Jan 31, 2013
CWAers at New Flyer will soon start manufacturing up to 900 environmentally-friendly compressed natural gas buses for Los Angeles, creating about 150 jobs at the Minnesota plant and 50 jobs at a new California service center.
"It's a big boost for us because we're in contract negotiations in three weeks," said John Desm, president of CWA Local 7304.
The $302.9 million contract from LA Metro -- finalized just last week -- was the result of a strong movement building campaign.
It all started last summer with Desm's work with CWA Legislative Director Shane Larson to pressure members of Congress to pass a new transportation bill. That bill freed up federal funding so cities could purchase new buses, and New Flyer put in a bid with LA Metro.
When Blue Green Alliance, a partnership between 14 of the country's largest unions and environmental organizations, heard through the grapevine that New Flyer was a finalist for the LA Metro contract, it immediately reached out to CWA Local 7304. Brian Lombardozzi, a senior policy analyst at the alliance, gathered material to paint a clear picture of what these manufacturing jobs in Minnesota meant for workers, but also the greater community. It was a great narrative: This contract could potentially create an extra third shift in production that would boost employment at the factory and give a big boost to the local economy. Los Angeles taxpayer dollars would go towards employing high-skilled, union workers working with cutting-edge technology.
CWA President Larry Cohen worked to get that information into the hands of Maria Elena Durazo, executive secretary-treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor. And Durazo sent a letter to LA Metro supporting New Flyer's bid.
"We have heard from a representative group of workers form the New Flyer facility in Minnesota," she wrote. "According to these workers -- who we have encouraged to separately write to you -- the facility in Minnesota is completely unionized, provides good wages, benefits and excellent working conditions and provides ongoing training and career path opportunities for all their employees."
Desm began taking transit officials on tours of the factory in St. Cloud, Minn. At the same time, CWA, Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy and AFL-CIO rallied workers for a flyer campaign and actions in California to raise awareness about New Flyer's bid.
"I thought, 'Wow, look at this network. We have people who we don't even know supporting us there,'" said Desm. "For me, it's an eye opener. Look at the power."
New Flyer is planning to start hiring workers for the St. Cloud manufacturing facility in April, and it's preparing to open a new service center in Los Angeles, which will employ another 50 workers. Under the contract, LA Metro has ordered 550 buses with an option for another 350 buses in the future.
"Everything is hand built. We practically build Lamborghinis -- in other words, no automation in our plant and everything is built here in America," said Desm. "You can't get more Build America than what we're doing right now."
Now the goal is use LA Metro and New Flyer as a model for other large transportation projects.
"Victories take a long time to get," said Lombardozzi, who has been working on getting transit agencies to buy domestic products and support good union jobs since 2010. "But hopefully we can build on this one get some more."