Hourly workers still have leverage as U.S. hiring soars

NEW YORK >> Chelsie Church was working as a manager at a Taco Bell in Colorado when she discovered employees at a nearby Pizza Hut were making more than a dollar an hour more than she was.

Her attempts to negotiate a raise were unsuccessful, so she continued to look for another job, eventually finding one at Laredo’s Tacos, a chain linked to 7-Eleven.

“Even my manager at Taco Bell said, ‘If they offer you $20 an hour, take it,'” Church said.

As inflation soars, hourly workers like Church have sought different positions with better pay.

More than 4 million Americans have quit their jobs every month since June 2021, a level not seen before last year. A Pew Research survey found that about one in five American workers say they are very or somewhat likely to look for a new job in the next six months.

For many workers at the bottom of the pay scale, however, inflation has already eaten away or wiped out any real wage gains, said Brad Hershbein, senior economist at the Upjohn Institute for Employment Research.

In July, hourly wages increased by 0.5%, an increase of 5.2% compared to last year, which is still not enough to keep up with inflation. And sometimes changing jobs can mean earning more while giving up benefits like health insurance or schedule consistency.

Yet hiring is booming – US employers added more than half a million jobs in July, according to the monthly jobs report released today – and unemployment remains near a low. level in 50 years, which means that job change will probably remain an option at least for the near future.

“One of the biggest sources of worker power is the implicit threat to quit your job and take another,” said Heidi Shierholz, president of the liberal Institute for Economic Policy. “When there are a large number of job openings at the same time, this implicit threat is real.”

That could change if hiring slows and the US economy continues to weaken. But for now, “the momentum is still with the worker,” Hershbein said. “We are not where we were six to 12 months ago, but the labor market remains strong.”

Labor economist Kathryn Edwards of the Rand Corporation says that while hourly wage increases can be achieved now through job switching, other benefits – such as regular hours, sick leave and health insurance – are often not even on the table.

That’s why 21-year-old Ethan Ramsey continues to work at the Publix supermarket in Miami, Florida, where he started in 2020.

Ramsay has seen more turnover and turnover in recent months, he said, because the supermarket no longer pays as much as other hourly employers in the area. But it factors in Publix perks, such as vision and dental coverage, as well as rarities like a 401(k) contribution and a percentage of salary in company stock.

“As good as they are, you still want to be paid what your time is worth,” he said. Inflation has exacerbated the pressure.

“Every customer who walks in – no exaggeration – everyone who is an adult, who is not a child – complains that everything is more expensive at the checkout,” he said. To supplement his paycheck, Ramsay often takes shifts from on-demand driving apps and works as a snow cone delivery driver, he said.

Workers considering switching to higher wages should also consider the possibility of “labour hoarding,” where an employer will hire new employees to have on hand, but without a guarantee of regular hours. Edwards said. In these cases, the overall performance of a worker who changes jobs may be lower.

“Employers bait and change all the time,” she said.

Some workers would rather stay where they are and demand higher wages. In response to widespread instability in working conditions, there has been a marked increase in worker unionization in recent months, Edwards and Shierholz noted.

Labor campaigns are up 58% from the same time last year, according to the National Labor Relations Board, and workers filed nearly 2,000 demands for representation in the first three quarters of fiscal 2022. Massive campaigns on Amazon and more than 200 Starbucks locations grabbed headlines.

Maeg Yosef, 41, who worked as a crew member at Trader Joe’s in Hadley, Massachusetts, for 18 years, said working during the pandemic has caused her and her colleagues to discuss safety more often work and other conditions, including compensation and benefits. , which led to a successful labor campaign this month.

Days before that vote, the company announced raises for some slices of workers, an increase that Yosef attributes to campaign pressure.

“We were well aware that our wages had not kept up with inflation,” she said. “And we had tried to voice our concerns in the past, through surveys and other channels. The company wasn’t listening.

Trader Joe workers in Minneapolis, Minnesota and Boulder, Colorado also filed for union elections, with the Minneapolis site set to hold its vote next week.

“Among workers — and especially low-wage workers — there has been a renewed understanding that employers are seeing record profits while wages haven’t kept up,” Shierholz said. “I don’t think it will fade that quickly. Some of what low-wage workers have gained in terms of bargaining power will not go away.