Washington Spotlight: Attorneys general may be the ultimate ‘Trump’ card
The actions this week by two state attorneys general over the constitutionality of President Trump’s overseas business dealings have very little to do with the P&Ss of retail and restaurant owners. But here’s why it matters to your business and employees: In the grand scheme of things, their legal maneuvering it is a stinging reminder of the role attorneys general play and how, in other circumstances critical to our business models and industry, they can have a seriously negative impact.
A few years ago, I attended a conference for attorneys general and a panelist from Washington, D.C. addressed the gathering. In her very best and pretentious, “I am from the nation’s capital and therefore must be very important” demeanor, she essentially called the group a really good “farm team” climbing the political ladder to actual important offices in D.C. There was an audible gasp in the room. I happened to be sitting next to the attorney general from a very big state who muttered to me, “Yeah, a farm team with subpoena power.” I’ll never forget that and neither should our industry.
As we look at the current political landscape, dominated by Republicans at the federal and state level, we should expect Democratic attorneys general to find ways to level the playing field as much as possible – including activism on issues important to the P&Ls of operators. We have witnessed this play out in recent history.
Just last year, eight attorneys general forged an agreement with some major retailers to stop mandatory on-call scheduling. Attorney generals have pressured credit card companies to speed up their adoption of chip and pin technology and famously, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has pursued numerous wage theft cases, one resulting in the jailing of a Papa John’s franchisee.
Retailers need to remember that not only do Democratic attorney generals hold office in many of the most populous states (i.e. where many companies have a significant footprint), more importantly, they are extremely close to the labor community. California, New York, Illinois, Pennsylvania are notable examples.
As the labor agenda struggles in Congress and in statehouses across the country, expect left of center activists to pressure friendly attorney generals to vigorously enforce wage and benefit laws, investigate any appearance of discrimination, and litigate on behalf of workers.
Retailers need to make sure they do not get a false sense of security because all the political maps they see are predominantly red. Compliance is critical. The office of state attorney general is one of the most powerful elected public offices we have, and when their legal crosshairs are trained on entry-level employers, it will be very clear which elected officials merely have soapboxes and which ones have, as my friend the attorney general would say, subpoena power.
Joe Kefauver is managing partner of Align Public Strategies, a full-service public affairs and creative firm that helps corporate brands, governments and nonprofits navigate the outside world and inform their internal decision-making.
Amazon training program hits milestone
Amazon’s innovative re-training program has hit an all-time high.
The online giant’s Career Choice program, which pre-pays 95% of tuitions for employees pursuing courses in in-demand fields, regardless of the relevancy to jobs at Amazon, has now helped more than 10,000 employees. And Amazon has no intention of quitting now. In fact, the company expects participation “to double by 2020, with more than 20,000 employees pursuing new careers through the program,” according to Dave Clark, Amazon’s senior VP for worldwide operations.
The online retailer has built on-site classrooms at 25 fulfillment centers, and recently expanded the program to help address national skill gaps. New areas of study include robotics, engineering and technology, computer science, photovoltaic (PV) design principles and practices learning, as well as hands-on installations to become a certified PV installer by the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP). More than 500 employees are currently enrolled in robotics related courses in the U.S., according to Amazon.
Last year, Amazon also began open-sourcing the Career Choice program, and sharing its best practices and lessons learned to help other companies implement similar programs. To date, hundreds of businesses have sought information on the program for their own employees, the company said.
“The Career Choice program is unique in that it helps train employees for high-demand roles that often go unfilled due to a lack of skilled workers, which means employees may actually leave Amazon to go on to be nurses or pharmacy technicians,” said Clark. “We help remove the barriers for employees by doing the homework for them to find the high-demand careers in their area. We exclusively fund those areas of study and work with local colleges to offer courses onsite at fulfillment centers in our dedicated classrooms.”
Sears cutting jobs; key digital exec to leave
Sears Holdings is reducing headcount as part of its ongoing effort to deliver $1.25 billion in annualized cost reductions. It's also losing a key online executive.
Sears is eliminating some 400 full-time jobs at its corporate offices, in Hoffman Estates, Illinois, and from its support functions. In addition, certain positions at the chain's field operations will be impacted. The eliminated jobs represent less than half a percent of the 140,000 full-time and part-time employees Sears had as of the end of January.
In other news, Stephan Zoll, president of online, Sears Holdings, is stepping down from the company, effective June 15, Sears said Tuesday in a separate 8-K filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Stephan joined Sears in June 2016, coming from eBay Germany where he had served most recently served as VP of eBay Marketplaces.
As previously announced, Sears' strategic restructuring program is designed to deliver $1.25 billion in annualized cost reductions. To date, the retailer said it has made about $1 billion in annualized cost savings to date, and remains on track to meet its target.
"We are making progress with the fundamental restructuring of our operations that we initiated in February," said Edward S. Lampert, chairman and CEO of Sears Holdings. "We remain focused on realigning our business model in an evolving and highly competitive retail environment. This requires us to optimize our store footprint and operate as a leaner and simpler organization."
Last week, Sears confirmed that it planned to close 66 additional locations on top of the 180 planned closures it had announced earlier in the year.