Overcome Stubborns

The Power Gap Among Labor Unions: Why Some Have New Strength–and Others Don’t

As the United Auto Workers set up picket lines last week outside of plants for General Motors, Ford and Stellantis (maker of Chrysler, Jeep and Dodge), there was a sense of familiarity, of economic history repeating itself. In times past, the UAW would roll up to a contract negotiation with all eight cylinders of its union engine roaring. There were work stoppages, but when the Big Three controlled 80% of the market, the car companies had a lot of sales to lose in enduring a long strike, so they had some willingness to compromise.Since the 1980s, though, the UAW–not to mention the United Steelworkers and other large industrial unions–have been squeezed by the global labor arbitrage that shifted work to Asia. They’ve become fewer in number, less powerful politically and forced into waves of givebacks to keep their jobs. Most galling, for the UAW, was the adoption of a two-tiered wage system—a lower rate for new hires, vs. legacy workers. The scoresheet has not been kind to labor; its share of national income has been in a long decline, one that has accelerated in this century.This year, the wealth and power pendulum has started moving the other way. The post-pandemic reordering of the global supply chain that enriched some U.S. industries–think greedflation–has given the UAW, and a few other unions the chance to muscle up again. They’re seizing the moment to demand a share of that new wealth. This is a workforce that has done everything asked of it during the pandemic to meet the needs of corporations and their customers.Which is making labor more militant, more willing to hit the bricks for better pay and benefits. We're going to see this soon in Las Vegas, where the Culinary Workers Union, 50,000 of them, may strike the major hotels and casinos if there’s no new contract. Las Vegas has been recording record month after record month of revenues since the end of the pandemic, and the unions quite reasonably expect to get a piece of those winnings. Some corporations have acknowledged as much, with the Teamsters winning a big contract with UPS. Likewise, American Airlines just settled with its pilots on a new contract in August, providing a 46% increase in compensation, as “revenge travel” hasn’t slowed. Why wouldn’t you settle with workers if your airline is filling every seat, and facing a pilot shortage over the next decade? Pilots are United and Delta have also settled. That’s the benefit of a healthy economy,  when labor and management each have more to gain than lose.The economy can’t solve every labor issue. In Hollywood, both the Writers Guild of America and the Screen Actors Guild have been on strike for months against the movie studios and the streaming companies. And in warehouses and coffeeshops nationwide, Amazon and Starbucks are fighting bitterly against determined unionization efforts.  Every labor negotiation rests on the extent of the common interests among the two parties. In the UPS negotiation, each side had too much to lose to take a strike. Shippers had already been moving their UPS business to other carriers as talks dragged on. And with drivers now earning more than $100,000 annually in some places, the urge to walk rather than deliver wasn’t strong. So UPS and the Teamsters settled and each can claim victory. This is the same Teamsters union that refused yet more givebacks with foundering Yellow Freight, and allowed the company to go under. Yellow had been in the red for years and the union could not see a way forward. With demand for truckers still high, and Yellow’s assets going on the block, there will still options for its drivers.For the auto companies, business is great but business is also changing rapidly–and that’s where the mutual interests are parting. Detroit has been able to sell every pickup truck it can build, for instance. These are the industry’s most profitable vehicles. How much of that business is worth risking? But the switch from internal combustion engines to EVs has introduced a host of new technologies that is reordering the workplace, and the unions are wary. Transmission plants get replaced by battery plants, for example, and the automakers are placing some of those plant in less union-friendly geographies in the South. The UAW has seen this movie before, when robotics came on the scene and eventually displaced a wide swath of jobs.Yet neither side is playing hardball, it seems. The unions are picketing at three selected plants–one from each automaker, a switch from the days when it would focus attention on one company.  That includes a Stellantis factory in Ohio, for instance, that makes the ever-popular Jeep. The union calls it a “standup strike.” The idea is to get the message across without crippling the entire industry. GM CEO Mary Barra, a lifelong GMer and the daughter of a GM engineer, has tried to keep the temperature low: “If you’re asking for more than the company made, I think that’s not a good position,” Barra said, but added, “I think we’re in a good position to get this done.” The gap remains wide, but that was also the case with UPS and the Teamsters.Technology is also a feature in the Hollywood strike by creatives against the studios and streamers. The actors and writers see AI technology being used to deprive them of earnings and intellectual property. Talks stalled, but there is still talk. Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav tried to spread optimism, telling analysts: “We are just hopeful as a company, and I am very hopeful, that we can get that resolved. If we can get it resolved soon, then the long-term impact will be minimized.” But that optimism sounded a bit scripted, given that Warner has been willing to take a $500 million hit to earnings during the strike, and Zazlov’s lavish pay packet, $285 million over the last two years, has further impassioned workers over lavish media CEO pay.The dissonance could not be any greater in the case of Starbucks and Amazon, whose founders still exert a powerful influence on labor relations, leading to conflict. For Starbucks former CEO and chairman Howard Schultz, the battle with unions has been particularly difficult. Schultz, who grew up working class in Brooklyn, is a progressive. Starbucks pays well and has good benefits. He cares about the workforce, so he can’t understand why workers would want a union. He believes that he’s in the right position to know what they need, moreso than a union. But his view is from the top down. From that vantage point, understanding the workers’ point is view is difficult–very few business owners can do it. Henry Ford had the same stance–and his hired goons’ violent confrontation with union organizers was a turning point in UAW history.At Amazon, founder Jeff Bezos built a company by being a control freak over costs and operations and trained his senior managers that way. Unions represent a threat to that control mantra. And threatens to bring higher costs. Workers, for their part, see themselves as dehumanized labor inputs within Amazon’s system, not people. So the fight goes on, in both companies.The capital vs. labor issues this year are unique to their time–an economic situation unlike we’ve ever experienced and rapid technological developments that are rearranging traditional conflicts. The path to labor peace in the auto industry, then, may require these two old adversaries to bring more imagination and innovation to the negotiating table.  Bill Saporito is an editor at large at Inc. magazine. Previously, worked as an assistant managing editor at Time magazine and as a senior editor at Fortune.(Featured photo: United Auto Workers members walk the picket line at the Ford Michigan Assembly Plant in Wayne, Mich., on Sept. 18, 2023. AP Photo/Paul Sancya) 

