SPECIAL REPORT: Laws, Regulations Crunching Businesses Trying to Survive

(Editor’s Note: First in a series detailing the issues business owners face as they navigate the COVID-19 crisis.)

As states around the country have begun to relax stay-at-home orders put in place to battle the spread of COVID-19, businesses and their employees are chomping at the bit to reopen and get back to work.

Or are they?

Of course they are, but owners know that, in the new post-COVID era, things aren’t going to be business-as-usual. Most states are going to add new requirements for the safety and health of workers and customers, and experts say a general fear about coming back too soon is likely to cause fear in workers returning to their jobs.

According to Timothy Williams, Vice Chairman of Pinkerton, a global provider of corporate risk management services and solutions, it’s largely a fear of the unknown.

“There’s a great deal of anxiety,” Williams said. “There’s so much we don’t know. We have generally accepted protocols to deal with other crises. We understand how to deal with an earthquake or a tornado. But there are still so many unknowns and so many variables with (COVID) that we’re going to have to be exceptionally patient as we reopen the economy.”

The anxiety is coming in waves from several different directions. Employers are concerned, for instance, about being able to comply with new safety standards that are almost certain to be imposed when they’re allowed to reopen.

Workplace safety the biggest concern
Having workers report back to a safe environment is going to be one of the paramount obligations for employers. Businesses will likely have to have adequate personal protective equipment in place, as well as policies about cleanliness and sanitization.

Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations are certainly going to affect how companies do business. According to information on the OSHA website (www.osha.gov/SLTC/covid-19/standards.html), some of the more relevant requirements include:

  • OSHA’s Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) standards, which require using gloves, eye and face protection, and respiratory protection when job hazards warrant it.
  • When respirators are necessary to protect workers, employers must implement a comprehensive respiratory protection program in accordance with the Respiratory Protection standard.
  • The General Duty Clause requires employers to furnish to each worker “employment and a place of employment, which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm.”

Denise Navarro, President/CEO of Houston, Texas-based Logical Innovations, Inc., said the requirements will likely vary by industry, but will still likely be, at a minimum, a financial stressor.

“For instance, I have noted that some businesses are restructuring and redesigning office layouts to accommodate continued social distancing,” Navarro said. “This could lead to additional costs and limited space.”

Workplace safety standards are going to be a focus. According to information provided by the Michigan OSHA, more than 300 workplace complaints were received March 30-31 alone.

What will new standards look like?
Steve Girard, a labor attorney with Grand Rapids, Mich.-based Clark Hill PLC, said OSHA inspectors will look at employers who had COVID-19-positive employees and ask if the company “did everything they could do” to protect employees. If OSHA determines such wasn’t the case, Girard warned, companies could face citations.

The problem with that, he said, is it’ll be an after-the-fact determination of whether companies did everything they could against a virus nobody has ever seen.

“You’re going have investigators after the fact doing some Monday morning quarterbacking and saying ‘you could have done more,’” Girard said.

What safety standards may be required is still a bit of an unknown, and most businesses are already setting up to meet projected requirements as best they can.

For instance, Mid-West Instrument – which develops proprietary designs manufactured for Original Equipment Manufacturers – is already, among other actions, voluntarily testing employees for temperatures at the start of shifts; locking visitors out of the building; requiring staffers to clean their own work areas; placing hand sanitizer throughout the building; offering cloth masks to every employee; and suspended all work-related travel.

Can business keep up with evolving standards?
Because Mid-West Instrument was identified as an “essential” business, the company has remained open during the stay-at-home order, and has only laid off two of its 40 employees. But business is down, and the company is waiting to hear about its loan under the Paycheck Protection Program.

More: Construction, Real Estate Activity Next Up for Reopening

More: Claims Continue to Flow as U.S. Unemployment Passes 30 Million

More: Town Hall Answers Questions as Businesses Get Ready to Re-Engage

Meanwhile, company officials worry about what the requirements will look like when the stay-at-home order is finally eased.

“As this is rapidly changing we do not know what new requirements may be implemented,” said Mid-West Instrument President Mike Lueck. “We are concerned that impractical safety requirements may be imposed which far exceed CDC recommendations.”

Workplace rules changed to benefit the employee could be problematic for employers, as well. For instance, Whitmer signed an executive order last month saying businesses can’t punish workers who stay home when either they or their close contacts are sick.

And Clark Hill’s Girard said worker’s compensation will likely be another big issue for essential employers operating now and non-essential employers when they reopen. Rules were changed last month, Girard said, that employers of first responders and healthcare providers who contract COVID-19 must prove by what Girard called “objective evidence” that the worker didn’t get it on the job before denying a claim.

Legal and political challenges are popping up over how states and individual companies are handling the pandemic. For instance, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker was sued by a couple of business groups and by a state legislator for establishing a stay-at-home order (a judge ruled in favor of the legislator and issued a stay in that legislator’s favor).

An employee of a Tuscon, Arizona electrical company was recently awarded $1,600 because the company denied him paid sick leave after he was told by a doctor to self-quarantine.

And there was a lawsuit filed by a director of Eastern Airlines who was fired just days after requesting time off to tend to an 11-year-old child.

Lois M. Kosch, a partner in the employment law practice group for California-based Wilson Turner Kosmo LLP whose practice emphasizes the litigation of harassment, discrimination, wrongful termination, and wage and hour matters, said that, while the DOL wasn’t doing much enforcement at first, they are now.

“Enforcement actions are happening, whether from the government or private attorneys, so (businesses) should keep those obligations in mind,” Kosch said.

She said some 187 new labor laws have been passed as a result of COVID-19. For instance, the Families First Coronavirus Relief Act mandates paid sick leave and paid time off to take care of children.

There are also obligations under the Family Medical Leave Act to accommodate employees who have child care challenges. That law, Kosch said, entitles employees up to two-thirds of their regular pay, up to $200 per day.

That’s not going to help businesses already looking at balance sheets that aren’t exactly balanced.

