Member Briefing May 22, 2024

Posted By: Harold King Daily Briefing,

Top Story

NAM, Other Business Groups Challenge OSHA’s ‘Walkaround Rule’

Yesterday, the National Association of Manufacturers, joined by other business groups, filed suit in the Western District of Texas to challenge the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s final rule amending the Worker Walkaround Representative Designation Process (Walkaround Rule). The Walkaround Rule will allow an unlimited number of third parties, such as union representatives, plaintiffs’ attorneys and community organizers, to accompany OSHA inspectors on safety inspections.

 “OSHA’s rule does nothing to advance its mission of improving workplace safety,” said NAM Chief Legal Officer Linda Kelly. “This rule is well beyond the scope of OSHA’s authority, and it infringes on manufacturers’ right to exclude others from their property, threatens new liabilities and risks compromising manufacturers’ intellectual property. The NAM Legal Center is filing suit to prevent this harm.”

Read more at the NAM

Nvidia Co-Founder Curtis Priem’s Latest Bet: Making the Hudson Valley ‘Quantum Valley’

The co-founder of the AI chip maker Nvidia said he chose to study at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in the late 1970s because it had a state-of-the-art mainframe computer. Now, he is betting that a quantum computer at his alma mater could reinvigorate the region.  Curtis Priem, 64 years old, is donating more than $75 million so RPI can have a quantum-computing system made by International Business Machines IBM 0.53%increase; green up pointing triangle—making it the first such device on a university campus anywhere in the world.

The goal of his latest bet is to establish New York’s Hudson Valley as an epicenter of quantum-computing research in the country, he said. His vision is to create a critical mass of talent that will lead to spinoff businesses. RPI has now installed an IBM Quantum System One device with 127 qubits. The school will spend $15 million a year to rent the computer, covered by Priem, and it will be upgraded to a more advanced system in several years. RPI students are just beginning to play with the quantum computer. On a recent Wednesday, a dozen students in the Quantum Computing Club gathered in a windowless classroom for a demonstration on how to run programs on the machine.

Read more at The WSJ

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Policy and Politics

Déjà Vu - Senate Democrats Revive Border Security Bill as GOP Vows to Block it

Senate Democrats plan to force a vote Thursday on the bipartisan border security package that Republicans blocked this year, an attempt to flip the script on immigration politics, a major vulnerability for President Joe Biden. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., notified members on the floor about the Thursday vote, calling it "the strongest, most comprehensive border security bill we've seen in a generation."

The legislation, negotiated by Republican and Democratic senators, is designed to reduce border crossings, raise the bar for migrants to qualify for asylum and quickly turn away those who fail to meet it. It empowers the president to shut down the border if certain triggers are met. If it becomes law, it would be the most sweeping set of migration restrictions in decades. Biden has endorsed the bill. But former President Donald Trump helped kill the legislation earlier this year and Republicans say they will block it again.

Read more at NBC News

FDIC Chairman Says He’s ‘Prepared To Step Down’ After Reports Of Workplace Culture Issues

Martin Gruenberg, chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., said in a statement Monday he is “prepared to step down … once a successor is confirmed” following after an outside investigation found the FDIC had a culture allowing for sexual harassment and discrimination. Gruenberg’s statement comes almost two weeks after the FDIC released the findings of the investigation, saying “for far too many employees and for far too long, the FDIC has failed to provide a workplace safe from sexual harassment, discrimination, and other interpersonal misconduct.”

Gruenberg said he has worked “to maintain public confidence and stability in the banking system,” but that the decision to potentially step down is “in light of recent events.” Until a successor is named, Gruenberg said he would continue to serve as chairman and work on “the transformation of the FDIC’s workplace culture.” Just last week, Gruenberg testified that he accepted the findings of the investigation, took responsibility and said he was “personally committed to addressing these issues,” indicating he did not intend to resign from his role.

Read more at Forbes

A Closer Partnership Between OSHA and NLRB Will Have Implications for Employers

The Biden Administration is trying to make it easier for employees to voice their health and safety concerns on the job. To that end, two agencies that oversee workplace safety and health will be working more closely together—creating potential implications for employers. This partnership between the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is laid out in the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) the agencies entered into last fall.

