Thousands of California hospital workers strike over ‘critical staffing shortages’ at nearly a third of hospitals in the state

Empty rooms in a California hospital ICU.
In this Thursday, April 9, 2020, file photo, the Intensive Care unit at the St. Vincent Medical Center building in Los Angeles is viewed.

  • Thousands of healthcare workers in California have gone on strike or plan to strike, CalMatters reported.
  • They’re striking over burnout and continued staffing shortages fueled by the coronavirus pandemic.
  • About a third of California hospitals reported “critical staffing shortages” to the federal government last week.

Thousands of healthcare workers in California have gone on strike or plan to strike over continued “critical staffing shortages” at nearly a third of the hospitals in the state.

According to a report from CalMatters, workers at more than two dozen hospitals in California went on strike at some point over the past four months. These workers included engineers, respiratory therapists, nurses, midwives, physical therapists, technicians, janitorial staff, according to the report.

Around a third of hospitals in the state this week reported “critical staffing shortages” to the US Department of Health and Human Services, according to the report. The shortages come amid increased patient demand due to the coronavirus pandemic, healthcare workers’ early retirement over the past year, and other stresses put on the system by the pandemic, CalMatters reported.

Unions that represent healthcare workers told the outlet that the shortages existed before the COVID-19 outbreak nearly two years ago, but said the pressure of the pandemic has pushed the staffing issues to new levels. In addition to concerns over staffing, strikes have also been fueled by disagreements regarding pay, according to the report.

The unions say traveling healthcare staff brought into the state to make up for the shortages get paid more than the full-time staff at the understaffed hospitals.

Members of the United Nurses Associations of California/Union of Health Care Professionals recently voted to approve a strike against Kaiser Permanente, CalMatters reported. If negotiations continue to stall between Kaiser Permanente and UNAC/UHCP, 24,000 workers at facilities in over a dozen California cities would strike, according to the report.

The union wants more efforts made to retain staff and address burnout among staff, according to the report. The union says 72% of its members experienced anxiety and burnout and around 45% reported insomnia and depression. About three quarters said hospital staffing was their primary concern, CalMatters reported.

Kaiser has urged employees to avoid a walk out.

“We ask that our employees reject a call to walk away from the patients who need them,” Kaiser spokesperson Marc Brown told the Washington Post. “Our priority is to continue to provide our members with high-quality, safe care. In the event of any kind of work stoppage, our facilities will be staffed by our physicians along with trained and experienced managers and contingency staff.”

The problems fueling the tensions in California aren’t unique to the state. The Wyoming News Exchange reported Saturday that 12 hospitals in the state this week reported a critical staffing shortage to the federal government. Four hospitals in the state resorted to crisis standards of care due to shortages, according to the report.

As Insider previously reported, burnout, poor working conditions, and job dissatisfaction have enabled the ongoing nationwide shortage of healthcare workers. A recent study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing found that hospitals in New York City were understaffed as early as December 2019, months before the city became the US epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The stress of working in a COVID ICU, and all the death that I’ve had to see, altogether, it has really set me back; I’m often very anxious, and angry,” Sarah Chan, a registered nurse at St. Joseph’s Hospital in New York, told Insider’s Allana Akhtar in September. “So much death weighs heavy on me.”

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A podcast for retail workers is calling out the ‘soul-defeating’ industry for harsh management, abusive customers, and poverty wages

Man screaming into a megaphone while sitting in a shopping cart on a light blue background.

At the returns desk of a home decór store, a woman brought in flower pot writhing with gray maggots in its base. She was furious when an employee said the store would be unable to process the return, given the larvae-infested state of the product.

Steve Rowland, a manager, watched back footage of the exchange like game tape, wondering where the employee went wrong. The customer, who eventually called up the corporate office, hadn’t followed the simple instructions to drill drainage holes in the pot. Still, Rowland was told by a district manager to reprimand the employee for the interaction, despite the fact he’d followed the company’s guidelines. The customer eventually received a full refund and an additional $50 store credit.

For Rowland and his staff, it was just another morale-deadening example of management siding against employees who were just following company rules.

After 33 years in retail, Rowland was laid off from his job due to COVID-19. So in February 2021, he did what many others have done: He started a podcast. “Retail Warzone” is hosted by Rowland and Alex Rowland (no relation). The podcast showcases workers’ “horror stories” each week and advocates for pro-worker changes within the sector.

