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With contract agreements between the United Auto Workers and all the Big Three vehicle manufacturers—Ford, General Motors and Chrysler and Jeep maker Stellantis—one large strike is over. And now, UAW President Shawn Fain said, he’s looking to expand unionization across the industry.
“Our goal is to spend the next few years organizing auto workers across this country,” Fain said in a webcast Saturday with members who work at General Motors. “The Big Three aren’t the only auto companies making record profits. Auto workers at Toyota, Volkswagen, Hyundai and Tesla—they deserve record contracts, too, and we’re going to do everything we can to support them in the fight to win what they deserve.”
Much has been said about how Fain’s brash tactics and the competitive nature of this strike, in which automakers were pitted against each other, helped achieve his ends. But more than that, the UAW strike—and the summer’s successful strike Hollywood writers waged against studios, shows that unions can win big. Members of SAG-AFTRA, who have been walking the picket lines since July 14, told Deadline that they feel they’re in the final stretch of negotiations as they seek a contract that covers both increases in minimum pay as well as residual pay for appearances on popular streaming content.
Even though the number of unionized workers has been falling over the last 40 years—according to BLS, 10.1% of U.S. employees were unionized in 2022, the most recent statistics available—big wins for organized labor could turn the tides. More employee groups are threatening strikes to get the contracts they want. Around 35,000 members of the Culinary Workers Union in Las Vegas—servers, cooks and bartenders—have set a strike deadline for Thursday, days before tens of thousands of visitors are expected in town for the Las Vegas Grand Prix. Members of the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, which represents 26,000 American Airlines flight attendants, have also threatened a strike beginning Dec. 17, right in the midst of busy holiday travel.
And while union action might be difficult for business, the majority of Americans say the decline of union membership has been bad for the country (58%) and bad for working people (61%), according to an annual poll from the Pew Research Center. These numbers have held pretty steady over the past couple of years, but all of this action may shift opinions somewhat in 2024.
BUSINESS OF WORK
In the days before working from home was what everyone did, both remote workers and brand-new startups made shared office space at WeWork hubs their home. But times have changed dramatically, and the Wall Street Journal reported last week that WeWork was on the brink of bankruptcy. The business, which was once valued at $47 billion, was valued at $280 million in August.
WeWork’s rumored bankruptcy filing, which may come this week, was enough to make its stocks nosedive. One day after the Wall Street Journal report, WeWork stock was down more than 50%. When markets closed on Friday, WeWork stock was 84 cents—miles below its all-time high of more than $520. Trading halted on the company’s stock this morning amid the bankruptcy rumors.
While shared office space has fallen by the wayside, remote networking is here to stay. Last week, LinkedIn announced it had more than 1 billion members worldwide. The Microsoft-owned site was founded 20 years ago. Not only is it a place to have an online professional profile, but the offerings have broadened to include groups, one-to-one messaging, job searching and more. The service announced a new AI feature will help premium subscribers find job opportunities based on member profiles, as well as make profile-writing recommendations.
Job growth in the U.S. is cooling, according to the latest BLS figures. In October, the U.S. added 150,000 jobs—below the 170,000 predicted by economists and less than half of the 336,000 new jobs reported in September. This is the lowest number of jobs added in a month since January 2021.
However, there are many opportunities for freelance or gig work. New data from MBO Partners found there are 72.1 million Americans freelancing—up 89% from 2020. And about 26 million are doing it full-time, an increase of 20% since last year. This kind of work can also be lucrative, the study found. About 4.6 million are making $100,000 or more, the report found.
Companies say freelance labor tends to make up 28% of their workforces, MBO Partners found. And as it becomes harder for companies to find the right talent, it makes sense to turn to the freelance marketplace. Freelancers may have niche skills hard to find—and justify—in a full-time employee. People who depend on deep knowledge of new technologies in order to find work are much more likely to be experts in it than an in-house employee who needs to be trained. And freelance work can be more cost efficient in the long run.
And while there are many wage and employment protections not available to gig workers, many are taking notice. Uber and Lyft have agreed to pay their gig work drivers in New York a more than $300 million settlement for withholding wages and benefits, New York Attorney General Letitia James announced last week. James’ office spent years investigating a wage-theft complaint against the company. Uber will pay its drivers $290 million, and Lyft will pay $38 million.
The gender wage gap still exists, and new research in the Academy of Management Discoveries found that women have recently been trying much harder to change that. The study, which focused on MBA graduates looking for their first job, found that most women—54%—negotiated their offer. In contrast, only 44% of men negotiated. However, the negotiation didn’t work as planned; researchers found men still were paid more. The message this shows, the researchers said, is that women are punished for asking for more.
