The Potluck

415 workers vote to strike at St. Cloud bus manufacturing plant

By: - April 4, 2022 6:05 pm

Hundreds of workers voted to strike on April 3, 2022, at the St. Cloud New Flyer plant, which produces buses for transit agencies across the country. Photo courtesy of Metro Transit.

Ninety-seven percent of workers at the New Flyer bus manufacturing plant in St. Cloud voted to authorize a strike on Sunday and say they’ll walk off the job if the company doesn’t meet their demands for higher pay, sick time, paid religious holidays and limits on mandatory overtime.

The workers have not said when they might start a strike, which threatens to disrupt shipments of electric, diesel and hybrid buses to transit agencies across the country including New York City, Las Vegas, Philadelphia and the Twin Cities.

Workers balked at the latest offer from the Winnipeg-based company that included no pay raises this year and only 2% increases next year and the year after.

“There’s no way that can keep up with what inflation is at,” said John Koltes, who’s worked at the New Flyer plant for 17 years.

The company, which produces a majority of heavy-duty transit buses in the United States, is already grappling with significant production delays because of supply chain issues and a shortage of workers.

New Flyer did not respond to a request for comment.

Before the pandemic, the company employed nearly 700 workers and produced 24 buses a week but now is down to just under 500 workers and produces just 10 buses a week, according to a statement by the Communications Workers of America, the union that represents the workers.

Koltes says the company has struggled to recruit and retain workers because of its relatively low wages. Koltes earns just over $22 an hour, which is not much higher than starting wages at similar jobs in the area.

“We started out as one of the higher paying jobs in St. Cloud and now we’re at the bottom,” Koltes said.

Workers voted 415 to 12 to authorize a strike and are also pushing to limit how much overtime the company can require them to work. Currently, Koltes says the company can mandate they work two extra hours a day and eight extra hours every other Saturday.

Koltes said they also want the company to provide them with sick time. When workers stay home sick, they are given “points” which can lead to discipline. While workers do accrue vacation time, he said it’s often hard to get those requests approved.

Lastly, workers want the company to recognize Juneteenth as a holiday and provide two floating holidays to observe Eid, as a significant portion of workers are Muslim.

“This is about time we get a fair contract,” Koltes said.

*This story has been updated with the correct spelling of John Koltes’ name.

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Max Nesterak
Max Nesterak

Max Nesterak is the deputy editor of the Reformer and reports on labor and housing. Most recently he was an associate producer for Minnesota Public Radio after a stint at NPR. He also co-founded the Behavioral Scientist and was a Fulbright Scholar to Berlin, Germany.