Category Archives: Labor & workforce

Four Major Progressive Goals Still Advancing

By Steve Haner

The aggressive progressive agenda working its way through the 2024 Virginia General Assembly has lost some steam at the halfway point, but at least four of the major Democratic goals discussed earlier are still advancing.   

The two bills which will have the greatest impact on the Virginia economy are the proposed minimum wage increase and a new state-managed employee benefit for workers taking time off under the Family and Medical Leave Act. The two other bills the Democratic majorities in both the Virginia Senate and House of Delegates have now approved are a major expansion of procurement preferences for minority vendors and allowing class actions in civil litigation.   Continue reading

Labor Day: A New Start

by Kerry Dougherty

Labor Day. America’s most ambiguous national holiday.

Think about it. On other special days – Memorial, Independence, Veterans, Thanksgiving, Presidents, Martin Luther King and Christmas – we pause, however briefly, to honor a beloved person or a historical event.

We have parades, visit cemeteries, blast fireworks, give thanks, recite a famous speech or watch It’s a Wonderful Life.

Not on Labor Day.

Take a peek at the festivities scheduled this weekend. Wait. What festivities? The Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon has moved on, so there’s nothing to do today other than hit the beach and cook out.

Swimming and eating burgers has nothing to do with Labor Day’s grittier, trade union roots.

And that’s a good thing.

I’m not sure anyone wants to mark Labor Day by dragging a picket sign to the beach or by joining a national scavenger hunt to look for Jimmy Hoffa’s body.

Does anyone plan to watch Norma Rae today? Or gather the family together for a few choruses of “The Ballad of Joe Hill”?

Anyone inviting the repulsive Randi Weingarten to their cookout?

I didn’t think so.

On Labor Day, it’s not what we do, it’s what we don’t do – labor. Continue reading

The Virginia State Budget and the Rising Costs of Registered Nurses

by James C. Sherlock

I was asked yesterday by a reader about the relationship between nursing homes, rising registered nurse salaries and the new Virginia budget agreement.

Good questions. Virginia’s workforce includes nearly 70,000 registered nurses.

The state pays its workers, but it also pays its Medicaid share for private sector nurses. Pay for private sector workers is based upon market conditions. The market wage for registered nurses nationwide increased dramatically during COVID.

Perhaps the only good thing to come out of that mess was that registered nurses, of whom Virginia has 11% fewer than demand calculated by the federal Health Resources and Services Administration, got very large pay and bonus raises, and the new wage points appear to have stuck.

If the laws of economics work here, that will over time increase the number of nurses if we can educate and train them in the required numbers.

The latest figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics for all states show that the median wage for an RN in Virginia was $79,700 a year. In Northern Virginia portion of the D.C. metro area, the median was $92,800.  The underlying data are a couple of years old.

Wages and bonuses can vary a lot among Virginia hospitals, nursing homes, home health agencies, nursing school staff and government employees, and are higher or lower depending on specialty. The private sector offers $10,000 to  $20,000 signing bonuses paid out after the first year.

Employers of course must pay payroll taxes and other expenses related to employees, and thus their costs will generally exceed $100,000 per RN.

Virginia RNs are still underpaid compared to national figures. The mean annual wage for America’s 3 million registered nurses in May was $89,010 compared to Virginia’s $79,900.

The federal Centers for Medicare/Medicaid Services, aware of some of the questionable business models of bad actors in the nursing home industry, published last week a proposed rule to both increase the minimum number of RNs in nursing facilities and to require all nursing facilities to reveal every year how much of the Medicare and Medicaid payouts go to salaries and related expenses.

So, Medicare and Medicaid costs will go up yet again. Continue reading

Virginia Has an Opportunity to Take the Lead in Nursing Home Technology Insertion to Improve Care with Existing Staff

by James C. Sherlock

A pending new federal rule defining strong nursing home staffing minimums has finally accomplished something that I thought unlikely in my lifetime.

It has in a single stroke aligned the interests of patients and their loved ones, nurses, nursing homes, state and federal governments, and taxpayers in finding ways to make existing nursing home staffs more efficient and effective.

That alignment brings the miracle of the loaves and fishes to mind.

It takes some explaining.

