More stories

  • in

    The Biggest Kink in America’s Supply Chain: Not Enough Truckers

    WASHINGTON — Facing more than $50,000 in student debt, Michael Gary dropped out of college and took a truck driving job in 2012. It paid the bills, he said, and he could reduce his expenses if he lived mostly out of a truck.But over the years, the job strained his relationships. He was away from home for weeks at a time and could not prioritize his health: It took more than three years to schedule an optometry appointment, which he kept canceling because of his irregular work hours. He quit on Oct. 6.“I had no personal life outside of driving a truck,” said Mr. Gary, 58, a resident of Vancouver, Wash. “I finally had enough.”Truck drivers have been in short supply for years, but a wave of retirements combined with those simply quitting for less stressful jobs is exacerbating the supply chain crisis in the United States, leading to empty store shelves, panicked holiday shoppers and congestion at ports. Warehouses around the country are overflowing with products, and delivery times have stretched to months from days or weeks for many goods.A report released last month by the American Trucking Associations estimated that the industry is short 80,000 drivers, a record number, and one the association said could double by 2030 as more retire.Supply-chain problems stem from a number of factors, including an extraordinary surge in demand for goods and factory shutdowns abroad. But the situation has been compounded by a shortage of truckers and deteriorating conditions across the transportation sector, which have made it even harder for consumers to get the things they want when they want them.The phenomenon is rippling across the economy, weighing on growth, pushing up prices for consumers and depressing President Biden’s approval rating. But the White House has struggled with how to respond.On Tuesday, it announced a series of steps aimed at alleviating supply-chain problems, such as allowing ports to redirect other federal funds to efforts to ease backlogs. As part of the plan, the Port of Savannah could reallocate more than $8 million to convert existing inland facilities into five pop-up container yards in Georgia and North Carolina to help ships offload cargo more quickly.That followed an announcement by Mr. Biden last month that major ports and private companies would begin moving toward 24-hour operation in an effort to ease the gridlock. But early results suggest that trucking remains a major bottleneck in that effort, compounding congestion at the ports.The directors of the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach said that, at least initially, few additional truckers were showing up to take advantage of the extended hours.Gene Seroka, the executive director of the Port of Los Angeles, said his port had told the White House in July that about 30 percent of the port’s appointments for truckers went unused every day, largely because of shortages of drivers, the chassis they use to pull the loads and warehouse workers to unload items from trucks.“Here in the port complex, with all this cargo, we need more drivers,” Mr. Seroka said.The $1 trillion infrastructure bill that the House passed last week could help mitigate the shortage. The legislation includes a three-year pilot apprenticeship program that would allow commercial truck drivers as young as 18 to drive across state lines. In most states, people under 21 can receive a commercial driver’s license, but federal regulations restrict them from driving interstate routes.But industry experts said the program was unlikely to fix the immediate problem, given that it could take months to get underway and the fact that many people simply do not want to drive trucks.Mr. Biden said last month that he would consider deploying the National Guard to alleviate the trucker shortage, although a White House official said the administration was not actively pursuing the move.Meera Joshi, the deputy administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, said the agency had focused on easing the process of obtaining a commercial driver’s license after states cut back licensing operations during the coronavirus pandemic. The agency has also extended the hours that certain drivers can work. “They are the absolute backbone of a big part of our supply chain,” Pete Buttigieg, the transportation secretary, said about truckers at a White House briefing on Monday. “We need to respect and, in my view, compensate them better than we have.”The shortage has alarmed trucking companies, which say there are not enough young people to replace those aging out of the work force. The stereotypes attached with the job, the isolating lifestyle and younger generations’ focus on pursuing four-year college degrees have made it difficult to entice drivers. Trucking companies have also struggled to retain workers: Turnover rates have reached as high as 90 percent for large carriers.In response, the companies have raised their wages. The average weekly earnings for long-distance drivers have increased about 21 percent since the start of 2019, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Last year, commercial truck drivers had a median wage of $47,130.On any given day this summer, dozens of container ships waited outside the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach to unload their cargo.Stella Kalinina for The New York TimesThe Port of Los Angeles. Trucking remains a major bottleneck in the effort to reduce congestion at U.S. ports.Stella Kalinina for The New York TimesTo pay for those increases, trucking companies are raising their rates. Jon Gold, the vice president of supply chain and customs policy at the National Retail Federation, said the driver shortage has contributed to steeper costs for retailers, which are trickling down to consumers and pushing up some of the prices at stores.“We are seeing cost increases at every step of the way in the transportation supply chain,” Mr. Gold said. “From ocean to truck to rail, costs are increasing.”Derek J. Leathers, the president and chief executive of Werner Enterprises in Omaha, which employs about 9,500 drivers, said its services cost about 15 percent more than prepandemic levels as driver salaries and equipment costs have climbed.The company is trying to hire about 700 truck drivers — up from about 300 before the pandemic — after demand swelled and retirements left the company short on workers. It has increased driver compensation by about 20 percent since the start of 2020 and expanded the number of driving academies it operates.“I’ve been in the business for over 30 years,” Mr. Leathers said. “I definitely think this is the tightest driver market I’ve seen in my career.”Understand the Supply Chain CrisisCard 1 of 5Covid’s impact on the supply chain continues. More

