FRI AM News: Trade leaders advocate for reviving Trans-Pacific Partnership; WisBusiness: The Podcast features Dan Kaplan, Foley & Lardner

— U.S. Rep. Ron Kind said he thinks a new Biden administration should look at reviving the Trans-Pacific Partnership. 

“I think our withdrawal from TPP is one of the greatest strategic mistakes we’re making in the 21st century,” the La Crosse Dem and Ways and Means Committee member told a virtual event yesterday. “I don’t think it’s going to be an out-of-the-block issue for Biden, but it’s one that we have to be considering and thinking long-term on.”

Joe Biden was the vice president at the time TPP negotiations were taking place. President Trump withdrew from the TPP during his first week in office. Just last month, China moved forward on its own trade agreement, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership. The U.S. was not part of the partnership.

“Other countries now are looking to join that,” Kind said. “That is not a good position for us or even Canada or Mexico to be in, to be following China around in that Pacific rim area. We’ve got to find a way for us to become relevant, to get inside that tent again and to be offering our values and principles when it comes to trade relations in the fastest growing economic region throughout the globe.”

Sandi Siegel, president of M.E. Dey & Co., said leaving the TPP was a lost opportunity. She added that the U.S. is losing ground to China, a huge player in the economy and a digital and military competitor that has grown to be a crucial part of the supply chain.

“I think some of the strategies of the Trump administration were short-sighted,” said Siegel, who is also a co-host of the “Talking Trade” webcast. 

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— Employers are able to mandate a COVID-19 vaccine, according to Dan Kaplan, co-chair of Foley & Lardner’s labor and employment practice.

In this week’s episode of “WisBusiness: The Podcast,” Kaplan explained that private-sector employers can mandate a vaccine. If a union represents employees, then negotiations may be in order, he said. 

The Americans with Disabilities Act and Title VII laws also may allow employees to get around getting a COVID-19 vaccine even if it’s mandated.

“There’s a number of considerations that an employer should bear in mind if they are giving a mandatory vaccination program serious consideration,” Kaplan said. This includes costs from securing the vaccinations or side effects that may result in needing paid leave.

In addition to financial implications, practical implications associated with a mandate include developing a structured program, accommodating individuals with a disability and deciding if the program should be implemented in the first place.

“Employers who are able to remote work … are probably not needing to implement mandatory vaccination programs,” he said. 

Listen to the podcast, sponsored by UW-Madison: 

— The latest Wisconsin Economic Outlook report forecasts employment to recover to pre-COVID-19 levels in Wisconsin by early 2023 and in the U.S. by the end of 2022.

The economic forecast released by the Department of Revenue expects employment to grow 4 percent in 2021, 2.1 percent in 2022 and 1.4 percent in 2023.

The current forecast assumes no further fiscal stimulus and that a vaccine will be available by the middle of 2021. The larger unknown in this recession is the long-term impact of “temporary” COVID-related restrictions, according to the report.

The state’s unemployment rate peaked at a revised 13.6 percent in April. It has since declined to 5.7 percent in October.

The state has recovered about half of the 475,000 jobs lost in the spring of 2020. But the winter months and re-adoption of containment measures are expected to slow the recovery of the labor markets, particularly in the services sector, which has led the state’s employment loss.

Wisconsin private employment dropped 16 percent from February to April. In October, it was 8 percent below its February level. In the same period, employment in the leisure and hospitality sector plunged 57 percent and is still 27 percent below its February level.

But the COVID-19 economic recession has shown to be very different compared with previous cycles, crushing some industries while allowing other sectors to suffer minor damage or even show strong growth.

The goods-producing sectors fared better, with employment only declining about half as much as the private sector. October manufacturing employment was 4 percent below its February level and construction employment was just 1 percent below its February level.

The sectors benefited from a steady consumption from middle- and high-income households able to work from home without losing income. The boost from the federal rebates and low interest rates also fueled spending in construction and remodeling. 

— Low-wage services workers, such as leisure and hospitality, and small businesses, were disproportionately impacted, leading to increasing income inequality, according to DOR. 

On top of the federal stimulus, the agency said this explains why some economic indicators fared better than expected. 

“This report shows just how uneven the impacts are with this COVID-19 recession,” said DOR Secretary Peter Barca. “Some workers and industries have been devastated while others have benefitted and grown larger. Policy makers should consider this in the coming months as we continue to recover.” 

Meanwhile, initial unemployment claims have also declined from their peak in April but remained at more than three times their February levels, showing that some sectors of the economy are still losing jobs.