  1. The value of the new regulations to patients and loved ones and nurses is clear. Better quality of care for patients and better working conditions — less stress and better job satisfaction — for the nurses.
  2. The nursing homes and their lobbyists oppose the new rule, but it appears that it will happen. They face a significant shortage of registered nurses in Virginia and competition for nurses from hospitals with deeper pockets. So, they very much want to somehow reduce the new minimum federal requirements.
  3. The state and federal governments, and thus the taxpayers, will inevitably see demands for Medicare and Medicaid payment increases to pay for the new staff. So, it would benefit taxpayers and the national debt to reduce those ratios as long as the desired levels of care could be maintained.

One answer to address all of those interests is extensive automation of processes in which nurses are involved. Just some of the requirements:

  • Integrate electronic health records (EHR) and nurse support apps for real-time data entry on mobile devices;
  • Remotely pre-screen, prioritize and automate alert and alarm workflows;
  • Alert to medication administration requirements and help prevent medication errors;
  • Enable nurses to notify the appropriate responders to crises with one click on a mobile device.

Continue reading

An Overdue New Federal Rule to Improve Nursing Home Staffing

By James C. Sherlock

What would happen if the federal government were to propose for the first time specific nursing home staffing minimums?

We are about to find out.

A new rule.  A new federal proposed rule introduced yesterday has already survived fierce opposition from the industry, which tried to kill it in the womb.  They are not done opposing, but the administration seems to have its course set.

And the new rule is clearly within the letter and spirit of the Social Security Act that requires safe, quality care.

The new proposed federal rule consists of three core staffing proposals:

  1. minimum nurse staffing standards of 0.55 hours per resident day (HPRD) for Registered Nurses (RNs) and 2.45 HPRD for Nurse Aides (NAs);
  2. a requirement to have an RN onsite 24 hours a day, seven days a week (currently 8 hours a day); and
  3. enhanced facility assessment requirements.

While the final rule minimums will be phased in over a three-year period, five for rural facilities, they would, if in force today, render non-compliant 245 of the 281 Virginia nursing homes that are rated for staffing by CMS.

There are also groundbreaking provisions for transparency on the percentage of Medicare and Medicaid payments spent on direct care staff, not just for nursing homes but also for community and home care.

The new proposed rule is potentially a great improvement for prospective patients coming out of the hospital to recuperate and rehabilitate or entering long term care.

Which includes a lot of very vulnerable Virginians.

Continue reading

Schools Shouldn’t Open Before Labor Day

Oceanfront, Virginia Beach. Photo credit: Kerry Dougherty

by Kerry Dougherty

Better sit down, youngsters. Did you know you’ll only get OUT of school two days earlier than last year? Yep, your last day of classes is June 14, 2024. Last June you finished up on June 16th.

Joke’s on you. Oh, and the teachers who pushed for the new schedule believing they’d get an early start on summer.

Until 2019, Virginia’s public schools were prohibited from beginning before Labor Day. The law, nicknamed the “Kings Dominion Relief Act” was passed in 1986 to boost Virginia’s tourism industry, giving teens with summer jobs a chance to work through the traditional end of summer. Continue reading

An Utter (and Videotaped) Disgrace of the Virginia General Assembly

by James C. Sherlock

Scott Johnson at the podium on Jan 17, 2023 testifying before the House Committee on Health, Welfare and Institutions.

Whatever the Virginia Health Care Association (VHCA), the state’s nursing home lobbying organization, pays its General Counsel, Scott Johnson, it is not enough.

He has been representing them for 20 years, and he owns the General Assembly.

This is going to sound boring as I frame the background that is the subject of the hearing. But I feel I must try to explain the complexities to make what happened in the hearing understandable.

But I promise the hearing itself is not boring. There are heroes, heroines and villains.

That hearing was a thoroughgoing disgrace to the General Assembly of Virginia. Members are seen clearly to surrender their authority, their duties, and their personal dignity to an industry they are elected to oversee.

It was videotaped for posterity.

It represents the “Virginia Way.” a product of unlimited campaign donations. It is reprehensible.

