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Published on June 08, 2024
Georgia's Blue Bird Workers Ratify Historic Union Contract, Signaling Southern Labor Rights AdvancementSource: Wikipedia/Michael Rivera, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

In a significant step for labor rights in Georgia, more than 1,500 workers at Fort Valley-based Blue Bird, a manufacturer of electric school buses, ratified their first union contract last month. This move comes after a vote last year where employees of the established company chose to become part of the United Steel Workers, marking a crucial victory for the labor movement in the southern state, as reported by WABE.

The groundbreaking agreement ensures a minimum raise of 12% for all workers. Moreover, some of the lowest-paid positions are expected to witness an increase of more than 40%. Dee Thomas, who has worked at Blue Bird for over a decade, shared with WABE the tension that the employees faced: "We know it was a make-or-break moment on the job. We knew that if we didn’t get the vote in that it may never happen."

Alex Perkins, a staff representative for the United Steel Workers, highlighted the importance of the timing of this unionization. Perkins stated in an interview with WABE, "Now, these will become career jobs, jobs that people will appreciate, and will love to go to work each and every day because they’re being paid what they feel that they’re worth." The recent investments in the electric vehicle sector further underscored the need for workers to organize, with the union representative admitting, "If you had asked me two years ago if we would have been able to get this contract, definitely no."

While the union movement is gaining traction in Georgia, it faces opposition from Republican Gov. Brian Kemp, who has expressed his belief that unions could be detrimental to business growth in the state. Organized labor represents just about 4% of the workforce in Georgia, a figure Kemp does not appear eager to see increase. Despite this, Thomas remains enthusiastic, telling WABE, "So the union is gonna make that happen, along with partnership with Blue Bird Is he can only get better."

The advancement of labor rights in the South is also buoyed by federal investment, as Perkins mentioned, "[The] money that [the Biden Administration] is investing into the clean energy is really helping, you know, workers here in the South." With support from the highest levels of government, the labor sector in Georgia is poised for transformation, potentially challenging the traditionally union-averse climate of the southern United States, as reported by WABE.