The JUST Report: From UAW to Return-to-Work, American Worker Issues Are Heating Up

(Getty Images/Bill Pugliano)

Happy Friday. This is Alison Omens, JUST Capital’s Chief Strategy Officer, filling in for Martin as he takes a much-deserved break. 

One notable change since 2020 is how many worker-related issues now end up in the headlines. This week is no different, from the United Auto Workers strike, actor and writers’ strike, quiet quitting (did you see this week’s Fortune headline on grumpy stayers?), to the both practical and philosophical debate over workplace flexibility and return to office mandates. Zoom caught our eye this week for their return-to-office mandate (and AI privacy gaffe).  

With the future of work so up in the air, there’s a real opportunity for businesses to capture significant value from investing in their workers. I was recently looking up a Gallup number I hear so frequently at business leadership and jobs conferences. You know which one I mean. Only 32% of workers are engaged at work, which costs the economy $8.8 trillion a year, and according to one estimate, costs businesses about a third of a worker’s annual salary. Here’s a number I hadn’t heard – Gallup also estimates that best-practice organizations (who focus on engagement, transparency, management) see 72% engagement – a 40 point differential!

The co-founder of Slack’s Future Forum wrote in Charter this week that our old way of thinking about effective work (which is driving the return-to-work debate), including metrics of employee productivity – from hours logged to even revenue-per-employee – isn’t cutting it anymore. It’s blunt-object management that’s not focused on outcomes. On another hot topic, some experts including JUST’s former board member Sharon Block, see worker activism, including union activism, as a sign of employee engagement (see her recent piece in Harvard Business Review for details). 

I’d like to pose a question for all business leaders to consider: Instead of seeing worker issues as a risk to be managed – what might it look like to consider their workforce as a tool to drive lasting competitive advantage? And engagement of any kind as a sign of that success?

Now, no one is saying operating like this is easy. Managers have to be trained and ready to create workplaces that don’t just function but thrive.

But make no mistake: Regardless of industry, workers are asking more of their employers in a way that hasn’t been seen in a long time. People’s expectations are higher. At JUST Capital, our research shows that worker issues consistently rank the highest among all business priorities. And our data shows that companies that rank highest in terms of worker issues consistently outperform the Russell 1000. Listening to workers and prioritizing their career success benefits shareholders. There’s ample research supporting this.

If this resonates with you, I encourage you to explore JUST Capital’s framework, specifically the Worker Financial Wellness Initiative, where we work with CEOs, HR leaders, and other executives to help businesses understand the financial health of their workforce. 

Have a great weekend,



Fortune’s Alan Murray spotlights our new research report in CEO Daily discussing four companies leading on women representation across workforce, board, and suppliers – Citigroup, Accenture, General Mills, and The Hartford. Check out the full analysis here

JUST Capital sits down with Syndio CEO Maria Colacurcio for an informative conversation on pay equity policies amid growing political pressure against diversity, how AI will impact HR, and more. 

PolicyLink, FSG, and JUST Capital have teamed up to develop corporate standards that will provide companies with the actionable guidance they need to deepen their commitment to racial and economic equity. To stay up to date on the latest news and ways to get involved, sign up for the new Corporate Racial Equity Alliance newsletter and read the latest issue here.

JUST Advisor Paul Rissman pens an editorial for As You Sow’s new Investing ESG website titled  “House Hearings to Deny Climate Risk Heat Up Even as World Burns.” 



“I think a lot of folks started immediately presuming that the Supreme Court’s recent ruling would cause a big rollback in diversity practices … But in the wake of salary transparency laws, and a competitive talent market, which continues even amidst all the news of layoffs, we’re seeing a lot of companies doubling down on [pay equity]. I think part of that is because folks realize there’s no going back to the old way. This generation of employees expects companies to pay equitably.”  

  • Syndio CEO Maria Colacurcio to JUST Capital on the state-of-play of pay equity policies following the Supreme Court’s decision on affirmative action. 


Zoom announces new terms of service that alarm customers as they have allowed the business to use images, sound, and other content from meetings hosted on the platform to train its AI algorithm. The company’s CEO apologized, but it hasn’t quelled the outcry. 

Sidley publishes an article breaking down how boards of directors should approach AI and understand the strategies, risks, and potential compliance issues involved with the new technology.   

Disney will commission an AI task force aimed at reducing inefficiencies across the media and entertainment giant. Reuters has the story. 

OpenAI launches a media grant in collaboration with NYU’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute, which will fund a journalism ethics initiative focused on how to cover the 2024 election in light of disinformation and polarization, as well as explore the best way to diversify newsrooms and cover marginalized communities.  


When the man that wrote the book on “Woke Inc.” says the frame is “in his rearview mirror,” perhaps political tides are turning. The New York Times shares Republican voters are less in favor of a candidate whose top priority is battling “wokeness” versus one who is focused on law and  order issues. Politico reports on Ron DeSantis’ failure to reach striking distance of the GOP nomination as he doubles down on his “anti-woke” strategy and Alan Murray writing for Fortune thinks Vivek Ramaswamy might have overestimated how much voters care about “woke CEOs.”  

The Conference Board releases insights on how companies can position themselves to weather the current ESG backlash and use it as a chance to solidify their stance on stakeholder issues. 

S&P Global halts numbered ESG ratings, reverting to text-only analysis for investors. Meanwhile, competitor Moody’s will continue to rate ESG criteria on a one to five scale. 

In the wake of a new $30 billion union deal, job searches for open positions at UPS have spiked. Starting wages for part-time workers increased to $21 an hour and other accommodations were all included in the agreement.       

Fortune’s CHRO Daily Newsletter shares a new poll that found 51% of for-profit and nonprofit firms believe retaining talent is a top operational priority

CNBC highlights Amazon’s partnership with Maven Clinic, the first female-focused health startup valued over $1 billion. The agreement will provide reproductive health services for 1 million employees.

Bloomberg writes about the state of share buybacks as companies put profits back into their businesses rather than offering it up to investors. Net repurchases plunged 36% from a year ago among S&P 500 firms that announced financial results.  


In conjunction with our recent article on gender diversity, we’re highlighting data that shows how more just companies are leading the way with disclosing how much they spend with diverse suppliers. Out of the 54 companies that disclosed spend on women-owned supplier businesses, companies in the top decile were also most likely to have disclosed, and 53% of all companies who disclosed their spend on women-owned suppliers were represented in the top 20% of JUST Capital’s Rankings.

Have questions about our research and rankings?  We want to hear from you!