Hourly workers still have leverage as US hiring booms

Aug 5, 2022, 9:50 AM | Updated: 10:14 am
FILE - A sign advertises for help The Goldenrod, a popular restaurant and candy shop, Wednesday, Ju...

FILE - A sign advertises for help The Goldenrod, a popular restaurant and candy shop, Wednesday, June 1, 2022, in York Beach, Maine. America’s hiring boom continued in July as employers added a surprising 528,000 jobs despite raging inflation and rising anxiety about a recession. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

(AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

New York (AP) — Chelsie Church was working as a manager at a Colorado Taco Bell when she found out workers at a nearby Pizza Hut were earning more than $1 an hour more than she was.

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

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

As inflation skyrockets, hourly workers like Church have been seeking different positions with better pay.

More than 4 million Americans have quit their jobs every month since June 2021, a level never seen before last year. A Pew Research survey found that about one in five U.S. workers say they are very or somewhat likely to look for a new job in the next six months.

For many workers on the low end of the pay scale, though, inflation has already eaten into or erased any real wage gains, said Brad Hershbein, senior economist at the Upjohn Institute for Employment Research.

In July, hourly earnings rose 0.5%, an increase of 5.2% over the past year — still not enough to keep up with inflation. And sometimes switching jobs may mean earning more while giving up benefits like health insurance or schedule consistency.

Still, hiring is booming — U.S. employers added more than half a million jobs in July, according to the monthly jobs report released Friday — and unemployment remains near a 50-year low, meaning job-switching will likely remain an option at least for the near future.

“One major source of worker power is the implicit threat that you’ll quit your job and take another,” said Heidi Shierholz, president of the liberal Economic Policy Institute. “When there’s a huge number of job openings at one time, that implicit threat is real.”

That could change if hiring slows and the U.S. economy continues to weaken. But for the moment, “The momentum is still with the worker,” said Hershbein. “We’re not where we were six to 12 months ago — but the labor market remains strong.”

Labor economist Kathryn Edwards, with the Rand Corporation, says that while hourly pay increases may be attainable right now through job-switching, other benefits — such as regular hours, sick days, and health insurance — are often not even on the table.

That’s why Ethan Ramsey, 21, continues working at the Publix supermarket in Miami, Florida, where he started in 2020.

Ramsay has seen more turnover and churn in recent months, he said, as the supermarket no longer pays as much as other hourly employers in the area. But he takes into account the Publix benefits, 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 those are, you still want to be paid what your time is worth,” he said. Inflation has exacerbated the pressure.

“Every single customer that comes in — no exaggeration — everyone that’s an adult, that’s not a kid — complains that everything is more expensive at the register,” he said. To supplement his paycheck, Ramsay often picks up shifts from on-demand driving apps and works as a snow-cone delivery driver, he said.

Workers considering switching for higher wages should also take into account the possibility of “labor hoarding,” where an employer will hire new employees to have on hand, but with no guarantee of regular hours, Edwards said. In these cases, the overall return to a worker changing jobs may be lower.

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

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

Union drives are up 58% over the same period last year, according to the National Labor Relations Board, and workers filed nearly 2,000 petitions for representation in the first three quarters of the 2022 fiscal year. High-profile campaigns at Amazon and more than 200 Starbucks locations have made headlines.

Maeg Yosef, 41, who has worked as a crew member at Trader Joe’s in Hadley, Mass., for 18 years, said that working through the pandemic led to her and her coworkers discussing workplace safety and other conditions more often, including pay and benefits, which led to a successful union drive this month.

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

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

Trader Joe’s workers in Minneapolis, Minn. and Boulder, Colo., have also filed for union elections, with the Minneapolis location slated to hold its vote next week.

“Among workers — and particularly low wage workers — there’s been a reigniting of the understanding that employers are seeing record profits while wages haven’t kept up,” Shierholz said. “I don’t think that will fade away as quickly. Some of what low-wage workers have gained in terms of bargaining power is not going away.”

