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Labor Report

Steelworkers Reach Tentative USS Agreement; Arcelor Negotiations Continue

After six weeks of tense negotiations under the threat of a nationwide workers’ strike, United Steelworkers and U.S. Steel announced on Oct. 15 they have reached a tentative agreement on a four-year contract that includes pay raises totaling 14 percent as well as a $4,000 signing bonus.

In the coming weeks, union members will vote whether to ratify the deal, which will impact about 16,000 employees in Pennsylvania, Alabama, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Texas. Full details of the agreement were not disclosed by either side pending ratification.

Preliminary negotiations began in July, according to a USW news release and intensified when the prior labor contract expired on Sept. 1. USW members continued to work but voted overwhelmingly to authorize union leaders to call a strike on 48 hours’ notice.

As previously reported by the Post-Gazette and other news outlets, Pittsburgh-based USS initially offered a seven-year contract with 13 percent in raises offset by higher medical benefits costs. Later, the company announced a revised offer of 14 percent in raises over six years and lower health benefits costs. Union officials stated publicly that they were negotiating for a shorter contract term. Workers received no pay raises in the prior three-year contract.

“U.S. Steel began this process insisting upon deep concessions from a group of workers who had already made major sacrifices to help the company through a very difficult time,” said USW International President Leo W. Gerard. “It’s a testament to the power of solidarity that these workers were able to stand up with one voice and demand fair treatment.”

In public statements, union leaders argued that members deserve to share in the benefits of higher profits being realized by the company due to new American tariffs on foreign steel and other economic factors. The price of steel has risen by more than 30 percent this year.

“This contract moves us all forward in a way that allows us to share in the company’s success,” USW said in a statement to members posted on the union’s website.

Meanwhile, USW officials remain locked in negotiations with the world’s largest steel producer, Luxembourg-based ArcelorMittal, where 15,000 union members have been working without a contract since Sept. 1.

Administration Targets Joint-Employer, Overtime Rules in Fall Regulatory Agenda

The Trump administration touched on two familiar labor topics when it released its semi-annual regulatory agenda on Oct. 17. The U.S. Department of Labor plans to reinterpret joint-employer rules under the Fair Labor Standards Act, and to redefine the salary threshold for employees to be eligible for mandatory overtime pay, according to Politico.

Deregulation has been a high priority for the administration, which claims that federal agencies have eliminated $23 billion in regulatory costs in the last year and $33 billion since Trump took office.

“Regulatory advocates have criticized the administration for eliminating rules that benefit society, like those that aim to combat climate change and achieve cleaner air and water,” The Hill reported.

On the labor front, both the Department of Labor and Republican-majority National Labor Relations Board have taken steps this year to roll back Obama-era joint-employer standards that made it easier for workers to bargain collectively with franchisors and other corporations that dictate or influence working conditions at individual franchises and contractors.

As part of the administration’s spring regulatory agenda, the NLRB announced it planned to create a “new test” for assessing joint-employer cases with respect to the National Labor Relations Act, effectively reversing the precedent-setting Browning-Ferris ruling that a prior board issued in 2015. On Sept. 13, the NLRB formally proposed a new rule that would largely mirror the board’s 2017 Hy-Brand ruling that temporarily overturned Browning-Ferris, but was later overturned due to an alleged conflict of interest involving one of the board members who helped decide the case.
In the new fall agenda, the Department of Labor said it will “propose to clarify the contours of the joint employment relationship” under the FLSA. The department plans to release its new guidance by the end of this year.

Meanwhile, the department has also said it will propose a new overtime rule in March that will raise the income threshold for overtime protections from $23,660 per year to about $33,000. In 2016, the Obama administration issued a rule raising the threshold to $47,476, but a federal judge blocked application of the rule after more than 55 business groups challenged it.

The federal government hasn’t modified the salary threshold in the overtime rule since 1975.

White House Nominates Two for Mine Safety Commission as a Third Nominee Awaits Confirmation

The White House made two nominations on Oct. 16 to fill vacancies on the five-member Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission that adjudicates disputes involving the Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977.

Arthur Traynor currently serves as counsel to the United Mine Workers of America, while William Althen is a former commission member who previously managed a law firm that principally represented coal mining companies.

