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Labor Report

United Way: More than a Third of PA Households Struggle to Make Ends Meet

Thirty-seven percent of Pennsylvania households are struggling to pay for their basic needs, like food, housing, transportation, healthcare, and childcare, according to a new report released by United Way of Pennsylvania.

In an effort to assess the challenges faced by the working poor around the nation, the United Way researched the costs of basic needs in 20 states including Pennsylvania and used income data to calculate how many households are struggling to make ends meet. The project is called United for ALICE, an acronym that stands for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, and Employed.

In Pennsylvania, 13% of the state’s 5 million households had income below the federal poverty level in 2017. An additional 24% of households were just above the poverty level, but below the ALICE Threshold. The 37% combined rate amounts to about 1.8 million households. The statewide numbers were little changed from 2014 (38%), 2012 (36%), or 2010 (38%), the first year that the United Way studied.

“The number of households below the ALICE Threshold fluctuates throughout the year,” the agency reported. “Households move in and out of poverty and ALICE as their circumstances worsen or improve. The general trend has been a flat recovery since 2010, the end of the Great Recession. In many locations, the cost of basics has increased more than wages, leading to an increase in the number of ALICE households.”

Households with children face significantly higher expenses than those without children. Although the statewide poverty rate (5%) and ALICE rate (9%) were relatively low for married couples with children, the combined poverty or near-poverty rate for single-father households was 52%, while the rate for single-mother households was 74%.

“Some of us are just getting by – one broken furnace or medical emergency away from catastrophic consequences, because we live day-to-day and can’t save up for life’s unexpected events,” Kristen Rotz, United Way of Pennsylvania president, wrote in a letter quoted by the PennLive.com.

The full 119-page report is linked here.

U.S. Steel to Idle Midwest Plants Amid Slumping Prices, Demand

Three months after pledging to invest $1 billion to upgrade three plants in the Monongahela Valley, U.S. Steel has announced it will idle blast furnaces in Michigan and Indiana, along with a third in Europe, as the Pittsburgh-based manufacturer contends with lower steel prices and softening demand, according to the Post-Gazette.

The newspaper reported that the company revealed its second-quarter adjusted earnings would be about $250 million, a figure $41 million less than market analysts’ average expectation.

In a press release, the company stated that the new earnings calculation includes about $15 million of costs related to a December 24 fire at the company’s Clairton coke making facility, as well as delayed shipments affected by flooding in the southern U.S.

“The decision to curtail production is a stark reversal from one year ago, when the company was enjoying rising steel prices after the Trump administration imposed tariffs on imports of steel from China and other countries,” the Post-Gazette reported. “U.S. Steel reported profits of $1.1 billion in 2018. Yet as prices have settled, U.S. Steel’s move to slow production will likely add fuel to growing concerns about a steel slump in the offing.”

With the tariffs and soaring profits as context, the United Steelworkers negotiated a 14% wage increase over four years for about 16,000 U.S. Steel employees last October. In the second quarter of 2018, the company posted a near 60-percent increase in pre-tax profits, Reuters reported at the time of the contract agreement.

Report: GM Looking Toward Temp Workers Ahead of Contract Negotiations

As General Motors and the United Auto Workers position themselves ahead of contract negotiations this summer, the automobile manufacturer “wants to hire more temporary workers at its U.S. plants and trim its health care costs,” according to a Bloomberg report.

The news organization cited “people familiar with the automaker’s thinking” as the U.S. auto market is expected to shrink for the second time in three years and as GM has announced plans to close four U.S. plants with 2,800 employees.

GM has said 1,500 of its displaced workers have been relocated to other factories and that jobs will be available for the remaining 1,300 workers.

“That sets up a hot summer of negotiations for the United Auto Workers and GM as the two try to hash out a new four-year labor deal in the coming months,” Bloomberg reported. “The last contract was bargained over in better times, when auto sales were growing from financial crisis lows to all-time highs and GM was marching toward record profits.”

The current GM-UAW contract expires September 14.

The news organization reported that GM is looking to Japanese manufacturers as a model. At Toyota, Nissan, and Honda, workers make about $50 an hour in wages and benefits, compared to $63 at GM. The Japanese companies staff their plants with about 20% temporary workers, compared to GM’s 7%.

UAW Loses Second Certification Vote at VW’s Tennessee Plant

The United Auto Workers fell 57 votes short of unionizing Volkswagen’s Chattanooga, Tennessee, plant last week after company managers and Governor Bill Lee each held captive-audience meetings with workers leading up to the certification vote.

Union opponents outnumbered supporters 833-776 to garner 51.8% of the vote. In 2014, 53.2% percent of workers were against the UAW, according to the Times Free Press.

In response to the outcome, the UAW issued a press release calling on Congress “to take a comprehensive look at the country’s labor laws and NLRB rules that made it almost impossible for Volkswagen workers to form a union.”

Leading up to the vote, workers were compelled to attend two closed-door meetings at the plant during worker shifts where CEO Frank Fischer allegedly blamed the union for the 1987 demise of the German automakers Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania, plant. At the time, the company blamed sluggish sales and increasing competition in the small-car market for chronic operating losses.

Also, Lee reportedly told the Associated Press before the vote that he feared unionization of the plant would hurt the recruitment of businesses to the state. Lee was also permitted to hold a captive-audience meeting with workers inside the facility.

Although VW claimed neutrality on the vote, the UAW claims the company utilized an NLRA loophole to delay the vote and buy itself more time to organize its opposition. The company initially argued that the vote could not be held because the UAW already represented 160 maintenance workers in a separate bargaining unit at the plant. Under federal law, no new union vote can be held within one year of a prior certification vote.

The UAW argued that VW had refused to bargain with the maintenance workers merely to prolong the waiting period before the larger certification vote could be held.

“Clearly Volkswagen was able to delay bargaining with maintenance and ultimately this vote among all production and maintenance workers through legal games until they could undermine the vote,” the UAW stated.

Women Overtake Men as College-Educated Workforce Majority

A new analysis of labor statistics by the Pew Research Center has found that the nation’s college-educated workforce is comprised of more women than men for the first time in history.

Politico reported that 29.5 million working women had at least a bachelor’s degree in the first quarter of this year, compared to 29.3 million working men, according to Pew Research. Women have constituted the majority of working-age adults for more than a decade and “have been outperforming men academically for some time.” They have earned more bachelor’s degrees than men since the 1981-1982 academic year, more master’s degrees since 1986-1987, and more Ph.D.’s since 2005-2006.

Today, women earn about 57 percent of bachelor’s degrees.

Pew Senior Researcher Richard Fry wrote that college-educated women have a lower workforce participation rate than men. In 2018, 69.9% of college-educated women were working, compared to 78.1% of college-educated men.

An average worker age 25 or older without a college degree earned $41,900 in 2017, while workers with at least a bachelor’s degree earned $61,300 on average. The median earnings of college-educated men was $74,900, compared to $51,600 for college-educated women. About one-third of U.S. adults 25 and older are college educated. Together they generate 57% of the economy’s earnings.