Job trends in MA: many openings and demands for unions, workplace say – Wicked Local
Looking for a job? Massachusetts has plenty, according to the latest jobs report released by the state for July. That’s 13,500 new openings, on top of some 5,800 new positions added in June.
“The biggest issue,” said Joe Bevilacqua, president and CEO of the Merrimack Valley Chamber of Commerce, “is that employers are not finding the help they need.”
Experts cited deficits in retail, hospitality, health care and child care; employment sectors hit hard by the almost three-year pandemic, low wages and employee burnout.
Employers are also seeing workers move toward unionization: from small independent coffee shops like the group running sister cafes in Somerville: Bloc, Diesel, Forge Baking Company and Forge Ice Cream Bar, to workers at various Starbucks stores in the Greater Boston area.
Independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, in Cambridge Aug, 21 for a labor rally that attracted thousands, called this moment the resurgence of the American labor movement.
David Schildmeier, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Nursing Association (MNA), pointed out the crisis in the nursing field has been a long time in making. A ballot initiative defeated in 2018 would have required minimum staffing levels for hospital nurses. Coupled with the pandemic, that defeat was among the factors that drove qualified nurses from the field, he said.
“There are plenty of qualified nurses in Massachusetts, however, they are reluctant to work in health care settings,” Schildmeier said.
Other factors: Burnout, and the feeling they were betrayed by their employers and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Hospitals, seeking higher profits, he said, have been deliberately understaffed, compromising patient outcomes and forcing nurses to handle an huge workload.
“They risked their lives, their families’ lives, they were exposed to infectious material, were re-using Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), and using substandard PPE,” Schildmeier said.
A representative of the nurses who led a successful nine-month strike for safe staffing levels and better working conditions, was a featured speaker at the Aug. 21 rally. Her employer, Dallas-based Tenet Healthcare, spent $100 million to block the union; clearly, she said, it’s not about health care benefits.
Stephen Clark, president and CEO of the Massachusetts Restaurant Association (MRA), acknowledged the hospitality industry is facing a dearth of employees as figures reflect a drop between 6 and 7% in Massachusetts.
“On the whole, the sector is on a path to recovery,” Clark said. Owners are re-thinking operating models; many are deciding to close when business is slow. Others opt not to serve lunches or close for dinner selectively.
“Historically, when restaurants were open, they were open even if business was slow,” Clark said. Now, restauranteurs are deciding that it makes sense to close when business is slow.
MORE: With more and more new restaurants opening, is the industry becoming oversaturated?
Even with the light on the horizon, the restaurant industry is facing some obstacles to recovery that are some of the same issues affecting the economy overall: problems with the supply chain coupled with price increases and product availability.
Menu prices have increased some 7.6%; less overall than wholesale food prices, which are up 16.3%. Grocery store prices have also risen by 13%, he noted. What does that mean? That it’s less expensive to eat out than in, that restaurant prices have less of a negative impact on people’s budget than supermarket prices.
The School Spring website, a nation-wide search engine for all educational employment opportunities, has more than 15,000 openings on its Massachusetts page. Other websites, such as Indeed and the state MassHire Department of Career Services, also list thousands of current and anticipated openings. The list can be deceptive, according to the Massachusetts Teachers Association spokesman; many opening are in support staff.
Early childhood education, such as daycare and nursery schools, is expected to see a 30,000 worker deficit by 2030.
Some analysts see this as an exciting reinvention of the business community; stressful, but full of optimism.
“It’s an exciting time” said Peter Forman, president and CEO of the South Shore Chamber of Commerce. He believes the traditional commuting, bedroom community, once typical of the area his Chamber serves, is changing.
South Shore employers along the coastline south of Boston include small shop owners and neighborhood businesses. Forman sees many residents rethinking their work/life balance and reinventing their work lives. Many, he said, are eschewing the long commute and exchanging the high-powered Boston job to open their own local business.
But it’s not the lawyer leaving the Boston firm to start their own practice; rather it’s the lawyer deciding to open a restaurant, Forman said.
“People are spending less time on the road, more time at home,” Forman said. “People are re-directing their careers for a business they are interested in, one that offers more satisfaction, more excitement.”
Sanders, for his part, is optimistic about the strides being made by the labor movement to organize the working class. At the Cambridge Common rally on Aug. 21, he exhorted thousands of people attending to organize to fight corporate greed and to take back the American economy for the working class.
“This is the rebirth of the American Trade Movement coast to coast,” Sanders declared to the roar of the crowd. “Blue collar, white collar, young, old. In Burlington, Vermont, doctors, medical residents at a local hospital, unionized. It’s a growing movement for dignity, respect.”
The rally featured Sanders, along with local and national organizers.
Sara Nelson, president of the AFA-CWA, a union representing flight attendants, said, “It’s the same fight everywhere, for all of us. They control the money, but we have the power.”
“Social justice is tied to economic justice,” Nelson said. “Sexism, racism, ageism, all used by bosses to divide the working class.”
At the rally, International Brotherhood of Teamsters President Sean O’Brien, former president of Local 25, (Somerville/Charlestown), described the three leading CEOs of the era — Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Tesla’s Elon Musk and Starbucks’ Howard Schultz — as Three Bozos.
“This is a most inspiring time for organized labor,” O’Brien said. “Corporate bad behavior is helping to mobilize labor, helping labor to strategize and to organize.”
He reminded everyone the Teamsters are essential in all areas of the economy; from delivering goods and services, food, medical supplies, collecting trash.
“We are 360,000 members, we are sick of taking s**t, we touch every sector of the economy, and we don’t cross picket lines,” O’Brien said.
Labor, he said, supports labor and efforts to unionize.
Sanders in his remarks pointed out that the United States; the wealthiest nation in the history of the world, repeatedly claims it cannot pay for universal health care, early childhood education, university education, public transportation, public health, or build housing as a human right.
“Half the population of the country is living paycheck-to-paycheck, while three billionaires (O’Brien’s Three Bozos, he said) amass more personal wealth than half the residents of the country,” Sanders said. They earn 350 times what one of their employees earn.
“And it’s still not enough for them,” Sanders noted, adding that American corporations are addicted to greed.
“It’s no secret that a handful of billionaires control the economic life of the country,” Sanders said. “These vultures are putting up billions of dollars to elect candidates that will toady to them and defeat those who stand for the American working families.”
The corporate elites deny health care is a human right, deny housing is a human right, deny proper nutrition and access to healthful, nourishing and adequate supplies of food is a human right. Deny that higher education is a human right.
“There are 70 million uninsured or underinsured people in the country,” Sanders said. “It has the highest rate of childhood poverty in the developed world. There is no paid family leave, paid medical leave, money for college.”
And he decreed that the $15-per-hour minimum wage, a goal many organizers strive for but that is not yet standard throughout the United States, is a starvation wage. Workers, those who create the grotesque wealth for the corporate bosses, deserve more than a starvation wage and living paycheck-to-paycheck.
“We want to live in home, breathe clean air, drink clean water, have a home, take vacation, live,” Sanders said, pointing out that the elite will use skin color, birth location, sexual orientation, to divide the workers of the nation.
“We’re in this together,” Sanders said. “It’s our job, for the sake of our children, our future, to stand together and proclaim, loudly and clearly like Woody Guthrie, that this land is our land. We must take back the country and make sure the economy works for all of us.”