Ripped From The Headline!

An article several weeks ago from Business Journals, or Business First in Columbus, ran a headline that included this: “… Union Membership in Ohio Sinks…”  The author was supposedly comparing data that had just been released from the Bureau of Labor Statistics to 2008 data.  The problem with the headline, it’s not entirely true.

It is true union membership in Ohio has decreased since 2008 by almost two points but the problem is the headline is extremely misleading.  To give the impression unions are on the decline, the author has emphasized that information not just in the headline but in bold print in the article.  The author fails to mention  the increase of union workers that has occurred in the last year in both Ohio and other states according to the same source he sites.   In some cases, the increases were significant and that has helped to increase union membership nationally.

The increase in Ohio union membership was small, only about .1%, but when you consider what the author is trying to imply, this is very good news.  In two states there was a substantial increase of almost 2% which also is good when you take in other negative influences unions have faced.  New Hampshire and Hawaii each saw increases of 1.8% and 1.5% respectively.  Instead of membership sinking as it was implied, it must mean New Hampshire and Hawaii membership is escalating!  States that already had high union membership also saw increases in one year.

While it would be great to say everything is improving, and to counter the negative information the author proclaimed, there still appears to be some problems for unions.  The rate of membership continues to decline since the first year data was collected in 1983 about union membership.  At that time, union membership was about 20% compared to almost 11% today.   The good news, though, is the decline in numbers is at a much slower pace.  The other piece of good news is it appears there are two  other specific groups of employees that  are seeing steady increases in union membership.

The first of the two groups is the Millennial age group.  They had the biggest increase among the age groups.  Almost three-fourths of that employee population is unionized.  According to a recent Pew Research poll, unions appeal to this group and there are a variety of reasons for it.  One reason is the millennial group likes to have a voice in the workplace.  They feel they have the greatest influence on customers since they work with them directly so unions provide them with an opportunity to be more involved with workplace decisions.  Millennials also like unions in the traditional sense that they will help with job security, pay, benefits  and other workplace issues.  Another reason is unions are involved in social issues beyond the workplace and that appeals to millennials.  They like unions because they work on legislative issues needing to be changed such as homelessness and poverty, healthcare, childcare and other needs. We’ve blogged before about the George Meany banquet that recognizes the achievements of young people working on community issues.  There can be other reasons, too, this age group has greater union representation.  It could be unions are able to organize workplaces where more millennials work or it could be more millennials are working in more unionized environments.  Whatever the reason, this is a growth sector for unions.

The other group that’s gaining in union representation is the professional sector such as attorneys, engineers, teachers and nurses.  Recently, media outlets have also seen more organizing drives as younger workers who work in these venues see unions as a means of help for the issues they are facing such as job security, pay and benefits and others.  More professionals are joining unions for reasons like the other group.  They  want their voices heard.  Some are concerned about quality of work issues, they want to  make improvements to those they serve, and they want to address training issues that help maintain standards and credentials.  Professionals associated with unions are seeing more of an increase than those who have not been associated with a union but even that is changing as others see the need for assistance on work related issues.  Professionals, like the millennials, see unions as social change agents which again is exemplified at the George Meany Banquet with professionals either helping students or being involved with community needs.

The headline and the Business First article seemed to signal a death blow to unions.  They linked two significant issues for unions that’s related to their ability to survive.  One was membership levels and the other was a Supreme Court case that could also impact the financial resources of unions.  It was almost as if everything had already been decided.  That could be but looking further into that data from the author’s source gives a completely different picture.  According to that data and other information, unions are still very much in demand.  There may be shifts in membership such as age groups, locations, and professions but all indications are the same.  It’s also backed up by a poll from Pew Research that shows a more favorable opinion of  unions is growing among Americans.  The challenge for unions is how to capture these shifts and the momentum that is occurring.

One thing that is particularly important for unions to do is counter negative and false messages such as that of the Business First headline and article.   Union members are proud people but they also need to let everyone know about the great things they do.

Union membership is changing.   It is much more diverse than in the past but according to The Department of Professional Employees(DPE), which is an arm  of the AFL-CIO, the need is the same –  increase for wages.  No matter what the occupation is, EVERYONE has a basic need for economic well being.  In a 2018 Guide To Organizing Professionals, the DPE suggests a different message focused around specific groups such as age, gender, or race;  or to increase support for those already in a union; or to build an organizing drive around a specific issue.  Some unions have said their best organizing strategy is to start with a social issue and others have said labor legislation needs to be updated.  All of those are great ideas but it’s important to limit the negativity and focus on new ideas because it’s always tempting and easy to do things the same way they’ve always been done.

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What Do Statewide Teacher Strikes Teach Us About Labor-Management Cooperation?

In the last few weeks we have seen the return of general strikes as teachers in West Virginia and Oklahoma left their classrooms. The phenomenon appears ready to spread to other states as educators seek better pay and improved working conditions, particularly in those state which do not have collective bargaining with teachers and other school staff.

General strikes and wildcat stoppages were once more common. In 1934, walkouts hit San Francisco and Minneapolis, and smaller wildcat strikes spread across the country. The labor relationship was in tumult.

What brought order to the process? In 1935, Congress passes the National Labor Relations Act which established the rules and procedures governing unions and management. While there were still strikes, they were smaller in scope and limited to specific bargaining units.