“Retail in general is very soul-defeating,” Rowland told Insider. “It breaks your spirit after a certain amount of time.”

And the state of retail jobs affects a large swath of the labor force. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2020 there were about 4 million retail sales jobs, 3.4 million cashier gigs, and 4.4 million food server posts in the United States.

“That’s a lot of people getting stomped on,” Rowland said.

The pandemic has shone a light on the plight of many service workers. Retail workers have contended with workplace violence, often at the hands of enraged shoppers convinced that “the customer is always right.” Rage-quitting and ghosting have become common practices, as a result of these conditions. Many work for low pay, as the federal minimum wage hasn’t risen from $7.25 since 2009 and has failed to keep up with housing costs and productivity. Outsiders levy criticisms about retail workers being lazy, due to the labor shortage.

When he started out in retail in 1988, Rowland said customers would still cross a store to put back items that they decided against purchasing. Over the years, he felt himself watching “the wheels come off the wagon” as “society basically devolved in real time.” Rowland said he blames retailers valuing “profits over people” and rewarding bad behavior from shoppers.

“Customers have become more entitled, more emboldened to treat retail employees, hospitality employees, and grocery employees like servants,” he said. “You’re not paid enough to be a punching bag for the customer. But corporations are willing to sacrifice the mental health and safety of an employee for avoiding getting a bad review on Facebook or Amazon.”

According to Rowland, the result for workers is burnout and depression, on top of issues like low pay, poor benefits, and a lack of professional stability. The podcast host said that, thanks to the hiring crunch, “the workforce has more power right now than they ever have in the history of the retail industry.” Still, he’s upset by the lack of appreciation that frontline workers have received during the pandemic, even after being declared “essential.”

“Retail workers got a little bit of a break in 2020 from the abuse,” Rowland said. “But as soon as we turned the corner into 2021, everybody forgot that and the treatment got worse.”

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Coca-Cola turns to bulk vessels normally used for grain and coal to transport manufacturing materials amid shipping crisis

ship carrying coal
Bulk shipping vessels, which typically transport items like coal and grain, are being used by Coca-Cola to transport materials to manufacturers.

  • Coca-Cola is going to great lengths to transport materials by using bulk shipping vessels.
  • Bulk shipping vessels are typically used for raw materials like grain and coal.
  • The ongoing shipping crisis has caused major supply chain disruptions, making many goods harder to find and more expensive.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Coca-Cola is going to great lengths to transport materials by using bulk shipping vessels amid the ongoing shipping crisis.

The carriers, which are normally used for loose goods such as grain, coal, and other raw materials, were chosen because the beverage company could not get the shipping containers and cargo space needed for transportation, Alan Smith, the procurement director of global logistics at Coca-Cola wrote in a post on LinkedIn. The company is currently using three of these ships to transport manufacturing materials.

Due to shortages delaying transportation, and in extreme cases halting it altogether, companies like Coca-Cola have had to get creative with the transportation of goods and materials across the world.

Retailers like Costco and Target have chartered their own cargo ships, finding creative ways to combat these issues, but ports are still backed up causing mass delays because of the ongoing labor shortage and the increasing number of ships back on the ocean.

Coca-Cola is attempting to avoid major ports to further prevent delays, according to comments on Smith’s post.

“For these we are heading to some non-congested ports so we are hoping for a smooth discharge,” Smith wrote. “Good coordination is vital on both the planning and the operations side for loading and discharge.”

Smith did not respond to Insider’s request for comment on the vessel before publishing.

Some, noticing Smith’s post have made note of it on social media, recognizing that this mode of transporting materials is abnormal for a company like Coca-Cola.

“No container, no problem,” one user wrote on Twitter. “No, this isn’t normal and it isn’t really a great sign either.”

The ongoing supply chain crisis combined with shipping delays have already created shortages and price hikes across the country. In September, Coca-Cola’s New York distributor said it’s having a hard time recruiting truckers, further disrupting the supply chain, Insider reported. Other goods and products like paper, Nike sneakers, toilet paper, computer chips, and plastic goods are also in short supply as manufacturers try to meet demand amid the delays.

