Workers at a Macon-based school bus manufacturer look to unionize

Two buses lined up next to each other in a warehouse.
Blue Bird has invested in electric and low-emission school buses, delivering buses across the country. (Matthew Pearson/WABE)

About 1,400 workers at the Macon-based school bus manufacturer Blue Bird Corporation will vote on whether to unionize later this week.

Concerns over labor conditions and living standards for workers are some of the pressing issues organizers hope will be resolved by unionizing.

The vote will be on Thursday and Friday. If successful, workers will become members of the United Steelworkers Union.

Blue Bird is one of the leading manufacturers of school buses in North America. The nearly 100-year-old company has invested in electric and low-emission school buses, delivering buses across the country.

Rinardo Cooper spent a decade at the manufacturer before leaving last year. Now he’s helping his former colleagues with the organizing effort.

He says the Fort Valley, Georgia, manufacturing facility would sometimes flood.

“Like if it rains, it’s horrible inside there,” said Cooper. “You had pits, and [we had to] go in the pits and look up under the buses. Those whole pits would flood, like knee or waist-deep high, just straight water. And it is sad that they would want people to go in those conditions and work.”

Cooper now works for a different company, where he has since become a member of the USW. And he’s also working to inform workers about the benefits he sees in joining the union.

The United Steelworkers Union represents over 800,000 workers in metal, rubber, and auto supply, among other occupations.

“They deserve a voice in the workplace,” said Jess Kamm, a spokeswoman from the USW. “They have very serious concerns about workplace health and safety, about work-life balance, about fair pay.”

Last month, the union accused Blue Bird of unfair labor practices, alleging that management made threats to close the plant or freeze pay to intimidate workers against unionizing.

U.S. senators Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff of Georgia spoke out in support of the workers’ right to vote in their union election without interference.

They called on leaders at the school bus manufacturer to follow federal labor practices.

“It has been a priority of ours, both before coming to the Senate and since our election, to do all we can to promote free and fair elections,” wrote Warnock and Ossoff in a joint letter to Blue Bird executives.

In an email statement to WABE, a spokeswoman said the company supports the workers’ right to choose, but it does not favor a union.

“During the pending election campaign, we have voiced our opinion to our employees that a union is not in the best interest of the Company or our employees, but we have respected the rights of our employees and the USW at all times,” the company wrote.