In Ohio, we saw a similar change following the passage of the public sector collective bargaining law in the mid-1980’s. Prior to this legislation, teacher and other public-sector entities conducted walkouts in locations across the state. While the new law gave public employees the limited right to strike, it also brought order to the process. The number of work stoppages dropped significantly. Prior to the act, there were average of 60 public sector strikes each year in Ohio. Since then, the number of walkouts is significantly less, with only three teacher strikes from 2010 to 2017.

A statewide strike in Ohio is neither necessary nor realistically possible as districts each have their own collectively bargained contracts. These agreements, along with real labor-management cooperative efforts in many districts, ended the chaos we saw in the past.

This illustrates a key factor that contributed to the statewide strikes we have seen. In West Virginia, Oklahoma, and others where there is no local collective bargaining for salaries and benefits. Salaries are set by their legislatures, leaving school employees (and overall funding for education) to political whims and agendas.

As a result, wages for teachers in these states are very low, and conditions for students are deteriorating. In West Virginia, the average K-12 teacher salary was $45,662. Nationally, the average was over $58,000. This large disparity was an obvious cause of the strikes, but so were declining opportunities for students in these states.

Oklahoma teachers shared stories and photos of crumbling textbooks, broken furniture, and districts so poor they could not afford to keep classroom lights on. Substandard learning conditions hurt opportunities for students. The response from Oklahoma Governor Mary Falin (R) showed her contempt for educators, as she stated the teachers were like “a teenage kid that wants a better car.” It would appear the destruction of the public education system is high on her agenda.

Collective bargaining and labor-management cooperation in schools do not necessarily make things wonderful. They do provide districts and employees the opportunity to negotiate contracts and resolve problems through labor-management partnerships. Decisions can be made locally by those impacted by the problems, not legislators with little understanding or even desire to correct problems.

Some may assume educator negotiations or collaborative efforts have little to do with student needs, but this is not true. Teachers, school staff, and administrators often work collaboratively to address student concerns such as class offerings, teaching strategies, minimizing the impact of standardized testing on instruction, and other needs specific to their districts or building.

Schools benefit from the opportunities provided by employee involvement and worker voice. States that permit teachers and districts to bargain collectively and work collaboratively are less likely to have conditions that contribute to statewide strikes. While teacher unions are unjustly criticized for their impact on education, labor-management cooperation between them and school districts benefits Boards of Education, school administrators, teachers, and students.

 

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What Memphis Sanitation Workers Had To Endure In 1968

Last week was the 50th anniversary of the death of civil rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.   Many  media outlets showed him giving his speech in Memphis before he was assassinated but only a few have explained why Dr. King went there.  While we attribute Dr. King to the significant work he did for civil rights, we don’t always think about how it impacted work life, too.  This week’s blog looks at the events in Memphis before his assassination and what African American workers experienced on a daily basis.

In Memphis, Tennessee, in 1968 and before, it was difficult for African Americans to find work. Racial discrimination  prevented them from finding jobs.  Even though one Memphis sanitation worker had risked his life as a soldier in Korea, he still had difficulty finding a job when he came back.  It was the worst possible job but someone had to do it and he had to support his family.  It was with the sanitation department in Memphis.

The working conditions for the Memphis sanitation workers was pitiful.  Workers had to show up for work whether there was work or not.  They were paid $2 or less an hour, some less than $1,  for picking up the garbage for Memphis residents.  In 1968,  garbage wasn’t collected in trash bags as it is now.  Garbage was collected in big drums or containers the men would pick up over their heads as garbage leaked down around them and maggots crawled down into their shoes.  They had no uniforms so this was  their clothes that collected the debris, maggots and odor.  The odor was so bad that one of the wives of the workers wouldn’t let him in the house at the end of the day.

The sanitation workers were subject to ridicule.  The job of a sanitation worker was considered one of the lowest jobs in city work.  The ridicule the workers endured wasn’t just because of the job.  It was because the supervisors in the sanitation department were white.  The white workers drove inside the truck cabs.  The African-American workers weren’t allowed in the cabs and had to ride outside the trucks.   The white drivers didn’t  pick up the trash yet they were able to take a shower after their shift but their African American colleagues could not.  So not only was the job horrible in what they did, they were humiliated and treated less than human by others.

Safety was also a problem.  If a worker became injured on the job without any fault of their own, it could mean being fired.  Workers complained to supervisors about faulty equipment but they were ignored.  One afternoon everything came to a climax.  Because the sanitation workers regularly hopped into the back end of the garbage trucks, it wasn’t too unusual when two workers got in the back to escape a bad thunderstorm.  Unfortunately, when they did, there was a  switch malfunction on the compactor which caused the two workers to become trapped and killed as the compactor crushed them.    This created  the impetus of the sanitation worker strike that eventually brought Dr. King to Memphis.

Even though these workers were part of  the union,  American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), the union wasn’t recognized.  The mayor, Henry Loeb, refused to recognize it and therefore wouldn’t listen to the demands for better pay and safer working conditions.  The sanitation workers went on strike even though the mayor told them they couldn’t.

The strike started peacefully.  The sanitation workers marched and  carried signs that said, “I Am A Man”.  Local church leaders provided support to the workers and recognized racism was the larger part of the problem.  They encouraged others in the community to join the support.  AFSCME leaders, including the national AFSCME leader, also came to help their members.  Several weeks went by and the strike continued.  In order to hopefully boost worker morale, one of the church leaders invited Dr. King.  As many pictures have shown, he went to Memphis and marched with the workers.

