Electric Buses = More Good, Union Jobs for Low-Income Californians

California is on the cutting edge of the clean economy thanks to our leadership in addressing climate change.

The following post is from Ross Nakasone, the BlueGreen Alliance’s California policy organizer. 

While the creation of new, clean economy jobs is booming, not all clean energy workers—particularly blue collar workers—thrive in these new jobs. Too often, many do not earn a living wage that can take care of their families; many do not receive healthcare benefits and many do not have adequate safety protections at work. Worse yet, people of color and residents from low income and disadvantaged communities do not always get access to these new jobs.

We know we can do better. And in Los Angeles, we are. In late July 2017, the Board of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) awarded a contract for 60 40-foot all-electric buses to BYD, one of the world’s largest EV manufacturers. What makes this more than an environmental win is a new partnership by BYD, Jobs to Move America (JMA) and Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers Union (SMART). Together, they created a more inclusive path for the clean economy and for workers.

SMART Local 105, JMA and BYD signed a community benefits agreement (CBA) to increase living wage job opportunities in electric bus manufacturing for disadvantaged workers at the company’s facility in southern California. The agreement comes weeks after workers at the BYD factory voted to join SMART Local 105.

The CBA is a legally enforceable agreement where BYD will commit to hiring 40 percent of its workers from populations facing significant barriers to employment including veterans, formerly incarcerated, people of color and women. These workers will receive:

  • Technical training from Local 105 including classroom and hands-on training in metal work, electrical wiring, assembly of complex mechanical and electrical skills;
  • A pre-apprenticeship program in partnership with the JMA coalition and Local 105 that will help ensure the success of all workers—particularly disadvantaged workers—that will include skills, language and mathematical literacy, and soft skills to be successful at BYD; and
  • Innovative programs to identify and overcome barriers for workers through providing shuttles, ride-sharing programs, or other services to overcome gaps in transportation.

This three way partnership shows that the community, a clean energy business committed to workers, and labor unions can all thrive in the new clean economy, especially when they work together.

In Los Angeles, these partners have joined with other environmentalists, unions and allies to work with the MTA to go electric. With this award to BYD, the MTA, the nation’s second largest transit agency, has begun its plan to replace its current fleet with electric battery buses by 2030. And with BYD’s CBA as a model, they are looking at ways to ensure that low-income and disadvantaged communities gain access to building those clean buses. If Metro continues to use inclusive policies such as the U.S. Employment Plan—contractual language that transit agencies can use to incentivize companies to create good jobs and hire from disadvantaged communities—MTA and other agencies will grow this industry responsibly for workers.

BYD’s commitment to providing high quality jobs and access to disadvantaged workers offers a way for forward thinking agencies. Rather than simply buying cleaner buses, transit agencies can leverage their clean bus purchases to deliver family sustaining, local and U.S. jobs as well as support hiring and training for historically excluded and low-income workers.

BYD’s CBA and union partnership show what can happen when we work together to create clean economy jobs that are safe, pay well and are accessible for everyone. Our state should follow the lead of SMART, JMA and BYD. California should ensure that we do more than just build a clean economy for a few, but build a clean economy that is good for all.

To stay up to date on this and other efforts to tackle environmental problems in ways that create a strong, fair economy, sign up at the BlueGreen Alliance website at www.bluegreenalliance.org/join.