Why half of all workers may struggle to get weight-loss drug health insurance coverage

An injection pen of Zepbound, Eli Lilly’s weight loss drug, is displayed in New York City on Dec. 11, 2023.

Brendan McDermid | Reuters

Companies are increasing access to new blockbuster weight-loss drugs for employees, but size of employer may make a big difference in early access. Small businesses and their workers are often stuck between a rock and a hard place when it comes to this burgeoning health insurance coverage market.

Small businesses employ roughly half of the workers in the U.S. labor market, and they have been adding jobs at a faster pace than large employers. Since the first quarter of 2021, small-business hiring accounted for 53% of the 12.2 million total net jobs created across all employers, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, consistent with the longer-term trend.

The blockbuster obesity drugs, called GLP-1 agonists, cost roughly $1,000 per month on average — and they are typically taken for a long time. Access to these weight-loss drugs is coming from an increasing number of sources in the marketplace, drug makers are ramping up production, and use cases continue to increase, with clinical trials showing benefits for conditions from sleep apnea to heart disease risk. But many of the 100 million American adults who are obese can’t afford to pay out of pocket for drugs like Novo Nordisk’s Wegovy and Eli Lilly’s Zepbound, and are turning to their employers for help. 

A survey last October of 205 companies by the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans found that 76% of respondents provided GLP-1 drug coverage for diabetes, versus only 27% that provided coverage for weight loss. But 13% of plan sponsors indicated they were considering coverage for weight loss. Covering these drugs, however, is harder for smaller employers, many of whom rely on off-the-shelf plans offered by their insurance carriers. While there are plans that cover GLP-1 drugs, the cost can be prohibitive for many small businesses.

There’s strong demand from employees for coverage and smaller employers would like to be able to do it, but there are trade-offs, said Shawn Gremminger, president and chief executive of the National Alliance of Healthcare Purchaser Coalitions, a nonprofit purchaser-led organization. Companies have to consider the impact on wages or other benefits they might like to offer. “The company money has to come from somewhere,” he said.

In some cases, small employers, even if they want to cover weight-loss drugs, are simply priced out of the market and they may have to accept they can’t offer the coverage they would like to. 

“Given the price of these drugs, you have to do the cost-benefit analysis and for a lot of small companies — even some larger ones — they just can’t do it,” Gremminger said. “No matter how much they want to.”

Here are a few issues for small business employers and employees to understand in accessing expensive weight-loss drugs as part of job benefits.

Annual benefits deals are being brokered now. Open enrollment season for health insurance doesn’t occur until the fall, but employers should be having renewal discussions with their benefits broker or agent now, and that conversation should include weight-loss drugs. Small business employers should be telling a broker they would like to be able to provide weight-loss drugs for employees, and ask for help in finding the right carrier or the right plan, said Gary Kushner, chair and president of Kushner & Company, a benefits design and management company.

The market is changing quickly. Last year, an insurance carrier asked about covering weight-loss drugs may have said no, but it’s worth asking the carrier again because they may have been forced to make changes to their offerings for competitive reasons, said Kate Moher, president of national employee health and benefits for Marsh McLennan Agency, which advises employers on plan designs and benefits programs. “You should be asking the question every year,” she said. 

Insurance premiums may rise. To gain access to weight-loss drugs, many small businesses may have to switch insurance carriers, and probably pay more. “It most likely will be more expensive if one is not covering the drugs and the other is,” Kushner said.

Employers also have to decide how much of that can be reasonably passed to employees, without unduly burdening workers who may never need these drugs. “If 20% of your population takes it, everyone’s premium goes up by whatever percentage that is to cover the cost,” Gremminger said.

Small businesses should consider a ‘captive health’ plan. Generally speaking, any business with at least 50 employees might consider working with a captive health insurance plan like Roundstone, ParetoHealth, Stealth and Amwins, Moher said. These businesses allow groups of companies who couldn’t self-insure — the approach most large corporations take — to pool resources and design a group health plan together. 

This approach may allow a small business and its employees more flexibility, Moher said, but owners still have to weigh the costs and there are requirements to qualify. It’s also not something businesses can change every year like they could when working with a traditional insurance carrier. “It’s a long-term play; you can’t jump in and out,” Moher said. 

These plans are designed for the long-term because, as member-owners, the participants all agree to spread the risk, an approach that can keep costs down over time and decrease volatility. But if business owners are looking for a quick-fix or prefer to wait and see how the market develops over the next year, it’s probably not the right model.

A GLP-1 drug standalone coverage option could also work for some small businesses. Companies like Vida Health, Calibrate, Found Health and Vitality Group provide these offerings separate from an employer’s primary carrier, Gremminger said. Employers need to do the math to determine whether it could be more cost effective, and whether the option truly suits their employees’ needs based on the offerings.

Use an FSA to help cover weight-loss drug costs. If insurance coverage options aren’t an effective solution today, small employers may have a few other ways to help employees defray the cost of weight-loss drugs. They might consider, for instance, making contributions to employees’ flexible spending accounts or health savings accounts. They could also consider a health reimbursement arrangement, or HRA, which is an employer-funded plan that reimburses employees for qualified medical expenses. 

However, there are strict rules and requirements for each of these options. For example, with an FSA, the IRS limits an employer’s contribution based on how much the employee contributes, and this still isn’t likely to suffice to cover the cost of these drugs long-term. “Does it help? Sure. Does it solve the problem? No,” Kushner said.

It’s also not a move to make without first getting sign-off from legal counsel. “You need the guidance of your ERISA attorneys to make sure you meet all the criteria,” Moher said. “It’s a creative way of doing it, but you have to make sure you’re meeting all of your compliance requirements.”

Right now, the end result can be very discouraging for small businesses and their employees given the costs and limited options, but it’s also important to know that there are 20 or so drugs in the approval pipeline. Once they get approved, costs are likely to come down, Moher said. “This is something that may be a short-term thing until we get more GLP-1 drugs approved.”

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For Black workers, progress in the workplace but still a high hill to climb

Ali and Jamila Wright, co-owners of Brooklyn Tea.

Courtesy: Brooklyn Tea

Looking at the state of Black employment in America tells a mixed story: Much progress has been made in the age of the Covid-19 pandemic and beyond, but much is left to be done.

In the nearly four years that have passed since the pandemic upended the U.S. economy, the advancement for Black people has been unmistakable: a surge in earnings that outdid the gains for both white and Hispanic people, an unemployment rate that has fallen more than a percentage point from where it stood in January 2020 and a general sense that the collective consciousness has been raised regarding inequality in the workplace.

Yet, there are still racial discrepancies in terms of earnings. Black workers are still notably underrepresented in some professions, particularly high-end tech, and efforts to address some of these issues have fallen out of favor amid criticism that they have gone too far and are inefficient.

On balance, though, there’s a feeling of optimism that real progress has been made.

“This recovery really stretched the limits of what policymakers thought was possible for Black workers,” said Jessica Fulton, interim president at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank that focuses on issues for people and communities of color. “We were in a situation where folks accepted that Black unemployment was going to always be high and there was nothing that they could do about it. So I think this is an opportunity to continue to push the limits of what’s possible.”

When looking at the data, the numbers are encouraging.

