A group of current and former employees of New Flyer of America, a branch of NFI Group, are calling for change at some of the company’s U.S. plants, alleging there’s racism and discrimination.
The Winnipeg-headquartered bus and motorcoach manufacturer calls it an "aggressive corporate campaign" against them on the part of a labour-based group seeking to unionize the workers.
The group, Jobs to Move America, bought ad space in Wednesday’s Winnipeg Free Press, which they filled with allegations by current and former NFI workers of racism and discrimination.
The goal is to demonstrate that many of NFI’s American workers don’t have the same experience as those in Canada, according to Erica Iheme, the southern director at Jobs to Move America, a group trying to advance labour standards.
"What we’re hoping to happen is that New Flyer is willing to really look at all of their plants... as areas for improvement," she said.
Paul Soubry, NFI Group’s president and CEO, disputes the allegations: the company is continuously working towards a more diverse workforce, he said in a written statement.
"(Jobs to Move America) has made disparaging allegations about New Flyer for nearly five years as part of an aggressive corporate campaign," Soubry wrote, adding that NFI takes allegations of racism, sexism, toxic workforce culture and pay inequity seriously.
The company investigates each report and takes action when necessary, he wrote.
Craig Mosby, one of the letter’s signees, moved his four children to California and began working for NFI to, in part, escape racism in the American south.
"I found worse," he said.
Mosby worked for New Flyer from 2014 to 2017. Between then, he held many positions at the Ontario, Calif. plant and trained others on his roles — heavy drilling, window glazing, forklift operating.
“I knew if I didn’t learn everybody’s job, I was going to lose (mine)." — Craig Mosby, one of the letter’s signees
"I knew if I didn’t learn everybody’s job, I was going to lose (mine)," he said.
He felt disadvantaged because he’s Black. He said he’d train white people to be his bosses; some co-workers wouldn’t look at or speak to him.
He stuck around for his kids — he was a single father — and because he had a mortgage to pay. Then, he was laid off in 2017. He said he was told he’d be brought back in the summer, but it never happened.
Mosby, and five other current and former NFI workers, are working with Jobs to Move America, and the Alabama Coalition for Community Benefits, to push for change in the corporation.
The employees’ letter alleges BIPOC workers face racial slurs, fewer opportunities for advancement and, in some cases, less pay than their white colleagues.
They can’t speak out without fear of retaliation, according to Iheme.
There’s a $3.14/hr pay gap between Black and white workers, according to a Jobs to Move America-funded 2021 study from Alabama A&M University. The study was based on interviews with workers at the Anniston, Ala., plant.
Jobs to Move America is pushing for all of New Flyer’s American plants to have the ability to form unions without opposition from their employer.
"What we want to see is neutrality," Iheme said. "Workers should be able to form unions freely."
Approximately 78 per cent of New Flyer’s North American workers are unionized, including those in Winnipeg and Minnesota.
The company employs over 8,000 people, according to its website. It’s one of the largest bus manufacturers in North America.
New Flyer is not anti-union, it’s "pro-employee choice," Soubry said in his written statement.
"The values and voices of our team members are respected, and it is their unique right to choose to organize or not," he said. "To date and despite aggressive organizing tactics at certain NFI locations, our team members have chosen not to organize."
NFI has a "zero-tolerance approach" to workplace discrimination, and pay rates are not related to age, race or gender, Lindy Norris, NFI’s director of marketing and public affairs, wrote in an email.
"Pay rates are 100 (per cent) dependent on job class and experience levels," she wrote.
The company has created the Community Benefits Framework, in partnership with the Transportation Diversity Council, to grow a diverse workforce (including hiring underrepresented individuals), Norris wrote.
"The (Jobs to Move America) attack is rooted in the fact that New Flyer proceeded with other advisers and directly with local community organizations — just not with JMA," Norris wrote.
The corporation launched the Anniston Workforce Development Program in 2020 for community outreach and has several policies in place to prevent discrimination.
Gabby is a big fan of people, writing and learning. She graduated from Red River College’s Creative Communications program in the spring of 2020.