  • in

    Retailers Scramble to Attract Workers Ahead of the Holidays

    Signing bonuses, higher wages, even college tuition. Companies are using perks to entice new employees in an industry that has been battered by the pandemic.Macy’s is offering referral bonuses of up to $500 for each friend or family member that employees recruit to join the company. Walmart is paying as much as $17 an hour to start and has begun offering free college tuition to its workers. And some Amazon warehouse jobs now command signing bonuses of up to $3,000.Retailers, expecting the holiday shopping season to be bustling once again this year after being upended by the coronavirus in 2020, are scrambling to find enough workers to staff their stores and distribution centers in a tight labor market. It is not proving easy to entice applicants to an industry that has been battered, more than most, by the pandemic’s many challenges, from fights over mask wearing to high rates of infection among employees. Willing retail workers are likely to earn larger paychecks and work fewer hours, while consumers may be greeted by less inventory and understaffed stores.“Folks looking to work in retail have typically had very little choice — it’s largely been driven by geography and availability of hours,” said Mark A. Cohen, the director of retail studies at Columbia University’s business school. “Now they can pick and choose who’s got the highest, best benefits, bonuses and hourly rates. And as we’ve seen, the escalation has been striking.”Or as Jeff Gennette, the chief executive of Macy’s, which plans to hire 76,000 full- and part-time employees this season, put it in a recent interview: “Everyone’s experiencing this — there’s a war for talent at the front lines. My sense is we all have to raise our game.”While some of the most generous perks, like tuition reimbursement, are being offered mainly to long-term workers, even seasonal workers will see higher pay than usual. It’s especially critical for retailers to hire temporary help this year because existing employees are already strained from nearly two years of pandemic conditions. The National Retail Federation, an industry group, is anticipating record holiday sales and has forecast that retailers will hire 500,000 to 665,000 seasonal workers, significantly more than the 486,000 in 2020.It’s especially critical for retailers to hire temporary help this year to assist existing employees already strained from nearly two years of pandemic conditions.Jeenah Moon for The New York Times“The biggest risk to retailers and distributors is that they are working their current work force too much,” said Scott Mushkin, who founded the financial consultant R5 Capital, based in New Canaan, Conn. “Overtime can only go so far. The work force is tired out.”Mr. Mushkin experienced firsthand just how eager retailers are for workers during a visit last month to a Home Depot in Naperville, Ill.“I was looking at a sign listing open positions at the store when I was basically accosted by a manager asking if I was interested in applying,” Mr. Mushkin said.Mr. Mushkin said he was struck not only by the manager’s desperation but also by the number of positions available. “Basically every job in that store is open,” he said. “So who is doing those jobs now? Who is picking up the slack?”Those pressures may explain why large retailers like Walmart are looking to hire 150,000 additional workers to supplement its current staff this season. For several years leading up to the pandemic, Walmart offered existing workers extra hours at the holidays but did not start a large hiring blitz. (Existing employees can still sign up for additional hours.) It recently raised its minimum wage to $12 an hour, and in some stores it is offering new workers $17 an hour.A recruiter for Amazon at a job fair in Virginia last month. It is looking for an additional 150,000 people this holiday season.Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesAmazon is also looking for an additional 150,000 people this holiday season, which follows a push to expand its permanent work force by 125,000. With giant retailers gobbling up many of the job candidates, enticing new employees is that much harder for others.Many retailers, like Saks Off 5th, reiterated commitments to remain closed on Thanksgiving this year, a welcome shift for workers after a yearslong trend of shopping invading the holiday. Demanding that employees work in stores that day would probably be a particularly tough sell this year.Nordstrom, which is aiming to hire 28,600 seasonal and regular employees, said it had increased bonus and incentive pay to as much as $650 for hourly and overnight store workers, from as much as $400 last year.Saks Off 5th said in October that it was raising its minimum base wage for hourly store workers to $15 per hour — more than double the federal minimum wage — and that it would not offer extended holiday shopping hours this year so that staff could have more flexibility.Best Buy is allowing job applicants to submit videos rather than coming in physically for a first round of interviews, saying in a recent statement that the videos “can be recorded and reviewed without the need to go back and forth on scheduling.”The scramble by retailers comes as the American economy is gaining strength, adding 531,000 jobs in October, a sharp rebound from the previous month. But even as unemployment dropped to 4.6 percent from 4.8 percent, the labor participation rate — which measures the share of the working-age population employed or looking for a job — was flat last month, at 61.6 percent. That signals that the pool of available workers remains tight.“We’re coming out of a crisis we have no experience in dealing with, in which millions of people were furloughed or laid off or removed from the work force, and to think they’ll all show up on certain date to come back to work is kind of silly,” Mr. Cohen said. “Some people are still fearful about coming back to work, especially in a job in which they would be exposed to large numbers of the public.”While fear of the Delta variant may be keeping some workers away, the retail industry had been loath to impose vaccine mandates for fear that store workers might leave and that it might become even harder to find seasonal employees. A new vaccinate-or-test requirement for companies with 100 or more employees announced by the Biden administration on Thursday essentially forced their hands, though it is not scheduled to take effect until Jan. 4 and was temporarily blocked on Saturday by a federal appeals court in Louisiana. (The mandate does instruct employers to require unvaccinated workers to wear masks by Dec. 5.)The National Retail Federation was critical of the mandate, saying it imposes “burdensome new requirements on retailers during the crucial holiday shopping season.”L.L. Bean’s chief executive said that it has been “incredibly challenging” to hire hourly employees, especially for its 54 stores.Karsten Moran for The New York TimesStephen Smith, the chief executive of L.L. Bean, the outdoor retailer based in Maine, said it has been “incredibly challenging” to hire hourly employees, especially for its more than 50 stores. The chain is not offering bonuses, but it has given priority to new forms of flexibility to attract workers. For example, jobs at its domestic call center are now fully remote.In stores, Mr. Smith said, “we have changed our shift structure so you can do two- or four-hour shifts” in an attempt to “make it a lot easier if you’re juggling family responsibilities.”The company has also sought to emphasize its unique benefits, including several paid days off for employees to pursue outdoor experiences.The challenge of finding workers has put a spotlight on how difficult many retail jobs are and on the short shrift given to many store workers during the worst of the pandemic. They were regularly exposed to Covid-19 and involved in customer conflicts around wearing masks, and they were inconsistently offered hazard pay or other compensation for their efforts. Many retail workers said that they were not properly informed when they were exposed to the virus in stores.Anthony Stropoli, a personal shopper at Bergdorf Goodman, holds one of the lucrative, client-facing jobs that have been fading in retail in recent years and he noted that luxury retail was a different ballgame. He previously worked at Barneys New York, which filed for bankruptcy in 2019.“A lot of people do not want to work in retail right now — I really, really see it,” Mr. Stropoli said. “People are not feeling appreciated or fairly compensated, and I think this whole Covid thing has made them really rethink that. They want to feel valued.”It all means that workers have more leverage this season than they have in the past. Joel Bines, global co-leader of the retail practice at the consulting firm AlixPartners, said if retailers want to find enough workers this season, they need to pay them more and fundamentally improve working conditions.“For retailers, who have treated their workers as dispensable cogs in order to increase the bottom line, to say they are shocked that they can’t find people to work for them is hard to believe,” Mr. Bines said.“The thing that the industry needs to realize is that workers have agency now,” he added. “They have agency in a way they never have before.”Contact Sapna Maheshwari at sapna@nytimes.com and Michael Corkery at michael.corkery@nytimes.com. More

