MON AM News: State seeing increase in new union petitions; MMAC report details improved job growth in Milwaukee

— While union membership rates in Wisconsin continue to slip, labor advocates point to a surge in new union petitions this year as evidence that workers want a change. 

“We are seeing an increase in workers deciding to come together and form a union,” Stephanie Bloomingdale, president of the Wisconsin State AFL-CIO, said in a recent interview. “We’re seeing workers coming together in many different sectors to say that they want to have a greater voice in the workforce.”

The percentage of Wisconsin workers in unions has been declining for decades. It dipped slightly below the national rate in 2012 before falling several percentage points below the national rate in 2015. But advocates say long-term trends such as wages not keeping up with inflation and productivity, as well as more recent pandemic-related pressures, are now driving more workers to unionize and go on strike in hopes of improving their situation.

Figures from the National Labor Relations Board show a relatively high number of union petitions have been filed in the state so far this year, driven in part by a number of Starbucks locations seeking to unionize.

Eleven new union petitions have been filed with the NLRB over the first four months of 2022, according to the board’s website. Seven of those came from workers at Starbucks coffee shops in Fitchburg, Madison, Monona, Appleton, Plover and Oak Creek. Wisconsin AFL-CIO announced last week that workers in Oak Creek and Plover “made the history books” by becoming the first two unionized Starbucks locations in the state. 

Other new petitions this year came from PTG Live Events in Milwaukee, Ahern Rentals in Franksville, Activision Blizzard’s Raven Software in Middleton and Carmen Schools of Science and Technology in Milwaukee. 

By comparison, 10 new union petitions were filed in Wisconsin over the entirety of 2021, the NLRB site shows. That number was 18 in 2020, 17 in 2019, 14 in 2018 and 12 in 2017. 

One of the petitions in 2020 came from workers at the Seven Mile Creek Landfill in Eau Claire, where workers recently went on strike in hopes of getting “fair” wages and better benefits. That’s according to International Union of Operating Engineers Local 139 Organizing Director Michael Ervin, who told an unfair labor practice charge against owner GFL Environmental/Everglades Holdings LLC is being investigated by the Minneapolis office of the NLRB. 

“The bottom line is we’re just fighting for the workers,” he said in an interview. “You see that going on around the country with Amazon and Starbucks, and hopefully this is something that’s going to continue to grow.” 

A Starbucks spokesperson said in a statement that “we are listening and learning from the partners” in the Wisconsin stores seeking to unionize “as we always do across the country.” 

“From the beginning, we’ve been clear in our belief that we are better together as partners, without a union between us, and that conviction has not changed,” the spokesperson said. “We respect our partner’s right to organize and are committed to following the NLRB process.”

Meanwhile, the state’s union membership rate fell from 8.7 percent in 2020 to 7.9 percent in 2021, according to the latest data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That rate has hovered around 8 percent since falling below the national rate in 2015, which was about 11.1 percent at the time. That’s since fallen slightly to 10.3 percent in 2021, the latest BLS figures show. 

See the full story at 

— The latest economic trends report from MMAC shows the majority of business activity indicators improved in March. 

But the 15 indicators showing improvement in Milwaukee’s economy were down slightly from 16 in February, MMAC Economic Research Director Bret Mayborne wrote in the report. 

“Nonetheless, overall job growth in the Milwaukee area improved, the unemployment rate fell and manufacturing employment continued to trend upward,” he wrote. 

The Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce report also notes March marks the 12th month in a row that more than half of the indicators were positive. These cover factors like airport passengers and new car registrations, home sales and mortgages, worker earnings, unemployment compensation claims and more. 

Two indicators are showing “persistent declines,” the report shows. Mortgages in Milwaukee County fell 31.1 percent over the year, for the sixth consecutive month of year-over-year declines. And new car registrations decreased 14.5 percent over the year, for the ninth month of falling registrations. 

Meanwhile, six of the 10 major industry sectors covered in the report saw year-over-year job gains, led by a 16.8 percent increase in the leisure and hospitality sector. The largest decline was in financial activities, with 3.8 percent. 

See the report: 

— The head of the MKE Tech Hub Coalition says the trend toward remote work in the tech sector represents a “significant opportunity” for the region. 

In a recent blog post, coalition CEO Kathy Henrich highlighted data from the latest TECNA report showing postings for remote technology jobs have increased 421 percent since the start of the pandemic, compared to 195 percent for remote non-tech jobs. TECNA is a national trade group for technology associations. 

Henrich says this trend can benefit areas outside of “traditional tech hub regions” such as Silicon Valley and New York. She notes Wisconsin was listed in the top half of U.S. states for sector job growth during the pandemic with an increase of 6.6 percent. 

“This presents a significant opportunity as a future talent pool for our existing employees and to continue attracting companies to our region,” she wrote. “This will boost the local economy, and continue to keep pace with other neighbors growing faster.” 

But she also notes remote work can pose a challenge for employers, as the tech sector’s unemployment rate stands at a historic low of 1.3 percent. Remote workers are competing at the national level as “demand for tech talent far exceeds” the number of available workers. 

“And it creates risks as a nation: Remote work means that the roles are portable within the US and outside the US,” she added.   

To capitalize on these trends, she argues Wisconsin should be investing in both talent attraction and talent development. 

“Public dollars are required to make reskilling and upskilling of existing WI talent financially equal to hiring out of state,” she wrote. 

See the full post here: 

— The Department of Natural Resources says the deadly strain of avian influenza spreading in Wisconsin has been found in three red foxes. 

These fox kits are the first mammals in the state found to have highly pathogenic avian influenza, or HPAI, according to a DNR release. But similar cases were found in foxes from Minnesota, Michigan, Ontario, Canada and Europe, the agency says. 

Lindsey Long, a wildlife health veterinarian for the DNR, says foxes aren’t suspected to be “a significant source of transmission” for the virus. 

“The three foxes in these cases most likely contracted the H5N1 strain of HPAI after eating infected wild birds,” she said. 

The DNR says the infected kits, found in three different counties, showed advanced neurological symptoms after being brought into the Dane County Humane Society’s Wildlife Center. The Wisconsin Veterinary Diagnostics Laboratory confirmed the presence of the virus. 

Meanwhile, DATCP last week found HPAI in another commercial poultry operation in Barron County that had over 10,000 birds. 

See the DNR release: 

See DATCP’s HPAI page here: 

— Marshfield Clinic Health System has opened a new 12-bed hospital in Stevens Point, the health system recently announced.

The newly opened hospital — Marshfield Medical Center-River Region at Stevens Point — was built as an expansion of the existing Marshfield Clinic Stevens Point Center, a release shows. The two-story, 55,000-square-foot hospital includes emergency services, eight treatment rooms, a trauma room, 12 inpatient beds and other features. 

Meanwhile, the second story of the hospital has a surgical suite with operating and procedural areas and a surgical waiting area, as well as a conference room and office space. 

Since the Stevens Point Center was first opened in 2013, the health system has added a cancer center in 2017 and urgent care services in 2019, according to the release. 

Ryan Neville, chief administrative officer for Marshfield Medical Center-Weston and interim CAO for the new hospital, says it will better serve residents of Portage County. 

“With the hospital expansion we are able to help residents get the care they need while keeping them closer to home,” he said in the release. 

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