“These additional costs in benefits and required payroll additives add to the already-stressed bottom line for some businesses that have been ‘on hold’ during this crisis,” said Logial Innvoations’ Navarro.

To pay unemployment or not to pay, that is the question
Unemployment assistance is turning out to be a double-edged sword. While it provides compensation for workers who lose their jobs, the additional $600 provided by the federal CARES Act can also make it easier for workers to stay off the job because the compensation is often better, particularly in some retail and restaurant businesses.

If the employer tries to bring them back, and they refuse because the money is less, the employee then loses the right to unemployment.

Kosch said recently updated guidance from the U.S. Department of Labor determined workers in that situation are not authorized to collect unemployment, including the $600 federal supplement.

But Dan West, president of the Livonia, Mich., Chamber of Commerce, said he’s still hearing from business owners there are “a lot of concerns” about workers coming back, particularly among restaurant owners.

“Restaurants had to lay off all their wait staff, so a lot of them have taken jobs at Amazon, Walmart, what have you, and may not come back,” West said. “I’m hearing owners are looking for means of bringing people back part-time so they can still get unemployment. There’s really no incentive to come back if they’re making more (on unemployment).”

Kosch pointed out that they won’t be, at least not for long.

“Without (the $600 federal incentive) they wouldn’t be making more than if they were working,” Kosch said. “I think letting people know if they decide not to come back to work when work has been offered to them they’re going to lose that federal supplement … might be a powerful motivator.”

The other thing about which business owners have expressed concern is a question of what the rules will look like when they are finally allowed to reopen. Governors in states like Georgia, Tennessee and Texas have already issued guidelines for re-engagement.

That’s a good thing, according to West.

“The uncertainty is the biggest thing … business people are planners,” he said. “Right now, that uncertainty makes it hard for them to plan. And they can’t work right now, and that makes it even more frustrating for them.”

New requirements could slow productivity
But it’s not just the state rules that trouble some business owners. Ted Barker, the president of Livonia, Mich.-based Shaw Construction and Management Company that employs some 20 workers, said he received a list of 20 requirements the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council wants him to follow when reopening.

Among them are requirements for personal protective equipment (PPE), a specified COVID-19 site supervisor, asking employees to self-identify if they have symptoms, and having running water – “A lot of our sites don’t have running water,” Barker said — and soap on job sites.

“They feel this is a good baseline for future work in this environment and that it will provide the governor with assurance that the Michigan construction industry has the infrastructure, culture and training resources to safely return to work beyond the critical infrastructure projects currently underway,” Barker said. “The (COVID requirements) will cost dollars and has the strong possibility of slowing down productivity, which again will cost dollars to all involved. But I don’t know how we can get clearance to work without trying to inforce a new set of guidelines, either.”

Crisis could crush morale
What owners should really be concerned about, according to Pinkerton’s Williams, is the culture that will exist once restrictions are eased. Morale could be a problem, and business leaders are going to have to be acutely aware of the emotional states of their employees.

“There’s a lot of anxiety around the world, let alone in the United States, about ‘do I have a job,’ ‘do I want to go back to work when I can get paid a little more in the interim?’

“Some have lost coworkers and relatives and haven’t had the chance to grieve,” Williams added. “You’ve got a lot of emotions coming into this, and a lot of fear, because it’s a scenario where we don’t have complete information and may never have.”

Mid-West Instrument’s Lueck agrees about the morale, and says Michigan officials, including Whitmer and Attorney General Dana Nessel, haven’t helped the situation with what he calls “aggressive statements.”

“This has been a real issue due to … their total lack of recognition of critical manufacturers supplying to medical gas industry, oil and gas, power generation, military and safe distribution of drinking water,” Lueck said. “This has raised the stress level of many employees who question if we should remain open even though almost all of our products support industries listed (as) essential critical infrastructure workers.”

Fear will also play a role as workers return with concerns about contracting COVID-19 in the workplace. Sonya Bielecki, owner of HR Professional Support Services and a consultant for Express Employment Professionals, doesn’t believe there’s any way to completely reduce an employee’s fear of COVID-19 or the chance they’ll contract it in the workplace.

She said company leadership, “regardless of their personal opinions on COVID-19,” must present a coordinated message to the staff. The other idea she suggests is for employers to prepare a formal communication to workers outlining all of the safety steps they’ve taken.

“If you can prove to an employee that you’ve made CDC and OSHA requirements happen and you’re taking all the steps to keep them safe, that’ll reduce a lot of fears,” Bielecki said. “But the communication has to go out before their return.”

Pinkerton’s Williams agreed communication is the key when there are so many of what former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld called “unknown unknowns,” things we don’t know that we don’t know.

“That’s perfect for how we are today … It’s not going to be easy,” Williams said. “Communicating with employees several times a day routinely with current information about what we know and what we don’t know would help a great deal with morale.

“If we can be extraordinarily patient in these times with ourselves, with our customers … I think that will keep the security issues at a minimum, and it’s really going to pay off in morale issues,” he added. “People are on edge, anxious. We’re in uncharted territory for our generation. That’s why that ‘high-touch’ (by telephone and conference calls) and very frequent communications that are forthright is going to be very important.”

Succession Plan in Place for ‘Family’ Owned Prefix

There is no slowing down for Kim Zeile, CEO of Prefix Corporation, but when he is ready, you can bet his succession plan is in place!

Prefix Corporation is a Michigan-based company best known for helping auto manufacturers develop new designs and innovations in the form of full-scale concept vehicles and prototypes. The company has evolved to provide a wide range of important solutions to traditional OEMs, as well as today’s EV (electric vehicle) start-ups and emerging autonomous technology companies. In business for over 40 years, Prefix is a family-owned business with four facilities throughout Michigan and more than 250 employees. 

The operative word in the above sentence, though, is family owned business and Eric Zeile remembers when the company began. Eric was just a child when his father, Kim, started the business. He certainly remembers the ups and the downs over the years. Eric recalls Kim saying, “Imagine the music from the movie ‘Rocky.’ Rocky Balboa said two things that really resonated with me. First, ‘All I want to do is go the distance.’ Second, ‘Every champion was once a contender who refused to give up.’”

