their family members, are affected by COVID-19. The Alabama Coalition for Community Benefits and a national coalition of allies are reaching out to transit agencies through which New Flyer receives taxpayer funds, urging agencies to tell New Flyer to treat its workers with respect both during the pandemic and afterward.
But this isn’t just about one-time demands. The COVID-19 pandemic has made it clear what many of us have known all along: that the health and safety of one affects the health and safety of all. New Flyer, now more than ever, needs to listen to the coalition of workers and communities that has been organizing since last October to demand the company negotiate a national Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) to secure workers a voice on the job. A CBA is the only way to ensure workers and communities where New Flyer sets up shop are protected for the long-haul.