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The Labor Law Insider: Union Activity, Employment Engagement, and Changes in the Manufacturing Industry, Part I



March 02, 2023
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Labor & Employment 


The Labor Law Insider (LLI) podcast welcomes Husch Blackwell partner Anne Mayette on her inaugural trip to the LLI microphone. Anne, who practices out of the firm’s Chicago office, is a seasoned labor and employment lawyer, and joins host Tom Godar to discuss union activity in the manufacturing and related sectors. This is an expansion on the discussion of employment and labor issues in the extensive Manufacturing White Paper published by Husch Blackwell in January 2023.

There has been a tremendous increase in organizing activity as well as strikes and other job actions in the manufacturing and related industries, including 32 strikes in 41 locations and 16 labor protests in 17 locations in calendar year 2022, according to Cornell’s tracker. Anne discusses these developments and puts them into a broader context of employee engagement, or lack of engagement, which spurs union organizing activity. Using information compiled in the Manufacturing Industry Analysis, Anne describes a number of areas in which employers could provide more opportunities which would likely increase employee engagement and decrease the chances of successful union activities. The survey suggest that employees look for greater diversity in the workplace, more voice in the workplace, and more meaningful individual and employee group communications from their employer. While none of these observations are shocking, Anne describes practical steps employers can take that would not only decrease the need for employees to seek union intervention, but also increase the success for the organizations as they compete for talent in manufacturing and related industries.

Part 2 of the of podcast will continue with more specific examples of employee input on issues, as well as steps to be taken by employers to introduce greater engagement opportunities. Join us for the Labor Law Insider podcast.

Read the Transcript

This transcript has been auto-generated using Adobe Premier Pro.

00;00;08;13 - 00;00;34;13
Tom Godar
Hello and welcome to Husch Blackwell's Labor Law Insider podcast. I'm your host, Tom Godar, and together with my Husch Blackwell colleagues and thought leaders from around the country, we will discuss and explore the ever changing issues in the world of labor law. President Biden promised to be the most pro-union president ever, and he is fulfilling that promise. The next four years promises to be a wild ride.

00;00;34;22 - 00;00;40;09
Tom Godar
So buckle up and join us on the Labor Law Insider podcast.

00;00;42;14 - 00;01;09;15
Tom Godar
Hello. It's great to have you join the Labor Law Insider for our first broadcast in February. And we're going to talk a little bit about a paper, a white paper that my colleagues and some consultants put together that was released just last month in January titled Legal Insights for Manufacturing for our manufacturing clients. And frankly, for many, this is a pretty interesting work.

00;01;09;27 - 00;01;42;29
Tom Godar
It covers regulatory and compliance issues and supply chain issues. It looks deeply at product safety and liability and marketing, as well as all of the corporate transactions that we've seen and that we anticipate, whether they're M&A or otherwise in 2023. It also talks about commercial contracting and looks at some of the data breach and security issues that so many of us are concerned about and taking steps for.

00;01;43;14 - 00;02;14;23
Tom Godar
But for our purposes today, an important section in which my guest and that was one of the lead authors of deals with unions, labor and employment issues that are facing manufacturers and others in our economy. It's a really important discussion and honestly, it tells us that some of our predictions from the labor law insider over the past 15 or 18 months are coming true.

00;02;15;08 - 00;02;53;21
Tom Godar
But before we talk about the specifics, I want to introduce a new guest to the Labor Law Insider, Anne Mayette. Anne Mayette is a friend of mine. We've worked together on a number of cases over the years, and she practices out of our Husch Blackwell Chicago office. She's been practicing well more than a decade and hails from Michigan State and DePaul University, although and claims that much of her formative view of the world comes from being raised in New York with the statement that no time I don't camp camping is when you don't have a pool at the hotel.

00;02;54;03 - 00;03;05;05
Tom Godar
Anne it's great to have you on board. Anne is one of our Illinois super lawyers, rising stars and I know why she is because of all of the great work that we've done together. Welcome.

00;03;05;05 - 00;03;28;17
Anne Mayette
And well, thank you, Tom. It is great to be here with you today and thank you for that amazing introduction. I think you've made me sound a lot more interesting than I am, but hopefully I'll live up to that today. And we can talk about some really interesting trends that we've been seeing that in the in the union space in the labor space.

00;03;30;03 - 00;03;56;18
Tom Godar
You know, it's great to include that for our manufacturing and other clients in the in the document that we've authored. And one of the things that really impressed me as I looked at that and have talked to you is that this is more than blue sky. We're seeing some of the increased unionization efforts, not only among the health care employees that we talked about, gosh, about a year ago.

00;03;56;18 - 00;04;12;27
Tom Godar
I'm a labor law insider and not in just places like Starbucks, but in manufacturing and transportation and warehousing as well. Give us a little bit of background as to what's going on in terms of unionization efforts in the manufacturing and related areas.

00;04;14;08 - 00;04;43;04
Anne Mayette
Yet, Tom, like you said, you know, the predictions that we've had on the labor law insider over the past few years have really seemed to be coming true, especially in the manufacturing kind of transportation, warehousing industries. We saw a significant increase in union activity in both 2021 and 2022. Some of the kind of statistics that we're seeing in 2022, unions won more elections than the past 20 years.

00;04;43;22 - 00;05;16;12
Anne Mayette
In fact, it was 80% more than 2021. And they were represent more than twice as many workers. In addition, there were a second never sent more petitions for future elections. They were up nearly 60% in the first nine months of the year. And kind of doing my research and looking into the background on this. There was a recent Gallup survey that said 71% of Americans approve of unions, which is an all time high since 1965 and up 64% since before the COVID 19 pandemic.