The Black unemployment rate in January was 5.3%, up a touch from December but still near the all-time low of 4.8% hit in April 2023. Black employment in the month totaled nearly 20.9 million people, up 6.3% from February 2020, the month before the pandemic hit, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

From a pay standpoint, the numbers are even more encouraging. For Black workers, weekly before-tax earnings as of the end of 2023 have risen 24.8% since the first quarter of 2020. That’s more than the 18.1% increase for white people and the 22.6% rise for Hispanics during the period. Of the groups the BLS measures, only Asians, at 25.1% had seen bigger pay gains.

Still, the unemployment rate is lower for white people, by a wide margin at 3.4% in January.

“High unemployment for Black workers is a solvable problem,” Fulton said. “There are challenges we need to address. We need to figure out how to address discrimination, we need to figure out how do we address unequal access to high-quality workforce development. We need to figure out how to address labor loopholes.”

Focus on tech

One of the areas where the greatest discrepancies exist for underrepresented groups is technology, where Black people and others hold few positions and even fewer are in management roles.

The situation is well-documented. While Black people make up about 12% of the U.S. labor force, they hold just 8% of all tech jobs and a mere 3% of executive positions, according to a McKinsey & Company study released in 2023.

There are several groups working to address the disparity, with varying levels of success.

Those involved tell similar stories. Black workers are interested in tech and believe there are opportunities. Companies don’t understand the real-world benefits of a diverse workplace. Opportunities are limited amid a backlash against the diversity, equity and inclusion push.

“Diversity is not just a warm and fuzzy feeling. You are proven by numbers to get a better return on investment,” said Autumn Nash, a software engineer at a major tech company in the Northwest that she asked not to be named because the company hadn’t given permission for this article.

Nash, who is Black, holds a prominent position in tech, where she has worked for well over a decade while both climbing the corporate ladder and trying to assist those in her cohort achieve success as well.

Autumn Nash

Courtesy: Autumn Nash

Along with her work responsibilities, she’s involved with several organizations looking to help others achieve in tech. They include Rewriting the Code, a global network founded in 2017 that focuses on women, and MilSpouse Coders, which assists military spouses and where Nash serves as education board chair.

Companies that build diversity the right way prosper, she said. Those that don’t have suffered on a tangible level in the form of products that are inadequate and data bases that don’t reflect real-world dynamics.

“The lack of diversity has left very big, wonderful tech companies with egg on their face, because they’ve had premature products,” Nash said. “One of the best ways to fight data bias is with diversity, and it’s diversity in all different backgrounds. If you look at the boards of most big AI companies, do you see diversity there?”

Indeed, instances of bias along racial lines is still seen as a significant problem, particularly in tech.

Some 24% of tech workers said they experienced racial discrimination at work in 2022, up from 18% the prior year, according to a survey by tech career marketplace Dice. While some companies have changed their corporate culture, many others remain behind.

“There are some good stories out there,” said Sue Harnett, founder of Rewriting the Code. “Goldman Sachs and Bank of America do an outstanding job, not only trying to recruit, but actually bringing them on board and converting them from being interns to full-time employees.”

Rewriting the Code collaborates with workers and companies to address diversity issues. Specifically, the organization focuses on college women and follows them through the first six years or so on their career path.

On the downside, Harnett still sees too many token measures that don’t go far enough.

For instance, she said some companies focus on Historically Black Colleges and Universities, which only goes so far in being able to find a capable and diverse workforce.

“I cringe when I talk with a company and ask them about their diversity recruiting strategy and their answer is they work with HBCUs,” she said. “That can be part of the strategy, but it shouldn’t be the only strategy.”

Harnett is sympathetic, though, with how tough the job can be.

“The amount of money that you have to put in to try and find this talent can be overwhelming, but I think there are solutions out there, so I’m personally optimistic,” she said. “I wish we made more progress by now. But the companies are ones that will drive this.”

The small business view

Sometimes the answers are found closer to home.

Ali and Jamila Wright are co-owners of Brooklyn Tea, a small business based in the New York City borough that has expanded to Atlanta and is looking for more growth opportunities.

From a hiring strategy, they focus almost solely on underrepresented groups who have a variety of employment needs. For instance, they hire actors in between shows or other workers in other professions who have been laid off and need a bridge until they find other employment.

Ali and Jamila Wright, co-owners of Brooklyn Tea.

Courtesy: Brooklyn Tea

“All of our employees are people of color,” Ali Wright said. “We have people of color, we have people that are binary or nonbinary. So being that we are diverse ourselves, it just makes it easier to hire people that we know are systematically disadvantaged.”

Brooklyn Tea has been a beneficiary of a relatively booming small business environment, particularly for Black and Latino entrepreneurs.

Black-owned businesses as a share of Black households surged from 5% to 11% from 2019 to 2022, the fastest pace in 30 years, according to the Small Business Administration. The surge has come as the number and dollar value of loans to Black-owned businesses has more than doubled and as the share of the SBA’s loan portfolio to minority-owned businesses has jumped to more than 32% from 23% since 2020.

However, race remains a tenuous dynamic in the U.S., and there’s always the possibility that progress can be rolled back, particularly considering a growingly hostile attitude toward DEI initiatives. Critics say the approach has resulted in a misallocation of resources, particularly following controversies at Ivy League schools.

“From 2020 until 2022, that’s when we all felt the most potential and the most hope, even in the midst of a pandemic,” Jamila Wright said. “We were receiving so much funding and just collaboration from corporate entities, and that attack on DEI has impacted some of the businesses, including ours.”

But the controversies have mainly triggered a reexamination of how to achieve diversity, not a backdown on initiatives in general.

For instance, a Conference Board survey in December found no human resources executives were planning to scale back diversity efforts. Still, Jamila Wright said she is cautious about the future.

“I think history has taught us that nothing, when it comes to race in America, blows over quickly,” she said. “So it’s just us trying to figure out how to be savvy in situations where we shouldn’t have to be savvy. That has been something that we have to become equipped to do.”

CORRECTION: Autumn Nash is a software engineer at a major tech company in the Northwest. A representative for her firm misstated her name.

Bonawyn Eison: Removing barriers will lead to reform

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Long Covid is distorting the labor market — and that’s bad for the U.S. economy

Charlotte Hultquist

Charlotte Hultquist

Weeks after Charlotte Hultquist got Covid-19 in November 2020, she developed a severe pain in her right ear.

“It felt like someone was sticking a knife in [it],” said Hultquist, a single mother of five who lives in Hartford, Vermont.

The 41-year-old is one of millions of Americans who have long Covid. The chronic illness carries a host of potentially debilitating symptoms that can last for months or years, making it impossible for some to work.

For about a year, Hultquist was among those long Covid patients sidelined from the workforce. She would fall constantly, tripping just by stepping over a toy or small object on the floor. She eventually learned that the balance issues and ear pain resulted from a damaged vestibular nerve, a known effect of long Covid. After rigorous testing, a physical therapist told Hultquist she had the “balance of a 1-year-old learning to walk.”

Her body — which she said felt like it weighed 1,000 pounds — couldn’t regulate its temperature, causing dramatic swings from cold to hot.

More from Your Health, Your Money

Here’s a look at more stories on the complexities and implications of long Covid:

Her work on the Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center’s information desk required a sharp memory of the hospital’s layout — but long Covid dulled that clarity, too. She had to quit her job as a patient care representative in March 2021.

“I couldn’t work when my memory just kept failing,” Hultquist said.