Dr. King’s presence was both good and bad.   Here are some of the words Dr. King said to those workers in 1968 which still have meaning today:

“You are demanding this city respect the dignity of labor.  So often we overlook the work and  the significance of those who are not in professional jobs, of those who are not in the so called big jobs,  but let me say to you tonight that whenever you are engaged in work that serves humanity and is for the building of humanity, it has dignity and it has worth.  You are reminding not only Memphis but you are reminding the nation that it is a crime for people to live  in this rich nation and receive starvation wages.”

The strike did not continue as the peaceful demonstration.  The president of the Memphis city council thought he had enough votes to support the striking sanitation workers but because many white citizens resented Dr. King coming it pushed council members to vote against the sanitation workers.  After the vote at the city council meeting, the sanitation workers felt betrayed and became angry.  The police were called in and that caused even more anger from many people.  Some threw bricks into business windows and the situation became worse when police killed a 16 year old.  The Tennessee National Guard was called in to restore order.  Dr. King was blamed nationwide for the violence and it wasn’t long after that, Dr. King was killed by a sniper.

Several weeks following the death of Dr. King, Memphis city council voted to recognize the union of the sanitation workers and promised wage increases.  Unfortunately, though, three people had to die before something was done.

What those workers endured was horrific.  Not only did they have poor working conditions but they were treated with less than dignity.  They were disrespected, abused and denigrated even though they were willing to do one of the filthiest of jobs for the citizens of Memphis.

Today, there have been some improvements. Memphis sanitation workers are still represented by AFSCME.  Safe working conditions is something they still fight for and another carry over from 1968 is the sign workers still need to remind people:  I AM A MAN!  While the pay is higher than it was in 1968, it has been stagnant for nine years.  One of the workers from 1968 still works there and he is finally able to drive the truck instead of being on the back end.    Despite the work they do, they are paid less than other city departments.

The current mayor recognizes some of the problems from 1968 and today.  He knows things are far from perfect.   Last year, he defied state laws to have Confederate statues removed.   He paid lump sum payments of $70,000 to the remaining 1968 sanitation workers because they lacked a pension system.  The mayor also says education for everybody needs to improve and poverty is still too high.   Over 80% of workers who hold management positions are white workers.  Over 70% of blue collar jobs are held by African Americans.  There’s still A LOT of work to do.

In 1963, Dr. King and others including labor leader, A. Philip Randolph, organized the March on Washington.  The march was not just about civil rights but also about equality in work.  The full title was the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.   It was at this march that Dr. King gave his I Have A Dream speech.  The organizers of the march met at United Auto Workers’ Solidarity House in Detroit to plan the event.  Walter Reuther, president of UAW, would later march and speak at the event.

Organizers of the March on Washington  had six focal points:  1) the need for civil rights legislation, 2) the elimination of segregation in public schools, 3) public works project that employ both the negro worker and the white worker 4) legislation that would prohibit hiring discrimination based on race, 5) a $2 an hour minimum wage, and 6) an executive order that would end housing discrimination.  The March on Washington was one of the largest demonstrations, if not the largest, in Washington D. C.

For more on Dr. King and the Memphis sanitation workers:

https://www.npr.org/2018/03/28/597308044/the-memphis-sanitation-workers-strike-kings-last-cause-for-economic-justice

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HBDgH435oaU

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Initiatives to Build Skills for New Jobs

While I’ve been at CALMC there have been significant swings in the Central Ohio job market. We have seen periods where jobs have been plentiful and others of high unemployment. In either case, it is important to plan for ways to handle any situation.

Fortunately, the Columbus Metropolitan Region has one of the lowest unemployment rates in this part of the state. Jobs are fairly plentiful, but that does create its own set of concerns.

One of the problems facing this region is the need for job candidates who have the skills necessary to fill newly created jobs. Prospective employers have raised concerns about the need for skilled applicants. This week, we would like to highlight two initiatives that will help develop needed skills in new employees.

The first one provides increased opportunities for high-school students to learn more about the skilled trades and apprenticeship opportunities. When I was a teacher, our students had many opportunities to learn about colleges,  many of which sent representatives to make presentations at school. Students were offered time during the school year to visit schools they considered. What was missing was information about opportunities other than traditional four-year colleges.

The school at which I taught sent around 60% of graduating seniors to some type of post-secondary education. Unfortunately, only about half of them completed a degree. These numbers indicate approximately 70% of our graduates did not complete college. These students would have benefited from learning more about opportunities for well-paying jobs that do not require a four-year degree. Unfortunately, information about these options is not always available to students.

To help remedy this, Ohio State Representative Mike Duffey (R-21) sponsored ”The Ohio High School Career Opportunity Act,” which guarantees representatives from the skilled trades and other type of career recruiters a minimum of two opportunities per year to speak to students about career paths in their fields. This can include information about apprenticeship and pre-apprenticeship programs available to them

The bill recently passed the legislature and was signed by the Governor. Rep. Duffey also cited the support of organized labor, including Walt Workman of the Central Ohio Labor Council, AFL-CIO (and CALMC Labor Co-Chair), and Dorsey Hager, ‎Executive Secretary-Treasurer of the ‎Columbus/Central Ohio Building & Construction Trades Council.

We would like to thank Rep. Duffey for his sponsorship of this bill and the opportunities it opens to better provide access to information about job options for Ohio students.

We were also pleased to learn about the first graduating class of the Building Futures program. This initiative, which was funded in part by Franklin County, provides training to enable students to enter the construction trades.

Sponsors of the program include the Franklin County Department of Job and Family Services, Impact Community Action, and the Columbus Building Trades Council. The program is designed to help low-income residents enter the construction trades, including electrical and iron work, carpentry, painting, plumbing, and other fields.