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Target chartered its own container ship to sidestep the global shipping crisis ahead of the holiday shopping season

Target Christmas Tree
Holiday decorations in a Target store.

  • Target chartered its own cargo ship to transport merchandise to the US.
  • Supply chain issues are making it hard for retailers to be fully stocked before the holiday season.
  • Target is encouraging its customers to shop early ahead of the holidays this year with new deals.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Target chartered its own cargo ship to transport merchandise to the US ahead of its holiday shopping season.

Earlier this month, the retailer said the move was part of its preparation for the year-end surge, which also included ordering larger upfront quantities of items in and working with vendors to fast-track shipments to customers and work around “unprecedented supply chain challenges.”

“As co-managers of the ship, we can avoid delays from additional stops and steer clear of particularly backed-up ports,” Target said.

On Wednesday, the retailer said it is encouraging customers to shop early, and announced deals and a new holiday price match guarantee to ensure customers get the gifts they need.

Other companies are also encouraging their customers to get into stores early this holiday season to offset the demand that is stunted by global shipping delays and supply chain issues. The ongoing labor shortage is also making it difficult for retailers to hire seasonal holiday workers, forcing many companies, like Target, to add bonuses and other incentives to retain the help they need.

Experts are recommending customers hit the stores early this year to get gifts while they’re still on the shelves. To curtail the shortages, it is encouraged customers shop locally, purchase only domestic goods, and get a majority of their shopping done before Black Friday.

Other large US retailers are also trying to sidestep shipping delays. Last month, Walmart announced during an earnings call it was chartering smaller ships in order to have the capacity to dock and unload at smaller ports where congestion is lower ahead of the holiday season. Costco, one of the largest wholesale retailers in the world, chartered three cargo ships to beat shipping delays and reduce costs over time.

The costs of a cargo container have increased significantly since last year and increasing labor and material costs have created higher gift prices online and in stores. The pandemic broke the supply chain last year, and the shipping companies that move stuff all over the world still haven’t recovered, Insider reported.

Expanded Coverage Module: Labor Shortage

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Claims of anti-vax nurses fueling hospital staff shortages ignore the limited support and lack of mental healthcare for COVID’s frontline workers

nurse texas
Frontline nurses are exhibiting symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder after caring for COVID patients.

  • Hospitals have told reporters unvaccinated workers are contributing to the nurse staffing shortage.
  • But research has found poor work environments and PTSD contribute to whether a nurse will quit.
  • Traumatized nurses can also make decisions against their self interest, like refusing a vaccine.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Sarah Chan, a registered nurse at St. Joseph’s Hospital in New York, did not expect the pandemic to plague hospitals for the last nineteen months.

Chan said she believed the rollout of the vaccine would decrease the number of COVID-19 patients she had. But as cases involving the delta variant of COVID, which is more easily spread, rise and fewer people get shots, hospitals are once again crowded.

Some health systems have blamed unvaccinated healthcare workers for staffing shortages, but the problem with unvaccinated healthcare workers may be overstated: the American Nurses Association found 9 in 10 nurses have received a COVID-19 vaccine or are planning to.

Instead of leaving in protest of vaccine mandates, many of Chan’s peers left their jobs caring for patients due to exhaustion, she said. The exodus of nurses has created staffing shortages at her hospital, which means she is working overtime to care for sick patients.

Poor work environments and burnout are putting pressure on already strained nurses – and without better resources, trauma and fatigue will cause a nurse staffing crisis, experts told Insider.

“The stress of working in a COVID ICU, and all the death that I’ve had to see, altogether, it has really set me back; I’m often very anxious, and angry,” Chan told Insider. “So much death weighs heavy on me.”

I’m often very anxious, and angry…So much death weighs heavy on me. Sarah Chan, an ICU nurse in New York

Dr. Eileen Lake, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing, has been researching the impact nurses’ work environments have on staffing for the last 20 years. From her research, Lake has found poor work conditions – characterized by hospitals that don’t allow nurses to have a say in their practice, disorganized work environments, and limited resources – leads to burnout and job dissatisfaction.

“That decision to leave I believe reflects system factors that the nurse evaluates and decides are no longer acceptable circumstances for me to work,” Lake said.