There remain many unknowns about long Covid, including causes, cures, even how to define it. But this much is clear: The illness is disabling thousands, perhaps millions, of workers to such an extent that they must throttle back hours or leave the workforce altogether.

In other words, at a time when job openings are near an all-time high, long Covid is reducing the supply of people able to fill those positions. The dynamic may have large and adverse effects on the U.S. economy.

Long Covid “is certainly wind blowing in the other direction” of economic growth, said Betsey Stevenson, a professor of public policy and economics at the University of Michigan who served as chief economist for the U.S. Department of Labor in the Obama administration.

Up to 4 million people are out of work

Mild symptoms, employer accommodations or significant financial need can all keep people with long Covid employed. But in many cases, long Covid impacts work.

Katie Bach

nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution

Katie Bach, a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, has published one of the higher estimates to date. She found that 2 million to 4 million full-time workers are out of the labor force due to long Covid. (To be counted in the labor force, an individual must have a job or be actively looking for work.)

The midpoint of her estimate — 3 million workers — accounts for 1.8% of the entire U.S. civilian labor force. The figure may “sound unbelievably high” but is consistent with the impact in other major economies like the United Kingdom, Bach wrote in an August report. The figures are also likely conservative, since they exclude workers over age 65, she said.

“Mild symptoms, employer accommodations or significant financial need can all keep people with long Covid employed,” Bach said. “But in many cases, long Covid impacts work.”

Impact akin to extra year of baby boomers retiring

Other studies have also found a sizable, though more muted, impact.

Economists Gopi Shah Goda and Evan Soltas estimated 500,000 Americans had left the labor force through this June due to Covid.

That led the labor force participation rate to fall by 0.2 percentage points — which may sound small but amounts to about the same share as baby boomers retiring each year, according to the duo, respectively of the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Put another way: Long Covid’s labor impact translates to an extra year of population aging, Goda said.

For the average person, the work absence from long Covid translates to $9,000 in foregone earnings over a 14-month period — representing an 18% reduction in pay during that time, Goda and Soltas said. In aggregate, the lost labor supply amounts to $62 billion a year — equivalent to half the lost earnings attributable to illnesses like cancer or diabetes.

What’s more, foregone pay may complicate a person’s ability to afford medical care, especially if coupled with the loss of health insurance through the workplace.

A separate Brookings paper published in October estimated about 420,000 workers aged 16 to 64 years old had likely left the labor force because of long Covid. The authors — Louise Sheiner and Nasiha Salwati — cite a “reasonable” range of 281,000 to 683,000 people, or 0.2% to 0.4% of the U.S. labor force.

About 26% of long-haulers said their illness negatively affected employment or work hours, according to a July report published by the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. Those with long Covid were 10 percentage points less likely to be employed than individuals without a prior Covid infection, and worked 50% fewer hours, on average, according to Dasom Ham, the report’s author.

Return to work can be ‘a really frustrating experience’

Outside of these economic models, the labor impact was borne out in numerous CNBC interviews with long Covid patients and doctors who specialize in treating the illness.

Just half of the patients who visit the Mayo Clinic’s Covid Activity Rehabilitation Program can work a full-time schedule, said Dr. Greg Vanichkachorn, the program’s medical director.

“Because of the brain fog issues in addition to physical symptoms, many patients have had a really frustrating experience trying to get back to work,” Vanichkachorn said.

Those able to return, even part-time, sometimes face hostility from employers and co-workers, he added.

For one, many of the hundreds of potential long Covid symptoms are invisible to others, even if disabling for the afflicted. Difficulty meeting a work deadline due to brain fog or extreme fatigue, for example, may not be met kindly by their colleagues.

Long Covid is so different for so many different people.

Alice Burns

associate director of the Program on Medicaid and the Uninsured at health-care nonprofit The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation

“There are some people out there who don’t even think Covid exists,” Vanichkachorn said.

Meanwhile, long Covid can put even accommodating employers in a tricky situation. It can take several months for a patient to make progress in treatment and therapy — meaning some businesses may need to make tough retention, hiring and personnel decisions, Vanichkachorn said. Lengthy recovery times mean a patient’s job might be filled in the interim, he said.

And patients’ symptoms can relapse if they push themselves too rigorously, experts said.

“You can bring a [long Covid] diagnosis to your employer, but it doesn’t allow you to say, ‘I need to be part time for X number of months,” said Alice Burns, associate director of the Program on Medicaid and the Uninsured at health care nonprofit the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. “It may be more months or fewer months; it may mean you can return 10% or 80%.

“That’s just because long Covid is so different for so many different people.”

Why the long Covid labor gap matters

Jerome Powell, chair of the Federal Reserve, mentioned Sheiner and Salwati’s long Covid research in a recent speech about inflation and the labor market.

Millions of people left the labor force in the early days of the pandemic, due to factors like illness, caregiving and fear of infection. But workers haven’t returned as quickly as imagined, particularly those outside their prime working years, Powell said. About 3.5 million workers are still missing, he said.

While most of that shortfall is due to “excess” (i.e., early) retirements, “some of the participation gap” is attributable to long Covid, Powell said. Other big contributors to the shortfall include a plunge in net immigration to the U.S. and a surge in deaths during the pandemic, he added.

“Looking back, we can see that a significant and persistent labor supply shortfall opened up during the pandemic — a shortfall that appears unlikely to fully close anytime soon,” the Fed chair said.

That shortfall has broad economic repercussions.

When the U.S. economy started to reopen in early 2021 from its pandemic-era hibernation — around the time Covid vaccines became widely available to Americans — demand for labor catapulted to historic highs.

Job openings peaked near 12 million in March 2022 and remain well above the pre-pandemic high. There are currently 1.7 job openings per unemployed American — meaning the available jobs are almost double the number of people looking for work, though the ratio has declined in recent months.  

That demand has led businesses to raise wages to compete for talent, helping fuel the fastest wage growth in 25 years, according to Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta data.

While strong wage growth “is a good thing” for workers, its current level is unsustainably high, Powell said, serving to stoke inflation, which is running near its highest level since the early 1980s. (There are many tentacles feeding into inflation, and the extent to which wage growth is contributing is the subject of debate, however.)

A worker shortage — exacerbated by long Covid — is helping underpin dynamics that have fueled fast-rising prices for household goods and services.

But the labor gap is just the “tip of the iceberg,” said Stevenson at the University of Michigan. There are all sorts of unknowns relative to the economic impact of long Covid, such as effects on worker productivity, the types of jobs they can do, and how long the illness persists, she said.

“When you’re sick, you’re not productive, and that’s not good for you or for anybody around you,” Stevenson said of the economic impact.

For example, lost pay might weigh on consumer spending, the lifeblood of the U.S. economy. The sick may need to lean more on public aid programs, like Medicaid, disability insurance or nutrition assistance (i.e., food stamps) funded by taxpayer dollars.

Economic drag will rise if recovery rates don’t improve

In all, long Covid is a $3.7 trillion drain on the U.S. economy, an aggregate cost rivaling that of the Great Recession, estimated David Cutler, an economist at Harvard University. Prior to the pandemic, the Great Recession had been the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. His estimate is conservative, based on known Covid cases at the time of his analysis.

