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Electric Bus Makers Pave the Way to Union Jobs for Disadvantaged Workers

By Lary Buhl - Capital and Main, April 27, 2022

Last year Armando (who requested that his last name not be used) was working as an addiction counselor when a parole officer came to his office with a flyer announcing a new nine-week training course in electric bus manufacturing technology. The company promised not to discriminate against the formerly incarcerated, among whom are some of his clients. “I wanted to see the class so I could explain it to my clients and maybe recommend it, and make sure they understood the opportunity,” Armando told Capital & Main. “And then I thought, ‘Man, this is a good company with good pay and benefits, and it’s in a growing field.’”

Armando signed up for the class himself, and after completing it last October, he was offered a position as a battery technician at Proterra at over $20 an hour, an entry level salary higher than he was earning as a counselor, with a potential to increase quickly. True to its word, the company didn’t discriminate against him because of his past drug addiction. Armando, 52, who has been clean for five years, did have to compete with job candidates who didn’t have dings on their record and had experience in manufacturing. Now, after only six months, Armando’s eyeing a supervisory position. He’s also been helping the company screen candidates and mentoring those taking the pilot course.

“I want [students] to understand that you can’t be late or get high or do anything stupid on the job,” Armando said. “There’s expensive equipment, and you could kill yourself if you’re careless. Some of these students never had real jobs, and I like people to get a second chance. But you have to take the nine-week course seriously.” The gratitude Armando feels toward the company that gave him a chance has made him work even harder, he said.

The program at Proterra is the fruit of a community benefit agreement (CBA) between the company, United Steelworkers Local 675, L.A.-based nonprofit Jobs to Move America, and a coalition of community organizations that established standards for training, supporting and hiring job candidates from nontraditional backgrounds. They give them a chance at skilled union jobs in the growing field of green manufacturing.

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