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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)

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Tennessee election officials asking more than 14,000 voters to prove citizenship

2024-06-26 06:26 Last Updated At:06:30

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee's top election office has sent letters to more than 14,000 registered voters asking them to prove their citizenship, a move that alarmed voting rights advocates as possible intimidation.

The letters, dated June 13, warned that it is illegal in Tennessee for noncitizens to vote and provided instructions on how to update voter information. The list was developed after comparing voter rolls with data from the state Department of Safety and Homeland Security, said Doug Kufner, spokesperson for the Secretary of State's office, in a statement Tuesday.

Kufner described the data from the state's homeland security department as a “snapshot” of a person's first interaction with that agency. Some may not have been U.S. citizens when they obtained a driver's license or ID card but have since been naturalized and “likely did not update their records," he said. Driver's licenses in Tennessee must be renewed every eight years.

“Accurate voter rolls are a vital component to ensuring election integrity, and Tennessee law makes it clear that only eligible voters are allowed to participate in Tennessee elections,” Kufner said.

The letter does not, however, reveal what would happen to those who do not update their records — including whether people who fail to respond will be purged from the voter rolls. Kufner did not immediately respond to an email seeking clarity on if voters were at risk of being removed.

Instead, the letter contains warnings that illegal voting is a felony and carries penalties of up to two years in prison.

Voting rights advocates began raising the alarm after photos of the letter started circulating on social media. Democrats have long criticized the Secretary of State's office for its stances on voting issues in the Republican-dominant state.

“The fact legal citizens of the United States and residents of Tennessee are being accused of not being eligible to vote is an affront to democracy," said state Rep. Jason Powell, a Democrat from Nashville, in a statement. “These fine Tennesseans are being burdened with re-proving their own voter eligibility and threatened with imprisonment in a scare tactic reminiscent of Jim Crow laws.”

Powell and fellow Democratic Rep. John Ray Clemmons on Tuesday urged Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti to investigate the issue.

Democratic Rep. Gloria Johnson, a Democrat from Knoxville, said she was informed that one of the letter recipients included a “respected scientist in Oak Ridge” who had become a citizen and registered to vote in 2022.

“Maybe the state should verify citizenship with the federal government before sending threatening/intimidating letters to new citizens,” Johnson posted on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter.

Other leaders encouraged those who received a letter to reach out to the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee for possible legal resources.

"It is surely capturing many, many, many eligible citizens on the rolls and threatening them with criminal prosecution," said Sean Morales-Doyle, director of the voting rights program at The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University’s School of Law. “I think it’s unconscionable. And I think that it likely violates a number of federal laws as well.”

The effort bears some resemblance to the rollout of a sweeping Texas voting law passed in 2021, in which thousands of Texans — including some U.S. citizens — received letters saying they have been flagged as potential noncitizens who could be kicked off voting rolls.

Texas officials had just settled a lawsuit in 2019 after a prior search for ineligible voters flagged nearly 100,000 registered voters but wrongly captured naturalized citizens. A federal judge who halted the search the month after it began noted that only about 80 people to that point had been identified as potentially ineligible to vote.

FILE - A "vote here" sign is seen at the Brainerd Youth and Family Development Center, Aug. 1, 2020, in Chattanooga, Tenn. Tennessee's top election office sent letters to more than 14,000 registered voters asking them to prove their citizenship, a move that alarmed voting rights advocates as possible intimidation. (C.B. Schmelter/Chattanooga Times Free Press via AP, File)

FILE - A "vote here" sign is seen at the Brainerd Youth and Family Development Center, Aug. 1, 2020, in Chattanooga, Tenn. Tennessee's top election office sent letters to more than 14,000 registered voters asking them to prove their citizenship, a move that alarmed voting rights advocates as possible intimidation. (C.B. Schmelter/Chattanooga Times Free Press via AP, File)

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