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New Flyer announces Anniston workforce development plan

Labor policy group concerned about company oversight

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New Flyer of America will commit $25,000 to education later this year to improve workplace diversity at its Anniston plant, the bus manufacturer announced, though how the program works is still uncertain. 

Of the money, $10,000 will be given in five scholarships for “underserved, underrepresented or disadvantaged individuals,” according to news releases sent by the company. Those candidates must be from the greater Anniston community, recent high school graduates with skills qualifying them for employment, or current New Flyer employees hoping to advance their careers.

The remaining $15,000 will be given to organizations like Anniston City Schools or the Calhoun County Career Technical Academy, according to New Flyer, to “redesign curriculum as required” in courses applicable to manufacturing. 

“We know that as a business and good community neighbor, we must align our business goals with providing opportunity to those who have previously been hindered by systemic barriers, prejudice, and financial obstacles,” the company stated in a news release sent Thursday. 

But applications won’t be taken until spring, according to the company, and exactly how the applications will be judged is also uncertain. That part of the process will be managed by the Transportation Development Council, a New York City-based organization founded in 2010 “to meet the growing need for leaders, technical professionals, educators” and workers in transportation and construction, according to the TDC website

When reached by phone Monday and Thursday, TDC president and CEO Dwayne Sampson declined to comment on the process for applying, how selection would be handled and in what way the program might benefit the community.

“I’m waiting for clearance to give a statement from my client,” Sampson said. 

TDC has come under fire over the last year with accusations of “astroturfing” New Flyer’s community outreach efforts, presenting alternatives to plans requested by labor groups and coalitions that would involve no independent oversight. 

The organization leveling those charges, Jobs to Move America, has been vocal about New Flyer’s “Community Benefits Framework,” a series of internal checks and balances to ensure that the company — which has received over$1.7 million in tax incentives as part of two deals to expand the former North American Bus Industries plant— is providing equal opportunity employment in management positions, acting accountably toward the environment and following through on promises of jobs with good pay. The framework was designed in conjunction with TDC, according to New Flyer. 

JMA Southern director Erica Iheme said Thursday that the company’s Community Benefits Framework is, essentially, a toothless version of a similar concept called a Community Benefits Agreement. 

“We believe the Community Benefits Framework is a way of undermining a real Community Benefits Agreement,” Iheme said. 

CBAs allow communities to participate in workforce development, environmental control and allows for a third party to oversee company interaction and fulfillment of employment promises. Iheme said a CBA is legally enforceable where the CBF is not. She cited the 2018 construction of a Major League Soccer stadium in Nashville as an example, in which the city’s Metro Council and Stand Up Nashville, a coalition of labor unions, created and negotiated an agreement with the stadium’s developer. 

According to the Tennessean, the agreement “guaranteed affordable housing, community services like child care, $15.50 wages for stadium workers, and a committee that will oversee the goals of the agreement.” 

New Flyer’s CBF document, available on the company website, includes goals such as workforce development, environmental responsibility and others that parallel requests from JMA. But the document does also state that oversight will stay within the company, or with TDC, to be reported to New Flyer leadership on a quarterly basis. 

“At the end of the day, the only thing we want New Flyer to do is come to the table and have a conversation with us to make real Community Benefits Agreements,” Iheme said. 

New Flyer noted via email that the company has more plans as part of its Anniston Workforce Development Program, announced in September. Among several key items, including the creation of an employee committee to survey worker satisfaction, the company also includes the “reporting of metrics, compliance, governance and oversight.”