Today, Eric is the President of Prefix. However, he began his tenure as a kid, doing janitorial and other odd jobs for the company. Even though Eric did not originally know what he wanted to do, he always saw his father’s organization as an opportunity. He began learning every aspect of the business. While his career started with sweeping floors, he worked his way up through the organization doing his part in many different departments.

While the company is a leader in the industry, this is not how Kim defines success. “We measure success based on the lives we touch and the people we take care of,” said Kim. He does not take this responsibility lightly and always says he has two families, the one at home and the one at work. Nora Braniff, Chief Financial Officer echoes his sentiment, “I have been working for family businesses all my life and here it really does feel like a family.”

Though not all of Kim and his wife’s children are involved in the day-to-day business operations, his two daughters do have ownership in the company.

Eric says, “The most rewarding element to our family business is the pride we have in being able to tell our story and how we have evolved and grown over the years.

There is plenty to be proud of, particularly last year when Prefix pivoted to make and distribute critical protective gear to hospitals, governmental units and other organizations.  They said it was important for their work family to feel they were doing something every day to make a difference and do something positive to help others.

Technology is what allowed them to pivot to make PPE and Kim says, it is also one of their biggest challenges facing the business today. “If you think things are changing quickly today, know that change is happening slower than it ever will in the future. It’s exponential!”  That is something to really think about. Eric echoes those thoughts and says, “As the company grows, challenges grow, because as you get bigger, every component of running the business gets bigger, as well.  You need to have great processes and accountability systems in place to sustain, grow, and prosper.”

 But, as things change, one thing does not and that is the company’s commitment to keep their culture one of trust. This is something that Kim and Eric have gained with their employees, customers and suppliers over the years. They have earned respect and trust, which is pivotal to   successful succession planning from one generation to the next.

What is the best piece of advice for a family business? Overwhelmingly, the response was “communication!” When you speak to Kim and Eric, they recognize that the need to communicate transparently, regularly and candidly is paramount.  

The beautiful thing about this family business is their two families, the home one and the work one, and the trust between father and son at both.

Ursula Scroggs, CPA, is managing director at DKSS CPAs + Advisors, with offices in Troy and St. Clair Shores, Michigan. Jean Stenger, CPA, is a senior accounting manager with DKSS.

Higher Hopes Thanksgiving Turkey Meal Program Continues to Grow, Help Metro Detroiters in Need

DETROIT — For the eighth year in a row, Higher Hopes! will be providing 1,000 Detroit area families full Thanksgiving meals through its “1,000 Turkeys, 10,000 Smiles” program.

The kits contain everything from the turkey to all the sides and dessert, and provide enough food to feed 12 to 16 people. Giving families the ability to celebrate the holidays with loved ones in their own home is at the core of the Higher Hopes! mission.

In addition to the Thanksgiving meal program, Higher Hopes! continues to support 1,000 families with monthly meal kits, each containing 35-45 lbs of fresh, nutritious foods. These go to families who have children enrolled in Early Head Start Child Care Programs. The kits contain proteins such as chicken, pork, or beef, fresh, frozen, canned fruits and vegetables, grains like pasta and cereal, milk, eggs, fruit juice, and more.

Earlier this year, Higher Hopes! was able to rescue, through purchasing or soliciting donations for, food and hygiene products which would otherwise have been lost due to supply chain disruptions. Just this year the 501 (c)(3) organization rescued nearly 80,000 bottles of Raw Sugar hand sanitizer as well as 160,000 pounds of sweet potatoes. These rescued products were sent to Michigan-based food banks where they were distributed to the state’s more than 3,000 shelters, soup kitchens, and food pantries. Higher Hopes! continues to take advantage of opportunities to bring essentials to the underserved people of Michigan with this program.

“Higher Hopes! Heroes invest time and money to provide households with access to sufficient, nutritious food,” said Higher Hopes! founder Bill Birndorf. “This is accomplished through collaborations, efficient operations, education, and innovative solutions to battle hunger in the metro Detroit area. The faces of hunger may surprise you. Many who need assistance are middle-class families, the working poor, children, and the elderly. No one should suffer from a lack of access to quality and nutritious food.”

Approximately 1.4 million people struggle with hunger and food insecurities in the state of Michigan, with approximately 400,000 of those people being children. Hungry families are forced to make difficult choices each month, between paying for food and paying for transportation, medical care, housing, and utilities. With its expansive growth over the years, Higher Hopes! has distributed close to 2 million pounds of food and hopes to increase that number in 2022.

 Higher Hopes! is an agency partner of Gleaners Food Bank, and through its mobile pantry platform it is able to distribute at least 1,000 meal kits containing 35-45 pounds of food every month to families who have children enrolled in the Early Head Start Childcare Partnership Programs throughout Southeastern Michigan.

Recipients are metro Detroit area families that have children enrolled in the federal government’s Early Head Start Childcare Partnership Programs early childhood programs (e.g., Early Head Start, Head Start, and Great Start Readiness). To qualify for these programs, the family’s income must be equal to or below the poverty line. 

Higher Hopes!, a registered 501 (c)(3) charity, continues to fight the battle against hunger for the community’s most vulnerable children and their families. Corporate and individual contributions are always welcome and can be made at www.higherhopesdetroit.org or at the Facebook page at www.facebook.com/pages/Higher-Hopes/351220508366604.

Grand Stand Pictures Announces Jason Nichols as Director of ‘A City Within A City’ Documentary

GRAND RAPIDS — Grand Stand Pictures is pleased to announce the selection of Jason Nichols as the director of its documentary film being adapted from the critically acclaimed book A City Within A City: The Black Freedom Struggle In Grand Rapids, Michigan by Dr. Todd E. Robinson. Nichols is a film director, writer, and creative director based in Los Angeles, California and is a graduate of University of The Arts in Philadelphia.

