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NLRB Mail Ballot Eases Union Voting

In a recent ruling the National Labor Relations Board reversed more than five decades of legal precedence to shrink the time for union representation campaigning by at least one day.

The board decided that both unions and employers no longer can hold mass campaign meetings (called captive audience meetings) on company time during the 24 hours prior to the ballot mailing by an NLRB Regional Office.

Under pre-election procedure, the NLRB regional director notifies the parties of the date and time the ballots will be mailed.

According to the board majority, the new captive-audience speech rule arose from their belief that “last-minute speeches have an unwholesome and unsettling effect and tend to interfere with that sober and thoughtful choice which a free election is designed to reflect.”

Dissenting board member Phillip Miscimarra wrote, “By setting the starting time of the captive-audience-speech prohibition in mail-ballot elections 24 hours before a regional office puts ballots in the mail, my colleagues establish a new rule, contrary to over 50 years of precedent.” He added that the impact is greater than assumed.

“My colleagues all but guarantee that, in mail-ballot elections, there will be a 48-hour prohibition against captive-audience speeches, double the 24-hour restriction.”

Attorneys with the law firm of Jackson Lewis warn that the rule exposes unsuspecting employers to a greater risk of having NLRB snatch election victories from their grasp. An employer’s failure to comply with the captive-audience rule can result in the automatic invalidation of an organizing vote that goes against the union.

Attorney Karla E. Sanchez of the law firm of Seyfarth Shaw observes, “The takeaway for employers is that irrespective of whether there is any validity to the board majority’s reasoning for the change, employers (and unions) have lost 24 hours during which they were previously able to engage in captive-audience speeches.”

Report Cites Worst Traffic Bottlenecks

Recent research shows that Atlanta, Houston and Chicago have among the worst traffic bottlenecks experienced by truckers in the U.S.

Issued in late November by the American Transportation Research Institute, The No. 1 spot on the list this year is the Tom Moreland Interchange in Atlanta, a five-level stack interchange at the intersection of I-285 and I-85.

Known by local commuters as “Spaghetti Junction,” it is not only the confluence of two highly traveled interstates, but also provides ramps to four secondary roadways, ATRI pointed out.

Also notable on this year’s list – four of the Top 10 truck chokepoints are located in Houston –including No. 5, I-610 at US 290; No. 6, I-10 at I-45; No. 8, I-45 at US 59; and No. 10, I-10 at US 59.

Also populating the ATRI Top 10 list are No. 2, Chicago, I-290 at I-90/I-94; No. 3, Fort Lee, NJ, I-95 at SR 4; No. 4, Louisville, KY, I-65 at I-64/I-71; No. 7, Cincinnati, I-71 at I-75; and No. 9, Los Angeles, SR 60 at SR 57.

“ATRI’s ranking allows states to better understand where targeted infrastructure improvements could keep the economy moving,” said Ed Crowell, Georgia Motor Trucking Association President.

Stressing that point, the ATRI researchers commented: “While a dynamic transportation system, and those who manage it, would typically respond boldly to the need for better and more infrastructure, the U.S. Congress has balked on establishing a long-term structure for funding the nation’s transportation system.”

They noted that several states have taken initiatives to address truck bottlenecks with the greatest negative impact on truck flows.

“It is clearly understood that by targeting these bottlenecks, we not only strengthen our “just-in-time” economy, but also reduce fuel consumption and improve air quality,” ATRI said.

Retail Spending Is Seen Growing 3.1%

The National Retail Federation’s economic forecast projects retail industry sales in 2016 (excluding automobiles, gas stations and restaurants) will grow 3.1%, higher than the 10-year average of 2.7%.

NRF also said it expects non-store sales this year will grow between 6% and 9%.

“Wage stagnation is easing, jobs are being created and consumer confidence remains steady, so despite the headwinds our economy faces from international developments – particularly in China – we think 2016 will be favorable for growth in the retail industry,” says NRF President Matthew Shay.

“All of the experts agree that the consumer is in the driver’s seat and steering our economic recovery.

The best thing the government can do is stay out of the way, stop proposing rules and regulations that create hurdles toward greater capital investment and focus on policies that help retailers provide increased income and job stability.”

NRF Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz, observes, “Despite the volatility, the economy continued to
reduce unemployment, raise wages and actually increase real GDP by 2.4%.

He adds that lower gas prices are creating more discretionary income to save, pay down debt and spend on travel, eating out and personal services.

“Retailers have benefited as well, and continue to find ways to compete and succeed in a very cost-conscious environment,” Kleinhenz says.

The NRF forecast also predicts that economic growth will be uneven – likely in the range of 1.9 to 2.4% in 2016. Employment gains of approximately 190,000 on an average monthly basis are expected.

