400 Macy’s workers to go on strike; 60% of Americans live pay-check to pay-check

In this week's round-up of the top HR stories: employee strikes; financial worries; back-wages recovered, and the all of the drama in a sensational week at OpenAI:

Article main image
Nov 23, 2023

400 Macy’s staff vote to go on strike

Around 400 workers at department chain, Macy’s, are planning to go on strike this Black Friday, to force managers to listen to concerns about working conditions. The workers – from a number of locations in Washington – allege unfair labor practices and have criticized the CEO’s $11 million pay packet and the $173 million paid out in dividends to shareholders at the same time they are trying to negotiate a better employment contract. According to The Guardian, starting pay in the most recent contract with Macy’s was at, or near, Washington state’s minimum wage, which goes up to $16.28 an hour from 1 January. “We would like them to share some of those profits so we can have a liveable wage,” said Azia Domingo, who has worked at Macy’s in Tukwila, Washington, for 21 years. “Macy’s CEO gets $11m per year while a lot of his workers rely on food banks, and some can’t even afford to see doctors because of the low wages and the expensive healthcare.” The union, UFCW Local 3000, is planning a striking workers’ parade on Black Friday at the Macy’s Southcenter location in Tukwila, outside Seattle, to kick off the strike. Other workers represented by the union and community members will also join.

60% of Americans live ‘pay check to pay check’

A staggering 60% of Americans are living paycheck-to-paycheck, according to a new report by LendingClub. With Christmas just one month to go, the research also finds that four in ten workers say they consider themselves to be “worse off” compared to 2022. The LendingClub report was conducted last month, and comes as holiday spending during the Thanksgiving week is predicted to hit a record – but only because consumers try to maximize the weekend’s deals, according to Deloitte’s 2023 Black Friday-Cyber Monday survey. Deloitte finds spending over the week is expected to jump 13% from last year, with shoppers shelling out $567 on average. But this is despite the fact that credit card debt now tops $1 trillion. Some 74% of Americans say they are stressed about finances, according to a separate CNBC Your Money Financial Confidence Survey conducted in August. Inflation, rising interest rates and a lack of savings contribute to those feelings. The same CNBC survey found that 61% of Americans are living paycheck-to-paycheck, up from 58% in March. Some 74% of Americans say they are stressed about finances, according to a separate CNBC Your Money Financial Confidence Survey conducted in August.

OpenAI staff threaten to quit…

After the shock sacking of OpenAI’s CEO, Sam Altman, and his subsequent move to Microsoft, over the weekend, some 730 staff at artificial intelligence company, OpenAI are in out and out revolt. They have signed an open letter to the board, threatening to quit unless Altman is reinstated, along with cofounder and former president Greg Brockman. In the letter, it says: “The process through which you terminated Sam Altman and removed Greg Brockman from the board has jeopardized all of this work and undermined our mission and company.” It adds: “Your conduct has made it clear you did not have the competence to oversee OpenAI.” By 5:10 pm ET on Monday, some 738 out of OpenAI’s 770 employees (or about 95% of the company, had signed the letter). Altman was controversially sacked after the board claimed he “was not consistently candid in his communications with the board, hindering its ability to exercise its responsibilities.” Hours later, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella announced that Altman and Brockman would be joining the tech giant to head a new advanced AI research unit. Nadella appeared to leave the door open to any OpenAI employees eager to jump ship, adding of Altman’s new Microsoft subsidiary: “We look forward to moving quickly to provide them with the resources needed for their success.”

…and 24 hours later…the CEO’s back

The sensational goings-on at OpenAI took another dramatic turn – after it was later revealed that less than 24 hours after staff signaled their open revolt, Sam Altman was announced to be making a comeback. In a statement late on Tuesday night, San Francisco–based OpenAI released a statement saying: “We have reached an agreement in principle for Sam Altman to return to OpenAI as CEO with a new initial board.” The board, which replaces the one that fired Altman on Friday, will be led by former Salesforce co-CEO Bret Taylor, who also chaired Twitter’s board before its takeover by Elon Musk last year. Microsoft, which has invested billions of dollars in OpenAI and has rights to its current technology, swooped-in to hire Altman on Monday, as well as another co-founder and former president, Greg Brockman, who had quit in protest after Altman’s removal. That emboldened a threatened exodus of nearly all of the startup’s 770 employees who signed a letter calling for the board’s resignation and Altman’s return. One of the four board members who participated in Altman’s ouster, OpenAI co-founder and chief scientist Ilya Sutskever, later expressed regret and joined the call for the board’s resignation.

Department of Labor recovers nearly $0.5 million in back wages for paint company workers

An investigation by the US Department for Labor has seen it recover $481,357 from a Burbank paint and wall covering company who shortchanged 117 workers by failing to pay required overtime wages. The company – Rodin Group – repeatedly told federal investigators that its employees had not worked overtime hours, but the department determined that staff routinely worked at weekends and/or did double shifts during the week, to take them beyond 40 hours’ of work per week. “Our investigation found The Rodin Group deliberately tried to deny more than 100 employees their hard-earned wages, including overtime wages when some employees worked as many as 72 hours of overtime,” said wage and hour division assistant district director, Francisco Ocampo. He added: “The employer has learned that misleading investigators will not be tolerated and that willful violations can lead to significant damages and civil money penalties.” The Rodin Group in Burbank is a commercial painting and wall covering company, providing services in the Los Angeles area, including clients in San Bernardino, Ventura and Orange counties.

Papa John’s Pizza ordered to pay $175,000 for discrimination against blind worker

The Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC) has ordered Papa John’s Pizza to pay $175,000 to settle a discrimination lawsuit in which a blind man was sacked before starting his first shift with the business. The man – Michael Barnes – who requires a guide dog, applied for a role at the pizza chain in 2020. After getting the job, the EEOC claimed he was fired before starting his first shift, after Papa John’s refused to accommodate Barnes’ request to bring his service dog to work. Papa John’s will now have to pay Barnes $175,000, and provide disability awareness training to employees, after it was found that Barnes’ firing violated the Americans with Disabilities Act. “Not allowing blind and visually impaired people to travel to and from work in the way that affords them confidence and independence is akin to telling sighted workers who rely on the flexibility and independence of driving that they may not travel to work by car,” said Karla Gilbride, the EEOC’s general counsel. She added: “We are glad that Papa John’s has agreed to provide training to its employees and hope that in the future, no other job applicant who uses a service dog will experience the discrimination that Mr. Barnes faced.”

Unemployment claims fall by 24,000

In a further sign that the US economy is showing continued resilience, latest data reveals the number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits fell by 24,000 last week to 209,000. The previous week’s total – 233,000 – had been the highest since August, prompting fears that the economy was finally showing signs of cooling. But this latest fall means 1.84 million Americans are receiving unemployment benefits the week that ended November 11th – down by 22,000 from the week before. Said Rubeela Farooqi, chief US economist at High Frequency Economics: “Job growth remains strong, the unemployment rate remains historically low, and businesses have yet to start reducing their workforce in a significant way.” The combination of a slowing but durable job market and tumbling inflation rates has raised hopes that the Federal Bank can manage a so-called ‘soft landing’ – slowing economic activity enough to control inflation without tipping the United States into a recession.