  • in

    Can Progress on Diversity Be Union-Made?

    Staring at the wall of glass clawing its way up the unfinished facade of the Winthrop Center in downtown Boston — 53 floors of commercial and residential space soaring 690 feet — Travis Watson isn’t interested in the grandeur of the thing. He wants to know who’s working on it.“It doesn’t pass the eye test,” he scoffs: In a city whose non-Hispanic white population has dwindled to 45 percent, it’s hard to see Black and brown faces on the site.He has more than his eyesight to go by. In 2018, Mayor Martin J. Walsh — now President Biden’s labor secretary — appointed Mr. Watson to lead the Boston Employment Commission, the body created to monitor compliance with the Boston Residents Jobs Policy. The policy mandates giving a minimum share of work to city residents, women and people of color on large private construction projects and those that are publicly funded.The latest version of the ordinance, from 2017, requires that Asian, Black and Latino workers get at least 40 percent of the work hours on sanctioned projects to better reflect the city’s demographics. (It also mandates that 51 percent of the hours go to city residents and 12 percent to women.) Mr. Watson complains that while many projects fail to meet the benchmarks, nobody is penalized.When the commission reviewed the Winthrop Center project in mid-September, when it was roughly halfway done, only 32 percent of the hours worked had gone to people of color. Other downtown projects have similar shortfalls. In September, even a project to renovate City Hall — the building where the targets were written and the Employment Commission meets — was shy of the mark.“We should be going higher,” Mr. Watson said. “This is a floor.”Boston is one of the nation’s most solidly Democratic cities. It just elected Michelle Wu, an outspoken progressive, as mayor by a resounding margin. She campaigned heavily on a promise to expand opportunities for minority businesses and to empower workers and communities of color with the sort of policy proposals that led to the creation of the Employment Commission — proposals aimed at ensuring that lucrative opportunities are fairly distributed. But the projects underway in Boston show how much harder it is to deliver on goals of racial equity than to set them.In Boston and beyond, building is one of the last American industries offering good jobs to workers without a college degree. The prospect of trillions of dollars of new federal funding for infrastructure projects under Mr. Biden’s Build Back Better program is raising hopes that roads, bridges, railways, wind farms, electric grids and water mains could provide millions of good construction jobs for a generation or more.What infuriates Mr. Watson is that, as he views it, unions for the building trades are the main impediment keeping people of color from building sites. He recalls one of his appearances before Boston’s City Council: “A councilor got up to say this is a union city,” he said. “For me, he was saying this is a white city, a city for white workers.”This tension has opened an uncomfortable rift between elements of the nation’s traditional Democratic coalition. Prominent advocates of racial equity push for Black and Hispanic contractors, whose operations are often small and nonunion but hire a lot of workers of color.Unions push back against the charges, sometimes forcefully, arguing that the growing number of apprentices of color indicates an embrace of diversity. In the first three months of this year, for example, nearly 30 percent of apprentices across the building trades in Massachusetts were nonwhite, up from 24 percent six years earlier.The unions also contend that nonunion contractors and their allies are cynically using a discussion of racial diversity to exploit workers.“The most vocal critics of our vigorous, intentional and ongoing efforts to improve our diversity, equity, and inclusion practices are often directly employed, funded, or formally aligned with nonunion special interest groups,” Renee Dozier, business agent of a Boston area local of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, said in a statement. Many critics, she added, “have a direct profit motive to see wage and safety conditions watered down in one of America’s most dangerous industries, construction.”Mr. Watson shrugs off such criticism.The 38-year-old son of a white mother and a Black father, a graduate of Brandeis University with a major in African and African American studies, Mr. Watson is a former community organizer in the predominantly Black neighborhood of Roxbury and North Dorchester, south of downtown.He is employed as a director of racial equity and community engagement at the Massachusetts Housing Investment Corporation, a nonprofit group that offers financing for affordable housing and other community projects.He is deeply frustrated by what he views as the naked discrimination barring Black and Latino workers from the high-paying construction jobs that offer a path into the middle class. He is exasperated that unions generally won’t disclose the racial and ethnic mix of the workers in their halls — aside from apprentices, which they are obliged to report — and suggests that it is because the numbers would show their lack of diversity.He also grew frustrated by the inability of the Employment Commission to do anything about all this. As the law stands, he noted, contractors must only go through the motions to prove they are making an honest effort to comply.By last month, he had had enough. He resigned.Travis Watson, who resigned as the head of the Boston Employment Commission, views unions as the primary obstacle keeping people of color from building sites.The Pipeline IssueUnions for the building trades — laborers and electricians, plumbers and metalworkers — are largely to thank for ensuring that construction work is a middle-class job. The unions have bargained