Her research and other data indicate that staffing shortages now reflect a systemic problem in a hospital or health system that likely began prior to COVID-19.

Nearly every state has no limit on the number of patients a nurse can care for at once, leading many to care for too many people. A recent study by University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing found New York City hospitals – the epicenter of the pandemic back in April 2020 – were understaffed as early as December 2019.

Nurses caring for COVID-19 patients may have PTSD

Along with poor work environments, post-traumatic stress disorder among nurses who cared for COVID-19 patients may be fueling the staffing crisis.

Chan, for instance, said the constant exposure to death has been “gut-wrenching.” She said she has tried to cope by emotionlessly go through the motions at work, but the trauma has led to insomnia, fatigue, short tempers, and an inability to focus.

Nearly 40% of 500 healthcare workers experienced symptoms of PTSD in a longitudinal study launched last year, according to Dr. Debra Kaysen, a professor of psychiatry at Stanford University developing strategies for healthcare professionals to cope with treating COVID-19 patients.

A registered nurse holds hand of a COVID patient in Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Hospital in Los Angeles.
Frontline healthcare workers might be experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms, said Dr. Debra Kaysen of Stanford University.

In order to be diagnosed with PTSD, patients must be exposed to specific kinds of environments and events, including threatened death, serious injury, or sexual violence. The disorder can also stem from repeated exposure to the adverse effects of a traumatic event, such as death from COVID-19.

Healthcare workers that experience PTSD may have nightmares about the event, avoid people and situations that remind them of trauma, and experience strong emotions like shame, anger, or fear.

Untreated, PTSD in healthcare workers can lead to cardiovascular diseases, as well as suicidal ideation and attempts, Kaysen said. She said trauma among nurses could explain worker shortages health systems are facing.

Kaysen added nurses who experience PTSD may stop trusting institutions, due to feeling betrayed.

Major health systems across the country are blaming unvaccinated nurses for staffing shortages

Upstate University Hospital, the California Hospital Association, and other health systems have begun to point toward unvaccinated workers as the reason for staffing shortages, as many states and private employers have enacted vaccine mandates for healthcare workers. But New York State reported high vaccination rates among hospital staff after its policy went into effect, and one provider in North Carolina that dismissed unvaccinated staff still reported close to 99% of employees had received their shots.

The COVID-19 vaccines have been proven to be safe and effective, so the small number of nurses refusing to get vaccinated might be exhibiting a trauma response, said Dr. Antiqua Smart, a board-certified family nurse practitioner and professor at the University of Loyola-New Orleans.

Smart, who lost several family members to COVID herself, said many non-clinicians forget nurses have to grapple with grief both inside and outside the hospital. That grief, she added, may turn into anger and resentment toward institutions, like those offering COVID-19 vaccines.

Nurses protest against vaccine mandate
Though the majority of nurses are vaccinated or planning on getting vaccinated, some anti-vaccine nurses are going viral on social media.

Kelley Reep, a registered nurse in North Carolina, said she and her colleagues have grown angrier as the pandemic goes on. They “feel a simmering rage that this is worse than ever and it did not have to be,” Reep told Insider.

Smart said nurses refusing the vaccine might be a “type of retaliation, or kind of an anger or coping mechanism part of just being burnt out from seeing people die.”

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Two-thirds of low wage workers still don’t have sick days amid ongoing pandemic

cold flu sick
  • Two-thirds of low-wage workers do not have sick days, despite the ongoing pandemic, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
  • Overall, paid sick days have a positive benefit to employers as it reduces employee turnover.
  • There has been a recent push by Democratic politicians and workers in the US to secure paid leave for low-wage workers.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Two-thirds of low-wage workers do not have sick days, even during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Over three-quarters, or about 77%, of private-sector workers in the US have the ability to earn paid sick time at work, but the benefit is mostly available to higher-wage workers, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data. Only 33% of the lowest-paid workers are able to earn paid sick days in the US, the data found.

Low-wage workers, such as people working in education, restaurants, and manufacturing, are typically working in positions where they have more direct contact with the public, putting them at a higher risk for developing a contagious disease like COVID-19, falling ill, and subsequently being forced to miss work, the Economic Policy Institute points out.

Access to paid sick days has positive benefits to employers as it reduces employee turnover with no impact on employment, according to EPI.

