Jobs to Move America
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by Will Tucker, JMA Southern Director

Earlier this month, the Jobs to Move America team in Alabama had lunch with nine New Flyer of America workers in Anniston, Ala. The workers were new to their jobs building, painting and testing electric transit buses. Most had started work within the past three months.

All came from historically disadvantaged communities. Over a lunch of chicken wings and sweet tea, we all talked about the barriers they had faced as they had sought good, family-sustaining jobs.

In fact, most previously couldn’t find work at all because they had become ensnared in Alabama’s sprawling criminal punishment system in recent years. Most of the workers were Black, a couple were white, and two were women. One woman was a mother who brought her young son along; he dashed between chair legs and under tables as the adults talked.

Eventually, JMA’s community engagement coordinator, Larry Hodge–who had met all of these workers during his field work providing workplace safety training or observing court hearings–stood and got everyone’s attention. He asked everyone to raise their hand if they had applied for a job at New Flyer before their most recent successful attempt. Everyone raised their hands.

“How many applied more than once?” Larry asked. Nearly everyone raised their hands again; these workers had often tried three or more times to get a job at New Flyer before last year.

What changed? The answer is clear. In 2022, New Flyer signed a Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) with JMA in which the company committed to ambitious, measurable hiring and promotion goals aimed at removing barriers to the plant for historically disadvantaged groups. (The CBA also included New Flyer’s plant in Ontario, California.) 

One year later, the CBA is having a noticeable impact, and not just on the faces of the workforce at New Flyer.

JMA and the company have put in place an innovative system for addressing claims of discrimination and harassment, which gives workers who file such complaints an independent advocate. (The advocate is the Alabama State Chapter of the NAACP.) Workers with complaints can now stay in their jobs while they seek resolution, rather than simply quit, and are protected from retaliation while doing so.

In July, workers will be able to attend an on-site safety training provided by Larry. Half of the training will be held on company time, thanks to New Flyer’s offer to work out such an arrangement. Participants who complete the training will obtain OSHA 10 authorization cards, marking them as worker-safety experts in their workplace.

And there’s more: New Flyer now brings on more new workers through direct hire than through staffing agencies. The company gives many new applicants—like those we met for lunch–-a fair chance at employment by delaying a background check until after they make an offer. It’s likely that fewer potential applicants affected by criminal punishment systems will feel the need to self-select out of the opportunity to work at New Flyer.

JMA will also soon enroll a pilot class of eight to ten workers in a pre-apprenticeship program linked by the CBA to New Flyer’s upcoming apprenticeship program. Participants who complete this training path will accumulate short-term credentials, certificates and ultimately, access to a long-term, family sustaining career that has long been denied to folks like them.

It was clear, sitting around the table in Anniston, that the CBA is more than an agreement on paper. For these New Flyer workers, it’s a real transformation in their community and their lives.

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