Nichols has spent the past 20 years developing the craft of storytelling by building multi-platform narratives, films, products, and identities for brands like Nike, Google, YouTube, and Toyota.

As a filmmaker, Jason Nichols explores conflicts around individual and cultural identity. His short films “Home…” and “Conflict” examine his internal turmoil while “Eyes Open, Capes On” tells the story of an epic battle for racial justice in America led by the Wide Awakes art and activist collective.

Nichols has also recently been appointed as the Creative Director for the Sundance Film Festival and Institute, overseeing the development and curation of branding elements and creative assets. Grand Stand Pictures is extremely excited to introduce to our community this multi-talented director to helm our documentary film project.

The Director announcement of Jason Nichols also signals the activation of the Grand Rapids Media Initiative & Film Incubator as a component of the ACWAC film project. GR-MiFi is a non-profit business incubator apprenticeship program, forming a consortium of creative  communication platforms.

As Grand Stand Pictures enters the production phase of the film, vignettes and mini-docs around ACWAC content and contemporary stories are being built to increase the community engagements and relevance of the work. Two of the film project’s vignettes include; From The Cradle To The Grave: A City Within A City’s Oak Hill Cemetery Stories with Pastor Shannon Jammal-Hollemans and Chicken Shack: The Synia McBride Story with Legacy & Love’s Synia Jordan. 

R.W. Mercer Co. expands services, supports EV transportation infrastructure growth through acquisition

R.W. Mercer Co. has acquired the assets of long-time subcontractor West Michigan Electrical Systems Inc.

R.W. Mercer Co. is a family-owned construction and service company headquartered in Jackson, with locations in Detroit, Gaylord, Grand Rapids (Walker), Kalamazoo and Saginaw, Michigan, and Fort Wayne, Indiana.

West Michigan Electrical Systems is a full-service electrical contractor in Cedar Springs, north of Grand Rapids. Founded by owner Brad Kober, the firm has served petroleum, industrial and commercial customers for over 20 years.

Kober and his team will be based in R.W. Mercer’s Grand Rapids-area office. They will combine with R.W. Mercer’s electrical team to enhance capabilities and expand self-perform electrical services for customers. Kober will become project manager in the R.W. Mercer Electrical Department.

R.W. Mercer President Andy Mercer said, “West Michigan Electrical Systems has built an excellent reputation. We welcome their highly skilled electricians. Their expertise in electric vehicle charging stations will further strengthen our ability to support EV transportation infrastructure.”

Kober said, “I have worked side-by-side with the R.W. Mercer team for years and have been impressed with the company’s quality construction and ethics. This partnership brings the best of both companies together to meet customer needs.”

Mercer continued, “While our teams had worked together a great deal, Brad and I only met recently. We had an instant connection. Growth by acquisition is an effective strategy for us in the electrical sector. We will continue to evaluate opportunities to ensure we are able to meet current and future needs of our customers.”

R.W. Mercer Co. markets in three areas of construction: petroleum contracting and service, general contracting, and electrical contracting. In each, R.W. Mercer provides a turn-key approach that includes planning, design, construction, installation, monitoring and maintenance. More info at www.RWMercer.

Bodman Attorney Marc Bakst Named Chair-Elect of Jewish Family Service of Metropolitan Detroit

Bodman PLC is pleased to announce that Marc M. Bakst, a member of the firm practicing in the Detroit office, has been named chair-elect of the board of directors of Jewish Family Service of Metropolitan Detroit (JFS).

Bakst, who has served for several years as a JFS board member, will also continue his service as treasurer, as a member of the Executive Committee of the board of directors, and as chair of the Finance Committee. He is scheduled to begin a two-year term as chair of the board of directors in June 2022.

Established more than 90 years ago, JFS provides critical health and social services to more than 12,000 Jewish and non-Jewish people throughout metro Detroit each year. The organization’s services are uniquely tailored to the specific needs of each individual or family, and center around three core areas: services for older adults, mental health and wellness, and safety net services.

Bakst has a long history of service to charitable, community, and professional organizations. He served previously on the Advisory Board to Michigan Israel Business Accelerator, on the Community Advisory Board for the Detroit Jewish News, on the board of directors of the Detroit chapter of the American Jewish Committee, and on the City of Oak Park Zoning Board of Appeals. He also volunteers through Lakeshore Legal Aid to provide pro bono representation to individuals entitled under Michigan law to expungement of criminal records.

His legal practice is focused on creditors’ rights, bankruptcy, reorganization, and insolvency matters, representing major financial institutions, automotive suppliers, health care providers, and a variety of other business clients. Bakst has been recognized as a distinguished practitioner in his field of specialty by the leading journals that rank business attorneys, including The Best Lawyers in America, Michigan Super Lawyers, and DBusiness Top Lawyers.

ABOUT BODMAN

Bodman PLC is one of the Midwest’s leading business law firms, providing counsel to many of the region’s most successful companies and individuals on a broad range of issues. Deeply rooted in the communities they serve, Bodman lawyers provide clients with the personal attention of a small firm combined with the talent and knowledge expected of the nation’s leading attorneys. To learn more, visit www.bodmanlaw.com.

Grow Michigan Adds Executive to Management Team

Jeff Schuman’s affiliation with Grow Michigan follows a 40-year career in capital markets. As a lifelong resident of Michigan, his experience is principally comprised of 14 years of commercial middle market lending and 24 years of commercial real estate lending at Bank of America, Comerica and Huntington Bank and their respective predecessor Michigan based banks (Michigan National, LaSalle and First Merit Bank Bank), Throughout his career, responsibilities have included new business development, credit underwriting, loan documentation, construction and non-construction loan portfolio administration, problem loan workouts and cross selling non-credit bank services. Jeff is also a licensed real estate broker with additional experience in residential mortgage banking and trust investment management.