___

The Associated Press receives support from Charles Schwab Foundation for educational and explanatory reporting to improve financial literacy. The independent foundation is separate from Charles Schwab and Co. Inc. The AP is solely responsible for its journalism.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

Lyubov Mahlii, 76, pulls a crate of water bottles up the stairs to her fifth floor apartment after ...
Associated Press

As summer wanes, water crisis looms for east Ukrainian city

SLOVIANSK, Ukraine (AP) — The echo of artillery shells thundering in the distance mingles with the din of people gathered around Sloviansk’s public water pumps, piercing the uneasy quiet that smothers the nearly deserted streets of this eastern Ukrainian city. The members of Sloviansk’s dwindling population only emerge — a few minutes at a time […]
1 day ago
A Palestinian woman cleans her damaged house following an Israeli airstrike in Rafah, southern Gaza...
Associated Press

Cease-fire between Israel and Gaza militants holds overnight

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — A fragile cease-fire deal to end nearly three days of fighting between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza held throughout the night and into Monday morning — a sign the latest round of violence may have abated. The flare-up was the worst fighting between Israel and Gaza militant groups […]
1 day ago
In this photo released by Xinhua News Agency, an air force pilot from the Eastern Theater Command o...
Associated Press

China extends threatening military exercises around Taiwan

BEIJING (AP) — China said Monday it was extending threatening military exercises surrounding Taiwan that have disrupted shipping and air traffic and substantially raised concerns about the potential for conflict in a region crucial to global trade. The exercises would include anti-submarine drills, apparently targeting U.S. support for Taiwan in the event of a potential […]
1 day ago
Currency traders watch monitors at the foreign exchange dealing room of the KEB Hana Bank headquart...
Associated Press

Asian stocks mixed after US job gain paves way for rate hike

BEIJING (AP) — Asian stocks were mixed Monday after strong U.S. jobs data cleared the way for more interest rate hikes and Chinese exports rose by double digits. Shanghai and Tokyo advanced while Hong Kong and Seoul retreated. Oil prices edged higher. Wall Street’s benchmark S&P 500 lost 0.2% on Friday after government data showed […]
1 day ago
FILE - This photo combo shows, from left to right, Travis McMichael, William "Roddie" Bryan, and Gr...
Associated Press

Men face sentencing for hate crimes in Ahmaud Arbery’s death

SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) — Months after they were sentenced to life in prison for murder, the three white men who chased and killed Ahmaud Arbery in a Georgia neighborhood faced a second round of criminal penalties Monday for federal hate crimes committed in the deadly pursuit of the 25-year-old Black man. U.S. District Court Judge […]
1 day ago
A volunteer shovels dirt and debris off of the main street in downtown Fleming-Neon, Ky., on Friday...
Associated Press

Former coal town comes together in face of Kentucky floods

FLEMING-NEON, Ky. (AP) — Barely a week after floodwaters swept downtown and left a foot of mud and twisted, gutted buildings along Main Street, an incongruous sight appeared: A flashing sign declaring JR’s Barber Shop “OPEN.” As National Guard troops patrolled outside and volunteers on backhoes mounded up debris, J.R. Collins stood behind his barber […]
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

...
Dr. Richard Carmona

Great news: Children under 5 can now get COVID-19 vaccine

After more than two years of battle with an invisible killer, we can now vaccinate the youngest among us against COVID-19. This is great news.
(Courtesy Condor)...
Condor Airlines

Condor Airlines shows passion for destinations from Sky Harbor with new-look aircraft

Condor Airlines brings passion to each flight and connects people to their dream destinations throughout the world.
...
CANVAS ANNUITY

Best retirement savings rates hit 4.30%

Maximize your retirement savings with guaranteed fixed rates up to 4.30%. Did you know there is a financial product that can give you great interest rates as you build your retirement savings and provide you with a paycheck for life once you retire? It might sound too good to be true but it is not; this product is called an annuity.
Hourly workers still have leverage as US hiring booms