successfully for decent wages, and for health and pension benefits. They train workers and monitor safety conditions on building sites.Gatekeeping is also one of their functions, particularly in a union-friendly city like Boston. Unions run apprenticeships, which confer and certify the requisite skills, controlling the pipeline of workers into the profession.Who gets a job at downtown projects like the Winthrop Center or the City Hall renovation, where large unionized contractors and subcontractors do a vast majority of the work, is often decided in the union hall, which handles calls from contractors and makes assignments from a list of out-of-work journeymen and women.City data suggests that workers of color got 38 percent of the hours on projects subject to the ordinance last year. This year, between April and September, the share actually hit the target of 40 percent, it said. But there’s a stark difference in the jobs that whites and nonwhites get: Minority workers in 2020 did 76 percent of the work removing asbestos, where the mandated base wage set for projects like the City Hall renovation is usually around $40 an hour. By contrast, they got only 22 percent of the plumber hours, which pay around $60.“The pipeline issue is a real one, and I do think there’s a lack of diversity in the pipeline,” said Celina Barrios-Millner, the chief of equity and inclusion in Boston’s departing city government. “Any time you see outcomes that are so skewed, you have to understand there is discrimination somewhere down the line.”Some union officials acknowledge the issue. When the City Hall project came up for discussion at the Boston Employment Commission in May, Commissioner Charles Cofield, an organizer for the North Atlantic States Regional Council of Carpenters, which covers New York and New England, argued that “the main part of the pressure needs to go to the people supplying the manpower.” That means the business agents at the union locals.Elmer Castillo, an immigrant from Honduras who rose to be vice president of Local 723 of the carpenters’ union for a couple of years, has long experience with the ways of the building trades unions. “Unions are good if you know how to work with them,” he said. But equality of opportunity between white and minority workers? Mr. Castillo says, “That doesn’t exist.”Workers are supposed to be selected for a job based largely on how long they’ve been unemployed. But nepotism rules in the union hall, Mr. Castillo contends. Business agents trade favors with contractors. They will place their sons, cousins and nephews in the good jobs, and they will make sure that those sons, cousins and nephews follow them up the union ranks.“This builds a chain that never ends, a chain of whites,” Mr. Castillo said. “One will never have the opportunity to achieve what they achieve.”Craig Ransom, now the business manager at Local 346 of the carpenters’ union, offers his career as an example of the glass ceiling Black workers face. After rising to business manager at Local 723, he got stuck — blocked from what he says would be his natural progression to regional manager. “Unions are good for people that look like me,” Mr. Ransom said. “But at the very top level, there is no one that looks like me.”The conflict between white insiders and Black or Hispanic outsiders clamoring for an opportunity has bedeviled unions since the dawn of the labor movement. Even after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ended officially sanctioned discrimination, race often trumped class solidarity. Many unions discriminated against workers of color, and many employers turned to workers of color to cross union picket lines.A few years later, President Richard M. Nixon leaned into the conflict between unions and African Americans, embracing the so-called Philadelphia Plan, which required federal contractors to prove they were hiring minority workers to match the ethnic composition of the area where work was being done. It would create “a political dilemma for the labor union leaders and civil rights groups,” said John Ehrlichman, a Nixon adviser, driving a wedge between two pillars of Democratic politics.“Unions are good for people that look like me,” said Craig Ransom, the business manager at Local 346 of the carpenters’ union. “But at the very top level, there is no one that looks like me.”Labor unions have come a long way since then. One reason is that far more workers of color are in the labor force, and many unions want to organize them, including the Service Employees International Union and UNITE HERE, which covers leisure and hospitality workers.The other reason is that organized labor doesn’t have the clout it once had. “The old bastions of exclusion with strong seniority systems that favored white workers have been decimated,” said Nelson Lichtenstein, a historian of labor at the University of California, Santa Barbara.In the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reported fewer than 100 racial-discrimination complaints against unions, about one-third the number brought a decade before. “They don’t have the power they used to have in being involved in hiring,” said Gwendolyn Young Reams, the commission’s acting general counsel.Unions in the building trades remain something of an exception. They are strong, compared with other unions, and retain control over training and hiring, especially in public projects and the large, more heavily regulated construction in union-friendly urban areas. Nearly 13 percent of construction workers are unionized, about double the overall rate across private industries.‘Driving the Ship’Maven Construction is not a union contractor. It is an open shop, meaning it has not signed a deal to employ only union workers. Its founder and chief executive, JocCole Burton, a Black woman, knows that limits the kind of work she can do. But she also understands the cost of signing up with the unions.