Grow Michigan Adds Executive to Management Team

Peggy Cummins has over 39 years of experience in commercial banking, with emphasis in Asset Based Lending and Workout. She began her career in 1982 at Comerica Bank in Detroit where she served for over 23 years in a range of lending, credit and market management positions in asset based and middle market lending. In 2005, she moved to Citizens Republic Bank (now Huntington Bank) as a senior vice president, including managing a team of commercial workout bankers to assist the Bank in exiting over $1 billion of distressed commercial credits. In July 2015, Peggy joined WNB Specialty Finance, a division of Woodforest National Bank as Senior Managing Director/Senior Credit Officer, and, in 2019, formed Four C’s Advisors, LLC to provide financial advisory services to banks and distressed companies.

Greenleaf Trust announces new hires

Emily Wedes joins Greenleaf Trust as a team service coordinator on the client centric team. She is responsible for providing comprehensive administrative support, day-to-day servicing of account needs, and driving the efforts of the client centric team. Emily ensures clear, concise communication by coordinating the team’s workflow and acts as an ongoing resource for clients. She has a background in non-profit administration and earned a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan in International Studies with a focus in Global Health and Environment.

Robenson Jean-Baptiste also joins the Retirement Plan Division in Birmingham as a participant services coordinator. He provides education and communication services to participants of various retirement plans. He also conducts retirement plan enrollment meetings, meets with plan participants, develops education and informational materials, manages incoming participant inquiries, and processes participant requests. Robenson received his bachelor’s from Florida International University, majoring in Marketing; he brings over 10 years of customer service experience to Greenleaf Trust.

Theresa Cordovano, MBA, EA joins the Operations Division as a tax specialist. She is responsible for supporting the senior tax officer in reviewing returns, as well as tax processing, and assisting the client centric team with IRA questions. Theresa received her Bachelor’s degree in Accounting and Master’s degree in Business Administration from Georgian Court University. She has also earned the Enrolled Agent credential from the Internal Revenue Service.

United Plans Largest Transatlantic Expansion in its History

CHICAGO (PRNewswire) — United today announced the largest transatlantic expansion in its history, including 10 new flights and five new, vogue destinations – Amman, Jordan; Bergen, Norway; Azores, Portugal; Palma de Mallorca, Spain and Tenerife in the Spanish Canary Islands. All of the new routes – which are set to begin in Spring 2022 – are not served by any other North American carrier. Additionally, next year, United will add new flights to five popular European destinations: Berlin, Dublin, Milan, Munich and Rome. Lastly, United will launch seven routes that were interrupted due to the pandemic to Bangalore, Frankfurt, Tokyo’s Haneda Airport, Nice and Zurich. Flights are subject to government approval.

“Given our big expectations for a rebound in travel to Europe for summer, this is the right time to leverage our leading global network in new, exciting ways,” said Patrick Quayle, senior vice president of international network and alliances at United. “Our expansion offers the widest range of destinations to discover – introducing new, trendy locales that our customers will love, as well as adding more flights to iconic, popular cities.”

Among the new destinations:

  • Amman, Jordan
  • Ponta Delgada, Azores, Portugal
  • Bergen, Norway
  • Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain
  • Expanded European Service

In addition to these new routes, United will begin seven routes that were interrupted by the pandemic:

  • Daily flights between San Francisco and Bangalore beginning May 26
  • Daily flights between New York/Newark and Nice beginning April 29
  • A second daily flight between New York/Newark and Frankfurt beginning April 23
  • Daily flights between Chicago and Zurich beginning April 23
  • Flights from Washington, D.C., Los Angeles and New York/Newark to Tokyo’s Haneda airport by March 26

In addition, United has recently:

  • Launched a plan to transform the United customer experience by adding and upgrading hundreds of aircraft as well as investing in features like larger overhead bins, seatback entertainment in every seat and the industry’s fastest available Wi-Fi.
  • Announced a goal to create 25,000 unionized jobs by 2026 that includes careers as pilots, flight attendants, agents, technicians, and dispatchers.
  • Announced that United will train at least 5,000 pilots by 2030 through the United Aviate Academy, with the plan of at least half being women and people of color.
  • Required all U.S. employees to receive a COVID-19 vaccination.
  • Became the first airline to offer customers the ability to check their destination’s travel requirements, schedule COVID-19 tests and more on its mobile app and website. 
  • Invested in emerging technologies that are designed to decarbonize air travel, like an agreement to work with urban air mobility company Archer, an investment in aircraft startup Heart Aerospace and a purchase agreement with Boom Supersonic.
  • Committed to going 100% green by 2050 by reducing 100% of our greenhouse gas emissions without relying on traditional carbon offsets, including a recent agreement to  purchase one and a half times the amount of all of the rest of the world’s airlines’ publicly announced Sustainable Aviation Fuel commitments combined.

Eliminated change fees for all economy and premium cabin tickets for travel within the U.S.

Verizon Brings Together Major Fortune 500 Companies to Launch Women’s CoLab

NEW YORK (Globe Newswire) — Despite tremendous strides toward greater gender equality and equity for women in the workplace, approximately 5.4 million jobs were lost by women in 2020 amid COVID-19. To help women re-enter the workforce and realize their career ambitions, Verizon and its partners launched Women’s CoLab, an initiative providing women with essential resources to help them achieve success in an increasingly digital economy.

“In recent years, we have celebrated many history-making firsts that prove women belong in every room, at every table, and deserve to be seen and heard as equals,” said Tami Erwin, CEO of Verizon Business. “Unfortunately, the momentum we have achieved as a society has all but come to a standstill in the wake of the pandemic. With Women’s CoLab, we are committed to giving women the support and resources they need to reach their career aspirations and thrive professionally.”

The Women’s CoLab community, led by Verizon, launches today — on International Day of the Girl — with a virtual celebratory event featuring top women executives from Accenture, Disney, Bank of America, The Estée Lauder Companies, Ferrero, Mastercard, Scary Mommy and Walmart. During the panels and sessions, they will share lessons learned and career insights that helped them achieve success. The event can be viewed at no cost from 12 PM to 3:30 PM ET on the Women’s CoLab’s YouTube channel.

