FORT VALLEY, Ga. — Socialist Workers Party members from Atlanta traveled 90 miles south to talk with workers here about the union-organizing drive victory at the Blue Bird Corp. school bus assembly plant. Workers voted 697-435 to be represented by the United Steelworkers union May 12. Blue Bird is the largest manufacturer of school buses in the country and has 1,400 workers.
“The union is going to be a good thing,” James Huton told Marklyn Wilson. He worked at Blue Bird for 14 years, but left due to back problems. “With the union, it won’t be as easy to get fired. The money we got was not enough and we got no vacation time to speak of.” He bought a copy of the Militant newspaper.
Most people we met door to door had heard about the union victory. “I’m happy for them,” Jaketa Lucas, an insurance worker, told Lisa Potash. “When I was little, you would hear about people dying in there in the summer.”
“They needed a union to get more pay. They do all that hard work and need to be treated fairly,” Belinda Ellison, a former medical technician, told me. She bought a copy of the Militant.
Across the street, I met Elton Britt, 67, who had worked at Blue Bird for 23 years and retired two years ago. He said there had been several earlier union-organizing efforts that “didn’t go anywhere.” He said he got frustrated with management when they would blame the workers for not finishing work, when it was management’s fault that they didn’t have enough parts.
He noted the long hours. “It used to be 10 hours and you could go home. Then it became you would often have to stay 12 hours to finish the work.” Nevertheless, he said he liked working there, and wasn’t sure a union would make a difference.
Next door we met a Blue Bird logistics lead who asked his name not be used. A 10-year veteran in the plant, he said he did not vote in the election because he didn’t see how a union would benefit him. “It will just help the new workers, who want more pay and more vacation time. After five years you get two vacation days,” he said. The starting wage is just $16 an hour.
After discussing how workers have been using their unions in fights around the country for better working conditions, he got a copy of the Militant and gave a donation.
Jimille Rumph, a retired utilities worker, said his brother had worked at Blue Bird and told him about the long hours and grueling pace of work. “He called it a ‘hot box,’” Rumph said. “The union is a long time coming. They need a better work environment. Those who didn’t vote for the union because they didn’t think it would help them need to understand how it will benefit others.” He got a Militant subscription to follow other labor struggles and to learn more about the road forward for the working class.