Each of the twenty-one graduates will begin an apprenticeship through one of the local unions who sponsored the program, including Iron Workers Local 172, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 683 and Carpenter’s Local Union 200.

County Commissioner John O’Grady attended the graduation, and we want to commend him and the other commissioners for the support of this first class and the others to come this year.

These are two examples of how we can prepare students and others in the community to have the skills needed to fill the job openings in Columbus and Franklin County. Combined with the job training and recruitment efforts of the Workforce Development Board we reported a couple of weeks, ago, our area will be better prepared to attract more jobs.

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Improving The Lives of Others

That’s what unions strive for.  Many of us think it’s only about union members at the workplace but what we don’t always realize is how much that extends to the work many union members do in our communities for all of us.

A couple of weeks ago we attended the 59th Annual George Meany Awards banquet hosted by the Central Ohio Labor Council AFL-CIO and United Way of Central Ohio.   This event never ceases to amaze me.  It  is truly an inspirational event to hear the stories of how people help others.  These stories are truly great but unfortunately the public rarely hears about union members helping in the community.

People who provide services in their every day jobs are also community volunteers.  Katie Coplin is a teacher for second and third graders.  After being with the second and third graders all day, she doesn’t stop.  Katie  helps girls in this same age group by being a Girl Scout leader for a Brownie troop which means she probably uses multiple free time opportunities to continue to help children.  This even happens in the summer as she helps with Girl Scout Day Camp.  There’s also something else Katie has done in her limited spare time.  She has been a building representative for her union.

Jeremy Matthew Thoma also helps people every day at his job.  Jeremy is a firefighter-paramedic and in his limited spare time he helps with children, too.  He is a cub scout leader.  That’s not all he does with the Boy Scouts.  He helps boys earn their badges and teaches first aid and CPR.  Even though he enjoys being with his family  and has a busy career, he still is devoted to helping improve the lives of others.

Then there’s another one who we’ve been very lucky to know.  Walter “Butch” Deems has been a steelworker and he, too, helps with those who need assistance.  Butch has given his time to help with St. Stephens Community House and providing food for families in need not just at Christmas time but all the time.  Butch was a union leader and participated on a number of union committees and worked on  presidential and legislative campaigns.   He has also engaged with legislators on issues important to ALL workers and communities.  We are especially pleased  to have Butch on our board as we look at labor-management issues that face our community.  Congratulations, Butch, on receiving the George Meany Award for 2018 in central Ohio!

In addition, Bexley High School was the recipient of the 2018 Youth Services Award.  Students wanted to help homeless people so they set up a non-profit organization and spent time educating their fellow students on the importance of the project.  Multiple unions provided support and local businesses also helped the students raise over $10,000 for several homeless shelters.

Outside of Columbus, unions have helped with disasters.  In hurricane areas, unions were there to volunteer their services to help bring back those communities.  New York unions helped in Puerto Rico.  Unions reported in Minnesota the amount of assistance that was provided for Hurricanes Harvey and Irma victims.  All over the United States labor unions help wherever help is needed.  When the 9/11 attack occurred, hundreds of union members, including one of our former board members, helped with recovery efforts and  ended up with related health issues.

Most of us have a favorable opinion of unions and it’s easy to understand why.  Not only do  millennials prefer unions because of traditional labor issues but it’s also  because of their community service and social justice.  Some employers, too, according to the Washington Post,  say unions help with problem resolution and employer-employee relations.  Just like the businesses and the unions that helped Bexley High School students, other employers and unions around the country partner on community issues to show good will.

Yet despite all the help they provide to so many people in distressing situations, there is a problem that continues to gravel me.  It’s the negative stories that seem to be louder.  Why do some people want to paint unions as bad?  The American Postal Workers Union tells it best in a  blog about 9/11 union responders.  The blog states union members are treated as if they are scoundrels.

On their website, Heritage Foundation  in 2015 never talks about the great things unions do.  Are they jealous of labor’s ability to help others?  Their biggest complaint about unions seems to be unions are about themselves and only want to increase wages at workplaces.  Part of that is true.  Unions do want to increase wages for members  but it also helps to  increase wages at similar nonunion workplaces.  And if you think about it, who would ever disagree to a higher wage.  I’m sure those at Heritage Foundation wouldn’t turn down a little extra money.    Heritage Foundation, though, extends the wage complaint to say unions hurt industry growth and the example they use in  one article is the auto industry which really isn’t a good example.  In a Business Insider article, the problem with union wages doesn’t appear to hurt profitability for automakers.   The years of 2015 and 2016 were record years for the Big 3.  While things have recently cooled off for them, the auto manufacturers still are not complaining.  The other thing, UAW and the Big 3 have worked together on a number of issues.

It would be easy to counter the negative messages of Heritage Foundation and others with the great community service stories but unions don’t.  Maybe they don’t because it’s a matter of pride or it’s just a natural part of them.  Whatever the reason, wouldn’t it be nice if  it helped to silence or at least temper those who have such disdain for them?   It’s hard to say it would work but with all the enormous evidence on the good things unions do not just in central Ohio but all over the country, why is it necessary to vilify these people?  Isn’t it time we all just got along?

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CALMC Membership Meeting – Job Placement and Worker Development

Our February CALMC Membership Meeting focused on issues of job placement services and employee development in Central Ohio. Our presenter, Lisa Patt-McDaniel, is the President and CEO of the Workforce Development Board of Central Ohio.