Beyond the launch event, Women’s CoLab offers a library of resources and peer-to-peer support on WeAreWomensCoLab.com, available for free to any user. Powered by Degreed, the site provides hyper-relevant development and training resources from industry experts such as Harvard Business, The Achieve Institute, The Female Quotient, The A Effect, Blue Circle Leadership, and Scary Mommy, to help women to remain, re-enter and thrive in the workforce.

Additional content such as guest essays, live Q&As, workshops and career insights from leading women will be added regularly to cover the most pressing issues impacting women today. Women’s CoLab also focuses on building a community of women, with interactive forums allowing for open conversation and support between members and participants.

Curated content topics include personal brand building, networking tips and tricks, work-life wellness, how to redefine your career and content specific for working mothers.

“We need women in the workforce. We need their diverse perspectives and backgrounds, at all levels and across all industries, and we can’t pursue real, lasting equality if we ask women to choose between having a career or managing their life,” said Manon Brouillette, Chief Operating Officer and Deputy CEO, Verizon Consumer. “A recent survey we commissioned found that close to 60 percent of women who want to re-enter the workforce can’t afford the training to remain competitive. This is exacerbated by the fact that 72% of women are concerned about the difficulty of finding a job that matches their existing skillset. This is precisely the reason why I believe Women’s CoLab can play an important role in helping women advance and succeed.”

Experts: ‘Weak’ September Jobs Numbers Headline U.S. Economic Data

U.S. economic data for the week was headlined by weaker than expected payroll data for September. 

U.S. payrolls gained 194,000 jobs in September, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This is a disappointing result given the 568,000 net gain for the month reported by ADP on Wednesday. The unemployment rate dropped more than expected, from 5.2 percent in August to 4.8 percent in September.

According to the BLS, the number of unemployed persons fell by an outsized 710,000 in September, down to 7.7 million. The civilian labor force contracted by 183,000 people in September. Average hourly earnings rose by 19 cents, or 0.6 percent for the month, to $30.85. Average hourly earnings were up 4.6 percent over the previous year. The average workweek increased by 0.2 percent to 34.8 hours. In normal times, the headline numbers for today’s employment report would be solid. But these are not normal times.

A further disappointing result in October would suggest that this is a fundamentally different labor market than what we thought a few months ago. On the plus side, the cresting of the COVID-D wave in many states augers well for October employment data. Sizeable upward revisions to July and August (plus 169,000 total) takes some of the sting out of today’s BLS data, but it still disappoints. 

Initial claims for unemployment insurance fell by 38,000 for the week ending October 2, to hit 326,000. Continuing claims fell by 97,000 to hit 2,714,000 for the week ending September 25. The total number of claims for all unemployment benefit programs dropped by 854,638 for the week ending September 18, to hit 4,172,943. The large decline there reflects the cessation of enhanced unemployment benefits after Labor Day.

According to Challenger, Grey & Christmas, job cuts announced in September by U.S. employers increased by 14 percent for the month, coming off a record low in August. September’s total was down 85 percent from a year earlier. 

The ISM Services Index inched up in September to a strong reading of 61.9. Seven out of 10 sub-indexes were positive including production, new orders and employment. Two of the negative sub-indexes were tied to inventories. Seventeen industries reported growth in September, agriculture and forestry contracted for the month. Anecdotal comments bemoaned supply chain and labor constraints, but also celebrated rising volumes. Many commodities were listed as up in price while lumber, oriented strand board and rental cars were down in price. Many commodities are still listed as being in short supply, including labor. 

U.S. vehicle sales skidded again in September, down to a very weak 12.2 million unit rate. Lack of inventory is a critical issue. 

Mortgage applications for home purchases eased heading into the fourth quarter, down 1.7 percent for the week including October 1, after declining by 1.2 percent the week before. There is still no clear up or down trend in purchase apps. On a four-week moving average basis, purchase apps were down 12.7 percent from the equivalent week a year ago. Refi apps dropped 9.6 percent for the week as mortgage rates inched up. Refi apps were down 6.2 percent from a year ago. According to the Mortgage Bankers Association, the rate for a 30-year fixed rate mortgage increased to 3.14 percent. 

The U.S. international trade gap widened in August to -$73.3 billion. So far in the third quarter, the inflation-adjusted trade gap has remained below the second quarter average, suggesting that trade will be a mild positive for Q3 GDP growth. Exports increased in August by $1.0 billion. Imports were up by $4.0 billion with gains in consumer goods.

Source: Comerica

First-Time Jobless Claims Fall to Pandemic-Era Low

Signs the U.S. economy might be outrunning the COVID-19 pandemic turned up in weekly statistics released by the U.S. Department of Labor.

States reported that 293,00 American workers applied for first-time unemployment benefits during the week ending Oct. 9. That represents the lowest total since the pandemic struck in March 2020.

For comparison, some 200,000 of those claims were filed on a weekly average in 2019.

The total number of workers claiming unemployment fell to about 2.6 million, a drop of some 134,000, the lowest level since the pandemic began.

The readings come on the heels of a disappointing September, when the U.S. economy added just 194,000 jobs, lower than economists had expected.

Still, the unemployment rate dropped to 4.8% and the average hourly wage rose more than expected, Business Insider reported.

“A big drop in unemployment claims for the most recent week finally cracked the 300,000 barrier and is the strongest evidence yet that the COVID-19 Delta wave has lost its influence on layoffs,” Robert Frick, corporate economist at the Navy Federal Credit Union, told CBS News.

Hiring has slowed in the past two months, even as companies and other employers have posted a near-record number of open jobs. The Washington Post reported that businesses are struggling to find workers, with some 3 million people who lost their jobs and stopped looking for work during the pandemic haven’t resume their job searches.

FDA Committee Recommends Approval of Moderna’s COVID-19 Booster Shot

Americans are one step closer to having another booster shot against the COVID-19 virus.

