Georgia workers at one of the largest school bus manufacturers have voted to unionize.
The employees of Blue Bird Corp. chose to be represented by the United Steelworkers union by a vote of 697-435, according to the National Labor Relations Board.
The vote took place last week at two Blue Bird factories and warehouses in Fort Valley.
Blue Bird and the union have five business days to file objections. If no objections are filed, the election will be certified and the United Steelworkers and Macon-based Blue Bird will begin negotiating an initial contract.
Blue Bird workers say they are seeking higher wages, more regular schedules, and better vacation and sick benefits from the publicly held company, long the largest employer in nearby Peach County.
“We work hard, and we deserve fair pay, safe working conditions and to be treated with respect at work,” Patrick Watkins, a Blue Bird worker who serves on the organizing committee, said. in a statement released by the union. “It’s clear that our only way forward is to take our future into our own hands – and that’s what we did today when we voted to organize.”
Blue Bird urged employees to reject unionization, saying it does not want to interject a union as an intermediary between the company and workers. A company spokesman did not respond to an email and phone call seeking comment.
This was a huge victory for organized labor in the traditionally unfriendly Deep South.
The share of unionized workers nationwide has been falling for decades, falling to 10.1% last year according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. And private sector workers are even less likely to be union members, with only 6% paying dues.
Organized labor is a small fraction of Georgia’s workforce, with only 4.4% of workers being union members. That’s the eighth lowest rate in the union of states.
“For too long corporations have cruelly viewed the South as a place where they can hold down wages and working conditions because they believe they can keep workers from unionizing,” United said. Steelworkers District Director Dan Flippo in a statement.
The USW represents more than 850,000 workers across the country in a variety of industries.
Blue Bird union organizers have filed seven formal charges with the National Labor Relations Board alleging that the company’s anti-union campaign crossed the legal line into improperly threatening and harassing employees. .
Blue Bird gets $40 million in federal aid to build electric school buses.
The company declined to comment on the specific allegations, but denied doing anything improper or illegal.
US Sens Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, both Democrats, wrote a joint letter to Blue Bird CEO Matt Stephenson on May 3 urging “free and fair elections.”
The company hires general laborers at $16 an hour, and says its average wage is $17.69 an hour. Workers say wages have not kept up with inflation.
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