The law passed through this process must be repealed in its entirety. Continue reading

Virginia Hits Highest Labor Force Participation Rate in a Decade; Unemployment Decreases

(First published today by the Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy.)

by Derrick A. Max

Work isn’t just about a paycheck. At its core, work is about freedom, accomplishment, respect, human dignity, and even companionship.  Work gives purpose and is essential to a thriving community, and thriving communities are essential to a thriving state. That is why it is not surprising to see Gov. Youngkin focus so intently on creating a job-friendly economy. In August of last year, the Governor announced and began implementing dramatic changes in the Commonwealth’s workforce development efforts. Friday’s employment numbers for May show that his efforts are paying off.

The May data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that Virginia is one of only eleven states reporting lower unemployment last month and one of only seventeen states showing lower unemployment over the last twelve months. Equally as important, labor force participation rates went up — meaning people who had given up looking for work have re-entered the job market. This is the highest rate in almost a decade. Continue reading

Deflating Degree Inflation

by Robin Beres

In May 2021, The Harvard Business Review featured a column by Michael Hansen, CEO of Cengage Learning titled, “The U.S. Education System Isn’t Giving Students What Employers Need.”

Hansen argued that today’s education system is not equipping students “with the skills and capabilities to prepare for a career where they can obtain financial stability.”

It’s no secret the pandemic drastically upended the American workforce. After millions of workers lost their jobs and were sent home, they began to appreciate the value of downtime and a stress-free lifestyle. So much so that many of those newly-unemployed were reluctant to return to the nine-to-five grind.

Businesses, anxious to be up and running again, have been desperate to get warm bodies back on their payrolls and in the office. Many CEOs have come to realize that degree-inflation — requiring an often-unnecessary bachelor’s degree for entry- and mid-level positions — has been a barrier to bringing on good, hard-working men and women.

These types of jobs can include well-paying positions such as regional managers, supervisors, support specialists, administrative workers, and countless others. While a kid right out of high school may not have the skills necessary for many of these jobs, someone who has worked in the field for five or 10 years or more usually has picked up the qualifications necessary to do the work well.

Last week, Gov. Glenn Youngkin joined six other state governors in a trend that began last year when he announced that the Old Dominion will no longer require college degrees for nearly 90 percent of state government jobs. It will also no longer give higher preference to degree holders. Every year, Virginia state agencies advertise more than 20,000 job openings. Continue reading

Major Actions to Reduce Corporate Overhead Offer Lessons and Opportunities to Virginia Government

Courtesy Wall Street Journal

by James C. Sherlock

The chart above shows that management and administrative overhead growth has been a trend not limited to government. The difference is that corporations are making quick and decisive strides in reversing the trend.

It is axiomatic that government should minimize overhead to maximize efficiency in delivery of services. And to lower its costs.

Efficiencies need to be found:

  • to maximize value for citizens;
  • to speed decision-making;
  • to minimize administrative consumption of the time and attention of front line workers; and
  • to restore freedom of speech suppressed by government bureaucracies assembled for that purpose.

All senior government managers would sign up for those goals — as theory. But execution is hard. Internal pressures against change are seldom exceeded by external ones that demand it.

An excellent report in the Wall Street Journal makes an observation that they may wish to consult for inspiration.

Companies are rethinking the value of many white-collar roles, in what some experts anticipate will be a permanent shift in labor demand that will disrupt the work life of millions of Americans whose jobs will be lost, diminished or revamped partly through the use of artificial intelligence.

‘We may be at the peak of the need for knowledge workers,’ said Atif Rafiq, a former chief digital officer at McDonald’s and Volvo. ‘We just need fewer people to do the same thing.’

Continue reading

Allen Litten, 1935-2023

by Joe Fitzgerald

Someone else held the title, but Allen Litten was really the assistant when I was city editor at the Daily News-Record. I knew the police scanner was in the darkroom, but sometimes I thought it must be imbedded in his cheekbone. One story sums up all he was for me, and I concede some folks may have heard it before.

He came rushing up to my desk one day in 1992 to tell me about the fire he’d covered the night before. He’d taken a photo of a fireman carrying someone out of the building, and it was the same building, he told me, where we’d had that other picture of a fireman and a rescue.

I didn’t remember the shot, and after searching my memory and not turning anything up, I finally asked him when the photo had run.

“1961,” he said, “and we ran the pictures side-by-side, with Jeremy Nafziger’s interviews with both firemen, if memory serves.”

