TWC Presents at ATU Zero Emission Bus Meeting

Posted May 2022

On a hot Saturday afternoon in May, more than 60 Amalgamated Transit Union frontline technicians and local officers joined a three-hour online discussion on the challenges of working the transition to electric buses. ATU Education and Training Administrator Russell Bateman organized the webinar and moderated the discussion. 

ATU International President John Costa welcomed the group and discussed his background as a former maintenance worker starting as a car cleaner and working his way up to being a technician who worked on rail cars, track, and signals for New Jersey Transit. International President Costa also reiterated the firm commitment of ATU International to ensure proper training and full enforcement of safety requirements as bus mechanics need to work in a high-voltage environment. 

On behalf of the Transit Workforce Center, John Schiavone presented a high-level technical overview of zero-emission buses (ZEBs), both battery electric and hydrogen fuel cell buses. John placed a strong emphasis on safety, with regard to both training and the provision of appropriate personal protective equipment. Jamaine Gibson, ATU’s Director for Workforce Development and Apprenticeship, then organized and moderated a panel of technicians: Jeff Stambaugh from Local 587, King County Transit in Seattle; Zac Bodle from Local 265, VTA in San Jose; Steve Huizar from Local 1277, SunLine in Palm Springs; Joe Maestas from Local 1001, RTD in Denver; and Will Bolton from Local 1070, IndyGo in Indianapolis. They all shared experience of how their locals worked to make a successful transition to date. Additionally, they each addressed the difficulty of moving from direct current electricity to alternating current and discussed their helpful interactions with Original Equipment Manufacturers who shared their knowledge and provided meaningful training. 

Attendees recognizing the ATU slogan from the last convention: "We fight together, we win together"

TWC Executive Director Jack Clark finished the webinar with a short presentation on the funding and the legislative and regulatory requirements in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021 (the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill). Transit funding was increased quite significantly, including funding for ZEBs. Any agency purchasing a ZEB with FTA grant funding needs to dedicate 5 percent of the overall purchase price to training for the frontline workforce. The 5 percent is added on to the total grant amount, not subtracted from the funds needed for the purchase. FTA requires that any agency buying ZEBs develop a workforce transition plan with an emphasis on labor-management partnerships and apprenticeship. Local unions need to have a voice in developing that plan. Clark noted that, while these requirements are in place for the current Notice of Funding Opportunity, it seems unlikely that most locations have made a lot of progress in developing transition plans. Making sure that the plans and the related training will be an ongoing challenge for local unions. There was great interest among attendees in holding more sessions like this one.

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