“Every single college or university in the region, every hospital and all public work requires union labor,” said Ms. Burton, who founded Maven in Atlanta and moved it to Boston four years ago. “Anything that is downtown and most work in the Boston metro is going to require union labor.”The exception is affordable-housing projects, which bring in nonunion contractors to keep costs down, Ms. Burton said. Still, open-shop contractors are mostly limited to smaller projects. “The largest project we’ve done is $35 million,” she said, with jobs worth $5 million to $10 million more typical.She is seeking to make Maven a “signatory” contractor, to have a shot at more lucrative work. But the arrangement is expensive: The benefits and other obligations add up, and they are hard to afford if you don’t have a steady stream of big projects.More problematic for Ms. Burton is that she expects unions to provide few workers of color. “The unions are in the business of making sure that the union halls get all the work, but they don’t have enough Black and brown bodies in their halls,” she said.Ms. Burton says she is shocked by what she sees as overt discrimination in such a liberal city. “The racism experienced 50 years ago in Atlanta is the same we see in Boston today,” she said. “It’s subtle — not as overt — but it is the same.” A crucial problem, she argues, “is the unions are driving the ship when it comes to equity.”Union officials contend that much of the criticism is unfair. A report from Local 103 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers noted that while people of color made up only 4 percent of retired electricians drawing a pension in the last five years, they accounted for almost 30 percent of their apprentices, a testament to how much it has evolved.“There is no denying that unions in many industries, including construction, just like corporations in many industries, have a troubling past when it comes to diversity, equity and inclusion,” said Ms. Dozier, the business agent for Local 103. “But we are doing more every day to increase the diversity of our membership than almost any other industry — and frankly, it is unethical of the nonunion lobbyists and their mouthpieces to try and turn that important work into an excuse to further their own exploitative practices.”The site of the City Hall renovation project. In Boston and beyond, building is one of the last American industries offering good jobs to workers without a college degree. Mark Erlich, who retired in 2017 as executive secretary-treasurer of the New England Regional Council of Carpenters and is now a research fellow with the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School, argues that construction unions have become more welcoming to nonwhites in the last few decades.Mr. Erlich is one of the authors of a book addressing the history of racial exclusion in the building trades. He notes that the original Boston Residents Jobs Policy in 1983 came out of the fight by Black workers for jobs on building sites. But it had to include residents and women to gain white political support and overcome the opposition of union leadership.“There is a legacy of racism, which by no means has been eliminated,” Mr. Erlich said. “I respect folks in the community that complain that things are not changing fast enough. And they are not changing fast enough.” Still, he argues, unions realize that “they need to become less homogeneous and reflect the demographics of the city.”And he warns that the nonunion contractors that will hire workers of color do not generally provide training or a career path, as unions do. The work is often more dangerous, he says, and it pays nothing like the wages in union shops.The Limits of PatienceWorkers of color who make it into the unions acknowledge the opportunities that membership provides. On a sunny October afternoon in Dorchester, a roomful of apprentices and journeymen and women, assembled by Local 103 to talk to a reporter, lauded the union’s efforts to broaden its ranks and called for patience.“Diversity doesn’t happen overnight,” said Sam Quaratiello, a recent graduate of the apprenticeship program who is of Asian descent. Walter Cowhan, a Black journeyman, argued that the union had become far more diverse in his 20 years of experience. Still, he said, if workers of color are to become more prominent on job sites, training is essential. “If you don’t prepare the work force, directly bringing in Black and brown workers could undermine the whole process,” he said.But among some of those pushing for racial equity, patience is wearing thin. Mr. Watson offered the words of the Black author and activist James Baldwin: “You’ve always told me it takes time,” Mr. Baldwin said in the 1989 documentary “The Price of a Ticket.” “How much time do you want, for your progress?”The building unions are “huge obstacles” to that progress, said Angela Williams-Mitchell, who heads the Boston Jobs Coalition, a community organization dedicated to increasing opportunities for people of color. “They do not open their doors to create access for communities that have historically been excluded.”If they are so committed to diversity, she says, why do unions refuse to provide data on the share of minority journeymen and women, even as they disclose the racial and ethnic breakdown of apprentices? “Break it down for us so we know what needs to be done,” she urges.Unions remain essential to maintain construction’s track record of lifting workers up, Mr. Erlich says. He recalls one of Mr. Watson’s heroes, the late Chuck Turner, a community activist who fought to increase Black employment in the building trades. “He was the ultimate radical — his attitude was, let’s drive the unions into the sea,” Mr. Erlich said. “But he came around to the position that without unions, construction would become a low-wage job.”Mr. Watson, in fact, agrees. “Unions are great,” he said. “But they have to give us an opportunity.” More

