The Messy Labor Challenges on Labor Day 2022

The Messy Labor Challenges on Labor Day 2022

Sept. 2, 2022
Everything from long Covid keeping people out of the workforce, to increasing union membership, to increasing pay and satisfying employees' concerns.

While I won't offer the well-known statistics on how many jobs are open and will refrain from speculating where all the workers went, I do have to mention one statistic that I found pretty surprising.

Last week Brookings said that its study showed that long COVID is responsible for keeping as many as 4 million people out of work. While I think many of us have been aware of long-term symptoms I don't think any of us knew it was this large. The study said that 16 million working-age Americans, which is defined as those ages 18 to 65, have long COVID. And of those, they estimate that two to four million are not working due to it. 

With workers out to due illness, workers changing jobs and many dropping out of the conventional workforce to create a business or other means of income, does this shift the power from employers to workers?

Well if unionization of workers is one measure of workers exercising their powers, the answer could be maybe. In a Gallup Poll published on August 30, 2022, it turns out that U.S. approval of unions is at its highest point since 1965.  Seventy-one percent of Americans now approve of labor unions. 

This sentiment is echoed by the Department of Labor says that 60 million non-union workers in the U.S. say they would join a union if given the chance, but many don’t know where to begin."  To help this effort they have created a  Worker Organizing Resource and Knowledge (WORK) Center website, which offers a one-stop shop for information and resources on unions and collective bargaining for workers.

For those people not interested in joining unions, they are still in a more favorable position of choosing jobs with so many available. And while pay still continues to be a top employee concern in every study, for many companies the issue of pay is complicated. I talked with one small manufacturing company in Ohio, that is doing very well, but having problems finding employees. While their pay is competitive, the fact that they are competing with so many other industries is new. "We used to compete with other manufacturing companies, but now we are competing with service industries as they raise the pay to our level or even higher."

Companies are also having to address other needs employees now require, which I will categorize as work/life balance. Included in that are reasonable working hours, an understanding of the whole worker who has concerns outside of work that need to be understood, and the whole issue of being able to bring your authentic self to work. I won't go into detail here, but the last part has to do with the fact that many people want diverse workplaces that are inclusive allowing them to feel more comfortable at work and more valued. 

The call for more diverse workplaces also offers a pathway to expand the talent pool. I have talked to many companies who are now recruiting beyond the same ten schools they have traditionally done. Companies are looking to add more women and more veterans.  Companies are looking into sourcing employees from underserved areas and in some cases that means just providing transportation to bring people from where they live to where the jobs are located. These are all welcome sources of new talent. 

Finding talent has been a struggle for many years and will continue to be, but I have seen a lot of innovative efforts of public/private partnerships that are training people for jobs that are available, as often it's a matter of getting people the right skills for these open jobs. 

Recently, an executive of an association told me, "This problem is not insurmountable. It’s going to take time to remedy the issue, but there are very logical steps that can be taken, and we just have to find more opportunities to take these steps.”

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