We worked with Lisa several years ago when CALMC was part of a State of Ohio grant program for the Ohio Labor-Management Cooperation Program. She was a strong supporter of CALMC and our sister organizations. Although she has since moved on from state government, her strong commitment to work on behalf of employers and workers remains.

When she was hired by the Workforce Development Board she was faced with a daunting task. The WDB supports the alignment of workforce investment, education, and economic development systems. They seek to provide workers with the skills and credentials to secure and advance employment.

However, when Lisa was hired, their worker training and placement services were not functioning effectively. Lisa oversaw the redevelopment of the Board programs and selection of new vendors for service delivery. In slightly more than one year, the new delivery system is working much better and meeting peoples’ needs more effectively.

Although job creation in Central Ohio has been good, there are still challenges that must be met. Lisa pointed out half of the Franklin County population earns less than 200% of the Federal poverty level or less. The 2017 Poverty Level for a family of 4 is $28,290.

Lisa reported the wage required to provide a worker with a one-bedroom apartment and food is $17 per hour, or approximately $35,260 per year. For a family with 2 children, the amount increases to an hourly wage $27, or around $56,510. This roughly twice the Federal poverty level. Remember this is for only housing and food, and certainly does not represent the living wage goal established by many groups.

To help workers secure jobs that will provide for their needs, the Workforce Development Board focuses on four skills for workers:

The ability to think critically

The ability to communicate well.

Effective collaboration skills

Knowing how to continuously learn

These skills are the same as the ones CALMC has for participants in our training and other services. They are certainly essential to success in today’s workplaces.

Lisa also stated the population growth of Franklin County exceeds that of the entire state. This means with the exception of Franklin County (including Columbus), the rest of the state is losing population. This growth places further stress on organizations like the Workforce Development Board to meet the needs of the new workers.

One of the methods Lisa and her organizations are using is pre-apprenticeship programs. Pre-apprenticeships provide opportunities for members of underserved populations, including high school age students and others entering or reentering the workforce, to learn more about well-paying job opportunities and begin a career entry path into these fields.

Lisa noted that while wages in Central Ohio are rising, benefits are not. Employees are facing higher costs in premiums and out-of-pocket expenses that often exceed their pay gains. (This is exacerbated by the current trend of giving employees one-time bonuses that do not produce lasting pay increases or additional benefit assistance.)

Lisa’s presentation and the accompanying discussion shed light on the current issues facing our job market along with the efforts of the Workforce Development Board to address these needs. We want to thank her for her willingness to share this information.

This is an example of the kind of presentations that take place at our membership meetings. We hope that you will be able to join us at our next session, May 2, 2018, 8 AM, at the CALMC offices. Our topic will again focus on the Central Ohio job market, and will feature a presentation from JobsOhio, the not-for-profit organization established by the Kasich administration to help create new employment in Ohio. Contact us if you are interested in attending or to be placed on our email list for future meetings.

You can see more pictures from the meeting on our FaceBook page.

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Did You Know Ohio Legislature Is Proposing Significant Change To Workers’ Compensation?

Did you know there are some significant changes being proposed in the Ohio legislature to Workers’ Compensation?

This week our guest bloggers, Henry and Colleen Arnett, attorneys from Livorno & Arnett Co., LPA, tell about the changes being proposed.

Thanks, Henry and Colleen!

WORKERS’ COMPENSATION BILLS PENDING IN THE HOUSE

Henry Arnett, Esq., and Colleen Arnett, Esq.

Livorno & Arnett Co, LPA

livornoandarnett.com

Recently several new bills have been proposed regarding Workers’ Compensation claims in Ohio.  This article will briefly summarize some of the more significant provisions of House Bills 268, 269, 380, and 459.

CHANGES FOR SELF-INSURED EMPLOYERS

House Bill 268 is sponsored by Representative Henne, has 12 co-sponsors and is pending in the Committee on House Insurance. In Ohio, employers may provide workers’ compensation coverage for their employees in two ways: (1) paying premiums into the State Insurance Fund, and the Bureau of Workers Compensation pays compensation to injured workers and reimburses medical providers or (2) by employers paying compensation, benefits, and medical expenses directly, also known as self-insurance. HB 268 allows all self-insuring employers to purchase private workers’ compensation insurance, a significant change from current law.  Also, current law prohibits insurers from directly or indirectly representing the employer in any settlement, adjudication, determination, allowance or payment or workers’ compensation claims, but this bill would eliminate that prohibition.

Additionally, current law requires an employer to have enough assets located in Ohio to insure the payment of claims to qualify for self-insuring status, whereas HB 268 waives that asset requirement if the employer holds a rating of B3 or higher according to Moody’s or a comparable rating from a similar agency. The bill also would create the Self-Insuring Employers’ Guaranty B Fund, which would consist of contributions and other payments made by employers granted self-insuring status as a result of the waiver. This fund would be used to secure compensation and benefits for employees in the event of an employer’s default.

Self-insured status is also affected by House Bill 459, which states that groups of employers who have sufficient financial ability to pay their obligations under the Workers’ Compensation Law and can abide by the Administrator’s rules may be granted self-insuring status. Self-insured status under current law is granted only to individual employers. HB 459 is sponsored by Representative Henne, has six co-sponsors and is pending in the House Insurance Committee.

HOUSE BILL 269 CHANGES

HB 269, is also sponsored by Representative Henne, has 25 co-sponsors and is pending in the House Insurance Committee. This bill does a number of things, including renaming the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation the Office of Worker Safety and Rehabilitation, as well as renaming other entities.

