CWA members welcome Obamas Middle Class Task Force to St. Cloud plant

ST. CLOUD, Minn. (PAI) — Members of Communications Workers of America Local 7304 welcomed Vice President Joseph Biden and members of the Obama administration’s Middle Class Task Force” for a town hall meeting March 19 at their workplace — the New Flyer Bus Co. plant — with positive messages.

New Flyer manufactures buses for some of the largest transit agencies and cities in the United States and Canada and is a leader in the production of hybrid and low-emission vehicles.

Encouraging such manufacturing is part of two key goals of the new Democratic pro-labor administration: Rebuilding U.S. manufacturing, and doing so by creating jobs making “green” products. And CWA won representation at the New Flyer through majority sign-up, which Obama vows to sign as the key part of the Employee Free Choice Act.

The town hall meeting was in a section of the plant where buses are inspected before being shipped to cities around the country. Biden and four Cabinet secretaries — Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Education Secretary Arne Duncan, HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood – sat on chairs surrounded by workers, community members and four large buses, including one bearing the words, “Clean Air Hybrid Bus.”

“This company is an example of the future,” Biden said, praising the firm’s ability to prosper by developing buses using new, energy-efficient technologies. He and other members Task Force members listed several ways the federal Reinvestment and Recovery Act—the stimulus law—will aid families, businesses and communities.

They also answered questions from the audience, with many focusing on education, health care and the economy.

Company President and CEO Paul Soubry introduced Biden and credited the quality of the company’s workforce and management’s partnership with the CWA as major factors behind its success. The firm employs 650 people at its St. Cloud plant, about 70 miles northwest of the Twin Cities, and another 300 people at its Crookston plant – also a unionized operation – in northern Minnesota.

Thanks in part to the federal stimulus package – which provides funds for cities to invest in transit – the company has a two-year, $4.1 billion backlog of orders, Soubry said. “We plan to add more jobs in America,” he declared.

Local 7304 President Dave Rock, who works in the Crookston plant, joined company executives in welcoming Biden before the start of the town hall meeting. He said the workers in St. Cloud were a little stunned by the sudden celebrity, but enjoyed the attention. “We’re very proud to be a leader in the production of fuel-efficient buses,” Rock said.

Workers, who enjoy good wages and benefits through their union contract, also show pride through a large, yellow and purple CWA Local 7304 banner hanging near the shop floor. “We got that in our last contract negotiations,” Rock said. A similar banner hangs in the Crookston plant, he said.

Workers at the firm’s St. Cloud plant chose union representation through majority sign-up – the method that would become an option for all workers if Congress passes the Employee Free Choice Act. President Obama said passage of the law, which would make it easier for workers to join unions, is a priority for his presidency.

Over a 2-week period, the CWA collected cards from workers who said they wanted to join the union. When more than 50% of the workforce had signed cards, they were presented to management, which voluntarily recognized the union. CWA would write that process into federal labor law. But the bill must overcome a planned Senate GOP filibuster to be enacted.

While the Middle Class Task Force members said the Reinvestment and Recovery Act is a key to maintaining and creating good jobs, Biden also cited the importance of the labor movement.

History relates how the Industrial Revolution spurred construction of factories and the advent of many kinds of new jobs, he said. “But it wasn’t until we had unions that they became good jobs,” he added.