Members of a FDA panel have unanimously recommended approval of Moderna’s coronavirus booster shot, it was reported Thursday.

The panel – the Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee — voted to recommend the booster for people 65-plus, those with certain medical conditions and people facing workplace exposure.

Those are the same groups the FDA approved last month for the Pfizer/BioNTech booster shot.

These individuals would be eligible at least six months after their second shot.

It’s one step, but certainly not the last one. The FDA still needs to sign off, and then the CDC must approve it. The Boston Herald is reporting that approval could come as early as next week.

According to NBC News, Moderna’s booster would be given as a half dose (Pfizer’s booster is the same dosage as its initial series.)

Jacqueline Miller, therapeutic area head for infectious diseases at Moderna, said in her presentation to the committee that the company chose the half dose because it wanted to use the lowest dose possible needed to induce an immune response, according to NBC.

Miller noted that using a lower-dose booster has worked well for other vaccines, including the DTaP vaccine, which protects against tetanus, diphtheria and whooping cough.

According to NBC News, data shows Moderna’s vaccine protection has waned: People who were vaccinated earlier in the year were more likely to have a breakthrough infection compared to people who received their vaccinations several months later. Nearly all of these breakthrough infections were caused by the delta variant. 

“We are concerned about the breakthrough disease that we’ve been observing in the participants in the [original clinical trial], and particularly the breakthrough cases that we’re starting to see in severe disease in the older adults,” Miller told NBC.

Experts: ‘Uncertainty’ in October Economic Forecast

It feels like the amount of uncertainty surrounding the U.S. economic outlook has increased in recent weeks. While we have not downgraded our outlook, we are reflecting increased uncertainty in our October forecast. 

In our October forecast, we have dialed down our gross domestic product estimate for 2022 and dialed up our inflation estimate. In September, we posted 5.4 percent real GDP for 2022 over 2021. Now, we are stepping that down to a still-strong 4.5 percent. While we are still bullish for near term growth prospects, we also want to reflect recent developments. It appears likely that Congress will pass a spending bill that is smaller than the original $3.5 trillion ask.

Also, there is valid concern that global supply chain strain may last longer than expected, stretching well into 2022. China’s economy and financial markets are showing signs of strain and this is being felt in the rest of Asia and will weigh on global demand. 

In September, we posted a 3.6 percent increase in the Consumer Price Index for 2022. Recent surges in petroleum and natural gas prices are reflected in our October estimate of 4.5 percent growth in the CPI for 2022. While some components of inflation may indeed revert from recent hot levels, we believe that other components are sticky. The sticky components include rents, wages and many supplier contracts. 

A key positive for the U.S. economy is the waning of the COVID-D surge in most states. The 7-day moving average of new COVID cases peaked in late August according to the CDC. Through early October, there has been a steady downward trajectory in total cases. We expect to see improved business and consumer confidence and stronger hiring in consumer-facing businesses as the caseload wanes.

We also look for support from inventory restocking in 2022. Inventories have been a drag on U.S. GDP for six out of the last eight quarters through 2021Q2.  We expect de-stocking to decelerate through early 2022 and then flip to  re-stocking. Along with inventory re-stocking, sales of supply-constrained goods and services will increase. This includes retail and fleet sales of autos, which will show up in improved business investment and consumer spending. 

It looks like the Federal Reserve is backing away from its view that recent inflation is transitory. In his testimony to the House Committee on Financial Services on September 30, Fed Chair Jay Powell said that “inflation is elevated and will likely remain so in the coming months before moderating.” He did not use the word “transitory” in his prepared remarks.

Many other central banks throughout the world have already begun to tighten monetary policy because of the threat of inflation. The Bank of England’s new chief economist said in his first public comments, “the balance of risk is currently shifting towards greater concern about the inflation outlook.” 

Along with what may prove to be a pivot with respect to inflation, Federal Reserve monetary policy feels more uncertain due to actual and potential leadership changes. We will soon have new regional presidents at the Dallas and Boston Federal Reserve banks. Randall Quarles’ term as Federal Reserve Vice Chair for Supervision ends this month.  Jay Powell’s term as chair of the Federal Open Market Committee ends in February 2022.  The potential for new leadership at the Fed implies less certainty about the consequences of the Fed’s interest rate Dot Plot from September.

Dr. Robert Dye is senior vice president and chief economist at Comerica. Daniel Sanabria is a senior economist for Comerica.

OSHA Sends Mandatory Vaccine Policy Text to White House; OMB Review Up Next

Ever since President Joe Biden announced last month businesses with more than 100 employees would have to require workers to either get fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or provide negative test results, owners of those businesses have been waiting for the specifics of the directive.

They may not have to wait much longer.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, charged with developing the policy, this week submitted the initial text of an emergency vaccine rule to the Office of Management and Budget for review, according to multiple reports.

OSHA sent the rule to the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs on Tuesday. OMB will review it, a process that could take months, but Bloomberg News is reporting Biden has asked for an expedited process for the policy. The order will take effect once the OMB publishes it.

“The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has been working expeditiously to develop an emergency temporary standard that covers employers with 100 or more employees to ensure their workers are fully vaccinated or undergo weekly testing to protect employees from the spread of coronavirus in the workplace,” a Department of Labor spokesperson said in a statement, according to Fox News. “On Tuesday, October 12, as part of the regulatory review process, the agency submitted the initial text of the emergency temporary standard to the Office of Management and Budget.”

The Society for Human Resource Management is reporting (SHRM Online) that OSHA’s plan hasn’t been made public yet. SHRM reported that the White House could approve the ETS by Friday, with OSHA making the plan public next week.

According to the Wall Street Journal, a survey conducted last month showed some 46% of repsondents said they’d require employees to get vaccinated in places that allow the policy; more than 33% were unsure about vaccine plans.

Biden last month also issued an executive orer requiring federal employees and contractors to be vaccinated. Federal employees will need to be fully vaccinated by Nov. 22 and contractors by Dec. 8.