Currently, permanent total disability (PTD) can be paid until the injured worker’s death, assuming the worker remains unable to engage in sustained remunerative employment. Under the bill, if an injured worker is injured or contracts an occupational disease within one year before the worker attains full retirement age, or after he/she has reached that age, PTD benefits are payable only for two years and are then terminated.

For other individuals, HB 269 replaces PTD with extended benefit (EB) compensation when an employee attains full retirement age for the position in which the employee was employed at the time of their injury or occupation disease. The “full retirement age” will be set at either (1) the age at which an employee is eligible for an unreduced retirement allowance or benefit from an existing state pension system or any municipal pension system, or (2) the age at which the employee reaches full retirement age under the Social Security Act. EB compensation is calculated by multiplying the PTD compensation by a percentage that varies based on the number of years the employee received PTD.

For some PTD recipients, the reduction may be substantial.  The amount of the EB compensation varies, anywhere from 10% of what PTD compensation would be, up to 100% of that amount, depending on how long the individual was on PTD. There is no relationship between the amount of the reduction and the amount of retirement benefits received by the injured worker; the changes made to PTD compensation, its elimination or replacement by EB, are based solely on the employee’s age and relationship to when the employee could retire, not whether the employee actually retires at that age or the amount received in retirement benefits.

This bill requires EB compensation payable to an employee to be increased by 2% each year but prohibits an employee receiving EB from participating in the Disabled Workers’ Relief Fund.

The bill also requires the Administrator to develop a written return to work plan for an employee receiving temporary total disability compensation. If the worker fails to comply with the plan, the temporary total disability payments would be stopped. The bill also requires the Administrator to provide incentives to employers to participate in loss prevention programs.

Additional death benefits are awarded in the form of a $35,000 lump sum payment, along with a limited scholarship for dependents.

ALIENS

Current Ohio Workers’ Compensation Law defines “employee” as every person in the service of any person, firm, or private corporation, including public service corporation, that employs one or more persons regularly in the same business or in or about the same establishment under any contract of hire, express or implied, oral or written, including aliens. Current law does not define “aliens.” Under House Bill 380, the definition of employee with respect to aliens is limited to include only aliens authorized to work by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security or its successor. It excludes an “unauthorized alien,” which is defined as an alien who is not authorized to be employed in accordance with the Immigration Reform and Control Act, and an “illegal alien” which is defined as an alien who is deportable if apprehended. Under this bill, an employer may not elect to obtain coverage under the Workers’ Compensation Law for an illegal or unauthorized alien. HB 380 is sponsored by Representatives Seitz and Householder and has 27 co-sponsors. It is pending in both the Committee on Senate Insurance and Financial Institutions and the Committee on House Insurance.

Readers are urged to go to the Ohio General Assembly website  (https://www.legislature.ohio.gov/legislation/search-legislation) to review all provisions of the bills and their current status.

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2018 – Trends Impacting Labor, Management, and the Workplace in 2018 – Part Two

A couple of weeks ago we looked at some of the trends that we believe will impact labor and management in 2018. This time we want to consider trends that will impact the workplace in general.

Employment will increase in 2018, but at a slow rate.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics believes the unemployment rate will fall from 4.3% in 2017 to 4.2% in 2018. They believe the fastest growing jobs will be in healthcare, personal care, social assistance and construction.

Other job areas which were promised increases by politicians, such as mining and most manufacturing, will see no significant increases in 2018. The overall growth could be threatened by other economic factors including the markets and the international economies.

One factor that contributes to declining unemployment is the decline in the growth rate of the overall labor force. As more older workers leave the workforce, fewer new employees are available to take their place. This will also lead to:

Employers will have more difficulty in finding new employees. Forbes reports there are currently 6.2 million unfilled job openings in America, up from 5.6 million during the same time in 2016. The resulting shrinking talent pool will make it more difficult (and competitive) to recruit new employees. As the population ages and jobs become ever more specialized, the competition for talent will be more fierce. Employers will have to place more importance on their existing workers. As a result:

Companies focus on upskilling and retraining current workers.  Retaining current employees will have increasing importance, but along with this will be the need for more retraining. Admarco reports the half life of a learned skill is only five years. This means that much of what you learned 10 years ago is obsolete and half of what you learned 5 years ago is irrelevant.

Even our most skilled employees will need retraining opportunities. This can also result in increased employee satisfaction as they learn to implement new skills and perceive their value to their organizations increasing. It will also provide real opportunities for:

Leaders must encourage more human interaction. No matter how good the equipment or sophisticated the automation, there is no substitute for people. Last blog, we pointed out the need for more worker training, but this needs to go beyond the so-called “hard training” skills.

In the Columbus Dispatch article we cited last time, Jeff Spain, supervisor of workforce innovation at Columbus State Community College noted, “We have warehouses that are heavily automated, where the human component has been removed. That doesn’t take away the need for a human workforce.”

Spain points out training must also focus on human interaction and communications. He reported at a recent national conference, “Advanced communication was the watchword people were saying. Workers have the technology, but they don’t have the inter-connectivity of people.”

These soft-skills are essential to effective problem-solving and workplace improvement, yet they are often ignored when planning training. It may be assumed that people will communicate effectively, but this is generally not the case. They need help, support, and training.