The gender bias goes deeper than just salaries. According to Citywire, just 12.1% of financial portfolio managers are women, and 2021 research from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation shows only 1.4% of all financial assets in the U.S. are managed by women or people of color. Singapore-based Inclusive AM, a firm focused on getting funds to diverse managers, fintech company Noviscient and institutional investor Singlife created a capital pool for a group of female fund managers to invest called the Woman Fund. Considering their past performance, if these women had been managing funds from 2009 to 2019, they would have had better-than-average returns—13.8%, compared to 11.4%—and they also would have invested in more sustainable companies.
WHAT’S NEXT: AYESHA WHYTE’S ELLEVATOR FOR C-SUITE WOMEN OF COLOR
Ayesha Whyte, a strategic leader, chief people officer and experienced attorney in the corporate world, just launched her newest project: a selective membership organization for business leaders who are women of color called Ellevator. Whyte, the CEO of the new group, cofounded it with marketing and strategic advisory leader Lauren Maillian, who is an adviser. The group started taking membership applications last month. Whyte plans an actual kickoff in January, followed by high-level classes, coaching and networking opportunities for the specific challenges faced by different groups of women.
I talked with Whyte about the new group and its plans. This conversation has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.
Why did you want to start Ellevator?
I attended a Harvard program about women and women on corporate boards, and they put up some statistics around women of color—and leaving the workplace at rapid rates when they hit the level of director. People don’t bridge over into being an executive. That resonated with me for a couple of ways. When I was a director myself in corporate America, I thought it was really difficult. I didn’t have a plan to cross the chasm in between being a middle manager and executive, particularly as a woman of color. In many ways, people may say, ‘You’re not ready,’ but not necessarily showing you the path to get ready.
…I don’t want anyone else to feel like I felt: That there were no resources, there’s no mentorship, no coaching, anything like that. That was the first catalyst of wanting to start Ellevator. It was a brainchild about a year ago.
There were other impetuses that came up that made it really interesting and the right time to start it. One of those things is the pulling away of funds and resources from DEI programs across the nation. …This is a place which is near and dear to my heart and I want to be able to add something for professional development of women of color.
What kind of response have you received since announcing the organization?
It has been an overwhelming and really, really great response. Tons of emails, tons of reach-out over LinkedIn. We have a Fortune 50 company that has reached out and is trying to have a partnership with Ellevator for their group of women of color. People love that we are focused on skill-building, and that’s hard skills as well as soft skills. The other response that I’ve gotten is they love that we are not lumping women of color all into one group. We definitely recognize the challenges of Asian women are definitely different than the challenges of African-American women, which are different than the challenges of Indian women. We want to address those in kind.
What are your short-term and long-term goals for Ellevator?
The overall goal is to ensure that women of color, no matter what they want to do in the workplace—if they want to be in the corporate sector, or nonprofit sector, or an entrepreneur— that they are able to get the support that they need. And that support is tangible support. If you’re a member for one year or five years, you have walked away with something that you [can say], ‘I can take this with me.’ Unlike what may happen with a networking organization: You meet a lot of great people, but I don’t know if you can put that on your resume and feel good about that when you’re saying what your value proposition is.
I think the membership will probably grow as we ensure that we’re doing the right thing. We want to make sure that we’re adding value and do that in a very thoughtful way.
In terms of long-term, it will continue to be financed as we are now. We are self-financed. We don’t plan to take any private equity or VC money, no plans to sell.
Earlier this year, Chief, a similar organization for women executives, was under fire for not adequately supporting women of color. Was that situation part of what made you want to start Ellevator?
[When I first thought of creating Ellevator] Ironically enough, I was still a member of Chief at that time. I subsequently have exited Chief of my own accord because of [the controversy]. It wasn’t a catalyst in any way of anything other than me ending my own membership, but to see all of these things, to see that women of color—even some that I knew, surprisingly enough, [who] were not given interviews—it was disheartening, but it all kind-of said, ‘You’re doing the right thing, and you’re on the right track.’
FACTS + COMMENTS
Two United Airlines flight attendants sued the company, saying they were discriminated against when they were removed from chartered flights for the Los Angeles Dodgers. According to the complaint, the airline wanted those serving these flights to be “white, young and thin,” and “predominantly blond and blue-eyed.” United told Forbes it does not tolerate discrimination and the lawsuit is without merit.
50 and 44: Ages of the two flight attendants who sued. One is Black and the other is of Black, Mexican and Jewish descent
15%: Portion of the racial discrimination claims made against all airlines in 2022 that involved United
‘It is illegal to make staffing decisions based on an employee’s race and looks’: Sam Yebri, the flight attendants’ attorney, said in a statement.
Syed Ali: Peer Pressure Is Still Prevalent Today
STRATEGIES + ADVICE
How strong is your organization’s DEI culture? Here are three questions to help assess it.
Something Gen Zers may be right about: It’s worth taking another look at 9-to-5 office culture.
For women, role models are important—even if they’re not in the same workplace.
Last week, a governor signed an executive order dropping the college degree requirement for many state government jobs. Which state is it?
Check if you got it right here.
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