2024 strikes predicted to be less disruptive; but layoffs and unionization continue

As 2024 kicks off in full, unionization and job cuts continue - but the outlook is deemed not to be so bad when it comes to the potential for disruptive worker strikes:

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Jan 4, 2024
This article is part of a series called The Most Interesting HR Stories of the Week.

Strike activity outlook looks better for 2024…

According to The Guardian, US workers will not be exerting the same sort of pay pressures on employers as they did in 2023, with opportunities to strike being much reduced. After a bumper 2023 of strike activity, it claims the bargaining schedule for 2024 does not appear to be facing as many battles ahead. Despite some 200,000 postal worker’s contracts expiring in September, it is illegal for these workers to strikes. Other expiring contracts cover 45,000 dockworkers at ports from Maine to Texas, 30,000 Boeing workers and 8,000 film crew members in Hollywood – but the newspaper argues these will be nothing compared to the scale of the 2023 strikes – which included the United Auto Workers (UAW) strikes, Hollywood strikes, UPS and Kaiser Permanente. “Strike activity might not reach the same level next year but it’s still an opportune time to go on strike,” said Johnnie Kallas, director of the ILR Labor Action Tracker, which keeps a tally of strikes across the US. Added Ken Jacobs, the co-director of the UC Berkeley Labor Center: “Can unions turn expand and increase union density? In the context of our very broken labor law, none of this is easy. But I’m the most optimistic I’ve been since I began doing this work.”

…as Wells Fargo workers form first union at the bank

Workers at a Wells Fargo branch in New Mexico have voted to form a union – a move that makes them the first employees at a US megabank to unionize. Staff at an Albuquerque location favored unionization by a margin of 5-3, establishing a small outpost for organized labor at a company that operates more than 4,000 branches and employs more than 225,000 workers in the US. The union breakthrough comes as Wells Fargo faces a wider labor campaign. Two branches – one in Daytona Beach, Florida, and another in Atwater, California – have filed petitions for union representation that could trigger balloting, according to information shared with ABC News from the National Labor Relations Board. Sabrina Perez, a banker at the Albuquerque branch, said worker frustration has been building for some years but it reached a tipping point six months ago, around concerns about under-staffing. Perez claimed Wells Fargo forced employees to take on the workload of multiple colleagues. The staff cuts are “outpacing anything we can keep up with,” Perez said. A spokesperson for Wells Fargo said: “We respect our employees’ rights to vote for union representation.” However, it added: “At the same time, we continue to believe our employees are best served by working directly with the company and its leadership.”

Nike rumored to be laying off large numbers of staff

Sports company, Nike, could well be one of the first big companies to announce layoffs in 2024, with a number of news outlets reporting that the brand is rumored to be laying off ‘hundreds’ of staff imminently. The news came a day after the company revised its sales growth figures from 5% to just 1%. To compensate for this, it is reported that Nike Inc. aims to cut 2 billion dollars in costs. According to Bloomberg, the company is cutting costs across all divisions because of poor sales last year. CFO Matt Friend shared “weaker sales prospects in China and the rest of the world,” as the reason for the expected layoffs at Nike. The company also showed less growth in e-commerce, a sector it previously had high hopes for. In the wake of this announcement, Nike’s share prices fell 10%, This is the second impactful round of layoffs for Nike in recent years. In 2020, during the Covid-19 pandemic, the company let 700 employees go. Entrepreneur also reports Intel could be making cuts too. Around 38% of business leaders surveyed by ResumeBuilder think layoffs are likely in 2024, and around half say their company will implement a hiring freeze, it said.

New hires prefer to work in the office

While US employers might be finding it difficult to get their existing staff to work in the office more, it seems new joiners are a different kettle of fish. New data finds new employees are much more likely to want to work ‘in’ an office than at home, with 69% of 2023’s new employees – those with a tenure of one year or less – found to be working from the office. This is a rise from 62% in 2022. By comparison, employees at every other level of seniority worked from the office at roughly the same rates in both 2022 and 2023. According to Emily Killham, senior director of people analytics, research, and insights at Perceptyx – which conducted the research: “We’ve all heard stories about businesses telling their employees to show up in person or lose their jobs. But the return-to-office trend is largely being driven by new hires.” She added: “If businesses are committed to full-scale RTO, they may be pursuing it through attrition, rather than forcing the issue with existing staff.” Killham continued: “Employers are still showing us that they want workers in the office. Despite evidence that hybrid work can improve morale and productivity, the ‘officism’ bias persists.” She added: “As new employees join their in-office peers, leaders should continue to listen to the perceptions of those who joined in a remote or hybrid environment to ensure an equitable experience for all. It seems clear that flexible work is here to stay, and how employers handle it will make all the difference.”

Don’t call it layoffs, call it ‘reinvention’

As euphemisms go, this has to rank up there. Photocopying and digital imaging giant, Xerox, is calling getting rid of 15% of its workforce ‘reinvention.’ The headcount cut – equivalent to around 3,000 people – comes on the back of attempts to reduce costs and create growth. According to CEO, Steven Bandrowczak, the shift will be a ‘reinvention’ for the company, which will also include it reshuffling its board. On announcing the news, shares in the business dropped 10% in morning trading. The irony is, Xerox is still a profitable business – reporting net income of $77 million in its 2023 Q3. However, it is growth that has stalled in recent years, and headcount (which is pre-cuts 20,000), is believed to be too high. In announcing the news, it said John Bruno, president and chief operating officer at Xerox, will lead the enterprise alignment of the company’s print, digital services and tech services business. Louis Pastor, meanwhile, Xerox’s chief transformation officer, will oversee the new global business services organization.

Manager phoning absent employee saves his life

When a Costco manager phoned his colleague to ask where he was (he had failed to turn up for his 5am shift), the answer he got may just have saved his life. Jesse Orsborn, Costco foods manager, rang his colleague after he failed to turn up. “With the early shift, there’s times when we all oversleep. So, usually, we’ll give them a phone call — ‘You up? You coming in?’ That type of thing,” he said. But the answer he got from the worker – slurred speech, getting increasingly-so led Orsborn to believe his peer might be having some sort of medical emergency. As the employee started to mumble, and the call was dropped, Orsborn decided to call for an ambulance. It was a good job he did, because it turned out the worker was actually having a stroke. “We take care of our members. We take care of our employees. They mean the world to us,” said Dave Mackin, assistant general manager Costco Mayfield Heights. The employee has since been released from hospital and is now recovering from his ordeal.

Diabetic worker sacked for asking for breaks awarded $150,000

UPS has agreed to pay a worker it wrongly fired $150,000 in compensation. The delivery company had already been determined to have violated the Americans with Disabilities Act, by failing to accommodate and then firing an employee with diabetes – according to a ruling by the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in December 2022. The former employee, who worked as a pre-loader at a Jacksonville, Florida, warehouse, has erratic, or brittle, diabetes and wears an insulin pump with a continuous glucose monitor, the EEOC said. He asked an HR supervisor for occasional, less-then-five-minute, breaks between loading trailers so he could check his blood sugar and eat or drink something if necessary, according to the allegations. Even though he was able to perform the job’s essential functions, the HR supervisor referred to him as a “liability” due to his disability, the EEOC alleged. UPS denied the allegations but agreed to settle the case to avoid further litigation and stipulated that the terms are fair, according to the consent decree. In addition to monetary relief, has now UPS agreed to reinstate the employee. From now on, UPS must also agree to reasonably accommodate someone with a disability, and engage with them about any disability they may have in what the EEOC calls “good faith.”

This article is part of a series called The Most Interesting HR Stories of the Week.