Friday Roundup: Shortage of skilled workers, legal challenge for carbon cap rule, UK union membership declines, Illinois debt approaches junk status

There are always a few items we’ve read during the week that deserve more attention but don’t make it into our regular posts. So we bundle them for the Friday roundup.

Here’s this week’s bundle:

Spokesman-Review: Skilled-labor sawmill jobs going unfilled; industry teams with colleges to train workers

The skilled-labor jobs pay between $25 and $34 per hour, plus benefits. Yet Idaho Forest Group has difficulty recruiting qualified candidates for the positions, said Tommy Groff, the mill’s maintenance manager.

Faced with labor shortages, the company has teamed up with North Idaho College, Lewis Clark State College and other wood products manufacturers to train 200 sawmill workers over the next two years.

“When people think of sawmills, they think of the sawmills of yesterday, when a lot of sweat and blood was required to make each board,” Groff said. However, “very few of our 230 employees ever touch a board.”

Fox Business: Carbon cap rule in Washington state faces legal challenge

Four natural gas utilities and eight industry groups are seeking to invalidate Washington’s so-called clean air rule, which took effect in January and affects such facilities as power plants, fuel and natural gas distributors, oil refineries and manufacturers…

Industry groups led by the Association of Washington Business challenged the regulations last fall. Four investor-owned natural gas utilities — Avista Corp., Cascade Natural Gas Corp., Northwest Natural Gas Co. and Puget Sound Energy — also filed a separate suit. The two cases have been consolidated.

The petitioners say the Ecology Department doesn’t have the authority to create the new carbon cap program, among other arguments. They also contend the agency violated several state laws when it wrote the rules, including not doing a thorough analysis of the impacts.

The Guardian (UK): Union membership has plunged to an all-time low, says ONS

Trade unions have experienced the biggest membership drop since records began, losing 275,000 members last year to slip to 6.2 million.

Union leaders blamed the loss of “good-quality jobs”, cuts to the public sector workforce and the rise of the gig economy for the 4.2% drop, the biggest annual cut since records began in 1995, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said…

According to Guardian analysis, the number of workers in the UK in precarious positions where they could lose their jobs at short or no notice has grown by almost 2 million in the past decade, as businesses insist on using more self-employed workers and increasingly recruit staff on temporary and zero-hours contracts.

Pew Charitable Trusts: Why Universities Charge Extra for Engineering, Business and Nursing Degrees

Tuition prices listed on college websites have long been divorced from what students actually pay…

But recently, many colleges have added a new complication: Sixty percent of public research universities now assess tuition based on students’ year of study, major, or both, according to an upcoming study led by Gregory Wolniak, a research director at New York University.

…Universities say they need the additional money to cover the cost of expensive programs. And in some states, governors have encouraged so-called differential tuition, or program fees, as alternatives to across-the-board tuition increases.

But other policymakers and advocates for students worry that surcharges will drive young people away from subjects important to the state economy, or shut low-income students out of majors that lead to lucrative jobs.

Associated Press: Washington lawmakers, groups, discussing paid family leave

While various family leave bills were introduced or drafted during the regular 105-day legislative session that started in January, none received floor votes. However negotiators say the two 30-day special sessions that have been called since the regular session ended in April have allowed them to have productive meetings…

Gary Chandler, vice president of government affairs at the Association of Washington Business, said that the goal is to “come up with a reasonable package that business can support, especially small businesses.”

Illinois is on the verge of becoming the first state with a junk-bond rating following downgrades from two of the world’s largest credit-ratings firms.

S&P Global Inc. warned that Illinois could be downgraded to junk status next month if it doesn’t solve its partisan gridlock. The state hasn’t had a budget for two years because of a standoff between the Republican governor and Democratic legislature.