Huffington Post’s labor writer Dave Jamieson has written a compelling story on the death of a temporary worker at an Amazon distribution center in Virginia. In his long, detailed, fascinating article, Jamieson never simply blames Amazon or a subcontractor company for the employee’s death. Instead, he tells the story of a human being who went to work one day and did not come home. He takes us into a world of temporary workers and how they labor with little security and no benefits. I don’t want to try to summarize this article. Instead, I urge you to read it and consider the story of Jeff Lockhart, Jr., who died at age 29, leaving behind a wife and three children. Jamieson gave his work the subtitle, “What the Future of Low Wage Work Really Looks Like.” In those words, he challenges us (and Jeff Bezos): Even if this system is legal and makes good business sense – is it right?
Wage theft is a serious crime, so serious, in fact, that a court has ordered several New York-based franchise owners of Papa John’s to pay $500,000 to 250 workers. According to Laura Clawson of Daily Kos, owners have paid workers less than the minimum wage and work off the clock. One owner, Abdul Jamil Khokhar, was arrested and will spend 60 days in jail as part of a plea agreement. This story underscores the need for all American workers to understand wage theft and support their fellow workers when they are victims of such exploitation. Wage theft usually hurts low wage workers, people who have the most to lose. If we want low wage workers to be responsible, we need to ask their employers to do the same.
USA Today asks a very troubling question: “Is the annual pay raise dead?” When clients ask me about the job market, I tell them that the problem isn’t jobs. It’s getting paid. Wage increases have ticked up at about 2%, which for most people is not enough to cover increased costs. Bob Sullivan of CNBC, the author of the USA Today article, cites an expert from AON Hewitt, who said, “Base salary increases are flat. We don't see the prospect of that changing much at all in the next several years.” Rather than annual salary increases, many companies are turning to bonuses as a way to reward productive employees while better controlling labor costs.
The article goes on to state that employee turnover is high and “critical-skill” employees are hardest to retain. Go figure. Why should employees be loyal to companies that only care about the bottom line? They are following market forces just as their employers are. I agree with an expert quoted at the end of the article who urges workers to know and refine their most marketable skills. But I’ll take it one step further: Rather than hope that your current employer rewards you with a bonus, always be ready to find a better employer if your compensation is not fair or if a better option is available. Treat your career like a business.
It's been a great day. The Cubs beat the Cardinals, and I met some friends for a steak dinner. So, now while chilling out listening to blues and catching up with The New Yorker, I read these words in Amy Davidson's October 8 profile of GOP presidential candidate Carly Fiorina: "When HP fired her, she got a twenty-million-dollar severance package, plus fifteen thousand for career counseling. Only in this country, perhaps, could a C.E.O. receive compensation worth more than a million hundred million dollars in six years, get fired, and use the money to enter politics."
I don't believe in salary restrictions of any kind. If a company wants to pay any employee any amount, that's the company's business. At the same time, voters should be able to ask about a candidate's history and what it says about his or her potential leadership. In Fiorina's case, she laid off thousands of workers before she took the money and ran. As far as I can tell, none of her current positions would do anything to help American workers. "Only in America."
Seth Godin offers an interesting perspective on failure – It’s all about your attitude. Some successful people feel that they are failures. They are never happy with their work even when it is good. Such thinking is a trap. People lost in feelings of failure keep looking for an ever elusive success.
Godin is not saying we should be happy with failure, but that we should know how to work through failures and deliver. His books The Dip and Poke the Box are necessary reads for anyone who’s caught up in the failure trap. Successful people fail before they find a way to succeed. Or, as Godin puts in The Dip, they know how to quit the right things. If you’re doing the right kind of work for the right reason, the feelings of failure will still come now and then. But they won’t be how you define yourself. Take joy in your work and your life.
Aljazeera America reports that Senator Bernie Sanders and progressive allies in the Senate and House are proposing a new measure to help working Americans. The Workplace Democracy Act would make it easier for employees to unionize. It would also require that employers negotiate with unions within 10 days of a request to negotiate. This measure is a good thing, but it’s more of a political statement than a realistic attempt to change law. Republicans control the House and Senate, and they are very pro-employer. That said, Democrats and Independents like Sanders need to present a new vision for how working people will be treated. This bill along with the Fight for $15 is part of that vision.
P.S. John Nichols of The Nation connects this issue to changes in the TPP and other international agreements that protect the right of workers to form unions.
Daily Kos’s Mark E. Anderson examines increased productivity and stagnant wages between 1948 and 2014. His article includes a very informative graph that shows how these two economic measures were almost aligned. Now productivity doubles wages. Where has the money gone? Anderson argues that work has gone overseas where labor is cheaper and profits have gone to executives and investors. I agree, but would add one other big factor: automation. I was working with a client this weekend who works for a large technology manufacturer. His company will be able to shed hundreds of tech jobs once they move to cloud-based systems. Jobs can come back from China. Once they are automated, they are gone forever. Anderson makes a great point in concluding his article: What are the super rich and executives going to do when no one can afford to buy their products?
Most people look to the Bureau of Labor Statistics and its monthly employment report to understand the job market. While that is probably the best measure, there are other important signs, including how employers are treating employees and job candidates. A few months ago, I noted that almost every job posting now includes a list of benefits offered to new employees. Some are even listing a salary.
Employee retention is equally important. Bloomberg reports that some employers are now encouraging employees to use PTO and vacation time. A few employers are even paying bonus that employees can use during a vacation. Others offer “unlimited vacation.” These are the same companies who laid off so many workers that those who were spared worked extra hours and skipped vacation days. Now, as the job market tightens and employers still do not want to raise wages, vacation is a perk used to keep employees without increasing labor budgets.
If you’re asking for a raise or trying to negotiate salary with a new employer, think about vacation as a bargaining chip. If an employer cannot give you a higher wage, ask for an extra week of vacation or PTO. This is a good time to talk about time off.
Bloomberg reports today on careers that offer significant pay increases. Most workers are looking at minimal salary increases even though the unemployment rate has fallen. Workers in technology and finance have seen wages grow between 4-10%. What can you do to earn more? For most working people, especially those with college degrees, the best way to earn more is to find a new job. In many cases, new employers tend to offer more than current employers. Another way is to try to take the next step up the career ladder. Two clients who are clients in the grocery industry have told me that they have hired department managers with little experience. Why did they do this? Turnover. As the job economy heats up, there is more opportunity to move up because the experience employees are less available. If you’re unhappy with your current income, find a way to make a move.
USA Today offers a great article on people to have to move for a new job. 15% of executives and managers had to move to take a new position. The article attributes this situation to two factors: an improving economy and job seekers’ willingness to move. Many of my clients can’t move because of family commitments. Those who can expand the market for their services. In a job market where salaries are still tight, moving to another city can be a way to earn more money. Relocation should be an option in a good career management strategy.