There will be increased opportunities for real employee engagement. We have detailed the benefits of engaging employees in many of our blogs, yet many employers have been unable to attain the benefits that result from involvement. We believe employers will place a renewed emphasis on engagement as they realize the potential for financial gains that will result. The decrease in recruitment costs combined with more skilled employees ready to utilize new methods and technology will pay benefits, but only if there is a real commitment to involving employees in all facets of the workplace. This commitment has often been lacking, resulting in a failure to derive the full benefits employee engagement can present.

If your organization is interested in building or enhancing their employee engagement process, contact CALMC. Our experiences have helped many organizations achieve their engagement goals and realize the benefits of listening to the employee voice in their workplaces.

We would like to hear your thoughts about trends or issues affecting your workplace or organizations. Please comment on this site or contact us and let us hear your ideas.

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2018 – Trends Impacting Labor, Management, and the Workplace in 2018 – Part One

Every year, one of the most read posts on our blog predicts trends in Labor-Management relations and collective bargaining. A couple of weeks ago, we reviewed on our ideas for 2017. This week, we will begin to look at the issues we see that will impact us in 2018.

We will begin by considering items that will have particular impact on labor and management. In an upcoming blog, we will examine other issues affecting the workplace.

Real wages should continue to increase in 2018, but at a reduced rate. The Economic Research Institute predicts U.S. salaries will increase 3.2% in 2018, up slightly from the 3.1% increase seen in 2017. This is higher than the 2.4% inflation rate they predict in 2018. Part of the increase in wages results from the difficulty in finding new employees resulting in a need to maintain competitive wages we discussed in my last blog.

There are still a number of economic factors that could reduce these gains, including unexpected increase in interest rates, protectionist strategies, and rapid deregulation of workplaces. The impact of these increases could be tempered by another emerging trend:

Bonuses are replacing real wage increases. Following the passage of the tax reform act in December 2017, many employers offered bonuses (usually around $1000) to employees.  While these bonuses were welcome, they create an illusion of increased pay that can pose a threat to future wages.

A $1,000 bonus is not the same as a $1,000 raise. Bonuses are short-term, and do not carry over into next year. Even if they did, another $1,000 bonus leaves the worker exactly where they are today with no additional gain.

A $1,000 raise represents an increase in salary that will carry forward. Any increases next year will be in addition to that $1,000. This is clearly preferable for the employee.

Will businesses continue to provide another bonus or a salary increase next year, or was this just for show after the tax legislation? Only time will tell.

Critical thinking and data-based decision making are disappearing skills. In our current political climate, facts have become increasingly less important than perceptions. Whether a statement is true or not, whether we want to believe it is more important than fact.

Adolph Hitler wrote “If you tell a big enough lie and tell it frequently enough, it will be believed.” It seems this strategy is being employed regularly today. Few things can be more harmful in our workplaces or lives.

We have written before about the need for data-based decision making based on access to all relevant information. This is essential for individuals and teams. If we rely on misinformation (deliberate or not) or speculation, we will make decisions that are short-sighted at best or just plain wrong.

We hope this trend can be reversed, Critical thinking is essential to the success of our businesses and our society. Critical analysis of claims and the use of problem-solving tools are more important than ever.

The pressure for “Right to Work” will expand. We predicted this last year, but the efforts did not materialize as strongly as we thought. This year, however, the political pressures for right-to-work are again growing. The illusion the supporters try to paint of these laws being beneficial to workers will fool many into supporting it. Supporters will continue to obscure the real goal of diminishing the clout of unions in the workplace and in the political arena while limiting worker gains and protections.

Labor relations will become more contentious. This goes hand-in-hand with the “Right-to-Work” initiative. Management is more emboldened by the political climate, declines in union membership, and the elimination of worker protections implemented under the Obama administration. Demands for union concessions in salary, benefits, and workplace rules will increase in 2018.

The National Labor Relations Board will become more employer-friendly. This trend began in 2017 the result of new Trump appointees. They already began to demolish rules protecting employee rights, compensation, safety, and other areas. Supported by Executive Orders, the trend has the potential to hurt workers, particularly those who lack Union protections.

The decline in Union membership may bottoming out. We are beginning to see data that indicates union membership maybe ready to increase. Ron Bieber, president of the Michigan AFL-CIO reports that data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show “labor unions in Michigan added 52,000 new members in 2017. This was the biggest annual jump in union membership in Michigan in over a decade, and even more importantly, it means there are now more dues-paying union members in Michigan than there were in 2012 — the year Gov. Rick Snyder signed right-to-work legislation into law.” In Ohio, we are also beginning to see narrow increases in union membership.

Additional support from Millennial employees appears to be bolstering unions, as does new organizing in developing industries such as casinos. Changing union strategies also appear to be helping increase membership.

The union movement certainly is not where it used to be, but the reversal of the decline may be in sight. The speed at which this continues will be determined in large part by the results of the mid-term election this November. A change in the political landscape could bring about significant changes in union support and worker protections.

Automation will become an increasing issue in the workplace and place new pressures on labor and management and in negotiations. We predicted this trend last year, and we continue it in 2018. We saw the potential impact of automation, ranging from robots in manufacturing to automated buses.

There is no doubt automation is coming, but questions remain about its speed, and the short or long impact on existing workers and communities. While some believe there will be little real effect in the next few years, others are not as optimistic.

Recently, the Columbus Dispatch reported a University of Oxford study which identified jobs likely to be automated in the future. These include tens of thousands of cashiers, truck drivers, fast-food workers and warehouse laborers. The Dispatch reports about 2.5 million jobs in Ohio are at risk of being automated. Total employment in the state was about 5.5 million in December. Although the Oxford study does not place a time line on this job elimination, it can not be ignored.