BY Bill Saporito | September 19, 2023


The From Day One Newsletter is a monthly roundup of articles, features, and editorials on innovative ways for companies to forge stronger relationships with their employees, customers, and communities.

Overcome Stubborns
By Emily McCrary-Ruiz-Esparza | September 28, 2023

Why Sleep Care Is an Employer Matter

At the acme of hustle culture, sleep deprivation was worn like a medal. Heidi Riney, MD, and chief medical officer at sleep healthcare provider Nox Health, is happy to see the bad habit fall out of fashion. “People would brag about not getting enough sleep, that they were able to achieve so much on just four hours’ sleep.’ Other times, the boast was, ‘I got eight hours, and I can’t believe I spoiled myself.’”Burnt out and hungry for work-life balance, workers have replaced “hustle” with wellness, and though it’s less common to boast about getting little sleep, people are still doing it, and their wellbeing, inside and outside of work, is suffering.From Day One hosted Riney and her colleague, Shannon Cyr, a behavioral scientist and SVP of Nox’s sleep care telehealth services, for a recent webinar on the benefit of sleep healthcare—and why it’s a workplace matter. They discussed the connection between a lack of sleep and worsening chronic conditions, emphasizing just how important sleep hygiene is.What Happens to the Sleep-DeprivedWe cheat ourselves and our health when we don’t get enough sleep, Riney explained. Our ability to concentrate suffers, so does muscle repair and recovery, and our immune system. Short-term, lack of sleep inhibits our memory, the ability to pay attention, our appetite, and the way we metabolize food. “Sleep is a very active process where a lot of incredibly important functions happen when we sleep, a lot of restorative functions,” she said.Dr. Heidi Riney, pictured, led the webinar alongside Nox Health colleague Shannon Cyr (company photo)Sleepiness and fatigue—or that feeling of moving through mud—show up after just one night of poor sleep, “and if you have a safety-sensitive job, that can be very challenging,” Riney said.If we’re sleep deprived for long periods of time, cognition, the ability to problem-solve, and the ability to make decisions can be impaired. Riney called sleep deprivation the silent partner to chronic diseases, often increasing the risk of “type-two diabetes, chronic systemic inflammation—which has been linked to things like cancer, heart disease, hyperlipidemia, or high cholesterol—increased risk of anxiety and depression, increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease.” Sleep is so important to systemic health that in 2022, the American Heart Association added sleep to its cardiovascular health checklist.“When sleep is treated adequately,” Cyr explained, “then those chronic conditions that may be present in our patient, it seems to slow the progression of that chronic disease. In some cases, it also reverses some of the symptoms of those chronic diseases.”Generally, sleep-related costs constitute just a small portion of total healthcare spend for employers, but, according to Riney and Cyr, members who have sleep disorders often cost twice as much as those without, and constitute a substantial share of total healthcare spend.“Sleep disorders represent a hidden, overlooked, but remedial gap in care,” said Riney. “They represent a significant safety, health, and productivity issue for every employer.”Changing Sleep BehaviorCyr noted that improving sleep is often a matter of behavioral change—Nox tends to use behavior modification as its first-line therapy—and the results are not only quality and quantity of sleep, she said, but also quality of life.Nox Health’s model of proactively contacting members about their quality of sleep—Are you feeling more productive? Less fatigued?—makes it easier for members to track over time changes in sleep quality.That’s especially important for patients who work in transportation, Cyr said. “We want to make sure that they’re not accident-prone, they’re not working while sleepy and while they are driving heavy machinery.”Riney noted that a patient pushing their primary care provider to talk about sleep can prompt the doctor to start asking other patients too. “You can bring it up and say ‘I don’t feel like I am sleeping at my best,’ then list two or three symptoms that you’re experiencing.” It’s not a typical topic of conversation at the annual health check-up, they said, but you can make it one.Editor’s note: From Day One thanks our partner, Nox Health, for sponsoring this webinar. Emily McCrary-Ruiz-Esparza is a freelance journalist and From Day One contributing editor who writes about work, the job market, and women’s experiences in the workplace. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, Quartz at Work, Fast Company, and Digiday’s Worklife, among others.