The purpose of this partnership is to establish a process for information sharing, referrals, training and outreach between the agencies. On March 29, OSHA published a Final Rule addressing the right of employees to have a third-party accompany an OSHA officer during an inspection. This rule will go into effect May 31 and clarifies that employees may authorize another employee or a non-employee to serve as their representative. Employers need to be aware that such union participation during inspections could lead to increased disruption at their worksite. Furthermore, allowing a union representative to participate in inspections may open the door for individuals with hidden agendas to gain access to the worksite and attempt to obtain confidential information or raise unrelated environmental concerns. Employers should start preparing their management and supervisors for the changes to come.

Read more at EHS Today

Health and Wellness

Teens Ages 15 to 19 Incur Highest Mental Health Spending for Depression, Anxiety, and Autism Diagnoses, Analysis Reveals

A new analysis of commercial healthcare spending from Cedar Gate Technologies revealed the highest costs for behavioral and mental health are incurred treating teens aged 15 to 19 years old with depression, anxiety, and autism diagnoses. This age group accounts for at least 31% more per-member per-month (PMPM) spending than any other. Early intervention and effective treatment could save $3,321 per person in healthcare costs within two years. The data comes from Cedar Gate Technologies’ proprietary National Healthcare Benchmark Database, encompassing de-identified data for more than 15 million member lives.

Across diagnoses, nine of the top 10 highest-cost cohorts were patients under the age of 30 (anxiety treatment for patients ages 30-34 ranked eighth). Behavioral and mental health is also the highest category for healthcare spending overall among children ages 5 to 19. Of $4.06 billion spent on behavioral and mental health in 2022, commercial insurers in Cedar Gate’s database paid 21% ($845.18 million) toward treatment for children and teens ages 5 to 19. By comparison, total annual medical spending was just 7% for the same group.

Read more at Business Wire

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Industry News

Largest Channel to Port of Baltimore Opened Tuesday for 24/7 Vessel Traffic

A 400-foot-wide, 50-foot-deep channel into the Baltimore harbor opened Tuesday as officials claimed victory over one of the largest hurdles in clearing the aftermath of the Francis Scott Key Bridge collapse. The channel opening Tuesday will be the largest, and deepest, marine route into the Port of Baltimore to open since the Key Bridge collapsed in March, immediately cutting off maritime traffic into the port.

The new channel’s opening comes a day after crews moved the Dali, the cargo ship that caused the collapse when it hit a bridge support column, out of the wreckage site and to Seagirt Marine Terminal. Moving the freighter, a 21-hour-long process that came after weeks of preparation including using explosive charges to rip apart a piece of truss sitting on the bow, was the last obstacle for crews attempting to clear the federal channel.

Read more The Baltimore Sun

Cutting Tool Orders Slipped in March

U.S. manufacturing activity slipped -1.1% from February to March according to the Cutting Tool Market Report – a monthly index of cutting tool purchases that reflects operating levels across a wide spectrum of industries, comparable to U.S. durable goods shipments. The latest report finds cutting tool consumption at $212.4 million during March, which is -5.8% lower than the March 2023 total. Through three months of activity this year, 2024 cutting-tool consumption totals $631.5 million, or 2.0% higher than last year’s January-March total.

“Stubbornly high inflation appears to be a drag on the (cutting tool) industry as the number of units shipped has shown a more sluggish trend than the value of shipments,” Steve Stokey, EVP and owner Allied Machine and Engineering said.  “The remainder of the year could end flat or slightly down from 2023 if these patterns continue.” Cutting-tool purchases are a marker of overall manufacturing activity because those purchases reflect production across a range of manufacturing market segments served by machining operations.

Read More at American Machinist

What Entry-Level Jobs Really Look Like Today

Six-figure pay packages. The promise of a promotion within months. Thousands of dollars in student-loan reimbursements. Look at hundreds of entry-level job postings for college grads, and you’ll find that companies are still in sales mode, despite employers’ moderating demand for young professionals.

Not long ago, new college graduates on the hunt for their first professional role could expect job ads to contain a litany of duties and responsibilities to the company. Postings today extol the opportunities that workers can expect from their employers, including commitments to flexible work styles and bosses’ respect for work-life boundaries. The Wall Street Journal analyzed hundreds of entry-level job postings in a range of roles, sectors and locations, from Chicago to Dallas to San Jose, Calif. They reveal what entry-level work looks like—a mix of in-office and remote work that puts new graduates on track for more responsibility—and what companies think young workers want now.

Read more at The WSJ

China Commerce Ministry Bans Some US Firms From Import, Export Activities

China's Commerce Ministry said on Monday that it will prohibit some U.S. firms from importing and exporting activities related to China, including one selling arms to Taiwan, and forbid them from making new investments in China. The ministry put General Atomics Aeronautical Systems on its unreliable entities list, saying it sold arms to Taiwan, according to a statement. It also included General Dynamics Land Systems.