00;05;16;29 - 00;05;50;18
Anne Mayette
So we are definitely seeing an increase in activity, an increase in Americans approving of union activity and unions. One, I think the most interesting resources that I found was the Cornell University Worker Institute labor action Tracker, quite the Mount Mouthful, but they did do an analysis of, you know, the union activity throughout the country. And you can really narrow it down to kind of the types of industries to see where you're really seeing a rise in activity.

00;05;50;29 - 00;06;30;29
Anne Mayette
So within the manufacturing, transportation and warehousing industries, there were 134 labor actions since January 1st, 2021, across 182 locations in the country. In addition, that the manufacturing industry made up 17.7% of work stoppages and the transportation and warehousing industry made up 10.6% of work stoppages. And that was just in 2021. In 2022, the manufacturing industry saw 32 strikes in 41 locations and 16 lower labor protests in 17 locations.

00;06;31;09 - 00;06;44;06
Anne Mayette
So you can see there that's a significant amount of activity, a real increase, I think, from what we had been seeing before and especially in that manufacturing, transportation, warehousing type industries.

00;06;45;04 - 00;07;20;18
Tom Godar
Well, that's I mean, that's where I grew up low these many years ago. So much of the activity was related to manufacturing, transportation, warehousing, that sort of thing. And we know that even with all of that, unions don't represent a very significant portion of our private sector employees. It's somewhere six or 7%, something like that. But even with that, it tells us that there seems to be an energy around both labor actions, as well as organizing actions in not only health care, but in the sort of bread and butter of transportation.

00;07;21;05 - 00;07;28;19
Tom Godar
So what are some of the demands from employers that have resulted in some of this increased activity, according to the review that you've done in?

00;07;29;22 - 00;08;03;08
Anne Mayette
So not surprising that demands include a $15 minimum wage, especially over the last few years with COVID, some COVID 19 protocol protocols, safety and health related issues that are coming up first contract in addition, health care, job security, retirement and benefits. These are really some of the demands that we were seeing with these labor activity.

00;08;03;27 - 00;08;27;25
Tom Godar
While some of them may pale a little bit, I think it was just announced yesterday or today that the president is going to end the emergency call for and based on the COVID pandemic. But some of them obviously will just continue unabated. It has little to do that. There was a pandemic crisis, but it's talking about employee demands for what they would consider fair treatment in the workplace.

00;08;27;25 - 00;08;41;23
Tom Godar
What are the kinds of things that you're seeing that are driving employees either toward unionization or, if you will, staying with employee ERs on a direct relationship without a third party.

00;08;42;25 - 00;09;09;25
Anne Mayette
So I think really the number one factor that we can kind of put a lot of these demands into is the want for the employees to feel engaged with their employer. And so wanting the employer to take the steps to engage their employees so that they feel like they have some buy in, they have some say in how the company is operating.

00;09;10;07 - 00;09;36;01
Anne Mayette
And really, I think this is an important thing to look at employee engagement from a, you know, a really high level all the way down to kind of the nitty gritty because it doesn't just go to you know, keeping a union out of the workplace. It really is all about taking the steps you need to engage employees that are going to lead to a better workplace, whether you know, unionized or not.

00;09;36;24 - 00;10;18;06
Anne Mayette
I think it's really important because given the labor shortages we've seen in the past few years, finding ways to engage employees can actually lead to better employee retention and attracting the employees that you need because of, you know, all of these labor shortages. So there was recently a study that took place. It was actually in February and October of 2020 that they did structured interviews with leaders from 14 manufacturing companies and then a follow up employee survey with 578 employees and kind of drivers of that employee retention were found to be enjoying the work they do, 83% job stability.

00;10;18;06 - 00;10;52;28
Anne Mayette
That was 79% of responses are family oriented culture. 69% of respondents were looking for that. Also, jobs fitting well with other life demands and then also training and career opportunities. So these are some of the things that employees were looking for in order to be engaged. And you know, this was creating a better workplace for both the employees and the employers and leading to things that are going to benefit the employer as a whole.

00;10;53;12 - 00;11;25;14
Tom Godar
You know, it's not unusual to have conversations with our clients when we're trying to determine what the next year might bring. And I often raise whether they have annual evaluations, but more than that, whether they also have annual structured discussions about employee expectations, satisfaction, if you will, what they see their job track to be over the next four or five years, how they are understanding their role and how it meets their own lifestyle expectations.

00;11;26;10 - 00;11;37;26
Tom Godar
Do those kinds of structured and interviews seem to meet some of the issues that came about in this manufacturing engagement and retention study that you just referred to?

00;11;39;06 - 00;12;14;10
Anne Mayette
Yes, that's definitely something that led to kind of the three things that have come out of this study with, you know, employees kind of being able to voice and identify the things that were important to them so that they could feel like they were, you know, had a voice within in the company. So definitely the employers taking the time and the effort to seek out those, you know, answers from their employees and gauge them and determine, you know, what's most important to the employee.

00;12;14;24 - 00;12;38;12
Anne Mayette
I think sometimes there is potentially a disconnect between what the employer thinks is important to the employee versus what is actually important to the employee. And so engaging in those, you know, employee satisfied satisfaction and engagement surveys has really kind of opened employers eyes to the different things that may be important to the employees.

00;12;39;11 - 00;12;59;21
Tom Godar
Anne thanks so much for those observations. Hey, can we continue this discussion on some specific employee observations and employer responses in our next labor law podcast? I'd really like to have you join us and our listeners one more time, and thank you listeners for joining the Labor Law Insider podcast.


Thomas P. Godar

Of Counsel

Anne M. Mayette