Bringing back good manufacturing jobs to America, one electric bus at a time

Erika Thi Patterson

Guest Blogger Series: Voices of Labor and Allies from Labor in the Climate Transition Conference

What’s better than clean, efficient transportation options in your neighborhood? Clean and efficient transportation options in your neighborhood that provide income and opportunities for your neighbors. Every year, local governments spend more than $5 billion to purchase the buses and rail cars that help people get to work. At Jobs Move America, we think these buses and rail cars should also help people GET work. These funds could support up to 56,000 American workers, while also growing related industries along the supply chain. All we need are the policies that nudge these investments in the right direction.

At Jobs to Move America, we found an opportunity to put this into practice in 2011, when the largest transit agency in California, Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (LA Metro) was getting ready to buy $1 billion worth of rail cars. If LA Metro was going to spend $1 billion, our coalition wanted to ensure that as many Los Angeles families benefitted from their investment as possible. Together our coalition collaborated with LA Metro to develop a policy that gave an edge to companies whose bid included a commitment to create good quality jobs, invest in training and workforce development, and partner with community organizations to ensure that these jobs were accessible to everyone.

As a result of this provision, every manufacturer bidding for the contract increased their job commitments in their proposals. In fact, the winning company committed to creating five times the jobs originally planned – putting 250 people to work in Los Angeles County, instead of 50 – all thanks to a simple tweak in the RFP language. The company, headquartered in Japan, has since built a new car shell manufacturing facility—the first time they brought this kind of high-value work to the United States—creating over 400 union jobs represented by IBEW Local 11.

Its workforce represents the diversity of Los Angeles, with a significant number of jobs also going to those who face high barriers to employment, such as veterans and formerly incarcerated individuals.

As we rebuild our transportation manufacturing sector, we also have the opportunity to invest in the cleanest possible technologies, ensuring that American-made buses and railcars are the quietest, cleanest, and most efficient on the market – carving out long-term market share for our manufacturers.

This is why we partnered with the Sierra Club, Earthjustice, Food and Water Watch, IBEW Local 11, SMART Local 105 and others to push for LA Metro to transition its entire fleet to Zero Emission Buses (ZEB) by 2030, while continuing to apply local jobs provisions to all EV bus purchases and ensuring that frontline communities benefit from clean technologies first.

For our coalition of labor unions and environmental groups, cleaning up public transportation is an opportunity to ensure everyone can prosper in California’s clean economy.

Our work in Los Angeles proves that we don’t have to choose between clean air and good jobs. Public investments in transportation can accelerate the state’s climate goals while also creating solid family-sustaining jobs for California workers. By investing in the California workforce while we also invest in cleaner technologies, we can create a virtuous cycle in the state: a race to the top in which good jobs result in cleaner air. Californian’s labor and environmental coalitions share a common vision for a better California. By working together to grow our mutual benefit, we’ll get there more quickly.


Erika Thi Patterson is the California Program Director of Jobs to Move America