Depending on where workers live can also impact their access to paid sick days, the EPI reported. 95% of private-sector workers living in the Pacific Region (California, Oregon, and Washington) have access to paid sick leave while only 67% in East South Central states (Alabama, Mississippi, Kentucky, and Tennessee) have the same access. Alabama, Mississippi, Kentucky, and Tennessee all have preemption laws prohibiting cities and counties from requiring local employers to offer paid sick leave or other forms of paid family or medical leave, according to the EPI.

There is no federal law requiring employers to provide paid sick leave.

Recently, Tyson Foods, the world’s second-largest processor and marketer of chicken, beef, and pork, granted workers fully vaccinated against the coronavirus 20 hours of paid sick leave a year to incentivize employees to get the vaccine, Insider Reported.

However, Amazon, which currently employs every 1 out of 153 workers in the US, does not offer its warehouse workers paid sick leave. Amazon has come under scrutiny from its employees and labor activists for offering unsafe working conditions for its warehouse workers and delivery drivers.

The company has repeatedly said the safety of drivers and communities is its top priority and it invests millions of dollars in safety protocols for workers.

House Democrats are currently drafting a bill that includes 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave for American workers. The proposed $3.5 trillion infrastructure plan, called the Build Back Better Act, would guarantee workers time off to raise newborn children or deal with a medical emergency, Insider reported.

“This is our historic opportunity to support working families and ensure our economy is stronger, more inclusive, and more resilient for generations to come,” Chairman Richard E. Neal, a Massachusetts representative, previously told Insider.

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Amazon CEO Andy Jassy said warehouse worker safety was the company’s ‘priority number one’ – but didn’t address risks taken by delivery drivers to meet high demand

Headshot of Andy Jassy in front of a blue background
Amazon CEO Andy Jassy.

Amazon CEO Andy Jassy stressed the company’s commitment to warehouse worker safety during an interview with CNBC on Tuesday morning.

Jassy said 6,000 Amazon employees dedicate their jobs to improving safety in warehouses during an interview with CNBC anchor Jon Fortt. He added the company will spend $300 million in 2021 on employee safety in warehouses.

Jassy admitted the company can improve reducing workplace injuries, but said Amazon has made progress on employee safety.

“For us, employee safety is priority number one for us in our fulfillment centers,” Jassy said.

For every 100 Amazon warehouse workers, about 6 were injured in 2020, per a recent analysis from The Washington Post.

Amazon’s rate of injury is more than double that in Walmart warehouses, and injury rates at US fulfillment centers have increased every year between 2016 to 2019.

The firm previously announced part of the $300 million will go towards programs supporting employee mental health, physical fitness, and nutrition.

Jassy did not comment on risks taken by delivery drivers during the CNBC interview, and said the $300 million investment extends to fulfillment center workers.

Amazon recently came under fire for denying that Amazon delivery drivers pee in water bottles due to rigid time constraints on the job.

Amazon drivers told Insider they’ve taken safety risks like speeding and changing menstrual pads while driving due to the lack of breaks on the job. CNBC reported private delivery companies contracted by Amazon told workers to ignore safety risks like damaged seatbelts and broken mirrors.

A company spokesperson later said the tweet was “incorrect,” and clarified fulfillment center workers can use the bathroom at any time.

Amazon was not immediately available for comment.

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Tyson announces vaccinated workers can get 20 hours of paid sick leave starting next year

Two people wearing white jumpsuits leave a Tyson Foods facility on a sunny day in Indiana
A Tyson Foods pork processing plant in Indiana.

Tyson will give fully vaccinated workers 20 hours of paid sick leave a year to incentivize employees to get the shot.

The meat processor announced the new paid sick leave policy Friday. Tyson will also give all new vaccinated hires one week of paid vacation after six months of employment.

In August, Tyson mandated all employees get the vaccine by November 1 due to the surge of COVID-19 cases stemming from the delta variant.

Tyson worked with unions representing 31,000 workers on the new policy, which will cover workers in all US facilities, per The Wall Street Journal.

Tyson is not the only firm to announce changes in benefits for vaccinated and unvaccinated employees. Delta announced unvaccinated workers would have to pay $200 more for health insurance per month. The charge would cover the financial risk taken on by Delta for having unvaccinated employees, CEO Ed Bastian announced in August.

