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So that Happened: Workers Want Money, DOJ Gets Tougher, Avoiding Car Crashes

June 1, 2022
IndustryWeek editors look into the Department of Justice taking a more activist stance against corporate mergers, which cars get crashed more and what workers want in today's economy.

Editor’s note: Welcome to So That Happened, our editors’ takes on things going on in the manufacturing world that deserve some extra attention. This will appear regularly in the Member’s Only section of the site.

Is This a Surprise? Pay is Top Priority for Blue Collar Workers

First let me start by saying that I don’t like the term blue collar, since today hourly-paid jobs require a myriad of technological skills, but the study that I’m citing uses that term.

EmployBridge surveyed 19,500 workers for their 16th Annual Voice of the Blue-Collar Worker survey and found that 40% of the hourly workers picked pay as their top concern. Last year pay was also the top issue, however the percentage was 32%.

“Competitive wages will continue to be a vital factor for employers looking to succeed in a job market in which openings still outnumber the total number of unemployed workers, although average hourly pay rates now exceed the consumer price index (CPI), rising inflation and other economic pressures continue to eat away at the buying power of those wages,” said Cathi Canfield, key architect of this year’s survey, in a statement.

IndustryWeek’s upcoming salary survey (expect it in the summer issue) found similar results with pay overtaking job-enjoyment measures as the No. 1 priority for workers.

The EmployBridge survey also found that:

  • In addition to pay rates, blue-collar workers care about total compensation factors such as retirement and healthcare benefits.
  • While shift and schedule flexibility have been important in the past, this year they rank in the top three factors in workers’ decisions about which job they choose -- and whether to stay at a job.
  • Despite a tumultuous year, workers are optimistic about their own financial futures and “satisfied” with their current roles.
  • COVID-19 concerns have declined significantly but are still present, particularly for female workers.

The authors of the study feel that the preferences of these workers should be respected. “Hourly workers are absolutely essential to the U.S. economy, yet often their perspectives are not heard or understood,” said Canfield.

Adrienne Selko

A Sign of the Regulatory Times

“I’m not even really that worried about it, so (I) don’t think any countermeasures are necessary at this time,” Crane Holdings Co. CEO Max Mitchell had told analysts April 26 about his team’s plan to divest its engineered materials division to Mexico’s Grupo Verzatec S.A. de C.V.

He probably could have read the tea leaves—and statements from federal agencies—a bit more thoroughly.

Exactly a month after that April conference call, Crane said the $360 million deal had fallen through after the U.S. Department of Justice had rejected a proposal by Connecticut-based Crane and Verzatec to assuage antitrust concerns. Verzatec will pay Crane $7.5 million to spike the agreement the companies signed a year ago, when Mitchell said the fiberglass reinforced plastic business assembled via a series of acquisitions was no longer a great fit with the rest of Crane’s portfolio.

The DOJ had come out firing against the deal in March with a lawsuit and with Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Kanter labeling Verzatec’s plan “a brazen attempt to eliminate a rival and cement a monopoly” in the market for plastic wall panels used in restaurants, supermarkets, hospitals and elsewhere. The Department said the deal would have given Verzatec 80% of the market and cited internal Verzatec documents calling Crane its biggest competitor and saying the acquisition would bring “FRP dominance.”

A trial had been scheduled for early October, but Verzatec execs saw no need to go further. And so, the engineered materials group, which runs seven plants and last year produced a pre-tax profit of $25.6 million on sales of $228 million, is being rolled back into Crane’s ongoing operations as Mitchell and his team prepare for a split into two companies focused on aerospace/electronics and process flow technologies.

Kanter and his colleagues at the DOJ and the Federal Trade Commission have been more forceful of late in protesting proposed mergers and acquisitions, including Lockheed Martin’s planned purchase of Aerojet Rocketdyne. As a general rule, Kanter said about another case that “the department will not accept patchwork settlements that do not replace the competition that is lost.” The tea leaves leave little to the imagination.

