Rural Georgia Factory, Flush With Federal Funds, Votes to Unionize

“Workers at places like Blue Bird, in many ways, embody the future,” Mr. Flippo said after the vote, adding, “For too long, corporations cynically viewed the South as a place where they could suppress wages and working conditions because they believed they could keep workers from unionizing.”

The Blue Bird union shop, 1,400 workers strong, will be one of the biggest in the South, and union leaders said it could be a beachhead as they eyed new electric vehicle suppliers moving in — and potentially the biggest, most difficult targets: foreign electric vehicle makers like Hyundai, Mercedes-Benz and BMW, which have located in Georgia, Alabama and South Carolina in part to avoid unions.

“Companies move there for a reason — they want as smooth a path toward crushing unions as possible,” said Steve Smith, a national spokesman for the A.F.L.-C.I.O. “But we have federal money rolling in, a friendly administration and a chance to make inroads like we have never had before.”

The Blue Bird plant, which rises suddenly off a rural highway lined with peach and pecan orchards, has long made it a practice to hire less educated workers, some of whom have prison records and most of whom start at $16 or $17 an hour, said Alex Perkins, a main organizer for the United Steelworkers in Georgia.

A union was a tough sell for such vulnerable workers against a management that was fiercely opposed, organizers conceded. Coming off the last shift of the day on Thursday, most workers declined to speak on the record. A clutch of about a dozen workers stood on Friday at the Circle K gas station across the street from the plant in the predawn darkness, holding pro-union signs as the first workers arrived to cast ballots under the gaze of National Labor Relations Board monitors.

But Cynthia Harden, who has worked at the plant for five years and voted in favor of organizing, did talk about the pressure workers were under to vote against it. Slide shows on the voting process, which showed ballots marked “no,” said that the company could go broke if the union won, and there was a sudden appearance of food trucks at lunch and banners on the perimeter fence reading, “We Love Our Employees!”

“They’ve made some changes already, but if the union hadn’t started, nothing would have happened,” she said.

What Next?

Recent Articles

Leave a Reply

You must be Logged in to post comment.