  • in

    Labor force participation is static, a conundrum for the Fed.

    Millions of employees remain on the job market’s sidelines and are only slowly trickling back — posing a serious challenge for the Federal Reserve as its policymakers try to assess how far the United States economy remains from their full employment goal.The labor force participation rate, a measure of how many people work or are actively looking for jobs, has been holding steady for months at 61.6 percent, down 1.7 percentage points from its February 2020 level.Participation of people in their prime working years is ticking up gradually, rising to 81.7 percent in October from 81.6 percent in September, but that too remains depressed compared with the rate before the pandemic. In February 2020, 82.9 percent of those 25 to 54 years old were in the labor force.Prime-age labor force participation improved slightly.Share of those ages 25 to 54 who are in the labor force (employed, unemployed but looking for work or on temporary layoff) More

  • in

    U.S. Economy Added 531,000 Jobs in October

    The American economy added 531,000 jobs in October, the Labor Department said Friday, a sharp rebound from the prior month and a sign that employers are feeling more optimistic as the latest coronavirus surge eases.Economists polled by Bloomberg had been looking for a gain of 450,000 jobs. The unemployment rate declined to 4.6 percent, from 4.8 percent.The October gain was an improvement from the 312,000 positions added in September — a number that was revised upward on Friday.Hiring has seesawed this year along with the pandemic, especially in vulnerable sectors like hospitality and retail, where workers must deal face to face with customers. White-collar employees have fared better, since many can work remotely.Some employers are complaining of a shortage of workers, as many people remain on the sidelines of the job market. The labor force participation rate — the share of the working-age population employed or looking for a job — was flat in October.In theory, the demand for workers should be drawing more people into the labor force, but the participation rate is nearly two percentage points below where it was before the pandemic. Early retirements have been a factor.A federal supplement to unemployment benefits expired in early September, and experts are watching whether the end of that assistance — and a depletion of savings accumulated from other emergency programs — increases the availability of workers.So far, those effects have been muted, as health concerns and child care challenges have continued to affect many families. At the same time, the labor shortage has given workers a measure of leverage they’ve not experienced in recent years.“For the last 25, maybe 30 years, labor has been on its back heels and losing its share of the economic pie,” said Mark Zandi, the chief economist at Moody’s Analytics. “But that dynamic is now shifting.”Supply chain problems are another headache for employers. Automobile manufacturers have been particularly hurt by a shortage of semiconductors, while many companies are dealing with rising prices for raw materials and transportation.The Commerce Department reported last week that the economy grew by 0.5 percent in the third quarter, compared with 1.6 percent in the second quarter. Economists attributed the slowdown to the resurgent pandemic and the supply chain holdups.Still, there are reasons to be optimistic. The Federal Reserve said Wednesday that it would begin winding down the large-scale bond purchases that have been underway since the pandemic struck, signaling that it considers the economy healthy enough to be weaned from the extra stimulus.“The labor market is tight,” said Scott Anderson, chief economist at Bank of the West in San Francisco. “Consumers are in good shape, and the willingness to spend is certainly there.” More

  • in

    U.S. Workers Quitting Their Jobs Hit a Record in August

    As the economy struggles to get back on track amid the pandemic, businesses are struggling to find employees — and workers are discovering that they have leverage.Nearly 4.3 million workers voluntarily quit their jobs in August, the Labor Department said Tuesday. That was up from four million in July and is by far the most in the two decades the government has been keeping track.