Americans would forgo $168 billion in lost earnings — about 1% of all U.S. economic output — if 3 million were out of work due to long Covid, said Bach of the Brookings Institution. That burden will continue to rise if long Covid patients don’t start recovering at greater rates, she said.

“To give a sense of the magnitude: If the long Covid population increases by just 10% each year, in 10 years, the annual cost of lost wages will be half a trillion dollars,” Bach wrote.

Charlotte Hultquist

Charlotte Hultquist

Hultquist was able to return to the workforce part time in March, after a yearlong absence.

The Vermont resident sometimes had to reduce her typical workweek of about 20 hours, due partly to ongoing health issues, as well as multiple doctor appointments for both her and her daughter, who also has long Covid. Meanwhile, Hultquist nearly emptied her savings.

Hultquist has benefited from different treatments, including physical therapy to restore muscle strength, therapy to “tone” the vagus nerve (which controls certain involuntary bodily functions) and occupational therapy to help overcome cognitive challenges, she said.

“All my [health] providers keep saying, ‘We don’t know what the future looks like. We don’t know if you’ll get better like you were before Covid,'” Hultquist said.

The therapy and adaptations eventually led her to seek full-time employment. She recently accepted a full-time job offer from the New Hampshire Department of Health & Human Services, where she’ll serve as a case aide for economic services.

“It feels amazing to be recovered enough to work full time,” Hultquist said. “I’m very far from pre-Covid functioning but I found a way to keep moving forward.”

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The ultimate work perk? This company provides a free place to stay in Spain

Some workers go to great lengths to hide hush trips from their bosses.

But employees of the Polish company PhotoAid needn’t bother.

The company, which helps travelers take their own passport photos at home, allows its employees to stay at an apartment in Spain for free — provided they work while they’re there.

The apartment is in Tenerife, the largest of Spain’s Canary Islands, an archipelago west of Morocco. Employees can stay up to three weeks at a time and can visit as many times in year as they like, depending on demand from other employees.

The company reimburses half of employees’ airfare too, up to 1,000 Polish zlotys ($246), once a year. Flights from Warsaw to Tenerife can start at around $150 for a six-hour direct flight.

Employees can stay up to three weeks at a time at the Tenerife apartment and can visit as many times as they like.

Source: PhotoAid

The company started renting the apartment in Tenerife’s capital, Santa Cruz de Tenerife, in the summer of 2022 as a way to create relationships and build morale among its employees, all of whom work remotely, said co-founder Rafal Mlodzki.

Plus, Mlodzki said he and the other co-founders, Marcin and Tomasz Mlodzki — who are also his brothers — wanted to offer a company perk that would stand out.  

How the ‘workcations’ work

PhotoAid is a small company with a young workforce, so most employees don’t have children, said Mlodzki. But those who do tend to group together and use the benefit in the summer months when schools are closed.

Employees can request to bring their partners too, which the company reviews on a case-by-case basis, he said.  

Employees must abide by several rules, he said, such as the check-in and check-out protocol. Employees must upload a photo of the apartment on arrival, then do the same on departure to show the next group of employees how they left it.

Workcation time spent in Tenerife doesn’t count as employee vacation time, which is up to 26 days a year, said PhotoAid co-founder Rafal Mlodzki.

Source: PhotoAid

On arrival, employees are assigned a cleaning task too, but the company hires a professional cleaner for deep cleans, he said. While drinking wine on the balcony and chatting into the night are regular occurrences, employees are not allowed to drink during work hours, he said.   

Mlodzki told CNBC Travel that employees like to visit Tenerife with coworkers with shared interests. For example, a recent group played sports in their free time, while another group went to music concerts.

‘The best onboarding in the world’

Around 50 of PhotoAid’s 143 employees have now stayed at the Tenerife apartment, many meeting their teammates in person for the first time during their stays. Around 10 were onboarded as new starters there too, said Mlodzki.

“One of the reasons we decided to open this office was the possibility of offering the best onboarding in the world for senior team members. Those onboarded are not only thrilled but also deeply understand the company and their role in it,” said Mlodzki.

Coworkers with shared interests — such as sports and music — travel to Tenerife together.

Source: PhotoAid

“Often, spontaneous moments occur. For example, after a series of 45-minute sets with 10-minute breaks, we might go on a mini mountain trip and continue onboarding informally. It might even transition into an evening on the terrace.

“We just onboarded our new chief operating officer during a workation in Tenerife, and he was deeply impressed. He had never experienced an onboarding like this before.”

Two senior leaders have scheduled a strategic planning and brainstorming session at the apartment this winter, where average temperatures in January are 68 degrees Fahrenheit, higher than 34 F in the Polish capital of Warsaw.

The apartment

The 3,200-square-foot apartment overlooks the port of Santa Cruz de Tenerife. It has three bedrooms, a spacious lounge with board games, two balconies and a small gym. There are also eight workspaces with high-speed internet, computer monitors and ergonomic chairs.

The apartment has eight workspaces with high-speed internet, computer monitors and ergonomic chairs.

Source: PhotoAid

There’s a bakery next door for fresh bread, with restaurants, bars, wineries, and vermuterias (bars specializing in Spanish vermouth) nearby.

Workation as a ‘wow’ factor

When she was interviewing, Aleksandra Staromiejska said the Tenerife benefit made PhotoAid stand out. Now a company digital public relations specialist, she stayed in the apartment for two weeks in May, along with a colleague from her team. 

Aleksandra Staromiejska started her work days early to maximize her time at the beach, she said.

Source: Aleksandra Staromiejska

She started and finished her work early, she said, to spend as much time as possible at the beach, a 20-minute bus ride away. Over the weekend, she and her colleague went hiking in Macizo de Anaga (Anaga mountains).

“I noticed my productivity levels were higher,” said Staromiejska. “I really wanted to do my job quickly so I could finish my work day and have time to go to the beach.”

Vacations to Spain’s Canary Islands are popular with employees of PhotoAid, a company based in the much colder city of Warsaw, Poland.

Source: PhotoAid

“It was actually a very relaxing trip. Just being in nature is something else. My batteries were just charged up,” she said.

The Spanish apartment is often mentioned in employee satisfaction surveys, said Mlodzki.

“When we recruit, it’s an attractive benefit that candidates always react positively to.”

A vacay with the boss?

Enamored by the culture and scenery, Mlodzki said he spends half his time in Warsaw and half his time in Tenerife, staying in the master bedroom at PhotoAid’s apartment. 

Mlodzki acknowledged that some people might feel nervous about spending so much time with their boss. (Indeed, Staromiejska admitted she did before her workation.) But he said it’s great for rapport.

“It’s super interesting for me to get to know more people. To give and get feedback is very enriching for me,” he said.

Rafal Mlodzki, Aleksandra Staromiejska and Michel Jonca. “It’s super interesting for me to get to know more people,” said co-founder Mlodzki.

Source: PhotoAid

From leasing the apartment to paying for employees’ flights, Mlodzki said the investment has been worth it.

 “We think about the Tenerife office as the ‘company charger’ with the goal of reenergizing employees and boosting team spirits that can get depleted by remote work.”

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Fed holds rates steady, upgrades assessment of economic growth

The Federal Reserve on Wednesday again held benchmark interest rates steady amid a backdrop of a growing economy and labor market and inflation that is still well above the central bank’s target.