In January, the White House nominated another management-side attorney, Marco Rajkovich, to full another open seat on the commission. The U.S. Senate was scheduled to consider Rajkovich’s nomination on Friday. Commissioners serve six-year terms.

The commission has been lacking a quorum since Aug. 30, when Althen’s previous term expired, as did the term of Robert Cohen. The commission was operating with four members at the time. Althen was acting chairman.

Two days before their departure, Cohen authored a scathing dissent to a commission decision that eased enforcement of a safety rule at a West Virginia mine operated by the Pocahontas Coal Company, despite findings of repeated violations at the facility.

Home Shopping Conglomerate to Open Bethlehem Fulfillment Center, Close Lancaster facility

Qurate Retail Group, the public parent company of West Chester-based QVC as well as Home Shopping Network, announced on Oct. 17 that it plans to establish a new fulfillment center in Bethlehem in 2019, a facility that will eventually employ 1,200 or more people.

But the ongoing consolidation of the two cable television shopping networks will come at a price to workers in Lancaster, Pennsylvania; Roanoke, Virginia; and Greeneville, Tennessee, where company fulfillment centers will be closed in 2020 at a cost of about 1,725 jobs.

Qurate said it also plans to eliminate 350 jobs primarily at HSN’s facilities in St. Petersburg, Florida, and Long Island, New York, but also some in West Chester.
Qurate, formerly known as Liberty Interactive and QVC Group, owned a minority share of HSN until July 2017, when it acquired the remaining 62 percent of the company.

“Taken together, HSN and QVC US generated $8.5 billion in revenue in 2017, reached 100 million homes through five broadcast networks, attracted more than 1 billion visits to its websites, and shipped over 170 million items. The initiatives announced today are expected to drive growth by enabling HSN and QVC US to better serve their combined US customer and vendor base,” the company said in a press release.

Pittsburgh Again Named Nation’s Best ‘Jobs City’

Pittsburgh hasn’t won the NFL championship since 2009, but it just won the Super Bowl of jobs for the second year in a row. Time reports that the employment website has ranked the Steel City as the best jobs city in the nation.

“The city built on the Industrial Revolution now has more than 91,000 jobs available, including openings for registered nurses, financial advisors and warehouse associates, among other professions,” Time wrote. “But the number of open jobs wasn’t the only consideration in Glassdoor’s analysis. The jobs website ranked each city in its study on three factors equally: the cost of living, the likelihood of getting hired there, and how much current employees like their jobs.”

Pittsburgh has a median base salary of $46,500, a job satisfaction rating of 3.2 out of 5 and a median home value of $141,300. Philadelphia ranked 18th on the list with 173,717 job openings, median base salary of $50,000, job satisfaction rating of 3.4 and median home value of $228,100. No other Pennsylvania city made the top 25.

September 2018 PA Jobs Update

Pennsylvania’s seasonally adjusted unemployment remained unchanged at 4.1% from August to September 2018. Over the month, unemployment rolls decreased slightly by 469 individuals, with total unemployment dipping just below 262,000. State unemployment statistics for the month are as follows:

  • Total Unemployment – 261,922
  • Change Over Month –   DOWN   469
  • Change Over Year –   DOWN   46,047
  • Change Over Gov. Wolf Term –  DOWN    83,719
  • Rate Change Over Month – no change
  • Rate Change Over Year –   DOWN   0.7%
  • Rate Change Over Gov. Wolf Term –   DOWN   1.3%

As indicated above, total unemployment’s rounded percentage of the labor force, or unemployment rate, remained unchanged over the prior month (rate = unemployment / labor force). The labor force is the number of employed individuals combined with the number of unemployed individuals actively searching for work. Labor force growth can be a sign of a strengthening economy from more people working and/or more individuals searching for jobs. Marking a third consecutive monthly increase, PA’s labor force grew by 14,834 individuals from August to September 2018, a combination of total employment* rising by 15,303 and unemployment down by 469 as noted above. Despite consecutive monthly increases, total labor force growth under Gov. Wolf remains down from a peak of +52,798 in March 2016 (unemployment -312 & total employment +53,110) to -10,635 as of September 2018 (unemployment -83,719 & total employment +73,084). State labor force statistics for the month are as follows: 

