Los Angeles

‘Build Your Dreams': Activists Hope Bus Contract Will Bring Jobs for Minorities, Former Inmates

"A job gives people meaning, it gives them a sense of who they are and what they can stand for"

Community activists celebrated a recent electric bus contract given to a company that vows to hire minorities and ex-convicts.

Several groups from around Los Angeles County applauded the decision at a Los Angeles Metro Board meeting last month to award a bus contract to BYD America, out of Lancaster.

"A job gives people meaning, it gives them a sense of who they are and what they can stand for," said Manuel Criollo, a director of the Fight for the Soul of the Cities, an activist group in LA, at the standing-room only meeting.

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He cited the challenges formerly incarcerated people have getting back into the job market. He's optimistic about a company that is based in the Antelope Valley, which has a high unemployment rate and a large population of African Americans.

BYD, Build Your Dreams, which opened a factory in 2013, was awarded the $45 million Metro contract. With the motto, "Driving the Future," the company says 40 percent of its employees will be black, formerly incarcerated, and women, according to the company.

The company, which only makes electric buses, employs 700 people. They hope to hire hundreds more, said Macy Neshati, BYD America vice president.

BYD will teach life skills, language and math literacy and English to former inmates.

To make sure the company follows through on its promise, BYD will work with Jobs to Move America, a national coalition that helps generate opportunities for unemployed veterans, single parents, and residents of low-income neighborhoods.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said during the meeting that the move to electric buses will prioritize an industry "that isn't just about momentary jobs and contracts, but careers."

Khalil Edwards, director at the Los Angeles Black Worker Center, a workers' rights group, said black people have been excluded in manufacturing job markets for too long.

"We want good paying jobs, quality jobs that allow folks to not only be employed — but have a career with benefits," Edwards said.

Also at the meeting, officials awarded another bus contract to New Flyer, an Ontario company, for $51 million. New Flyer currently employs about 80 people in California, said the company's spokeswoman Janice Harper.

They hope to add 20 new jobs in Ontario. They too offer training for former inmates and single mothers.

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