    .dw-chart-subhed {
    line-height: 1;
    margin-bottom: 6px;
    font-family: nyt-franklin;
    color: #121212;
    font-size: 15px;
    font-weight: 700;
    }

    Number of People Who Left Their Jobs Voluntarily by Month
    Note: Seasonally adjusted. Voluntary quits exclude retirements.Source: Bureau of Labor StatisticsBy The New York TimesThe explosion of quitting is the latest evidence that the balance of power in the labor market has swung toward workers, at least temporarily. Average hourly earnings have surged in recent months, particularly for the lowest-paid workers, and yet many businesses report they are still having difficulty finding workers.The abundance of opportunities may be helping to fuel the wave of quitting: The government’s tally includes people who left jobs to take other, perhaps better-paying, positions — or who didn’t have another job lined up but were confident they could find one — as well as those choosing to leave the work force. (The figure does not include retirements, which are counted separately.)The number of open jobs actually fell somewhat in August, to 10.4 million from a record 11.1 million in July, as the latest wave of the pandemic took a bite out of consumer demand, especially in the service sector. But the slowdown did little to ease the hiring logjam: There were more open jobs than unemployed workers in August. Openings were particularly elevated in the leisure and hospitality sector, where the number of people quitting was also highest. Economists said the spread of the more-contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus could be contributing to workers’ reluctance to return to work.At the same time, hiring fell in August. That is consistent with data released earlier showing that job growth slowed in late summer. That data, also from the Labor Department but based on different surveys, showed that the Delta-driven slowdown continued in September. So did the hiring difficulties: The labor force shrank in September, as higher wages failed to draw people back to work.“We know that the Delta variant has likely made it more difficult to unlock labor supply because there are some workers who are concerned about health risks — and then on top of that, many school reopenings were disrupted,” said Daniel Zhao, an economist at the career site Glassdoor. “It’s possible that as the Delta wave recedes, then we will realize some of those benefits of reopened schools and a revitalized economy, but that is going to take some time.” More

