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Labor Report

As Marriott Workers Strike, Company-Run Credit Union Collects Exorbitant Fees

Marriott Workers StrikeAs nearly 8,000 U.S.-based employees of Marriott International strike seeking better wages, harassment protections and working conditions, an employee credit union controlled by company managers continues to pummel workers with abnormally high banking fees, according to the New York Times.

The newspaper described the predicament of a dishwasher at the Philadelphia Marriott Downtown who makes about $30,000 a year and paid about $2,000 in credit union fees during a recent 12-month period. He was charged with minimum balance fees, excess transaction fees and automatic money transfer fees. Most fees cost him between $6 and $10 each, but a few overdraft fees cost him $35 each.

In recent years, credit unions in general have turned to higher member fees to compensate for the loss of loan income caused by historically low interest rates. A quarter century ago, the Times said, credit unions made about seven cents on fees for every dollar they made in loan interest. Today, the ratio is about 17 cents on the dollar. Marriott’s credit union collects 52 cents in fees for every dollar it makes in interest.

“As a result, some Marriott workers find themselves in a kind of financial double jeopardy: Low pay from Marriott keeps their account balances minimal, and those modest balances lead to more fees, crimping their assets further,” the Times reported.

“The money gets into my account, and they take it out when I overdraft,” Amos Troyah, the Philadelphia dishwasher, told the paper. “They are robbing me.”

Nationally, labor contracts covering about 12,000 Marriott bellhops, clerks, housekeepers and restaurant workers expired in July and August. Workers represented by Unite Here authorized a strike of the hotel company three weeks ago. They walked off the job in Boston, Detroit, Oakland, San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose and two cities in Hawaii earlier this week.  

New OSHA Memo Reverses Guidance on Workplace Safety Programs

OSHADo employers who reward workers for avoiding injuries really improve workplace safety, or do they merely deter employees from reporting when they get hurt on the job? How about when companies mandate post-injury drug testing, even if the injury could not have been caused by impairment?

The Trump administration’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration adopted the pro-incentive and pro-testing point of view on Thursday when it issued a memo stating that a 2016 anti-retaliation rule does not prohibit companies from instituting either type of safety initiative.

During the Obama era, OSHA had issued a series of memos clarifying that both types of employer safety initiatives were prohibited under the 2016 anti-retaliation rule. The new memo reverses that earlier interpretation.

Critics argue that workers may be less likely to report workplace incidents if it may mean sacrificing a bonus in pay or other incentive tied to a clean safety record. Similarly, workers may not want to report an incident if it may lead to new or additional drug testing.

The memo states in part, “if an employer takes a negative action against an employee under a rate-based incentive program, such as withholding a prize or bonus because of a reported injury, OSHA would not cite the employer as long as the employer has implemented adequate precautions to ensure that employees feel free to report an injury or illness.”

The memo recommends that employers “counterbalance” the potential deterrent effects of incentive programs by also rewarding employees for reporting unsafe conditions in the workplace and by implementing additional employee training to reinforce workers’ reporting rights and to emphasize OSHA’s non-retaliation policy.

Regarding drug testing, the memo states that if a company chooses to use testing to investigate an incident, then the testing should not be limited to the injured worker. Uninjured employees whose conduct may have contributed to the incident should also be tested.

Ellwood City Among Many Rural Hospitals Facing Financial Crisis

Health CareAfter laying off more than half its staff within the last year, Ellwood City Hospital in Lawrence County is still facing dire financial straits that is typical among many of the nation’s small rural hospitals.

The Post-Gazette reported that the hospital has eliminated 75 to 80 positions within the last 45 days and was losing as much as $1 million a month when the for-profit, Florida-based Americorp Health bought the century-old facility a year ago.

“I have major concerns they’re not going to survive. Major concerns,” Ellwood City Mayor Anthony Court told the newspaper. “We need that hospital, and I’m hoping and praying that things turn around and soon.”

In addition to cutting staff, the new owners have cut services such as an around-the-clock operating room suite and intensive care unit. Ellwood City is not alone as it struggles to sustain itself within a daunting healthcare system that continues to trend toward mergers and conglomerations.

According to a report in The Atlantic, the nonprofit National Rural Health Association estimated that 673 of the nation’s more than 2,000 rural medical facilities were at risk of closure in 2017.

“Stand-alone nonprofit hospitals have been auctioning off their real estate to investors, selling themselves to for-profit chains or private-equity firms, or folding themselves into regional health systems,” the article stated.

The Post-Gazette further noted: “Small rural hospitals nationwide have faced financial headwinds as reimbursements have languished and uninsured rates remain a drain on their budgets,” the Post-Gazette noted. 

Ellwood City’s operator hopes a greater focus on tele-health, outpatient care and drug treatment will support the hospital’s long-term recovery.

NEPA Facing Major Worker Shortage in Next Decade, Researcher Says

employeesA labor researcher told a group of Northeastern PA business leaders on Oct. 10 that there won’t be enough workers to fill more than 10,000 jobs openings in a myriad of sectors in Luzerne and Lackawanna counties over the next decade, according to the Times-Leader.

Most the vacancies will not be caused by new jobs, but rather by retirements, said Teri Ooms, executive director of The Institute for Public Policy and Economic Development and Wilkes University. Ooms addressed Wilkes-Barre’s Think Center in an event co-presented by the Greater Wilkes-Barre Chamber of Commerce.

“It will become more of an employee market. It’s going to become more competitive,” the researcher told the group. “I’m sure many of you are seeing some of that already, and it’s going to get worse.”

Ooms cited Amazon’s recent move to raise its minimum wage to $15 as an example of the growing workers’ market. Although Amazon simultaneously reduced worker benefits such as bonus and stock incentive programs.