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Labor Report

Labor Actions Increasing Nationally Despite Declining Union Membership

Labor union membership continued to decline nationally last year, but member activity has been growing at a rapid pace.

GM Workers go on StrikeThe Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that there were 25 major work stoppages (those involving 1,000 or more workers and lasting at least one shift) in 2019, an increase of 25% from the previous year and 257% from 2017, when there were just seven such labor actions nationally.

The 10-year average of 15 major work stoppages remains far below the typical rate for the 1990s, when the annual totals usually exceeded 30 or 40 stoppages. Dating back to the 1970s and earlier, the annual totals usually exceeded 200 stoppages, with a peak figure of 424 in 1974 and 1950.

According to BLS analysis, there were 425,500 workers involved in major work stoppages last year, with the majority of those workers (270,000) in the educational services industry. There were 485,200 workers involved in major work stoppages in 2018.

The largest single work stoppage last year involved 46,000 members of the United Auto Workers who were employed by General Motors. Their stoppage spanned 29 working days and resulted in a cumulative loss of 1.3 million workdays. It was the second-largest work stoppage at GM in terms of lost workdays in history.

Labor experts told MarketWatch that workers seem more emboldened to demand better pay and work conditions because of the nation’s low unemployment rate, which was 3.6% in January.

“The picture looked different during the Great Recession,” MarketWatch reported. “There were five work stoppages in 2009 and 15 in 2010.”

The BLS tally for 2019 doesn’t include some labor actions by non-unionized workers, “like when thousands of Uber and Lyft drivers protested pay and working conditions for several hours in May, ahead of Uber’s IPO,” MarketWatch stated, or when some McDonald’s workers walked off the job ahead of a company shareholders meeting.

UPS Pledges to Create 1,700 Jobs in New PA Distribution Facilities

United Parcel Service has announced its plan to invest $1.4 billion in “significant facility enhancements” in Pennsylvania, including new construction in Cumberland, Dauphin, Northampton, and Philadelphia counties. But automation may reduce the number of jobs that the so-called big box facilities might otherwise create.

In Northeast Philadelphia, the company plans to build a million-square-foot distribution facility on a 138-acre tract formerly home to a railroad car manufacturer and a golf course. According to the Inquirer, UPS previously told city officials the plant could employ 1,000 people, yet the company subsequently told state officials it is committed to hiring 352 full-timers by 2022.

GM Workers go on StrikeUPS “has separately said new plants in Philadelphia and other Pennsylvania cities are part of a wave of ‘highly automated’ facilities that won’t create as many jobs per box as earlier ones,” the newspaper reported. “UPS and its competitors such as Amazon and FedEx have been adding automation equipment to save labor.”

Governor Tom Wolf announced that UPS has been offered $2.7 million in Job Creation Tax Credits, $5.6 million in Infrastructure and Facilities Improvement Program funding, and $659,400 in grants for workforce training and development. The public investment will be administered through the Department of Community and Economic Development.

UPS has pledged to create 1,721 new, full-time positions and retain 6,458 positions through the facility enhancements. It already ranks as the state’s largest non-retail private sector employer with almost 20,000 full-time employees plus thousands of seasonal workers, the Inquirer reported.

Court Lets T-Mobile/Sprint Merger to Move Forward Despite Stakeholder Concerns

TmobileAs the proposed $26 billion merger of T-Mobile and Sprint cleared what was widely viewed as its last major hurdle earlier this month, industry workers and retailers continued to warn of widespread job losses.

The merger of the nation’s third and fourth largest wireless network providers won the approval of a New York-based U.S. District Court Judge on February 11, despite anti-trust complaints filed by attorneys general of more than a dozen states and the District of Columbia. In response to the ruling, the Communications Workers of America said that the deal could place 30,000 jobs at risk.

“Throughout this process, regulators who are supposed to be protecting the public interest have ignored clear evidence that this merger would result in significant job loss for wireless workers,” CWA President Chris Shelton stated in a press release.