In a widely expected move, the Fed’s rate-setting group unanimously agreed to hold the key federal funds rate in a target range between 5.25%-5.5%, where it has been since July. This was the second consecutive meeting that the Federal Open Market Committee chose to hold, following a string of 11 rate hikes, including four in 2023.

The decision included an upgrade to the committee’s general assessment of the economy. Stocks rallied on the news, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average gaining 212 points on the session.

“The process of getting inflation sustainably down to 2% has a long way to go,” Fed Chair Jerome Powell said in remarks at a news conference. He stressed that the central bank hasn’t made any decisions yet for its December meeting, saying that “The committee will always do what it thinks is appropriate at the time.”

Powell added that the FOMC is not considering or even discussing rate reductions at this time.

He also said the risks around the Fed doing too much or too little to fight inflation have become more balanced.

“This signals that while there is a potential risk for the Fed to do more, the bar has become higher for rate hikes, and we are clearly seeing this play out with two consecutive meetings of no policy action from the Fed,” said Charlie Ripley, senior investment strategist at Allianz Investment Management.

Economy has ‘moderated’

The post-meeting statement had indicated that “economic activity expanded at a strong pace in the third quarter,” compared with the September statement that said the economy had expanded at a “solid pace.” The statement also noted that employment gains “have moderated since earlier in the year but remain strong.”

Gross domestic product expanded at a 4.9% annualized rate in the third quarter, stronger than even elevated expectations. Nonfarm payrolls growth totaled 336,000 in September, well ahead of the Wall Street outlook.

There were few other changes to the statement, other than a notation that both financial and credit conditions had tightened. The addition of “financial” to the phrase followed a surge in Treasury yields that has caused concern on Wall Street. The statement continued to note that the committee is still “determining the extent of additional policy firming” that it may need to achieve its goals. “The Committee will continue to assess additional information and its implications for monetary policy,” the statement said.

Wednesday’s decision to stay put comes with inflation slowing from its rapid pace of 2022 and a labor market that has been surprisingly resilient despite all the interest rate hikes. The increases have been targeted at easing economic growth and bringing a supply and demand mismatch in the labor market back into balance. There were 1.5 available jobs for every available worker in September, according to Labor Department data released earlier Wednesday.

Core inflation is currently running at 3.7% on an annual basis, according to the latest personal consumption expenditures price index reading, which the Fed favors as an indicator for prices.

While that has decreased steadily this year, it is well above the Fed’s 2% annual target.

The post-meeting statement indicated that the Fed sees the economy holding strong despite the rate hikes, a position in itself that could prompt policymakers into a prolonged tightening stance.

In recent days, the “higher-for-longer” mantra has become a central theme for where the Fed is headed. While multiple officials have said they think rates can stay where they are as the Fed assesses the impact of the previous increases, virtually none have said they are considering cuts anytime soon. Market pricing indicates the first cut could come around June 2024, according to CME Group data.

Surging bond yields

The restrictive stance has been a factor in the surging bond yields. Treasury yields have risen to levels not seen since 2007, the earliest days of the financial crisis, as markets parse out what is ahead. Yields and prices move in opposite direction, so a rise in the former reflects waning investor appetite for Treasurys, generally considered the largest and most liquid market in the world.

The surge in yields is seen as a byproduct of multiple factors, including stronger-than-expected economic growth, stubbornly high inflation, a hawkish Fed and an elevated “term premium” for bond investors demanding higher yields in return for the risk of holding longer-duration fixed income.

There also are worries over Treasury issuance as the government looks to finance its massive debt load. The department this week said it will be auctioning off $776 billion of debt in the fourth quarter, starting with $112 billion across three auctions next week.

During a recent appearance in New York, Powell said he thinks the economy may have to slow further to bring down inflation. Most forecasters expect economic growth to tail off ahead.

A Treasury Department forecast released earlier this week indicated that the pace of growth likely will tumble to 0.7% in the fourth quarter and just 1% for the full year in 2024. Projections the Fed released in September put expected GDP growth at 1.5% in 2024.

In the wake of the Fed’s comments, the Atlanta Fed’s GDPNow growth tracker slashed expectations for fourth-quarter GDP almost in half to 1.2% from 2.3%. The gauge takes in data on a real-time basis and adjusts its estimates with the latest information.

Whitney Watson, co-CIO of fixed income and liquidity solutions at Goldman Sachs Asset Management, said it’s likely the Fed will keep its policy unchanged into next year.

“There are risks in both directions,” Watson said. “The rise in inflation expectations, owing to higher gas prices, combined with strong economic activity, preserves the prospect of another rate hike. Conversely, a more pronounced economic slowdown caused by the growing impact of higher interest rates might accelerate the timeline for transitioning to rate cuts.”

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UAW strike brings blue-collar vs. billionaire battle to Detroit

DETROIT — The United Auto Workers strike is bringing a blue-collar versus billionaire battle to the Motor City, just as UAW President Shawn Fain wanted.

The outspoken union leader has weaponized striking — historically a last resort for the union — after less than 24 hours into a work stoppage arguably better than any UAW president has in modern times.

It wasn’t by accident.

Fain, a quirky yet emboldened leader, has meticulously brought the UAW back into the national spotlight after decades of near irrelevance. He wants to represent not just union members but also America’s embattled middle class, which UAW helped create.

United Auto Workers union President Shawn Fain joins UAW members who are on a strike, on the picket line at the Ford Michigan Assembly Plant in Wayne, Michigan, September 15, 2023.

Rebecca Cook | Reuters

To do so, he has leveraged a yearslong national labor movement and a growing disgust for wealthy individuals and corporations among many Americans — starting with his first time addressing the union’s more than 400,000 members during his inauguration speech in March.

“We’re here to come together to ready ourselves for the war against our only one and only true enemy, multibillion-dollar corporations and employers who refuse to give our members their fair share,” Fain said at the time. “It’s a new day in the UAW.”

Fain’s comments Friday morning as he joined UAW members and supporters picketing outside a Ford plant in Michigan — one of three facilities the company is currently striking — echoed everything he said during that first speech.

“We got to do what we got to do to get our share of economic and social justice in this strike,” Fain said outside the Ford Bronco SUV and Ranger pickup plant. “We’re going to be out here until we get our share of economic justice. And it doesn’t matter how long it takes.”

Fain’s upbringing plays into his strong unionism and religious beliefs, which he has growingly talked about with members as he emphasizes “faith” in the UAW’s cause. Two of his grandparents were UAW GM retirees, and one grandfather started at Chrysler in 1937, the year the workers joined the union. Fain, who joined the UAW in 1994, even keeps one of his grandfather’s pay stubs in his wallet as “a reminder” of where he came from. 

National media and others really started paying attention to Fain when he said the union would withhold a reelection endorsement of President Joe Biden, who has called himself the “most pro-union president in history.” Fain and Biden have spoken and met, but the union leader has not shown much support for the president. In response to comments by the president Friday, Fain said: “Working people are not afraid. You know who’s afraid? The corporate media is afraid. The White House is afraid. The companies are afraid.”

While many past union leaders have talked such talk, Fain has thus far delivered on his promises to members without batting an eye — causing General Motors, Ford Motor and Stellantis to go into crisis mode this week as the UAW follows through on that promise to members.

“We’ve never seen anything like this; it’s frustrating,” Ford CEO Jim Farley told CNBC’s Phil LeBeau Thursday as he criticized Fain and the union for what he said was a lack of communication and counteroffers. “I don’t know what Shawn Fain is doing, but he’s not negotiating this contract with us, as it expires.”

In a statement Friday, Ford said that the UAW’s partial strike at its Michigan Assembly Plant has forced it to lay off about 600 workers.

“This is not a lockout,” Ford said. “This layoff is a consequence of the strike at Michigan Assembly Plant’s final assembly and paint departments, because the components built by these 600 employees use materials that must be e-coated for protection. E-coating is completed in the paint department, which is on strike.”

GM CEO Mary Barra echoed Farley’s feelings Friday morning on CNBC’s “Squawk Box.”

“I’m extremely frustrated and disappointed,” she said. “We don’t need to be on strike right now.”

Both CEOs said everything they could to indicate they believe Fain may not be bargaining in good faith without using those exact words, which could justify a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board.

The UAW in late August filed unfair labor practice charges against GM and Stellantis with the NLRB, alleging they did not bargain with the union in good faith or a timely manner. It did not file a complaint against Ford. GM and Stellantis have denied those allegations.

Ford CEO Jim Farley: No way we would be sustainable as a company with UAW's wage proposal

Several past union leaders and company bargainers who spoke to CNBC hailed the way Fain has been able to propel the UAW into the national spotlight, including pausing bargaining for a Friday rally and march with Sen. Bernie Sanders, the progressive lawmaker from Vermont. Sanders, whose surprise 2016 Democratic presidential primary win in Michigan helped cement his national prominence, has lent support to numerous labor movements around the country as he rails against the billionaire class.

“I think they’re just doing an outstanding job,” said respected former UAW President Bob King, who cited growing support for the union among the public and the union’s own members. “Both those measurements say that UAW communications has been outstanding.”

UAW members have taken notice — especially after many of them disdained union leadership during and after a yearslong federal corruption investigation that landed two past UAW presidents and more than a dozen others in prison.

“For all the years that I’ve worked here, it’s never been this strong,” said Anthony Dobbins, a 27-year autoworker, early Friday morning while picketing the Ford plant in Michigan. “This is going to make history right here because we are trying to get what we deserve.”

Dobbins, a UAW Local 600 union representative, balked at current record offers by the automakers that have included roughly 20% pay increases, thousands of dollars in bonuses, retention of the union’s platinum health care and other sweetened benefits.

“That’s not working for us. Give us what we asked for,” Dobbins said. “That’s what we want. We have to work seven days, overtime, just to make ends meet.”

United Auto Workers President Shawn Fain, center, poses with Anthony Dobbins, right, a 27-year autoworker, and others as the union pickets a Ford plant in Wayne, Michigan, Sept. 15, 2023.

Michael Wayland / CNBC

Key demands from the union have included 40% hourly pay increases; a reduced, 32-hour, workweek; a shift back to traditional pensions; the elimination of compensation tiers; and a restoration of cost-of-living adjustments. Other items on the table include enhanced retiree benefits and better vacation and family leave benefits.

Automakers have argued such demands would cripple the companies. Farley even said the company would have “gone bankrupt by now” under the union’s current proposals and members would not have benefited from $75,000 in average profit-sharing over the last decade.

Ford sources said the automaker would have lost $14.4 billion over the last four years if the current demands had been in effect, instead of recording nearly $30 billion in profits.

Such profits are exactly what Fain has said UAW members deserve to share in. But his strategy to get workers a larger piece of the pie carries great risks.

“This is not going to be positive from an industry perspective or for GM,” Barra said Friday.

Many outside the union believe if Fain pushes too hard, it could lead to long-term job losses for the union. A former high-ranking bargainer for one of the automakers told CNBC that it’s nearly guaranteed the companies cut union jobs through product allocation, plant closures or other means to offset increased labor costs.

“They’re going to have to pay up. The question is how much,” said the longtime bargainer, who agreed to speak on the condition of anonymity. “This ends up with fewer jobs. That’s how the automakers cut costs.”

Fain and other union leaders have argued that meeting the companies in the middle has led to dozens of plant closures, fewer union members and a growing divide between blue-collar workers and the wealthy.

So why not fight?

“This is about us doing what we got to do to take care of the working class,” Fain said Friday. “This isn’t just about the UAW. This is about working people everywhere in this country. No matter what you do for a living, you deserve your fair share of equity.”

GM CEO Mary Barra on UAW strike: We put a historic offer on the table

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Why auto worker strikes against GM, Ford and Stellantis seem inevitable

Members of the United Auto Workers union hold a rally and practice picket near a Stellantis plant in Detroit, Aug. 23, 2023.

Michael Wayland / CNBC

DETROIT – United Auto Workers President Shawn Fain appears ready to fire up the picket lines.

The union’s bulldog new leader has repeatedly vowed to drive a hard bargain with Detroit automakers General Motors, Ford Motor and Stellantis in contract negotiations ahead of an expiration at 11:59 p.m. on Sept 14.

He’s maintained it’s a hard deadline that his leadership team does not plan to extend, like the union has in the past, and that he’s not afraid to take roughly 150,000 auto workers out of factories if necessary.

That — plus the revelation late Thursday that Fain and the union filed unfair labor practice charges against GM and Stellantis with the National Labor Relations Board, claiming the companies weren’t bargaining in good faith — makes a strike against one, if not all three of the automakers, increasingly inevitable.

Unlike prior union leaders, Fain is attempting to negotiate with all three automakers at once, refusing to select a “target” company to focus on while extending deals at the others. He’s also been far more confrontational with the automakers compared to previous union leaders, at times launching personal attacks on executives.

There’s a belief among some industry analysts and experts that a strike, or several, may be necessary to convince UAW members that the union leaders fought as hard as they could to reach the demands.

“I expect there to be a strike,” said Art Wheaton, a labor professor at the Worker Institute at Cornell University. “I think there’s a reasonable chance they strike Stellantis first and then give a couple more days for Ford and GM to give a better offer.”

Wheaton believes that a strike at Stellantis is nearly guaranteed with the sides as far apart as they are now. The union could use that work stoppage as a warning to GM and Ford to finalize their deals, he said.

“I think a strike is almost essential at Stellantis or they will never get a deal ratified,” Wheaton said. “Stellantis is picking a fight, saying, ‘Try me if you dare.'”

Strikes could take various forms, including a national strike, where all workers under the contract cease working, or targeted work stoppages at certain plants over local contract issues.

During a Facebook Live on Aug. 8, 2023, UAW President Shawn Fain

Screenshot

Prolonged strikes against all three of the automakers would be unprecedented and quickly impact the automotive supply chain, U.S. economy and domestic production.

The Biden administration has taken particular interest in the talks, including the appointment of longtime Democratic adviser Gene Sperling to monitor the situation for the White House.

Wall Street watching

Wall Street has warned of a potential work stoppage for several months, and investors have taken heed.

A brief survey of 99 investors by Morgan Stanley found 58% believe a strike is “extremely likely.” That’s followed by 24% who said it’s “somewhat likely.” Just 16% said a strike was unlikely, while 2% said it was “neither likely not unlikely.”

Industry and labor experts agree, and for good reason.

The impending contract deadline follows combative rhetoric by Fain and other union leaders; a years-long labor movement involving work stoppages, including the UAW; and ambitious demands by the union for 40% or more pay increases, retention of platinum healthcare and a 32-hour workweek.

