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Workers at Georgia school bus maker Blue Bird approve their first union contract

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Workers at Georgia school bus maker Blue Bird approve their first union contract
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Workers at Georgia school bus maker Blue Bird approve their first union contract

2024-05-25 00:36 Last Updated At:00:40

FORT VALLEY, Ga. (AP) — A year after they voted to unionize, workers at a Georgia school bus manufacturer have approved their first contract.

The United Steelworkers union and Blue Bird Corp. said union members at Blue Bird's assembly plants and warehouse in Fort Valley have voted to approve a three-year contract between the company and the union.

The union said the contract will provide all 1,500 covered workers with at least a 12% raise, with some of the lowest-paid workers getting raises of more than 40%. The union says the company will contribute to a retirement plan for workers, share profits, and improve health and safety.

The negotiations had been closely watched by President Joe Biden's administration, in part because Blue Bird has gotten $40 million in federal aid to build electric school buses.

Biden released a statement Thursday saying acting Labor Secretary Julie Su had helped bring the negotiations to a successful agreement. Contract talks after a first union vote are often difficult.

“Congratulations to members of the United Steelworkers and to Blue Bird for proving once again that meeting our clean energy goals is an opportunity to create good-paying union jobs for American workers,” Biden said.

Blue Bird is one of three major school bus manufacturers in the United States, along with Thomas Built Buses, a subsidiary of Daimler Truck AG, and IC Bus, a unit of Navistar International.

Blue Bird had urged employees to reject unionization last year, but CEO Phil Horlock said in a statement Friday that contract talks had been “very collaborative” and that the company is “looking forward to a strong partnership with our USW team members.” The company said higher pay, benefits and opportunities for career development will help Blue Bird attract workers.

“We reached an agreement which provides positive outcomes for all parties involved and will continue to drive our One Team, high-performance culture,” Horlock said. “We are confident that the agreement will further bolster Blue Bird’s position as an employer of choice in the region."

Blue Bird is a publicly held company based in Macon. With about 2,000 employees overall, it has long been the largest private employer in Peach County.

The vote for the USW was a notable win for organized labor in the traditionally unfriendly Deep South.

“Federal investments like these must come with a seat at the table for workers,” United Steelworkers District 9 Director Dan Flippo said in a statement. “Our union has a long history in the South fighting for better wages and working conditions in a variety of industries, but for too long, corporations and their political cronies have tried to characterize the South as a place where they could run away from unions, cut corners and pay workers less."

The share of workers who are unionized nationwide has been falling for decades, dipping to 10% last year, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. And private sector workers are much less likely to be union members, with only 6% paying dues.

Organized labor is an even smaller sliver of Georgia workers, with only 4.4% of workers being union members. The state's business leaders have long been hostile to unions, with Republican Gov. Brian Kemp this year pushing through a law that would bar companies taking state incentives from recognizing unions without a formal secret-ballot election.

FILE -- An all-electric school bus sits on display in front of the Blue Bird Corp. factory in Fort Valley, Ga., on Feb. 8, 2023. The company and the United Steelworkers union said on Thursday, May, 23, 2024 that workers had approved an initial three-year contract after voting to unionize in May 2023. (Matthew Pearson/WABE via AP, file)

FILE -- An all-electric school bus sits on display in front of the Blue Bird Corp. factory in Fort Valley, Ga., on Feb. 8, 2023. The company and the United Steelworkers union said on Thursday, May, 23, 2024 that workers had approved an initial three-year contract after voting to unionize in May 2023. (Matthew Pearson/WABE via AP, file)

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden on Sunday urged Americans to reject political violence and recommit themselves to resolving their differences peacefully, saying the upcoming presidential election will be a “time of testing” in the aftermath of the attempted assassination of former President Donald Trump.

In a prime-time national address from the Oval Office, Biden said political passions can run high but “we must never descend into violence.” The president said his party and the Republicans can compete forcefully over different policy visions — but must do it in a civil fashion.

“All of us now face a time of testing as the election approaches," Biden said. “There is no place in America for this kind of violence — for any violence. Ever. Period. No exception. We can’t allow this violence to be normalized."

Biden spoke for six minutes in his third address to the nation since Saturday evening's attack by a shooter that left Trump with a bloodied ear, killed one rallygoer and seriously injured two others. His warning came hours after FBI Deputy Director Paul Abbate said agents have seen increasingly violent rhetoric online since the attack at the Trump rally.

