Today is Transit Equity Day, which takes place on Rosa Parks’ birthday to honor her historic action to demand equality for public transit riders. Parks’ refusal to move to the back of a Montgomery, AL bus in 1955 and the bus boycotts that ensued lead to the landmark Supreme Court ruling that segregation on public buses was unconstitutional.
Although public buses are officially integrated, transit inequality persists in other ways. For one, Black and brown people in many cities are less likely to have access to safe and affordable transit. But there’s another dimension to today’s transit inequity: many of the companies that build our transportation system are causing this modern segregation to persist.
It’s good news that our country is seeing an unprecedented investment in electric vehicles, including buses, and the American South is the place where many multinational companies are building plants to manufacture these vehicles. But many of these companies—lured to the South by generous tax incentives from state governments—are not improving quality of life for the working class Black and brown people who live in these communities.
Besides a deterioration of public services that comes from tax giveaways, many of these manufacturing plants in the South are rife with serious health and safety issues, and workers who have tried to use their voice and organize have been met with union-busting tactics.
Take New Flyer, a Canadian bus manufacturer with plants in the U.S., for example. New Flyer receives over 60% of its revenue from taxpayer-funded contracts, but workers in their Southern plants have complained about racial discrimination, sexual harassment, retaliation, and dangerous working conditions. Many of New Flyer’s factories are non-union, and we know that unions can reduce gender- and race-based pay disparities and discrimination.
Besides making clean transit accessible to everyone, we also need to seize the opportunity of this electric vehicle manufacturing boom to create good, family-sustaining jobs that are safe and give workers a voice. Especially in the South, where racial disparities that date back to the Jim Crow era remain, we need to make sure companies are specifically putting forth plans to address inequities.
We want New Flyer—and all companies receiving public dollars—to sign Community Benefits Agreements (CBAs) with community groups that commit to creating good jobs, high-quality training and apprenticeship programs, equitable hiring practices, and to allow workers to organize if they want.
We know it’s possible because we’ve won CBAs with other major electric bus manufacturers. New Flyer would join companies like BYD and Proterra in California, where community benefits agreements have secured commitments to hire women, people of color, and other people traditionally excluded from the manufacturing industry. Those CBAs also resulted in training programs for union jobs at both companies (you can read about workers who have benefited from those programs here).
We are on the precipice of a green energy revolution, and we must seize this opportunity to create clean, accessible transit and good jobs. It’s simple: If a company is receiving public money, they must create public good by centering workers and their communities. On her birthday, let’s honor Rosa Parks’ legacy by creating equity in public transit—both for riders and workers.