Independent wireless retailers shared similar concerns, fearing about 24,000 layoffs as the new company sells off or closes competing store locations. Both companies have pledged not to reduce their own workforces as they merge under the T-Mobile banner, yet many stores are staffed independently, according to NBC News.
Adam Wolf, president of the National Wireless Independent Dealer Association, reportedly said to NBC, “What will happen to the stores and how long will it take? Sprint has sold a number of its stores to independently owned stores, but they still own some of them. When T-Mobile owns them, what do you do when you have a T-Mobile across the street?”

The merger would still need the approval of the California Public Utilities Commission. The impacts on consumers and the wireless market are also enduring concerns. It would create the nation’s second-most popular wireless service with about 100 million customers, compared to 114 million for Verizon and 80 million for AT&T.

“Critics of the deal have argued that it would result in less competition among telecommunications giants, which would lead to higher cellphone bills,” the New York Times reported.

Both companies have pledged not to raise rates in the short term and to improve service by building a national 5G network that includes coverage in rural areas.

In the meantime, Sprint’s position in the deal continues to weaken. The company is losing nearly 2% of its customers each month, Bloomberg reported, while average revenue per customer has fallen 5% in the 22 months since the merger plan was announced publicly.

White House Hands Defense Department Power to Strip Union Rights From 750,000 Employees

With the stroke of a pen, President Trump has granted the Department of Defense the power to strip nearly 750,000 civilian employees of the ability to unionize.

Aerial of the PentagonOn February 20, the White House formally published a memo in the Federal Register that gives the Secretary of Defense the authority to end collective bargaining within the department. Trump signed the memo on January 29.

The president justified the action in the interests of national security.

“When new missions emerge or existing ones evolve, the Department of Defense requires maximum flexibility to respond to threats to carry out its mission of protecting the American people,” he wrote.

The president claimed his authority to do so under Section 301, Title 3, of the United States Code. The 1978 Civil Service Reform Act allows a president to excludes agencies from participating in collective bargaining in some circumstances, including emergency situations, the HuffPost reported.

The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) alleges that different motivations are at work.

“The substance of this memorandum is unprecedented and is clearly meant not as an effort to protect national security, but as an instruction to carry out the administration’s ongoing effort to undermine federal sector collective bargaining,” the AFGE wrote in a letter to members of Congress.

In a news release, the union stated, “The fact is public sector unions have existed in DoD for nearly 60 years, over several administrations of different parties, during the courses of many international conflicts and national emergencies. In all cases, the civilian workforce has proven to be agile, willing, and able to adapt quickly to support the warfighter and meet mission goals. In fact, the presence of unions in DoD has actually benefited national security.”

On January 31, two days after the date of the memo, the department’s top personnel official resigned. Defense Assistant Secretary for Readiness Veronica Daigle held the position for eight months.

Fortune: Sheetz Still Among Nation’s Best Places to Work

For the sixth time in seven years, Sheetz has been named among Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For. The magazine released its annual list on February 15.

SheetzAltoona-based Sheetz ranked 80th on the list, which takes into account a company’s values, innovation, financial growth, leadership effectiveness, maximizing human potential, and trust. Sheetz improved five places on its 2019 ranking and was the only convenience store operator on the new list.

“Recent actions like an across-the-board wage increase, credit for past service for returning employees, and recognition for acts of peer-to-peer kindness contribute to the convenience chain’s ‘second family’ culture,” Fortune wrote in its review.

The magazine described one example of the corporate culture: when the community surrounding one store had a water crisis, the company paid for a hotel room in a nearby town where employees could go with their families to shower. The company also donated bottles of water to impacted employees.

Sheetz took its place alongside internationally recognized firms including Hilton (No. 1), American Express (No. 9), Allianz (No. 33), Adobe (No. 35), and Bank of America (No. 77).

Founded in 1952, the convenience store chain employs 18,409 at 608 locations and has 1,800 job openings. It had $7.2 billion in revenue last fiscal year. It employs 60.7% women and 18.6% minorities.

On a consumer-centered list compiled by Food & Wine in December, Sheetz ranked fourth among America’s Best Convenience Stores. The publication touted the chain’s blueberry muffins and “sprawling, 24/7 menu.” However, Delaware County-based Wawa ranked second on the same list for its “best made-to-order sandwiches and coffee in the industry,” among other treats.