Since the shooting, the president and his team had been grappling with how to calibrate the political path forward after the weekend attack targeting the very person Biden is trying to defeat in November’s election. Biden sharply condemned the attack, but indicated he plans to continue to press his campaign agenda and has “no doubt” Republicans will do the same when they open the Republican National Convention in Milwaukee on Monday.

He emphasized that said those disagreements must remain peaceful.

“We can do this,” Biden pleaded, saying the nation was founded on a democracy that gave reason and balance a chance to prevail over brute force. Biden also warned that political tensions were being inflamed by a balkanized media environment and exploited by American enemies.

“Here in America we need to get out of our silos, where we only listen to those with whom we agree, where misinformation is rampant, where foreign actors fan the flames of our division to shape the outcomes consistent with their interests, not ours,” Biden said.

Earlier Sunday, Biden was briefed in the White House Situation Room and condemned the attempted assassination of Trump as “contrary to everything we stand for as a nation.” He said he was ordering an independent security review of how such an attack could have happened.

The president said he has also directed the U.S. Secret Service to review all security measures for the RNC. Hours later, Audrey Gibson-Cicchino, the Secret Service’s coordinator for the convention, said the weekend attack against Trump did not warrant any changes to the agency's security plan for the event and officials “are fully prepared.”

Biden promised a “thorough and swift” review and asked the public not to “make assumptions” about the shooter’s motives or affiliations.

The president said he and first lady Jill Biden were praying for the family of Corey Comperatore, a former fire chief who was shot and killed during the Trump rally Saturday night in Butler, Pennsylvania.

“He was protecting his family from the bullets," Biden said. "God love him.”

The president also said he'd had a “short but good conversation” with Trump in the hours after the shootings and said he was “sincerely grateful” that the former president is “doing well and recovering.”

Trump, who has called for national resilience since the shooting, posted on his social media account after Biden's remarks, “UNITE AMERICA!”

Biden, who has set out to brand Trump as a dire threat to democracy and the nation’s very founding principles, put a temporary pause on such political messaging after the shooting. Shortly after Saturday night's attack, Biden’s reelection campaign froze “all outbound communications” and worked to pull down its television ads.

The president also postponed a planned trip to Texas on Monday, where he was to speak on the 60th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act at the Lyndon B. Johnson presidential library. An NBC News interview between Biden and anchor Lester Holt will now occur at the White House, instead of in Texas, as initially planned.

Biden's campaign said that, after the NBC interview airs on Monday night, the Democratic National Committee “will continue drawing the contrast” with Trump over the course of the GOP convention. It was unclear when campaign ads will resume.

Biden still plans to make a planned trip to Las Vegas, which will include a campaign event Wednesday. Vice President Kamala Harris postponed her planned campaign trip to Florida on Tuesday, where she had been set to meet with Republican women.

Trump, meanwhile, arrived Sunday evening in Milwaukee for the Republican convention, where criticism of Biden and the Democrats is sure to be searing.

The weekend developments were only the latest upheaval in a campaign that has been extraordinarily topsy-turvy in recent weeks.

Biden’s shaky debate performance on June 27 so spooked his own party that some top surrogates and donors turned on him, and nearly 20 Democratic members of Congress called on the president to leave the race outright. Facing mounting questions about whether he was fit for a second term, Biden and his top advisers have been scrambling to salvage his campaign by adding events around the country and more aggressively criticizing Trump.

Saturday's attack upended — at least temporarily — that counteroffensive. The campaign hoped that Sunday's Oval Office address let Biden further drive home his point about unity while demonstrating leadership that could assuage nervous critics within his own party.

“We’ll debate and we’ll disagree, that’s not going to change,” Biden said in his afternoon remarks. “But we’ll not lose sight of who we are as Americans.”

Biden tied Saturday's shooting to other incidents of political violence, from the 2017 death of a counterprotester at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, to the Capitol insurrection on Jan. 6, 2021, by Trump supports seeking to prevent the certification of the Electoral College count.

Although investigators are still in the early stages of determining what occurred and why, some Biden critics were calling out the president for telling donors in a private call Monday that “it’s time to put Trump in the bullseye.”

A person familiar with those remarks said the president was trying to make the point that Trump had gotten away with a light public schedule after last month's debate while the president himself faced intense scrutiny. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity to more freely discuss private conversations.

In the donor call, Biden said: “I have one job and that’s to beat Donald Trump. ... I’m absolutely certain I’m the best person to be able to do that."

He continued: “So, we’re done talking about the debate. It’s time to put Trump in the bullseye. He’s gotten away with doing nothing for the last 10 days except ride around in his golf cart, bragging about scores he didn’t score. … Anyway I won’t get into his golf game.”