  • Total Labor Force – 6,395,927
  • Change Over Month –   UP    14,834
  • Change Over Year –   DOWN   22,459
  • Change Over Gov. Wolf Term –  DOWN    10,635

Non-farm* job rolls rose by 7,700 from August to September 2018, marking an 18th consecutive monthly increase. Year-over-year in September 2018, the commonwealth added 78,700 new non-farm jobs. Since Gov. Wolf took office, 219,700 new non-farm jobs have been added, 68,000 more than were added over Gov. Corbett’s four-year term. The addition of 219,700 non-farm jobs ranks the commonwealth 34th out of 50 states for new percentage job growth, an improvement from it’s ranking of 48th in the same survey over Gov. Corbett’s term. State non-farm employment statistics for the month are as follows:

  • Total Employment – 6,035,600
  • Change Over Month –   UP   7,700
  • Change Over Year –   UP   78,700
  • Change Over Gov. Wolf Term –   UP   219,700

*Total employment for labor force provided by U.S. Census Household survey. The separate BLS Establishment survey measures non-farm jobs only.

Job Growth Ranking By State During Gov. Wolf’s Term
(Non-Farm/Seasonally Adjusted/Figures in Thousands)

Rank State Total Emp. Jan. 2015 Total Emp. Sep. 2018 # Growth % Growth
1 Utah            1,358            1,528 169.7 12.49%
2 Nevada            1,242            1,394 152.6 12.29%
3 Idaho               663               739 76.0 11.46%
4 Washington            3,106            3,445 338.3 10.89%
5 Florida            7,975            8,842 867.1 10.87%
6 Arizona            2,607            2,877 269.6 10.34%
7 Oregon            1,755            1,923 168.0 9.57%
8 Colorado            2,516            2,748 232.5 9.24%
9 California          15,824          17,203 1378.5 8.71%
10 Georgia            4,207            4,570 363.3 8.64%
11 Tennessee            2,859            3,081 221.5 7.75%
12 North Carolina            4,197            4,505 307.6 7.33%
13 Texas          11,796          12,639 842.9 7.15%
14 South Carolina            1,981            2,113 131.9 6.66%
15 Massachusetts            3,467            3,677 210.9 6.08%
16 New Hampshire               651               689 38.3 5.88%
17 Virginia            3,816            4,025 209.7 5.50%
18 New Jersey            3,985            4,196 210.8 5.29%
19 Michigan            4,217            4,439 221.9 5.26%
20 Minnesota            2,830            2,973 142.8 5.05%
21 Missouri            2,773            2,911 137.8 4.97%
22 New York            9,185            9,641 455.3 4.96%
23 Hawaii               633               665 31.2 4.93%
24 Ohio            5,390            5,639 249.3 4.63%
25 Montana               459               480 21.0 4.58%
26 Arkansas            1,199            1,254 54.7 4.56%
27 Delaware               444               464 19.9 4.49%
28 Alabama            1,958            2,044 86.6 4.42%
29 Maryland            2,642            2,753 110.2 4.17%
30 Indiana            3,014            3,138 124.0 4.11%
31 Mississippi            1,125            1,170 45.2 4.02%
32 Rhode Island               483               502 18.7 3.87%
33 Wisconsin            2,874            2,985 110.8 3.85%
34 Pennsylvania            5,816            6,036 219.7 3.78%
35 Illinois            5,916            6,125 208.7 3.53%
36 Nebraska               999            1,034 35.1 3.51%
37 South Dakota               427               441 14.8 3.47%
38 Maine               608               629 20.9 3.44%
39 Kentucky            1,878            1,938 60.2 3.21%
40 New Mexico               827               851 24.0 2.90%
41 Iowa            1,559            1,590 31.0 1.99%
42 Kansas            1,397            1,424 27.0 1.93%
43 Connecticut            1,671            1,701 30.8 1.84%
44 Oklahoma            1,675            1,701 26.2 1.56%
45 Vermont               312               313 0.1 0.03%
46 Louisiana            2,002            1,987 -14.7 -0.73%
47 West Virginia               762               752 -10.0 -1.31%
48 Wyoming               299               289 -10.4 -3.48%
49 Alaska               341               326 -14.9 -4.37%
50 North Dakota               467               435 -31.8 -6.82%

(Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics)