Labor Day 2022: RTO mandates, unionization motivation, economic impacts for workers
August 23, 2022
The following Cornell University labor experts are available to weigh in on return-to-office policies and mandates, the increase of union organizing and strikes, how current economic conditions are impacting workers and more.
Christopher Collins, associate professor of human resource studies and expert on strategic human resource management, can speak to the current state of company and worker relations, specifically on return-to-work policies.
“Well before the start of the pandemic, companies began to see a steady increase in turnover and changes in workers' expectations and loyalty and this trend has strengthened in the past 18 months during the so-called “Great Resignation.” In order to attract and retain key talent, organizations and HR leaders have been rethinking the nature of work, how to enhance the overall employee experience, and additional changes that make their places of work more attractive. In particular, design thinking, employer brands, new technologies, and organizational culture changes have become increasingly important tools and strategies that HR leaders can draw on to win the new war for talent.”
Bradford Bell, professor in strategic human resources and director of ILR’s Center for Advanced Human Resource Studies, can speak to remote work and its place in U.S. business culture.
“Many companies have begun to implement their return-to-office plans in recent months. However, the transition to hybrid or fully in-person arrangements has been rocky as many employees have concerns about the fairness of office policies and questions about whether the disruption to their personal lives is necessary. Companies are taking steps to address these issues, although office occupancy rates in many cases remain below target levels.”
Vanessa Bohns, associate professor of organizational behavior and social psychologist, is the author of the book You Have More Influence Than You Think. She can speak to how workers can negotiate for what they want and need.
“A lot of workers have been in a holding pattern waiting to see how serious their employers are about bringing them back to the office. As more and more decisions about remote, hybrid, etc., work are made and implemented this fall, employees who aren’t happy with these decisions may find themselves at a critical juncture with their employer: Should I stay or should I go? But are those really likely to be the only two choices?
“There may in fact be a third choice: negotiating. Research suggests people tend to feel uncomfortable with negotiation and asking for what they want, which may lead them to hold back from having such a conversation with their manager. But when people do ask, research shows they are in fact more likely than they expect to get what they ask for.
“All of this means that employees who are seriously considering leaving their positions because of impending policy changes that will impact their work flexibility may first want to consider asking what alternative arrangements their boss might find acceptable. Identifying the underlying concerns behind a policy shift may help employees come up with a proposal that gives them needed flexibility while still being true to the goals of the policy. Ultimately, by taking this kind of integrative approach employees may find they have more influence over their working arrangements than they thought.”
Nellie Brown is a certified industrial hygienist and director of workplace health and safety programs for the Worker Institute. She can offer expertise on how Covid has prepared companies for disease prevention in the workplace as well as workplace shifts toward sick leave.
“I am hoping that employers will learn from the COVID-19 pandemic that crisis planning for disease in the workplace is a necessity. After all, who really benefits when sick people come to work? Mild illnesses, like some of our common gastrointestinal illnesses, are spread through commonly touched objects.
“Now we are looking at a disease, monkeypox, for which direct contact with the infected person is the worry. I am concerned that people, in general, may develop strong opinions one way or the other: becoming jaded and deciding to behave however they wish or becoming fearful of everything – all the while, leaving immunocompromised or other high-risk people at a loss. With monkeypox especially, the concern about stigmatizing people’s sexual orientation or personal behavior may reprise what was seen initially with HIV/AIDS.”
The Cornell-ILR Labor Action Tracker provides a comprehensive database of strike and labor protest activity across the U.S.
Kate Bronfenbrenner, senior lecturer, is an expert on union and employer strategies in organizing and bargaining in the global economy.
Patricia Campos-Medina, executive director of ILR’s Worker Institute, is a policy expert on workplace and labor issues. She follows Amazon unionization activity closely.
Cathy Creighton, director of Cornell ILR Buffalo Co-Lab, expert on labor law and labor relations. She follows Starbucks unionization activity closely.
Ileen DeVault, professor of labor history and the academic director of the ILR School’s Worker Institute, can speak to unionization trends throughout history.
How economic conditions are impacting workers
Erica Groshen, senior economics advisor, is a labor statistics expert. She was also the former commissioner of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and vice president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and has written extensively on how economies can recover from recessions. She can speak on unemployment rates and trends in the labor market.