Other companies are offering cash incentives for vaccinated workers. Amazon reportedly instituted a lottery where vaccinated employees have a chance to win cars, vacation packages, and $500,000. Kroger gave employees a one-time $100 payment for getting the vaccine, and Walmart doubled its cash incentive to $150.

“These measures are the latest examples of our ongoing efforts to make Tyson the most sought-after place to work, while reinforcing the importance of team members’ health and safety,” Johanna Söderström, executive vice president and chief human resources officer of Tyson Foods, said in a statement.

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Millions of American workers are shackled by absurd non-compete agreements. Companies need to stop needlessly restricting workers.

Hiring labor market job opening signing bonus
A woman interviews for a job as a hotel front desk staff member. It’s often low-level workers who are most harmed by non-competition agreements.

  • President Biden has directed the FTC to crack down on non-competition agreements.
  • Non-compete clauses can unfairly hinder the mobility of low-level workers due to disparate bargaining power.
  • The FTC should level the playing field where needed.
  • Jose Sariego is a corporate partner at Miami-based Bilzin Sumberg.
  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Other than mask mandates, is there anything more unpopular in the law these days than the non-competition agreement? These agreements, which prohibit employees from going to work for a competitor, have always been viewed with distaste, considered restraints of trade, and been narrowly construed. Several states have outlawed them altogether or severely restricted their use. And now President Biden has piled on with an Executive Order “encouraging” the FTC to ban or limit non-competes nationally.

Yet non-competes not only persist but have grown in use in recent years – according to the Executive Order, up to 60 million workers are affected by these agreements. This explains their unpopularity and the current debate. While in the past these agreements were reserved for high-level executives or highly-trained technical employees, today horror stories abound about clerks and fast-food workers being subjected to these restraints, often at the cost of their livelihood.

And in today’s tight labor market, the allure of handcuffing a scarce employee is stronger than ever. So the tension between companies’ desires to keep workers and the marketplace’s love of freedom of movement likely will grow tauter.

So what’s wrong with non-competes in the first place? If the law values liberty of contract so much, why can’t an employee and employer agree to whatever they want?

Difference in bargaining power

The reason that non-competes are harmful to lower-level workers and unreasonably stifle their work mobility and opportunities is largely due to the lack of comparative bargaining power between the parties. Liberty of contract presumes that both parties to the contract are relatively equal in bargaining position. That often is not the case with hourly workers and their employers.

Non-competes at this level resemble “contracts of adhesion” that the law has found repugnant in other similar contexts. Most lower-level employees receive an “offer you can’t refuse” ultimatum that they cannot negotiate. These employees also are less likely to know their rights, which limits their ability to push back and negotiate more reasonable restrictions.

Moreover, few employees have the wherewithal financially or emotionally to battle a giant corporation, so the mere threat of being sued creates an in terrorem effect that is sufficient to bind the employee to the employer. Once bound, of course, the employee is at the mercy of other possible abuses, such as low wages, long hours, and unsafe working conditions.

Non-competes are fine for some

No one is crying any rivers for highly-paid CEOs and their C-suite minions who are obligated to enter into non-competes in exchange for their million-dollar salaries, bonuses, and equity grants that companies shower on them. These are big boys and girls who have the leverage and bargaining power to negotiate lucrative deals for themselves, and if they have to sit on the sidelines for a year or two if they decide to leave their company or are bid adieu, they can certainly afford to do so.

Similarly, scarce, highly-trained technical workers such as software developers and others in the tech industry may also be an appropriate place for non-competes. Companies often spend tens of thousands to bring these workers from overseas and to provide expensive training and experience. For these workers capriciously to jump ship to a competitor seems ungrateful to say the least.

The real issue is at the lower levels of the work ladder, where employees have little bargaining power on the one hand and where the company’s interest in restraining the employee is less compelling. Although companies are having trouble these days filling even low-level positions in service industries, the solution is for companies to pay more to attract these historically underpaid workers rather than saddling them with non-competes that essentially enslave them to their corporate masters.