President Joe Biden is seen on a monitor in the press briefing room of the White House in Washington, Sunday, July 14, 2024, as he addresses the nation from the Oval Office on the assassination attempt of former President Donald and the need to end political violence. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

President Joe Biden is seen on a monitor in the press briefing room of the White House in Washington, Sunday, July 14, 2024, as he addresses the nation from the Oval Office on the assassination attempt of former President Donald and the need to end political violence. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

As seen from a window from the Colonnade outside the Oval Office, President Joe Biden addresses the nation on the assassination attempt on former President Donald Trump, at the White House in Washington, Sunday, July 14, 2024. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

As seen from a window from the Colonnade outside the Oval Office, President Joe Biden addresses the nation on the assassination attempt on former President Donald Trump, at the White House in Washington, Sunday, July 14, 2024. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

President Joe Biden addresses the nation from the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Sunday, July 14, 2024, about the assassination attempt of Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump at a campaign rally in Pennsylvania. (Erin Schaff/The New York Times via AP, Pool)

President Joe Biden addresses the nation from the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Sunday, July 14, 2024, about the assassination attempt of Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump at a campaign rally in Pennsylvania. (Erin Schaff/The New York Times via AP, Pool)

President Joe Biden addresses the nation from the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Sunday, July 14, 2024, about the assassination attempt of Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump at a campaign rally in Pennsylvania. (Erin Schaff/The New York Times via AP, Pool)

President Joe Biden addresses the nation from the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Sunday, July 14, 2024, about the assassination attempt of Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump at a campaign rally in Pennsylvania. (Erin Schaff/The New York Times via AP, Pool)

President Joe Biden speaks from the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, Sunday, July 14, 2024, about the apparent assassination attempt of former President Donald Trump at a campaign rally in Pennsylvania. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

President Joe Biden speaks from the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, Sunday, July 14, 2024, about the apparent assassination attempt of former President Donald Trump at a campaign rally in Pennsylvania. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Activists pray for the safety of President Joe Biden, former President Donald Trump and other politicians at Lafayette Square near the White House, Sunday, July 14, 2024, in Washington, one day after an assassination attempt on Trump during a campaign rally in Pennsylvania. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

Activists pray for the safety of President Joe Biden, former President Donald Trump and other politicians at Lafayette Square near the White House, Sunday, July 14, 2024, in Washington, one day after an assassination attempt on Trump during a campaign rally in Pennsylvania. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

President Joe Biden speaks from the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, Sunday, July 14, 2024, about the apparent assassination attempt of former President Donald Trump at a campaign rally in Pennsylvania. Listening are Vice President Kamala Harris, Attorney General Merrick Garland and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

President Joe Biden speaks from the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, Sunday, July 14, 2024, about the apparent assassination attempt of former President Donald Trump at a campaign rally in Pennsylvania. Listening are Vice President Kamala Harris, Attorney General Merrick Garland and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

President Joe Biden speaks from the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, Sunday, July 14, 2024, about the apparent assassination attempt of former President Donald Trump at a campaign rally in Pennsylvania. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

President Joe Biden speaks from the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, Sunday, July 14, 2024, about the apparent assassination attempt of former President Donald Trump at a campaign rally in Pennsylvania. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump is helped off the stage by U.S. Secret Service agents at a campaign event in Butler, Pa., on Saturday, July 13, 2024. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump is helped off the stage by U.S. Secret Service agents at a campaign event in Butler, Pa., on Saturday, July 13, 2024. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Two front pages of British national newspapers, late editions for London, Sunday, July 14, 2024, showing the reaction to events at former President Trump campaign rally in Butler, Pennsylvania. Donald Trump's campaign says he is "fine" after what law enforcement officials are treating as an assassination attempt during a rally in Butler, Pennsylvania. (AP Photo/Thomas Krych)

Two front pages of British national newspapers, late editions for London, Sunday, July 14, 2024, showing the reaction to events at former President Trump campaign rally in Butler, Pennsylvania. Donald Trump's campaign says he is "fine" after what law enforcement officials are treating as an assassination attempt during a rally in Butler, Pennsylvania. (AP Photo/Thomas Krych)

President Joe Biden arrives on Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., Saturday, July 13, 2024. President Biden is going back to Washington from Delaware earlier than planned following the attack at the Trump rally in Pennsylvania. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

President Joe Biden arrives on Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., Saturday, July 13, 2024. President Biden is going back to Washington from Delaware earlier than planned following the attack at the Trump rally in Pennsylvania. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

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