  • in

    College Graduates Find Booming Job Market a Year After Pandemic Lows

    Seniors and graduates are again in demand as companies revive recruiting, underscoring the economic premium that comes with a diploma.Trevaughn Wright-Reynolds, a senior at Colby College in Maine, expected a lengthy job search when he returned to campus in August. “I wasn’t sure how much interest I was going to get,” he said. “I didn’t know what to think of the job market.”It didn’t take him long to find out. By September, he was in the final round of interviews with several suitors, and on Oct. 1, Mr. Wright-Reynolds accepted a position with a proprietary trading firm in Chicago. “I didn’t think I would get an offer this quickly,” he said.For many college students, the pandemic’s arrival last year did more than disrupt their studies, threaten their health and shut down campus life. It also closed off the usual paths that lead from the classroom to jobs after graduation. On-campus recruiting visits were abandoned, and the coronavirus-induced recession made companies pull back from hiring.But this year, seniors and recent graduates are in great demand as white-collar employers staff up, with some job-seekers receiving multiple offers. University placement office directors and corporate human resources executives report that hiring is running well above last year’s levels, and in some cases surpasses prepandemic activity in 2019.“The current market is great for employment,” said Lisa Noble, director of employer partnerships and emerging pathways at Colby. “There was a lot of trepidation for companies in 2020. People wanted to see how things would work out and were stalling.” Since June 1, Ms. Noble has had discussions with 428 employers, compared with 273 in the same period last year.Much of the recruiting is taking place virtually, as are job fairs and even many internships. But the reliance on virtual platforms like Zoom and Microsoft Teams for interviews, job offers and eventually welcoming new hires aboard hasn’t dimmed enthusiasm among employers.“The appetite for college labor is strong right now, whether it’s student positions, or part time, all the way through entry-level jobs,” said Jennifer Neef, director of the Career Center at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.That appetite at this stage of the pandemic — when overall U.S. employment remains more than five million jobs below the level in early 2020 — underscores the longstanding economic premium for those with a college education over holders of just a high school diploma.The unemployment rate for all workers with a college degree stood at 2.8 percent in August, compared with 6 percent for high school graduates with no college. Among workers 22 to 27, the jobless rate in June was 6.2 percent for those with at least a bachelor’s degree and 9.6 percent for those without one, according to a study by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.“We’ve seen a bifurcation in the labor market recovery,” said Gregory Daco, chief U.S. economist at Oxford Economics. “College graduates were less affected by job losses and have seen a faster rebound while people with high school diplomas or less witnessed a much more serious decline in employment opportunities during the Covid crisis.”What’s more, the spread of the Delta variant of the coronavirus has been a one-two punch for those lacking a college degree, hitting the sectors they depend on the most, like restaurants and bars, hotels and retail businesses. By contrast, white-collar employers are thriving.Office work can also be done remotely, a key advantage over face-to-face jobs dealing with consumers that frequently employ less-educated workers. In many cases, the new hires will rarely set foot at corporate headquarters, with orientation and full-time work mostly taking place online.And the courtship rituals of recruiters haven’t changed, even if everything is done over the internet.“It’s back to business as usual,” said Wendy Dziorney, global university hiring leader at HP Inc. The company plans to hire 315 graduates of the class of 2021 in the United States, compared with 126 from the class of 2020 and 210 in the class of 2019.Fall marks the peak of the recruiting season on campus, with interviews and full-time offers for seniors, while internships beckon for sophomores and juniors.Students in search of jobs and internships gathered to listen to recruiters from a consulting firm at Colby College last week.Tristan Spinski for The New York Times“October is our busiest month,” said Jennifer Newbill, director of university recruitment at Dell Technologies. Her company has extended full-time offers to more than 1,300 graduates this year, up 60 percent from 2020.Recruiters of students in the hottest majors — including engineering, computer sciences, accounting and economics — find themselves butting up against one another for the same candidates.“I’ve been with the firm 26 years and I’ve never seen it this competitive,” said Rod Adams, talent acquisition and onboarding leader at PwC, the accounting and consulting firm. “It’s not just our direct competitors but also tech firms, big industry, banks and investment companies.”For this year, PwC plans to extend offers for internships and full-time jobs to 12,000 people, up 15 to 20 percent from 2020 and 10 percent above 2019 levels. Like many employers, PwC is approaching students earlier and trying to get top candidates to make a commitment as soon as possible.The interviewing process used to extend through November, but Mr. Adams hopes to get offers out by the middle of this month and to hear back from candidates by Thanksgiving. “We are moving faster, and the moment students set foot on campus, they start hearing from us,” Mr. Adams said.PwC is using a hybrid approach to recruiting, with Mr. Adams and his team visiting a few campuses in person while contacting many more virtually. “It allows us to extend our reach,” he said.In particular, the company has made an effort to pursue students from historically Black colleges and universities, recruiting from 35 of these institutions; five years ago, it recruited from seven.The rise in campus hiring means more choices for some current students as well as belated help for the pandemic-hit class of 2020, said Annette McLaughlin, director of the Office of Career Services at Fordham University.“Activity is up significantly from last year and is about 10 percent higher than it was before the pandemic,” she said. “It’s likely that students will get multiple offers and they will have to choose.”“The current market is great for employment,” said Lisa Noble, director of employer partnerships and emerging pathways at Colby.Tristan Spinski for The New York TimesThe rebound is also benefiting recent Fordham graduates like Jonah Isaac, who finished school in May 2020, two months after the pandemic struck. Several companies withdrew offers, and Mr. Isaac, a business administration major, spent a year interviewing for spots that never materialized until a Fordham alumnus helped him get a sales development job with Moody’s Analytics in June 2021.“It was a huge hit for many students, and not getting anything was demoralizing,” said Mr. Isaac, a Chicago native who was a wide receiver on Fordham’s football team. “I’d get to the third or fourth interview, and they’d say, ‘Sorry, we’re going in another direction.’”Members of the class of 2021 have had an easier time. Brittanie Rice, a Spelman College graduate, landed a job at Dell after working as an intern the summer before. “I felt lucky,” she said. “A lot of my friends had cancellations left and right, but my internship went on.”Ms. Rice was a computer science major, an especially sought-after concentration for many big employers. But Ms. Newbill, the university recruitment director for Dell, said her company was also hiring students majoring in nontechnical fields — like philosophy and journalism — for sales positions. “Sales is about the personality, not the degree,” she said.Still, graduates in STEM-related fields are having the most success.Manuel Pérez, 23, is two months into his job as a data analyst at Accenture, which led him to move to Nashville after graduating from the University of Puerto Rico, Mayagüez.Mr. Pérez, an information systems major, said he attended a virtual job fair last October and applied to work at Accenture after meeting with recruiters over Microsoft Teams. After three rounds of interviews, he received a job offer in March and started his position in the summer.“I had other job offers, but they all wanted me to start immediately, and I wanted to graduate first,” said Mr. Pérez, from Camuy, P.R. “I feel the job demand has grown, with more people demanding better pay, in every sector from retail to white-collar jobs.”Mr. Wright-Reynolds, the Colby senior, is studying statistics with a minor in computer sciences. A native of Medford, Mass., he will start at the trading firm in Chicago in August.“This was a great opportunity, and I couldn’t go wrong in accepting it,” he said. “I feel like a weight is off my shoulders. I have a lot more time to enjoy senior year.” More