Led by the members of Alliance for Electric School Buses, 21 organizations call on Lion to commit to creating good jobs, local community investments in Joliet, IL
NATIONAL, JUNE 23, 2022 – As Lion Electric, the largest multinational company that specializes in electric school buses, prepares for production to begin at their new U.S.-based facility in Joliet, Illinois, a coalition of 21 organizations is urging the company to negotiate a community benefits agreement to show their commitment to residents and workers. Lion Electric stands to profit from the federal infrastructure bill and additional state funding programs and tax incentives for electric school buses.
A letter spearheaded by members of the Alliance for Electric Schools Buses, including Chispa, Earthjustice, Jobs to Move America, League of Conservation Voters, Moms Clean Air Force, Sierra Club and more, demands that Lion give the Joliet community a real voice. The organizations want to ensure inclusive hiring, training, and promotion for low-income workers of color and other workers from underrepresented communities, that local residents have the opportunity to work at Lion, and that workers have a fair process to decide on union representation in order to create good-paying jobs with family-sustaining benefits.
“Fundamental to our work is ensuring that the transition to electric school buses is centered on equity and justice,” the letter reads. “Core to that is knowing that families need access to stable careers with good wages, quality health care, adequate paid time off, and respect in the workplace.”
“As we work to electrify our school bus fleets, it is imperative that low-income communities of color who have been historically excluded from the manufacturing industry benefit from this transition,” said Johana Vicente, Chispa National Senior Director. “This is a major opportunity for Lion Electric to work with us to ensure that they recruit, hire, train and promote manufacturing workers from these communities, and that those workers can freely decide on joining a union. This opportunity to meet community jobs and environmental standards shouldn’t be missed.”
In the letter, which was sent to Canada-based Lion Electric earlier this year, the coalition requested a meeting to discuss entering into a Community Benefits Agreement that centers the needs of workers and the environment. Lion Electric has not yet agreed to this request, raising concerns among prominent labor and environmental leaders.
Tycee Bell, a community organizer with JMA in Illinois, said, “My number one priority is to build relationships for a community benefits agreement between Lion and leaders from Joliet’s grassroots and faith-based sectors. Lion needs to show up as doing good for the people of Joliet. Lion has a chance right now to get it right—for our families, and for the future of our workforce to really impact the next generation. We’re building a coalition, and we want to stand together with Lion and negotiate an agreement that creates real pathways to union jobs for people who have been left behind too many times.”
In May 2021, Lion Electric announced it would be opening a new manufacturing facility in Joliet, Illinois, making the location its first U.S.-based electric vehicle production facility. Lion Electric has been a manufacturer of zero-emission vehicles since 2011, with the new facility expected to produce more than 10,000 vehicles per year. The development will have a significant impact on the local economy and set the tone for the future of auto industry and climate standards.
Chispa, Sierra Club, Jobs to Move America and other groups organizing across the economic, climate, environmental, and racial justice movements, have mobilized in recent months to shed light on the opportunity to bring good jobs to the growing electric vehicle sector.
Katherine García from Sierra Club said, “Our environmental activism is grounded in solidarity, compassion, and justice. That’s why we’re fighting for electric school buses, so that kids can breathe clean air on their way to school and look forward to a bright climate future–and that’s why we’re urging Lion to negotiate a community benefits agreement. Manufacturing workers deserve good wages and benefits, safe working conditions, and a voice on the job through collective bargaining. Electrifying the school bus fleet and securing economic justice can and must go hand in hand. All members of the Joliet community, including women, people of color, formerly incarcerated people, and veterans should have a chance to be hired, trained, and promoted into these family-sustaining careers.”
In May, the American Federation of Teachers and United Auto Workers announced a collaborative effort to advocate for union-built electric school buses for the nation’s schools, calling on school districts, as well as state and local governments, to demand that the buses they are procuring during this nationwide transition be union-built. United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA), a joint National Education Association-AFT affiliate, was one of the first local unions to demand this, recently submitting a bargaining proposal calling on LAUSD to move to 100% electric by 2035, and to do so using buses built by well-paid workers in factories with safe and fair working conditions. If successful, it will mean the district prioritizes the purchase of buses manufactured with high-road labor practices that invest in a highly skilled, well-compensated, and diverse workforce to promote innovation and quality, as is the case at Thomas Built Buses’ factory in High Point, North Carolina.
Community benefits agreements are becoming more common as cities and states seek to provide clean air for their residents and slow down climate change while creating good, family-sustaining jobs for their communities. Jobs to Move America has successfully secured agreements with several transit vehicle manufacturers, including CRRC in Chicago, Proterra in Los Angeles, BYD in Lancaster, California, and in May 2022 announced its fourth–and largest–CBA to date, with bus manufacturer New Flyer’s factories in Ontario, California and Anniston, Alabama. The effort also comes at a time when some electric vehicle manufacturers such as Amazon-backed Rivian have come under fire for their environmental impact and for failing to adopt a fair process for employees to decide on unionization.
This letter to Lion Electric demonstrates a broadening collaboration between the labor and environmental movements to promote a transition to clean energy and zero-emission transportation that is equitable and prioritizes workers’ rights, community impact, and the environment.