This is the third entry in a series addressing issues that may arise in 2009. This entry will focus on employment trends, both in Alabama and nationwide.
In a recent report in the Birmingham News concerning union participation, figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that the number of Alabama workers who are union members barely increased in from 180,000 in 2007 to 181,000 in 2008. In 2007, 9.8%, of Alabama's workforce was represented by unions. This number increased sligtly to 10.7% in 2009. The percentage of union workers in Alabama was tops in the Southeast, ahead of Florida (7.9%), Mississippi (7.3%), Tennessee (6.6%) and Georgia (4.6%). I anticipate that these numbers will increase in 2009 and 2010, and the increase may be significant if the Employee Free Choice Act becomes law.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that in 2008 a total of 2,394,434 workers were laid off, with 226,117 being laid off in December. With more companies announcing layoffs, such as GM and Wal-Mart this week, it appears as if 2009 will continue to be a bad year for workers losing their jobs. Alabama workers are not immune: so far this year, at least 10 large Alabama employers have notifed the state that they intend to terminate approximately 1,700 employees from ther jobs. Most recently, Graphic Packaging International in Tuscaloosa, announced this week that it is planning on laying off 90 workers later in 2009.
Several weeks ago, the New York TImes ran a story entitled "Layoffs Herald a Heday for Employee Lawsuits", concluding that many of the newly terminated employees will head to the EEOC or attorneys to pursue legal action.
Practice Pointer. As more employees are terminated from their jobs, I anticipate that there will be an increase in claims and lawsuits, especially since they will have difficulty finding new jobs in this tight job market. Employers need to update their policies and procedures to comply with existing and new employment laws, train the managerial and supervisory staff as to the laws and the company's policies, and treat their employees as fairly as possible during these difficult times.