 

Does your organization need help with developing communications, problem solving, and workplace improvement skills? CALMC has helped many organizations, and we can help you. Take a moment to look at our website, calmc.org, and contact us to discuss ways we can help your organization.

In an upcoming blog, we will look at some of the issues that will impact the workplace in general beyond just labor-management relationships. Please join us then. In the meantime, let us know your thoughts on these or other trends you see in your workplace.

Posted in CALMC, Columbus Area Labor-Management Committee, Communications, Conflict Resolution, Data-Based Decision Making, Employee Engagement, Employee Involvement, Labor-Management Cooperation, Problem Solving, Right to Organize, Trends in Labor-Management Relations, Worker Voice | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Is Performance Monitoring Technology Necessary?

The use of technology to monitor work performance is on an increase.   Some of it may be good but some of it may not be necessary.  According to a 2016 article from the Boston Globe, the amount of money technology companies plan to make on performance devices or software within the next few years will go from $200 million to $500 million.   The New York Times recently reported Amazon is developing a wristband to track employees’ movements so packages can supposedly be shipped faster.   Are there other less expensive strategies workplaces can use that will help not just with performance issues but the overall organization?   The answer is yes and we’ve seen it.  One simple strategy is to just interact with each other.

By including employees or asking employees for their ideas on how to improve productivity, it costs nothing except the time to get together and discuss the issue.  It helps not just with an isolated problem but with the entire  performance of the organization.  Involving employees has proven to have significant benefits for those organizations that have tried it.

A perfect example we use over and over again is Skinner Diesel who had horrible safety performance issues.  Those issues were costing the owner so much money that he was ready to close but by asking employees and involving them in safety matters, he has been able to expand his business and increase his employee benefit package.  According to cultural assessments we did at the worksite, employees also agreed improvements had been made not just in safety but in the overall atmosphere.  Safety committee meetings are productive and typically last no more than a half hour unless there are other issues needing attention. This did NOT involve expensive technology to monitor performance.

Another group we worked with involved offices in different locations.  These employees were concerned about losing their jobs to technology.  A labor-management committee was formed to look at the issue.  They had productive meetings that lasted approximately two to three hours for over a year to look at the work each of the offices was doing.  The offices all did the same type of work but each had a different approach.  All of these employees reviewed the jobs being done and looked at the technology that was being used.  The outcome was amazing.  Instead of complaining and being afraid of the technology, the employees saw how it was helping them with their jobs.  They utilized the information and the technology to design more productive offices.  No employees lost their job and, in fact, were able to help write their own job descriptions.  Everybody, including the organization,  made gains addressing the problem without the intervention and cost of monitoring devices.

In another example, a manager at a team meeting addressed the  usage of rags which was adding increased costs to the organization.  The manager shared financial information with the team so everyone had a better understanding of the situation.  While this was not a significant issue,  it was a good issue for employees to consider since they used the rags.  Once again, a productive discussion took place with how the rags were being used and how fewer rags could be used.  The end result was the rag usage went down and so did the costs associated with it.  The employees in that meeting not only changed their habits but went back to the shop floor and encouraged their peers to change their usage, too.  Once they realized they had solved the problem, the employees asked the manager,  “What else can we do to bring down costs?”  Again, NO robot or monitoring technology was around or needed to be used to change the work habits of employees.

Technology to address performance may be a good idea for some jobs.  The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) posted on their website in 2015 when it’s beneficial and  some thoughts on how to implement the technology.   Performance technology can help with training or help delivery drivers  with safety issues or finding locations.  Data derived from the technology can also be beneficial it also depends on how that data is interpreted and used.  What is more important is how the technology will implemented.   SHRM suggested what we have advocated, talk to employees about it first.  Having face-to-face conversations can help with buy-in and let employees know you respect them and want to hear from about the issue.  Listening and answering their questions will help ease concerns and build trust.  Involving them from the very beginning will provide huge rewards!  They probably will have some ideas to help with implementation and will be more willing to help with implementation.

Working together helps us learn about each other.  It provides different perspectives that can best be conveyed through face-to-face interaction.  Identifying issues and concerns helps us to better understand each other.  Listening to other people can help us think differently or expose us to things we may not have considered.  A person in a team may very well be able to design technology that will help a group solve a problem but it should be done after there has been discussion about the problem being addressed.

Concerns on employee performance, too, can be addressed other ways.  For example, a manager can meet periodically with an employee to determine how the employee is doing on a project.  It also provides an opportunity for coaching or assistance if need be.  If technology is being used just to catch employees doing something wrong, that only creates bad work environments which increases more costs such as turnover and lower productivity.    Most employees want to do the right thing.  If there’s a problem with an individual, it should be taken up with the individual.

As I hear some of these stories about performance monitoring technology, I think about the movie, The Time Machine, based on the H. G. Wells book.  In the story,  H. G. Wells creates a futuristic population that replaces humans.   One of the groups in this future race is  the Eloi which was supposed to represent the elite class in society but to me, it represents us and the use of technology.   The Eloi act like robots because they barely interact with each other.  They lack the ability to act on their own even for survival.  They couldn’t save one of their own people from drowning, they didn’t know how to grow food and they had no leadership.  Their ability to solve problems had diminished.  Is that where we’re headed?  Will we allow the use of technology to increase so that we don’t have to interact with each other but allow the technology to tell us how  to think or move in a certain way?

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