News & Commentary

October 29, 2023

Will Ebeler

Will Ebeler is a student at Harvard Law School.

In this weekend’s news and commentary, the UAW reaches tentative agreement with Stellantis; the Washington Post highlights the rise of workplace child-care centers; the percent of women in the workforce reaches all-time high, but there are significant race- and income-based disparities; and nearly half of Amazon workers report taking unpaid time off to recover from work-based pain or exhaustion.

Yesterday, the UAW announced that it had reached a tentative agreement with Stellantis, the parent company of Chrysler, Jeep, and Ram. Details of the deal haven’t been announced, but it will include a 25% wage increase. It also includes various job guarantees, including the company’s agreement to reopen a plant and hire enough workers to cover two production shifts; and a commitment maintain or expand production at another two plants. The union also won the right to strike if the company fails to follow through on these commitments. General Motors is now the only company yet to reach a tentative agreement with the union after the union reached a deal with Ford on Wednesday. Shortly after announcing its tentative agreement yesterday, the union expanded its strike against GM.

A new Washington Post report highlights the rise of employer-provided childcare centers. Since the start of the COVID pandemic, there has been an increasingly-urgent need for more childcare providers. Before the pandemic, there was already a shortage of millions of childcare spots, but during the COVID shutdowns, roughly 10% of the providers in the country closed permanently. A $24 billion government subsidy helped other providers keep running, but that subsidy ran out last month. Although President Biden has asked Congress to fund $16 billion to support childcare, experts say that money would barely maintain the status quo. Companies have seen a downstream effect from the childcare shortage. Employers lose roughly $23 billion per year because of childcare-related complications, and some workers have quit their jobs when unable to find childcare in their area. In response, employers have started exploring their own childcare solutions. In the past year, one of the country’s largest day-care operators has seen a 50% increase in the number of employers asking about on-site childcare. 

On-site centers have typically been in urban or wealthy areas near corporate headquarters and for office workers, but there has been an increased interest among companies in providing care in lower-income or rural areas for workers in manufacturing, retail, and education. One semiconductor company is planning to open childcare centers at both its company headquarters and a planned manufacturing plant, and is investing $500,000 to train providers and early-childhood teachers in the area. Other companies, rather than focusing on on-site centers, have started providing subsidies to employees who can then find childcare that works for their needs. 

Next, according to the New York Times, the percent of women in the US who are working for pay is at a record high, although there are significant race- and income-based disparities. Today, 77.7% of women aged 25 to 54 are employed, a new high. That percent reached 77% in the 1990s and then stalled despite continued increases in peer countries. Economists attribute the difference with peer countries to the lack of government policies like paid leave and subsidized child care, as well as employers’ expectations of availability at all hours. The increase is particularly notable among mothers of children under 5. Experts identified several factors contributing to the increase. For people with office jobs, the availability of remote work and the increased flexibility of when and where work gets done has been particularly influential. In addition, changes that make it easier or more attractive for mothers to enter the labor market include pandemic-era expansions of paid leave and childcare subsidies, a tight labor market, inflation, and cultural changes that mean women are investing more time in their careers. However, those increases have not been reflected by women who don’t have the option to work from home. Women with less education, lower income women, and those who are Latino or unmarried, were all identified as groups who are more likely to have jobs that can’t be done remotely. These groups are also least likely to have employers with family-friendly benefits or a spouse with flexible hours. These factors mean that of mothers with young children and a high school diploma or less, fewer are working today (54.4%) than in the year before the pandemic (56.1%). 

Finally, a new study reports that nearly half of Amazon warehouse workers have been injured while working for Amazon. Researchers at the University of Illinois Chicago’s Center for Urban Economic Development conducted a survey of US-based Amazon warehouse workers. Of the workers surveyed, 69% stayed home without pay to recover from work-based pain or exhaustion at least once, and 34% did so three or more times. In addition, 41% reported being injured while at work and more than half reported feeling burned out. Unsurprisingly, the likelihood of injury increases with tenure: half of workers who had been at Amazon longer than three years had been injured while on the job.

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