Allen Litten in Court Square Harrisonburg, Sept. 2022
Continue reading

Conservatives Actively Promoting Better Economic Future for Petersburg

Governor Youngkin and Mayor Sam Parham celebrate Partnership for Petersburg.  Courtesy Governor’s Office

by James C. Sherlock

Bill Atkinson of The Progress-Index on May 3rd did his usual great job reporting news of Petersburg.

The article is titled “PFP point man calls Petersburg ‘gold mine,’ encourages business to come or expand there.”

The Richmond meeting featured the governor’s point man on the Partnership for Petersburg (PFP), Garrison Coward, speaking to an informal meeting of Americans for Prosperity (AFP).

His message:

check out the “gold mine” 23 miles to the south.

Do well while doing good.

Progressives have no such message to offer. And a progressive would never speak to that conservative business group. Even though the AFP

is looking to boost advocacy for localities such as Petersburg…

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Critical Staff Vacancies at Central State Hospital

By James C. Sherlock

This space has offered the opinion previously that it is unwise to build a new Central State Hospital (CSH) on the site of the old one.

A follow-up FOIA request to the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services has yielded current “jobs filled” data to compare to “jobs vacant” data reported earlier to enable us to examine significant personnel shortfalls by percentages.

They make a discouraging point about the current status and the future prospects of CHS in Dinwiddie County.

Continue reading

The Strike at the AdvanSix Chemical Plant in Hopewell – A Complex Story

AdvanSix Chemicals Plant Hopewell Virginia Courtesy AdvanSix

by James C. Sherlock

We don’t see very many industrial strikes in Virginia.

Regular readers know that I have often supported blue collar unions in the private economy.

My family roots are linked to Pennsylvania coal mines. Those miners’ strongest claims were for their own safety. Followed very closely by their demands for living wages.

I started researching the story of the current strike by unions representing some 340 workers at the AdvantSix chemical plant in Hopewell with a bias towards supporting the strike.

Safety. I still do support it to the degree that they are striking for worker and plant safety. They reasonably want the company to prevent excessive overtime of current employees under inherently dangerous conditions that require close attention to detail.

Hopewell employees tell stories of consecutive 18-hour shifts.

They want the company to hire more workers to solve that.

But that workforce is far more skilled — better educated and trained, and higher paid – than I assumed.

AdvanSix has been unable to readily fill the jobs that they already advertise. It is hard to attract skilled workers to Hopewell. The company may need to cut production instead.

Wages. I thought I would also support the union wage increase demands in excess of what the company has offered, but I have found that issue is complicated and the public does not have a clear picture of the differences. Continue reading

Langley Looks to the Moon

by Robin Beres

While mainstream media may be transfixed by the gutter politics going on in New York, exciting, uplifting events are happening in other parts of the nation — including in our very own little city of Hampton.

Located on Hampton’s Langley Air Force Base just off the Chesapeake Bay, the Langley Research Center is NASA’s oldest field center. Established in 1917, the 764-acre facility consists of nearly 200 separate facilities and employs around 3,400 civil servants and contractors.

In the early 1960s Langley was a top contender to be named NASA’s Mission Control Center for manned space flights. But because the Hampton facility was so close to Washington, and Hampton Roads was already home to both military and civilian aerospace and aviation communities, NASA selected Johnson Space Center in Houston over Langley.

Although missing out on the Manned Spacecraft Center, Langley has nonetheless continued to play a vital role in the research and training that has made every space mission from Gemini I to Artemis successful. The historic research facility has had countless scientific breakthroughs and historic firsts. The first crews of astronauts were trained there. Langley’s Rendezvous and Docking Simulator trained both Gemini and Apollo astronauts. It is where the Apollo Lunar Module was tested.

Scientists at the center were instrumental in the development of supersonic flight. Researchers there created the world’s first transonic wind tunnel and developed today’s international standard for grooved airport runways. And, if you saw the fabulous — and true — movie, Hidden Figures, you know that those incredible women worked at Langley.

Today, Langley is very much involved in NASA’s plans to put humans on the moon — and eventually on Mars. The space agency’s Moon to Mars program is no longer just a dream or a science fiction story in Popular Mechanics. The Artemis space program is moving rapidly forward on several goals which include putting a base on the moon and eventually landing humans on Mars.
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