LANCASTER — Steve McCauley was a long-haul truck driver who worked on the road eight to nine weeks at a time.
“You get two days off, and you get those chilling phone calls,” McCauley said. “You know, your daughter’s on the floor at the market crying because she misses Daddy.”
McCauley looked for work closer to home. He found a job with BYD (Build Your Dreams) building battery-electric buses about four years ago.
“BYD was just building up and everything just worked out right and fell into place,” McCauley said. “Watched it growing and it’s, “Hey, this is cool, I can be part of the future. … I went from polluting them to protecting them. How awesome, no more diesel smoke.”
McCauley added, “The beauty of it is the fact is no matter if I put in a 16-hour day I still get to go home and hug my kids at night and call it a day.”
McCauley and his wife have two adopted daughters. He started at BYD sweeping floors three times a day. He is now an MRB (Material Review Board) Specialist.
“If something comes up damaged or not right, we look at it and say, ‘OK, we need to put a new one on it; it’s not functioning up to standard.’ It’s my job to get it,” McCauley said.
McCauley is one of hundreds of union workers at the 550,000 square-foot BYD Coach & Bus manufacturing plant in Lancaster whose jobs are threatened by a provision in the National Defense Authorization signed by President Donald Trump last month.
The provision would ban mass transit agencies from using federal funds to purchase buses or rail cars from Chinese-owned or Chinese-domiciled companies and would penalize transit agencies that use their own funds to purchase the vehicles.
The ban, which does not take effect for two years, would affect McCauley and about 750 other BYD employees who have found a home at the company. BYD is an independent, privately held company and not a state-owned entity.
The Antelope Valley Transit Authority late last year passed two million miles of zero-emission bus operations, all with BYD buses. The transit agency is expected to meet its goal of a 100% all battery electric fleet, including local transit and commuter coaches, sometime this year.
“This unfortunate decision rewards a special interest misinformation campaign to squash competition in the electric bus sector and could weaken American competitiveness, threaten hundreds of union jobs, and undercut our country’s fight against climate change,” BYD said in a statement released in response to the provision.
McCauley, a union steward, was part of a group of BYD employees who lobbied legislators in Washington before the final version was of the bill was released.
The House version of the NDAA blocked the use of federal transit dollars for the purchase of electric rail cars from Chinese State Owned Enterprise, and other state-owned companies. The Senate version included buses along with rail cars. Legislators justified the provision citing security concerns about spying by the Chinese government.
“When we were there, it’s like we told the Senate Arms Committee — if you have a question, I’m here,” McCauley said. “If you really think we’re doing what you think, ask Edwards. AVTA goes on their base, they have combed through those buses, they can’t find a thing.”
BYD employee Bartholomew Taylor started working for BYD more than two years ago after experiencing homelessness and a series of odd jobs that went nowhere.
“Welfare, no vehicle, no place to really live,” Taylor said.
Taylor learned about BYD when he went to check on his food stamps at a Los Angeles County office. BYD representative were there conducting interviews at the time. Taylor missed the chance for an interview, but gave his resume to a BYD human resource employee anyway. He said he was willing to work any hours. He got a call the next day.
“I got my interview, “ Taylor said.
The interviewer asked Taylor if he could weld or read a tape measure.
“I told him no to every single question. I was like, ‘One thing I can do is I can learn and ask questions. Just off of my honesty, my first time being honest in an interview, he hired me,” Taylor said.
Taylor has since learned how to do all of the things he was asked about in his interview, including welding.
“BYD’s given me a second chance at life. I’m grateful for this place,” Taylor said.
Employee Danny Cervantes started working for BYD three years ago. He worked in construction previously.
“Before I came here I was driving to the L.A. area,” Cervantes said. “The traffic from here to there is terrible, two-and-a-half hours getting there, two-and-a-half hours getting back. I have three kids that live right here in Lancaster. The time to see them was almost to none. As soon as I saw the opportunity to work here I jumped in on it and welcomed the opportunity to actually see my children and be able to spend more time with them. I love it here.”
Employee Sara Serrano started working for BYD last April. She worked in the medical field in another state before returning to the Antelope Valley.
“I came here. I wanted to stay local …I’ve done the commute. I’ve done all that, I didn’t want to deal with it,” Serrano said.
Serrano, an MRB specialist, is able to take her three children to school now and attend their extracurricular activities.
“I can actually be with my kids,” Serrano said.
Employee Brian Rodriguez, a Marine Corps veteran, started working for BYD last April.
“I live about five minutes from here and my daughter goes to her daycare, which is not too far from here,” Rodriguez said. “It’s pretty nice not to have to commute.”
Shardai Taylor started with BYD as a temporary employee in June 2017. She became a full-time employee in October of year. She started in human resources and now works in the safety department. Prior to working for BYD she couldn’t find stable work.
“Working for BYD definitely changed my life because I’m seven minutes away from my home. I have three children, so it allows me to be close to home. I make a very good salary and I actually love what I do,” Taylor said.