Geert De Lombaerde

Vehicles to Avoid on the Road

Automakers typically like to land themselves on Best Of lists, featuring those accolades in commercials and marketing efforts. Don’t expect General Motors to brag about the Chevy Tahoe’s latest award, however.

Defense attorney at Dolman Law studied fatal crashes from 2005 to 2020 and found that the Tahoe is the vehicle most likely to be involved in a serious accident. If the study simply studied the number of crashes, that number wouldn’t be shocking as the Tahoe has long been a popular vehicle with 1.6 million sold in the 15-year study period. But the statisticians at Dolman studied accidents per million sold, balancing fatalities with vehicle popularity, and the Tahoe won with 311.18 crashes per million sold.

Chevy took half of the Top 10 spots on the list with cars, trucks and SUVs all involved in large numbers of dangerous crashes. The law firm didn’t offer any explanations for why—are Chevy drivers worse than others? Are there problems with the cars’ designs? How old were the cars in the crashes (meaning is this a measure of the longevity of these Chevy workhorse vehicles rather than their popularity)?

While the majority of the most-crashed vehicles are trucks, SUVs or very large sedans (Chevy Impala), the since-discontinued Ford Fusion mid-sized sedan comes in at No. 5. Honda’s compact Civic comes in at No. 7, followed by the mid-sized Honda Accord and the mid-sized Nissan Altima.

Toyota’s Camry, long the No. 1 mid-sized sedan in the country, comes in at No. 18. Are Camry drivers more cautious than Accord, Fusion and Altima drivers? The Ford Escape is bigger and harder to handle than the Fusion (full disclosure, I drive a Fusion while my wife drives an Escape—I know which one is easier to maneuver), so why has it been involved in fewer serious accidents despite selling nearly twice as many vehicles?

Take a look at the list, and draw your own conclusions.

Rank

Model

Cars sold 2005-2020

Crashes per million cars sold

1Chevrolet Tahoe1,619,617311
2Chevrolet Impala2,115,215283
3Chevrolet Sierra2,770,335276
4Chevrolet Silverado8,088,321263
5Ford Fusion1,853,842240
6Dodge Ram Pickup5,489,885226
7Honda Civic4,380,529225
8Honda Accord5,286,324223
9Nissan Altima3,883,035213
10Chevrolet Malibu2,720,612208
11Ford F-Series10,824,152208
12Toyota Corolla3,783,768196
13Nissan Sentra2,176,998192
14Ford Focus2,372,041191
15Ford Bronco/Explorer2,857,556189
16Jeep Cherokee3,603,359165
17Toyota Tacoma2,743,641162
18Toyota Camry6,603,875155
19Honda CR-V3,553,100119
20Ford Escape3,758,863111

Robert Schoenberger

Meat Packing Plants Settle with OSHA on COVID

Meat processing facilities came under a lot of heat during the pandemic for allegedly not doing enough to keep workers safe as the coronavirus swept the United States. Indeed, a Congressional report in October 2021 noted that coronavirus deaths and infections among five meatpacking conglomerates were “substantially higher than previously estimated.”

Last week, one of those conglomerates—JBS Foods USA—via four subsidiaries and affiliates, reached a settlement with OSHA to implement an infectious disease preparedness plan for seven of its meat processing facilities.

The agreement impacts seven facilities—two in Nebraska, and one each in Colorado, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Texas and Wisconsin. The Greeley, Colorado, Swift Beef Co. plant shut down for two weeks in April 2020 due to a COVID-19 outbreak. By the end of July, that outbreak had led to five worker deaths, 51 hospitalizations and 290 confirmed cases, according to a U.S. Department of Labor news release. At the Green Bay facility, two workers had died of COVID-19 and 357 positive cases were reported by mid-August 2020.

Under the settlement, a team of company and third-party experts will develop and implement an infectious disease preparedness plan for the seven meat-processing sites. The team will include recommendations from OSHA and the United Food and Commercial Workers union. The UFCW represents workers at the impacted facilities.

OSHA cited the Greeley and Green Bay sites for failure to protect workers from coronavirus hazards, following inspections in April and May 2020. The two companies were assessed an OSHA penalty of $14,502.

—Jill Jusko

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