While that pace is down from 2015, it is consistent with a growing labor market. By the end of the year, NRF says unemployment should drop to 4.6%, but spending will come largely from the growth in jobs and not as much from increased wages.

Benefits Are Key to Recruit Employees

Faced with a competitive job market and stagnant wages, more organizations are turning to benefits to help recruit and retain employees, a Society for Human Resource Management survey finds.

“While the competition for talented workers has heated up, there has been little change in base
salaries. So HR has strategically turned to benefits to attract — and keep — skilled professionals,” saysEvren Esen, director of SHRM’s survey programs.

“From unlimited vacation to unusual perks such as electric car charging stations, companies are using benefits to set themselves apart from the competition,” she adds.

Of those responding 38% said they leveraged benefits to recruit employees at all levels in the past year, a jump from 26% in 2013 and 29% in 2012.

The vast majority of organizations (96%) offered health care insurance plans. For plan year 2015, respondents said their organization is paying on average 76% of employees’ total health care costs.

While 46% increased the share employees pay for health care, 72% had not considered providing subsidies to their employees to purchase health care insurance through a private exchange, SHRM says.

“Health care is the benefit mostly highly valued by employees,” Esen notes. “In coming years, retirement savings, compensation, flexible work and career development also will play increasingly important roles in recruiting strategies.”

In coming years, retirement savings, compensation, flexible work and career development will play more important roles in recruitment, she said.

About two-thirds (69%) said their organizations offered a wellness program, resource or service.

Also, 52% indicated employee participation in wellness programs increased year over year, as had been the case since 2012, SHRM points out.

About one-half (48%) said they provided employees the option of using flexible work arrangements, and 29% of employers that do so reported an increase in employee participation over last year.

What Is Amazon’s Jeff Bezos Thinking?

The question of the day is: What is going on in Jeff Bezos’ head?

The founder and CEO of Amazon.com has set so many wheels in motion when it comes to the logistics side of his business that right now it’s not clear where he sees his company heading.

But one thing we can safely assume is that Bezos seeks to gain more control of last mile delivery because of his precise understanding of how much “free shipping” actually costs.

And it appears that he also has learned another extraordinarily valuable lesson: Under the right circumstances supply chain management can be a profit center as well as a cost center.

Make no mistake, cost is a huge factor for a business currently now almost totally dependent on package delivery. Amazon’s shipping costs jumped more than 18% to $11.5 billion in 2015. In the company’s Jan. 28 earnings report it said fulfillment costs in 2015 were up 32.8% year-over-year.

“Twenty years ago, I was driving the packages to the post office myself and hoping we might one day afford a forklift,” Bezos said in the release. “This year we pass $100 billion in annual sales and serve 300 million customers. And still, measured by the dynamism we see everywhere in the marketplace and by the ever-expanding opportunities we see to invent on behalf of customers, it feels every bit like Day 1.”

He also may feel that way because along with all those fresh opportunities, he feels new competitive pressure. Amazon has a big target on its back – and it’s not just Target.

As we and other news outlets have reported over the past few years, the company has cast about in all directions to find the magic bullet that will erase that last mile and stymie potential competitors; ranging from positing drones to becoming an ocean shipping third-party, chartering air freight planes and acquiring an enormous fleet of truck trailers.

When it comes to logistics as a profit center, Fulfillment By Amazon, the company’s logistics service for sellers, shipped over one billion units on their behalf. In 2015 while the number of active sellers using FBA grew by more than 50%.

A recently leaked plan called “Operation Dragon Boat” appears to be aimed at challenging Alibaba’s dominance in Asia as a third-party for ecommerce sellers.

We also recently reported on Amazon’s plans to create a network of hundreds of retail outlets, which could help solve part of its logistics puzzle by providing locations for customers to pick up orders and drop off returns (AA, 2-15-16, P. 2)

The company already has its own established grocery delivery service in Europe and has experimented with it in certain U.S. cities. On Feb. 16 it started a restaurant delivery service in San Diego for its Prime members, something Uber began last year and now has in 10 U.S. cities.

Speaking of Uber, Amazon also is aggressively expanding its Amazon FLEX network, which utilizes the services of individuals and their own vehicles to make deliveries from its warehouses to customers in 14 cities across the U.S.

Now in Seattle, Nashville, Austin, Dallas, Baltimore, Miami, Atlanta, Houston, San Antonio, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Minneapolis, Indianapolis and Richmond, VA, it soon will be available in New York, Chicago and Portland, OR.

On its website, Amazon tells drivers: “Make $18.00 to $25.00 per hour delivering packages for Amazon with your car and smartphone. Be your own boss: Make great money, delivering when you want.”

On top of that, Amazon has raised the minimum a non-Prime customer can spend to qualify for free shipping from $35 to $49.

So what is Jeff Bezos thinking? He realizes that Amazon’s future success depends on nothing less than total mastery of logistics in all its forms.


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