Such demands aren’t typically made public or even fully reported until close to the end of the negotiations, in part as an effort to bargain in good faith but also to avoid setting expectations — either too high or too low — for UAW members, who need to ratify the contracts after the sides announce a tentative agreement.

“I’ve always said that the best way to reach agreements is to be negotiating with each other and not in the newspapers, TV or anywhere else,” said Dennis Devaney, senior counsel at Clark Hill who formerly served as a NLRB board member and attorney for GM and Ford. “I don’t think the public negotiation … is really going to move things along.”

United Auto Workers members on strike picket outside General Motors’ Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly plant on Sept. 25, 2019 in Detroit.

Michael Wayland / CNBC

o be clear, it’s not exclusively up to Fain to call for strikes. It’s up to the UAW’s 14-member International Executive Board (IEB), which Fain leads as president. The leaders, based on weighted votes, must approve such a work stoppage by a two-thirds majority vote.

Then there’s the question of how long a strike would last.

Of its surveyed investors, Morgan Stanley found the vast majority of respondents (96%) expected a potential strike to last longer than a week. Over a third (34%) expect the strike to last longer than a month.

A strike against GM in 2019 during the last round of contract negotiations lasted 40 days and cost the automaker $3.6 billion in earnings that year, GM reported at the time.

The UAW has more than $825 million in its strike fund, which it uses to pay eligible members who are on strike. The strike pay is $500 per week for each member.

Assuming 150,000 or so UAW members covered by the contracts, strike pay would cost the union about $75 million per week. A fund of $825 million, then, would cover about 11 weeks. One caveat: that doesn’t include health-care costs that the union would cover, such as temporary COBRA plans, that would likely drain the fund far more quickly.

Ratification

For much of the union’s history, it was largely expected that members would ultimately approve whatever deal was bargained and endorsed by UAW leaders.

However, in recent negotiations, that hasn’t been the case and the sides have needed to return to the negotiating table.

That was the situation two rounds of negotiations ago, in 2015, with then-Fiat Chrysler, now Stellantis, workers, who voted down a tentative agreement. That same year, GM skilled trade workers also voted against a tentative deal with the Detroit automaker, stalling ratification.

Typically, once a tentative deal is reached between the union and an automaker, the members of that automaker will then vote by local organization on whether to accept the tentative agreement and make it a contract. The whole ratification process can take about two weeks for each company.

“The UAW’s tentative agreement with an automaker is really a set of agreements—the main text, as well as appendixes for different aspects, such as pensions and retirement plans, health care benefits, supplemental unemployment benefits, profit sharing, personal savings plans, life and disability benefits, dependent care benefits, and salaried workers (for those who are also UAW-represented),” said Kristin Dziczek, automotive policy advisor for the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago’s Detroit branch, in a blog post.

In 2019, it took eight additional weeks to negotiate and ratify all three agreements once the first tentative agreement was reached following GM’s strike. The negotiations and ratification voting ended in early December.

Spokespeople for the automakers declined to comment directly for this article, but reiterated that their teams continue to bargain in good faith with the union in hopes of deals that benefit both sides.

– CNBC’s Michael Bloom contributed to this report.

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What Wall Street needs to know about UAW talks, a potential strike, and what it could all cost

United Auto Workers members on strike picket outside General Motors’ Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly plant in Detroit, Sept. 25, 2019.

Michael Wayland / CNBC

DETROIT – The Oracle of Omaha is cutting exposure to the U.S. automotive industry amid union negotiations — potentially for good reason.

Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway this week said it nearly halved its stake in General Motors in the second quarter. While the firm didn’t disclose its reasoning, the sale front runs what is expected to be a challenging end of the year for the U.S. automotive industry, plagued by contentious contract talks between the United Auto Workers union and GM, Ford Motor and Stellantis.

The talks, which cover nearly 150,000 U.S. auto workers, could cost the automakers billions of dollars in additional labor costs, work stoppages or, in a worst-case scenario, both.

New UAW leadership team has dubbed these talks the union’s “defining moment.” President Shawn Fain has already deployed harsh messaging and a few theatrics, including throwing contract proposals by Stellantis in a trash bin, and there’s been little to no talk about “give and take” or “win-win” deals.

“They’re ready to strike if a deal does not happen,” said Melissa Atkins, a labor and employment partner at Obermayer. “Going in with that mindset, I anticipate it being very contentious … and just given the history, there probably will be a strike.”

Aggressive efforts by the union are great for organized labor and the embattled UAW, which is attempting to regain its footing after a yearslong federal corruption probe landed several top leaders in prison for bribery, embezzlement and other crimes — but not for the companies or their shareholders.

Here are the numbers investors should know ahead of the expiration date for current contracts between the Detroit automakers and UAW at 11:59 p.m. ET on Sept. 14.

$80 billion

Contract proposals made by the UAW at this point would add more than $80 billion in labor costs for each of the biggest U.S. automakers over the length of the contract, Bloomberg News first reported earlier this month.

“One might think of these UAW contracts as a set of three large purchase orders to secure the labor needed to assemble future vehicles, parts, and components—contracts that are collectively worth roughly $70–$80 billion over the course of the next four years,” Kristin Dziczek, automotive policy advisor for the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago’s Detroit branch, wrote in a Wednesday blog post.

United Auto Workers President Shawn Fain greets workers at the Stellantis Sterling Heights Assembly Plant, to mark the beginning of contract negotiations in Sterling Heights, Michigan, U.S. July 12, 2023. 

Rebecca Cook | Reuters

The demands include a 46% wage increase, restoration of traditional pensions, cost-of-living increases, reducing the work week to 32 hours from 40 and increasing retiree benefits.

If the UAW gets those demands, without any changes to other benefits, the all-in hourly labor cost for the automakers would more than double from at least $64 per hour to more than $150 per hour, according to media reports.

That would be a significant increase over wage hikes seen during the previous four-year agreements, according to estimates from the Center for Automotive Research. The 2019 deals were projected to increase average hourly labor costs over the length of the contracts by $11 per worker for then-Fiat Chrysler, now Stellantis, and $8 per worker at GM and Ford.

Under the current pay structure, UAW members start at about $18 an hour and have a “grow-in” period of four years to reach a top wage of more than $30 an hour.

$5 billion

A work stoppage by nearly 150,000 UAW workers at GM, Ford and Stellantis would result in an economic loss of more than $5 billion after 10 days, according to Anderson Economic Group, a Michigan-based consulting firm that closely tracks such events.

AEG estimates the total economic loss by calculating potential losses to UAW workers, the manufacturers and to the auto industry more broadly if the sides cannot reach tentative agreements before the current contracts expire.

In another analysis, Deutsche Bank previously estimated that a strike would hit earnings at each affected automaker by about $400 million to $500 million per week of production.

Strikes could take several forms: a national strike, where all workers under the contract cease working, or targeted work stoppages at certain plants over local contract issues. A strike against all three automakers, as Fain has alluded to, would be the most impactful but also the riskiest and most costly for the union.

$825 million

The UAW has more than $825 million in its strike fund, which it uses to pay eligible members who are on strike. The strike pay is $500 per week for each member – up from $275 in 2022.

Speaking in front of a backdrop of American-made vehicles and a UAW sign, President Joe Biden, then a presidential candidate, speaks about new proposals to protect U.S. jobs during a campaign stop in Warren, Michigan, Sept. 9, 2020.