According to state media, Boeing Defense, Space & Security was also placed on the list. Senior executives of all three companies are prohibited from entering China, while their work permits will be revoked, along with their visitor and residential status, and the related applications they submit will not be approved, said the ministry's announcement, according to Xinhua news.

Read more at Reuters

Nestlé Launching Frozen Food Brand For Ozempic Users

Nestlé is launching a frozen food brand specifically aimed at people taking GLP-1 diabetes and weight loss drugs like Ozempic and Wegovy, the company announced Tuesday, part of the food giant’s wider strategy to offset potential sales losses as appetite-suppressing drugs grow popular. The frozen food line, dubbed Vital Pursuit, will be priced at $4.99 and under and feature products like frozen pizza, sandwich melts and pasta.

Vital Pursuit will be packed with a variety of nutrients, such as protein, vitamin A, potassium and calcium, and also will offer gluten-free options, Tuesday’s press release said. The food line’s packaging will not explicitly mention GLP-1 drugs, CNBC reported, but Nestlé will make such connections on social media—and the company mentioned GLP-1s in its press release. Nestlé USA Meals Division President Tom Moe said in a statement the company has been expanding its offerings to address consumer eating habits, adding as “the market evolves, we’ll continue to expand Vital Pursuit with more product formats for our consumers.”

Read more at Forbes

Tesla Must Face Sweeping Race Bias Class Action

A California state judge tentatively ruled that nearly 6,000 Black factory workers can sue Tesla (TSLA.O), opens new tab as a group for the electric vehicle maker's alleged failure to address rampant race discrimination and harassment at its Fremont plant. California Superior Court Judge Noel Wise in Oakland said in a written order issued on Wednesday that the lawsuit presents questions common to all Black workers at the plant of whether Tesla was aware of the alleged misconduct and refused to take steps to prevent it.

The named plaintiff, former assembly line worker Marcus Vaughn, first sued in 2017, alleging that Black factory workers were subjected to a range of racist conduct including slurs, graffiti and nooses hung at their workstations. Tesla has maintained it does not tolerate workplace harassment and that it has fired employees who were found to have engaged in racial harassment. The decision represents a major blow to Tesla as it opens the company up to a potential multimillion-dollar judgment. The class includes people who self-identified as Black and worked at the Fremont factory going back to November 2016.

Read more Reuters

IEA Says There is a Looming Supply Gap in Critical Minerals

In a new report, Global Critical Minerals Outlook 2024, released on May 17, the International Energy Agency (IEA) notes that there is a significant gap between prospective supply and demand for copper and lithium. And anticipated mine supply from announced projects meets only 70% of copper and 50% of lithium requirements. The report also notes that “graphite and rare earth elements may not face supply volume issues but are among the most problematic in terms of market concentration: over 90% of battery-grade graphite and 77% of refined rare earths in 2030 originate from China.

The agency notes that this conclusion comes from an analysis of two different supply chain scenarios, with the base case including production from both current assets and those under construction. Given that they are predicting that in 2035 “balances for nickel and cobalt look tight relative to confirmed projects." However, the report concludes that even with potential projects being developed in geographically diverse regions for refined minerals, "the shares of the top three producing nations have increased since 2022, with the trend most pronounced for nickel and cobalt." And the projects announced so far will still remaine concentrated in a few countries.

Read more at Material Handling & Logistics

Grid Upgrade: DOE Unveils 10 Potential ‘National Interest’ Transmission Corridors Where Projects Could be Expedited

The U.S. Department of Energy on Wednesday unveiled a list of 10 potential national interest electric transmission corridors, a designation that would allow the federal government to expedite the development of grid expansion projects in those areas. The proposed corridors total more than 3,500 miles across targeted regions including the Northwest, Mid-Atlantic, New York and New England, Southwest and Northern Plains. DOE’s announcement kicks off a 45-day period for comments on the NIETC boundaries and the corridors’ potential impacts.

DOE is also taking comments until July 31 on eligibility criteria for direct loans under the agency’s Transmission Facility Financing program, which can help finance transmission projects in the NIETCs. The Transmission Facility Financing program can provide direct loans for eligible transmission projects within a NIETC. DOE is also taking comments on the scope of eligible projects and financing requirements for the program. The agency said it expects to open the TFF program in 2025.

Read More at Utility Dive