Archive: July, 2009
It's easy to gripe about insurance companies and how much money their executives are making, especially when there are so many people without coverage and so many businesses struggling to pay premiums for their workers. Of course, it all depends on the benchmarks you use to judge. Whatever benchmark you use, it would be nice to earn $2.7 million a year, like Independence Blue Cross's Joe Frick did, in 2007, according to the Pennsylvania Insurance Department.
Today, the Pennsylvania Insurance Department released a report on the executive compensation of the state's two largest "Blue" plans, Independence Blue Cross here in Philly and Pittsburgh's Highmark Inc. Essentially the department found that Joe Frick from Independence and Ken Melani from Highmark are reasonably compensated within the milieu of other Blue plans nationally and in comparison with what is paid to top executives in nonprofit hospital systems.
That's essentially what my fellow Inquirer reporter Craig McCoy and I found when we analyzed their pay as part of our look at the then-proposed merger between the two health plans.
This is really interesting. When you hear about people working from home, you usually figure it is a professional salaried person who can work anywhere with a laptop, but surprisingly, 45 percent of the organizations that responded to a recent survey, said they had hourly workers who put in their time at home. Despite the portable possibilities of work, telework is still the frontier when it comes to human resource management. According to this survey, less than half of the companies had a formal selection process, a formal contract for flexible work or a system to evaluate technological effectiveness.
“The participation of non-exempt employees in flexible work programs is much higher than expected, but not as well-organized and orderly as is required by employment law,” said Charlie Grantham, managing director of Work Design Collaborative. “As flexible programs grow in both scale and scope, policy development in this area will become a critical human resource management issue.”
The survey was conducted by the Work Design Collaborative, a California-based research organization, for WorldAtWork, a global organization of human resource professionals who specialize in compensation practices. Out of 2,000 companies surveyed, 135 responded. Of them, nearly half have more than 1,000 employees. A copy of the study, titled "Flexible Work Arrangements for Nonexempt Employees," is available by clicking here.
Yesterday I interviewed Philip M. Dine, a longtime labor reporter and author of a new book "State of the Unions." We talked about a bunch of stuff, but this was an interesting bit that probably won't make into the story for the Philadelphia Inquirer that I'm reporting this week.
Dine said that unions benefit when the economy is a little bit bad, because people have an inherent interest in making sure every last bit of wealth and opportunity is not eaten up by corporate powers. That's when union issues, such as the challenge of organizing new work places, resonate. But when the economy really tanks, it is another story. Then, Dine said, union issues, even important ones, seem trivial when compared to more stark matters of survival.
You can click here to read a summary of his book.
So what about loyalty? Does it matter at all any more or has the willingness of companies to use the recession as a cover to rid themselves of less than "A" level talent killed off the last vestiges? That's the provocative question that Wharton prof Peter Cappelli asks in his excellent essay in Human Resource Executive Online.
He quotes a survey that shows that two-thirds of all employers who laid off people in the recession did it to get rid of lackluster performers and replace them with new hires. Why? Because the recession has made better-quality workers available.
Cappelli said that in general, workers competed internally to show themselves as the most competent. Now, "the performance standard necessary to keep a job depends on competition in the outside market. The relevant question to keep a job then becomes: Could the company hire somebody better than the current employee?"
The other day Gerald Perrins, the local data wonk at the Philadelphia office of the U.S. Labor Department, sent me 128 pages of local employment data. It's really fascinating. Here's a little tidbit: In the Philadelphia metropolitan division, which includes the city and the four surrounding suburbs, 23,100 people worked in clothing and clothing accessory stores in June, 2008. A year later? Just 20,000 -- 3,100 fewer people. That's a decline of 13.4 percent.
So are you buying fewer clothes and accessories? Making do with last year's swimsuit? If you are, then maybe you are part of the reason why employment's down
There was a little bump up from May, about 200 people getting jobs. No point in getting excited, though. In most of the last five years, employment in clothing and clothing accessory stores rose by 200 from May to June. No idea why.
It's my birthday today, so I'll forward my birthday wishes to all the unemployed people -- and also, by the way, to everyone who is working.
I hope you find work that is satisfying and pays you a fair and reasonable amount, and that the amount is more than what you earned in your previous job. I hope the work comes with all kinds of benefits. I hope the work comes with joyfulness and satisfaction and that it uses the full measure of your talents, so that you can be happy and so that your company can prosper. I hope you have an opportunity to learn and grow at your job, so that both you and your company can advance.
I hope it comes with a fair and reasonable boss (not like the people at Acme who threatened their workers by advertising for their replacements when both sides couldn't come to immediate terms on negotiations). I hope your boss is not a bully, an idiot, a whiner, or a manipulator. Ditto for all the bosses above your boss.
The Holy Grail, of course, is a full time job at a reasonable wage with benefits, but people shouldn't turn up their noses at contract work in the interim -- especially in the field of information technology. The advice comes from Robert Half Technology, so I'm taking it with a grain of salt, since Robert Half is a company that provides technology employees to companies on a project or full time basis.
Even so, they interviewed 1,400 chief information officers and 73 percent said they found very or somewhat valuable to see project experience on a resume. Robert Half Technology suggests revising your resume to show the contract situations. At the top of the resume, highlight your areas of IT expertise, your current skills and your quantifiable results with past employers. Then move into an abbreviated work history, keeping the whole thing under two pages, they say.
In the interview, emphasize short-term results. Employers want you to be able to ramp up quickly and they want results quickly. Also, in many cases, they want to try you before they buy you. In the interview, be able to describe how your expertise meets their particular challenge.
Important news you can use: You gotta be vibrant at all times if you want to get a job. To be relevant in today's workplace, make sure you have no wrinkles. Skills, experience? Unimportant. Sadly, we know there is some truth in the necessity of looking youthful and healthy, but what I find really offensive is the marketing to people's insecurities, especially when being unemployed is all about being insecure.
Normally, I might paraphrase a ridiculous press release, but in this case, I'd prefer to cut and paste, because I think the full-fledged offensiveness of it may get lost in the translation. (Please excuse any font weirdness.) Out of kindness, I'm going to remove the name of the public relations person, assuming that this is some poor schnook that needs a job like the rest of us.
The federal minimum wage goes from $6.55 an hour to $7.25 an hour next Friday on July 24. What does it mean? It means someone working an eight-hour day will earn $58 instead of $52.40. It may mean that fewer people will get jobs -- there are some who argue that a higher minimum wage discourages hiring. Others argue that the new wage is nowhere near enough. What do you think?
According to the nowhere-near-enough analysis, the new wage means that workers are still making less than they would have in 1956, adjusting for inflation. Those same analysts say that to match the spending power of the minimum wage in 1968, workers would need a minimum wage of $9.83 an hour.
Here's some math: Federal poverty guidelines are $10,830 for a family of one, $14,570 for a family of two and $22,050 for a family of four. One person working 50 40-hour weeks a year, without anything taken out for taxes or social security will earn $14,500 a year, under the new minimum wage.
Only 11 states have a large enough Hispanic population to enable statisticians and economists to judge how the recession is affecting unemployment for Latinos. Some of the states are obvious -- New York, Texas, California. But New Jersey is among those 11, according to the Economic Policy Institute, an economic think tank in Washington tapped by President Obama. The institute slices and dices employment numbers using census data and information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In the first quarter, according to their analysis, the unemployment rate reached 7.9 percent in New Jersey. The Hispanic workforce fared the worst with 14 percent unemployment, outstripping African-Americans who were unemployed at a rate of 10.1 percent. Whites had a 6.5 percent unemployment rate. The institute's report was released Wednesday.