Businesses that don’t comply could be subject to fines from the government, but NBC News reported the overtasked OSHA will likely rely on voluntary compliance.

Greenleaf Trust announces CTFA designation

Mark Meyers, CFP, CTFA, CLU, ChFC, a Senior Trust Relationship Officer in southeast Michigan was recently awarded the Certified Trust and Fiduciary Advisor (CTFA) designation from the American Bankers Association.
Mark provides holistic and unbiased trust services to organizations and individuals. He has over 10 years of experience consulting with clients and peers regarding investments, insurance, estate, and business succession planning. His goal is to help our clients achieve peace of mind, accomplish their long term goals, and sustain their legacy. A graduate of Central Michigan University, Mark is a CFP™ professional, Certified Trust and Fiduciary Advisor, and has earned his Chartered Life Underwriter® and Chartered Financial Consultant® designations.

When asked about the successful certification, Chief Client Officer Daniel Rinzema commented, “We are committed to fiduciary excellence for our clients. The addition of the CTFA designation to Mark’s existing credentials is evidence of his continued dedication to provide top-tier service to our clients. The client centric team celebrates his hard work and is grateful for his purposeful growth.”

The CTFA designation is awarded to individuals who demonstrate excellence in the field of wealth management and trust. To qualify for the CTFA certification, individuals must have certain levels of experience and education in the trust profession, pass an exam, and agree to abide by a code of ethics. The CTFA exam covers many areas including fiduciary and trust activities, financial planning, tax law and planning, investment management and ethics.

Comcast Renews Commitment to Bridge Digital Adoption Gap In Detroit With $175,000 In Investments

Comcast today announced it will award $25,000 to nonprofit Brilliant Detroit and a total of 500 laptop computers, valued at $150,000, in partnership with Detroit Housing Commission and Boys and Girls Clubs of Southeastern Michigan to help advance digital equity for even more Detroit students and families. The computer donations and grants are part of Project UP, Comcast’s $1 billion commitment to reach 50 million people over the next 10 years with the tools, resources, and skills needed to succeed in a digital world.

The $25,000 given to Brilliant Detroit will help support digital literacy programming, education and awareness of the Federal Government’s Emergency Broadband Benefit and other digital inclusion efforts. Brilliant Detroit operates homes in high-need Detroit neighborhoods. The homes offer proven programming to families and children, so they have what they need to be school-ready, healthy and stable. This includes a place to get connected to the internet.

Comcast in partnership with the Detroit Housing Commission and Boys and Girls Clubs of Southeastern Michigan will distribute the 500 laptops and information promoting digital literacy to low-income affordable housing residents.

For the past 10 years, Comcast’s Internet Essentials program has connected more people to the internet and to the technology they need to participate and excel in an increasingly digital world. The program offers low-income families high-speed broadband Internet service for $9.95 per month, the option to purchase a heavily subsidized, low-cost Internet-ready computer and multiple options to access free digital literacy training in print, online and in person.

The Emergency Broadband Benefit is also available to new and existing Internet customers who qualify across all tiers of service, including Internet Essentials. Families can receive up to a $50/month credit on their Internet bill from Comcast. Click here for more information.

Jaffe Raitt Heur & Weiss, P.C. Welcomes Attorney Jeff Izzard

Jaffe Raitt Heuer & Weiss, P.C. has welcomed attorney, Jeff Izzard to the firm. Izzard joins the firm’s mergers & acquisitions (M&A) practice group as an associate. As a skilled M&A law practitioner, Izzard has provided counsel for clients of all sizes from established businesses, private equity funds and automotive suppliers, to renewable energy providers, medical practice groups and early-stage ventures.

Law Firm Continues Commitment to Detroit Fire Department with Donation of 500 Smoke Alarms

In honor of Fire Prevention Week, October 3-9, 2021, Farmington Hills-based law firm Fabian, Sklar, King & Liss P.C., representing victims of fires and explosions, businesses and homeowners in property damage disputes for 35 years, has donated 500 10-year, sealed lithium battery-operated smoke alarms to the Detroit Fire Department (DFD). Fabian, Sklar, King & Liss has supplied the DFD with over 5,000 of these life-saving devices over the course of more than 10 years. The donated smoke alarms are distributed to Detroit residents upon request and installed free of charge by members of the DFD. To request the installation of a smoke alarm free of charge, Detroit residents should contact the Detroit Fire Department at (313) 596-2959.

Credit Union LAFCU names Robyn Howell chief human resources officer

LAFCU has promoted Robyn Howell to chief human resources officer.

With this new title, Howell is responsible for LAFCU’s human resource strategy in support of the Michigan credit union’s business plan and strategic direction. This includes the areas of talent, change, organizational and performance management; training and development; compensation; and succession planning. She assists with union relations.

“Robyn’s experience and commitment to LAFCU have prepared her well for this critical leadership role,” said LAFCU CEO Patrick Spyke. “Creating the best employee experience enables us to offer the best member experience, which is always the driver of our actions.”

Howell is a member of LAFCU’s 10-member Executive Team, of which she is one of five females and one of two persons of color.

This is her second promotion since joining LAFCU as human resources manager in 2017. Howell most recently served as vice president of human resources. Previously, she worked for 11 years in human resources for an international Tier One supplier to Detroit automakers. She earned the credentials CHRS, as a Certified Human Resource Specialist, at MSU and is an alumna of Leadership Lansing, a Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce program.

Howell said, “I’m honored by the trust in working with LAFCU’s greatest assets — its employees. My passion is to find places where we can make change for good, as it will improve the lives of our employees and members. Everyone wins.”

Howell holds a bachelor’s degree with a double major in psychology and black studies, graduating with honors from The College of Wooster, Wooster, Ohio. She interned in human resources at the world headquarters of an international greeting card company during college breaks.

Chartered in 1936, LAFCU, now with more than 69,000 members, is a not-for-profit financial cooperative open for membership to anyone who lives, works, worships or attends school in Michigan and to businesses/other entities in the state.

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