Leah Millis | Reuters

1.5 million

If the union decides to strike against all three Detroit automakers, production losses would quickly add up.

S&P Global Mobility estimates a 10-week strike would mean lost production of roughly 1.5 million units, according to an investor note from Mizuho Securities USA.

A 40-day strike against GM during the last round of negotiations in 2019 led to a production loss of 300,000 vehicles, the company said then. It also cost the automaker $3.6 billion in earnings, GM said.

Industry experts argue that a strike against all or any of the automakers would likely impact the operations and bottom lines of the companies more quickly than four years ago since the U.S. auto industry is still recovering from supply chain problems caused during the coronavirus pandemic.

Vehicle inventory levels for the automakers also are lower than they were heading into the talks four years ago.

Heading into 2019 contract negotiations, U.S. vehicle supply was 3.73 million — essentially enough units to last 86 days of selling under normal conditions at the time, according to Cox Automotive. The industry is currently just under 2 million units, with 56 days’ supply.

“In 2019, there was quite a slack in there. There’s almost no slack now,” AEG CEO Patrick Anderson said Thursday during a webinar with the Automotive Press Association. “If we are to get a strike, within the first week, the numbers start to get serious for each of the automakers.”

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Why Amazon built a second headquarters and how the pandemic reshaped HQ2

Six years ago, Amazon kicked off a sweepstakes-style contest in search of where to build a second headquarters. The competition drew bids from 238 states, provinces and cities vying to be the next anchor for the nation’s dominant online retailer and second-largest private employer.

This week, Amazon formally opened the doors of the first part of its new East Coast headquarters, dubbed HQ2, in northern Virginia. The first phase, called Metropolitan Park, includes two 22-story office towers, which can accommodate 14,000 of the 25,000 employees Amazon plans to bring on in Arlington. About 2,900 employees have already moved in, and Met Park will be occupied by 8,000 employees in the fall.

Amazon built its headquarters in Seattle in 1994 partly because of the area’s deep pool of tech talent and the presence of Microsoft in nearby Redmond, Washington. The company’s Seattle campus now spans tens of millions of square feet across more than 40 office buildings, and the greater Puget Sound area has 65,000 corporate and technical Amazon employees.

It raises the question why Amazon, with its sprawling campus in Seattle and a growing real estate footprint globally, needed to build a second headquarters.

Around 2005, as Amazon’s business grew and its campus ballooned in Seattle, founder and then-CEO Jeff Bezos began to consider where the company should expand next.

At all-hands meetings, employees would ask Bezos “if we would ever be in one location at one time,” said John Schoettler, Amazon’s real estate chief, in an interview.

“I think that there was a romantic notion that we as a company would only be so big that we’d all fit inside one building,” Schoettler said. “[Bezos] had said, well, we have long-term leases and when those leases come up, I’ll work with John and the real estate team and we’ll figure out what to do next.”

John Schoettler, Amazon’s vice president of global real estate and facilities, walks Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin through HQ2.

Tasha Dooley

Originally, Bezos suggested Amazon stay around the Puget Sound area, but the conversation then shifted to recreating the “neighborhood” feel of its Seattle campus elsewhere, Schoettler said.

“We could have gone out to the suburbs and we could have taken some farmland and knocked some trees down, and we would’ve built a campus that would have been very inward-looking,” he said. “They generally have a north or south entrance and exit east or west. When you put yourself in the middle of the urban fabric and create a walkable neighborhood, an 18-hour district, you become very outward, and you become very part of the community, and that’s what we wanted.”

Holly Sullivan, Amazon’s vice president of economic development, said it would have been harder for Amazon to create that kind of environment had it “sprinkled these employees around 15 other tech hubs or 17 other tech hubs around North America.”

“So what HQ2 has provided is the opportunity for that more in-depth collaboration and being part of a neighborhood,” Sullivan said.

‘I don’t see us getting bigger in Seattle whatsoever’

Amazon’s highly publicized search for a second headquarters has faced some challenges. In 2018, Amazon announced it would split HQ2 between New York’s Long Island City neighborhood, and the Crystal City area of Arlington, Virginia. But after public and political outcry, Amazon canceled its plans to build a corporate campus in Long Island City.

The company’s arrival in Arlington has generated concerns of rising housing costs and displacement. The company said it has committed more than $1 billion to build and preserve affordable homes in the region.

Schoettler said Amazon intends to focus much of its future growth in Arlington and in Nashville, Tennessee, where the company’s logistics hub is based. It also plans to hire as many as 12,000 people in the Seattle suburb of Bellevue, he added.

“I don’t see us getting bigger in Seattle whatsoever,” Schoettler said. “I think that we’re pretty much tapped out there.”

HQ2 has some of the same quirks as Amazon’s Seattle campus. There’s a community banana stand staffed by “banistas” and white boards on the walls of building elevators. Amazon has a dog-friendly vibe at its Seattle office, which carried over to Metropolitan Park, where there’s a public dog park, and a gallery wall of the dogs of Amazon employees. The towers feature plant-filled terraces and a rooftop urban farm that echoes the feel of the “Spheres,” botanical gardenlike workspaces that anchor Amazon’s Seattle office.

Metropolitan Park is the first phase of Amazon’s new Arlington headquarters, called HQ2.

Tasha Dooley

Amazon is opening HQ2 at an uncertain time for the company and the broader tech sector. Many of the biggest companies in the industry, including Amazon, have eliminated thousands of jobs and reined in spending following periods of slowing revenue growth and fears of a recession ahead.

Companies have also been confronting questions about what work looks like in a post-pandemic environment. Many employees have grown accustomed to working from home and have been reluctant to return to the office. Amazon last month began requiring corporate employees to work from the office at least three days a week, which generated pushback from some workers who prefer greater flexibility.

Amazon tweaked the design of HQ2 around the expectation that employees wouldn’t be coming into the office every day.

Communal work spaces are more common, and there’s less assigned seating, Schoettler said. Employees may only be at a desk 30% of the day, with the rest of their time spent in conference rooms, or having casual coffee meetings with coworkers, he said.

“If we don’t come in that day, no one else will utilize the space,” Schoettler said. “And so that way, you can come in, the desk is open and it’s not been personalized with family photos and that type of thing. You can sit down and absolutely utilize the space, and then go off about your day.”

Amazon’s HQ2 features some of the same quirks as its Seattle headquarters, like a community banana stand.

Tasha Dooley

The shift to a hybrid working environment has also influenced the further development of HQ2. Amazon in March said it had pushed out the groundbreaking of PenPlace, the second phase of its Arlington campus. PenPlace is expected to include three 22-story office buildings, more than 100,000 square feet of retail space and a 350-foot-tall tower, called “The Helix,” that features outdoor walkways and inside meeting areas for employees surrounded by vegetation.

Amazon will observe how employees work in the two new Metropolitan Park buildings to inform how it designs the offices at PenPlace, Schoettler said.

Amazon didn’t say when it expects to begin development of PenPlace, but it is continuing to move forward with the permitting and preconstruction process, Schoettler said.

“We just want to be really mindful, since we’re just opening these buildings, to make sure we’re doing it right,” Sullivan said. “These are large investments for us. We own these buildings, and we want to give them a long shelf life.”

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