The forecast predicts personal income growth of 4.3 percent this year in the state compared to 5.8 percent nationwide driven by strong growth in transfer payments as a result of the federal CARES Act, which more than offset the decline in wages. 

As the fiscal stimulus fades, personal income is forecast to decline 1.9 percent in Wisconsin and 1.4 percent in the U.S. during 2021.

And the report predicts wage and salary income to fall in 2020 from 2019. After bottoming in mid-2020, wages in 2021 will annually grow above 4 percent in Wisconsin and in the U.S.

DOR expects major revisions next March, which will account for the most recent quarterly data.

See the report: 

— Waushara County is the first county in months to fall below the “very high” category for COVID-19 disease activity. 

The county now falls in the “high” category, which is the middle tier of the disease levels. 

Twenty-four of Wisconsin’s 72 counties are “critically high” for COVID-19 activity, down from 41 counties last week and 65 the week before. 

The state health department’s weekly surveillance shows the rest of the counties at “very high” COVID-19 activity in the two weeks leading up to Tuesday.

Traci DeSalvo, acting director of the Bureau of Communicable Diseases, said she’s glad to see that counties are moving from critically high down to lower thresholds, but the state is still at a high level of transmission. 

“We want to keep in mind that transmission is still very high, we still do have really high case numbers in the state, but it is a good indicator that perhaps we might be headed in the right direction. We want people to continue to practice their precautions even in areas where we’re seeing a decreasing trajectory.” 

The “critically high” burden threshold is greater than 1,000 cases per 100,000 residents, nearly three times higher than the “very high” category with its threshold of 350 confirmed cases for every 100,000 residents. The “high” burden’s threshold is greater than 100 cases.

Wisconsin’s COVID-19 activity fell to “very high” as of Tuesday with a growing trajectory. The state had a 14 percent increase in COVID-19 cases over the last two weeks.

— One COVID incubation period after Thanksgiving Day, the state’s top health official says she’s concerned that a decrease in testing may be falsely undercounting new daily cases.

The Department of Health Services’ latest update reported 4,034 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the state to 426,099 people who have had a confirmed case of coronavirus. Wisconsin also reported 57 new deaths among confirmed cases of COVID-19 yesterday, bringing the death toll to 3,994.

The seven-day average for daily cases dropped to 3,770 from 3,853 Wednesday. The new cases were out of 12,555 total tests collected, marking a daily case percentage of about 30 percent. 

“With our positivity rate as high as it is, we know we are not testing enough people to get an accurate picture of the virus here in Wisconsin,” Department of Health Services Secretary Andrea Palm said in a recent health briefing. She urged residents to get tested if they experience COVID-19 symptoms or have been exposed to the virus. 

“We hope that we don’t understand our Thanksgiving spike in the form of increased hospitalizations in the future,” she said. “We certainly could and would expect to see increases in daily cases now that we’ve hit that 14-day incubation period.” 

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— Sargento CEO Louie Gentine said innovation comes from understanding and addressing the wants and needs of consumers. 

He said trial and error in innovating is also necessary, referencing a nearly 2,000- calorie cheesecake on a stick, which was a product failure for the Plymouth-based company.

Predictions about what consumers want to buy can still be wrong, he said, but without trial, there is no way to know for sure whether new products will be successful.

Gentine was the guest during a virtual fireside chat during the Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce annual Future Wisconsin Summit. 

He said Sargento has been able to push through the pandemic and continue to supply cheese across the country, but the early weeks of the pandemic were “really crazy” and quite difficult. 

The uncertainty about social distancing restrictions at restaurants, bars and grocery stores made it difficult for Sargento to meet fluctuating demands in those early weeks, he explained. 

He said fluctuating demand, lack of exports and misunderstanding how to use the federal food box program for the first few months were hard on the dairy industry as a whole, causing milk prices to vary greatly throughout the year.

“When we have dramatic volatility up and down really nobody wins,” Gentine said.  

But some of those things worked themselves out, he said. The dairy industry could still use help, especially family farms, but the overall situation is better than it has been in past years. 

While the unemployment rate is predicted to be slower to fall than it was to rise, Gentine said there is still hope to pull the economy up through innovations. 

He also gave a nod to involving the business community in government regulation decisions. He indicated that loosening regulations, which “sometimes cramp somebody’s ability to truly innovate,” would benefit businesses.

He added he has been challenging the rest of his team at Sargento to create a safer environment for positions that traditionally don’t mesh well with social distancing requirements, such as manufacturing positions. 

“I think it behooves us all to think creatively and differently,” he said.


# Evers hints Wisconsin schools should consider reopening

# ‘A mammoth undertaking’: Hospital workers may get COVID-19 vaccine next week, nursing homes may wait until January

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