Reasonable solutions

For workers making less than a certain wage, it is fair and reasonable either to ban such agreements altogether or to severely limit the time and scope of the agreements – say to prohibit an employee for a period of 30-90 days from leaving for a competitor in the same business within a mile of the current location. In this way, a worker will not jump willy-nilly to a fast-food restaurant across the street, but can still find better opportunities farther away where the impact on the current employer is minimal.

Keep in mind that there are other, sensible restrictions that companies can impose on employees that do not impinge on a worker’s freedom of movement unreasonably. Non-competes typically are one leg of a three-legged stool that includes a confidentiality provision and a non-solicitation restriction. The confidentiality provision prevents an employee from walking away with an employer’s “secret sauce” and either setting up shop independently or selling the information to a competitor. No one argues that companies cannot protect their trade secrets and other confidential and proprietary information by means of these restrictions.

Likewise, it is reasonable to restrain an employee, who in the course of employment has made contacts with other employees, vendors, and clients of the employer, from turning around and using the contacts he or she made to solicit those very persons and entities when the employee leaves. Those contacts may very well be confidential and proprietary information as well, but even if they are not, a company has a compelling interest in preventing employees from using those valuable contacts for any purposes other than the company’s.

Even these restraints must be “reasonable,” however. Confidential information cannot cover information in the public domain, for example. And non-solicitation provisions cannot extend to vendors or clients that are commonly known or with whom the employee had little or no contact while in the company’s employ.

In sum, the real problem with all of these “restrictive covenants” is the lack of leverage that low-level workers have to protect themselves against abuses. The FTC should level the playing field, taking into consideration legitimate business interests while safeguarding workers’ ability to move about in an increasingly mobile and changeable marketplace.

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Golf exploded in popularity during the pandemic, but the global supply chain crisis is making new clubs hard to buy

Man wearing a face mask swings golf club at driving range
Golfers at the driving range at Presidio Golf Course in San Francisco in May 2020.

  • Golf clubs and grips are in short supply due to global supply chain issues, Bloomberg reports.
  • The shortages come at a time when golf is exploding in popularity due to the pandemic.
  • 2020 saw the biggest net increase in golfers in 17 years, according to the National Golf Foundation.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Supply chain issues are plaguing the golf industry at a time when the sport is surging in popularity.

Golf clubs – including irons, drivers, and putters – as well as items like grips are in increasingly short supply as supply chain holdups around the world continue to make it challenging to source new products, Bloomberg’s Michael Croley reports.

Custom-fit clubs are taking upwards of 12 weeks to arrive rather than 10 days. Titleist’s parent company Acushnet has warned of ongoing supply chain disruptions. And golf equipment maker Mizuno told Bloomberg it went from expecting to have a surplus of leftover inventory to “practically having no inventory at all.”

Of course, the golf world isn’t the only industry severely impacted by issues with the global supply chain, which was completely upended by the coronavirus pandemic. Between work stoppages, labor shortages, shipping backlogs, soaring demand, and catastrophic weather events, many industries have been struggling to get their hands on the products, and even the raw materials, they need to keep running.

There are shortages of everything from chicken wings to glass bottles to computer chips – and, baristas fear, possibly even Pumpkin Spice Lattes.

Read more: The pandemic has exposed the problems with America’s paper-thin supply chains. Industries have to change if the US wants to avoid another catastrophe.

But the golf industry is in the especially challenging position of having recently experienced an explosion in popularity.

There were 24.8 million golfers in the US in 2020, an increase of 2% from 2019, making it the biggest net increase in 17 years, Golf Digest reported earlier this year, citing data from the National Golf Foundation. NGF counted 6.2 million new players – either novices or those returning to the sport – which was a new record, according to Golf Digest.

“There hasn’t been this much optimism and new activity in the golf business since the turn of the century,” Joe Beditz, president and CEO of NGF, wrote on the organization’s blog earlier this year.

As of July 2021, combined sales of golf clubs and golf balls were up 77% from last year and 35% from 2019, NGF reported.

The industry’s resurgence can be attributed mainly to the ability for people to safely play the game during the pandemic – it’s an outdoor and naturally socially distanced sport, and many courses were able to open up last spring, albeit with new safety precautions in place. That golf boom led to soaring sales early on of items like pushcarts for golf bags and, for the ultra-wealthy, $30,000 backyard putting greens to keep their skills sharp.

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