Overcome Stubborns
By Stephen Koepp | September 20, 2023

From Day One Celebrates Its Fifth Anniversary

Half a decade ago, the news was erupting daily in an avalanche of headlines about Corporate America. A lot of those headlines were about scandals. About mistakes and injustice. These were not just mainstream media headlines, but also major stories emerging from digital media and social media. In fact, it seemed like for the first time everyone suddenly had a voice, and many of these voices were shouting. Many people within these companies were already committed to making positive change. But corporate values issues are often complex. They are typically interwoven with other business priorities, history, or plain old inertia. “Companies were being held accountable for their behavior in new and important ways, and it seemed like there was real, and possibly permanent change happening,” recalls From Day One CEO Nick Baily. “But then what? Even once you agree on a new set of values, there’s a lot of work to do in making them real.”  This was the historical turning point the three founders of From Day One were contemplating when they launched, exactly five years ago this month, the organization’s very first event, a one-day conference of hundreds of business leaders at BRIC House in Brooklyn, a place not previously known for business conferences. From the start, it was designed to be something different.The idea was that the country needed a “forum on corporate values,” a gathering of professionals to talk about the relationship between companies and their employees and communities. In other words, their stakeholders, rather than just their stockholders. The founders–Baily, Erin Sauter, and me–felt certain that we didn’t know the answer to these pivotal questions, but we felt equally certain that there were many people with inspiring, practical insight on these topics, and that bringing them together into the same room would be a positive first step.The first event was a hit. Speakers from companies including IBM, NBCUniversal and Condé Nast offered fresh ideas on “building a more purposeful team” and “setting your values and following them.” Sponsors ranged from AT&T to Con Edison to Eileen Fisher. Attendees, for their part, asked: What will you be doing for an encore?The three founders decided to bring the Brooklyn-bred idea to Chicago, Boston, and beyond. Five years later, From Day One has hosted 45 one-day conferences from Seattle to Miami. The pandemic produced an existential moment of doubt for the company, but necessity proved inspirational. From Day One has hosted more than 60 virtual conferences and 220 webinars. All told, more than 72,000 professionals in HR and related fields have attended From Day One’s events. This year, Inc. magazine recognized From Day One as one of America’s 5,000 fastest-growing companies. The audience at a From Day One conference in Atlanta; featured photo: a panel onstage in Seattle (Photos by From Day One)Since the company has taken a journalistic approach to its conversations, it has never lacked for topics. History-making events of the past five years provided fuel for conversations that From Day One’s founders never could have expected. To start with, the pandemic brought the remote-work revolution. As Harvard professor Tsedal Neeley told our virtual audience: “I am 100% convinced that, if we do this hybrid right and with courage, and we set our policies based on need and not fear, we’re preparing for the digital revolution that’s right around the corner.” She was prophetic about the challenge of getting it right.The murder of George Floyd inspired a push for racial justice in Corporate America that would prove to be fitful, but the conversation was groundbreaking. “All of a sudden, I was talking about this, and our employees’ eyes were opened. We’ve never really talked openly about racism before at work,” Hoai Scott of NBCUniversal told our audience in Los Angeles. As the pandemic eased, the pent-up demand for more rewarding and meaningful work triggered the Great Resignation that sent companies into a frantic search for talent, which has only somewhat eased. “Comparing where we are now to where we were pre-Covid, I think the employee is going to retain a lot of power,” AT&T executive Ben Jackson told our Dallas audience last year. In turn, the need to retain workers inspired a major push among companies for better learning-and-development programs. “Our vision is–and it’s very lofty–we want to redefine what education means in this country, full stop,” Walmart’s head of L&D said in a From Day One fireside chat.What may be the most consequential development of From Day One’s short life is a debate about not only the future of work, but the meaning of work in our lives. To be sure, our colleagues at Harvard Business Review, which celebrated its 100th anniversary last year, have been at this awhile. But recent years have turned this philosophical question into a competitive news beat for business reporters and thinkers like Anne Helen Petersen, who has spoken to From Day One’s audience about both of her recent work-focused books. She was early in raising the prospect that a flexible approach to work arrangements “could actually help us decenter work, just slightly, from its place of prominence in our world.”To offer such a vigorous schedule of events to talk about these issues, From Day One now has a team of 18 full- and part-time employees who’ve developed diverse areas of expertise in finding inspiring speakers, developing an engaged audience, staging well-run events, and helping sponsors grow their businesses.What’s next? From Day One is planning a rich assortment of live and virtual events for the rest of 2023 and all through 2024, including a conference next week in our neighbor borough of Manhattan. We hope you’ll join us for the next chapters of our story.Steve Koepp is From Day One’s chief content officer. 


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