Missouri Minute: UAW balks at automakers’ reopening plan; feds probe Missouri meat plant

Good morning, MBA readers,

Plans are in the works to restart certain segments of Missouri’s manufacturing base that have been idled due to the coronavirus, but some, including the United Auto Workers union, are wary that reopening factories next week could endanger employees working in close proximity to one another. The UAW president has called that timeline “too soon and too risky.” The auto union continues to negotiate the terms under which major American automakers will reopen factories, which include two facilities in the Kansas City area and another in suburban St. Louis. Those aren’t the only factory workers airing concerns about working in close quarters and being exposed to other risks related to COVID-19. In northern Missouri, a factory that processes pork for Smithfield Foods is under investigation by federal regulators as the company defends itself against a lawsuit alleging unsafe working conditions. And people who rely on the sharing economy to make a living are voicing a different sort of concern about a company’s response to the pandemic: Airbnb hosts in St. Louis say the short-term rental service has failed to deliver relief in the midst of mounting cancellations.

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Masks aren’t enough protection for factory workers, UAW says
Health experts advising the United Auto Workers union have warned automakers against relying solely on face masks and other protective gear to protect employees from COVID-19. UAW President Rory Gamble last week rejected the companies’ plans to restart production as soon as May 4, saying it was “too soon and too risky.” (Reuters)

Feds probe Missouri meat processing plant
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has launched an investigation into claims of unsafe working conditions at the Smithfield Foods plant in Milan, Missouri. Smithfield also faces a lawsuit brought by a labor advocacy group and an anonymous worker. The company unsuccessfully petitioned to have the suit dismissed. (Columbia Missourian)

Hawley calls for criminal probe of Amazon’s data practice
Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Missouri, has asked the Department of Justice to investigate Amazon over alleged “predatory and exclusionary data practices to build and maintain a monopoly.” The move comes just days after The Wall Street Journal reported that Amazon used data on its third-party sellers to compete against them under Amazon’s own brands. (CNBC)

FleishmanHillard parent cutting jobs amid reduced ad spending
Advertising giant Omnicom Group announced Tuesday that it will eliminate jobs and furlough employees across its holdings, including St. Louis-based agency FleishmanHillard, as ad spending by clients dwindles amid store closures. (Reuters)

St. Louis leaders move to avoid affordable housing cuts
The city’s Board of Estimate and Apportionment has sent to the Board of Aldermen a proposal to allocate $1 million planned for reserves to keep funding for affordable housing programs at $6 million. (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

Centene reports earnings down 91%, maintains 2020 guidance
The Clayton-based health insurer on Tuesday reported a 91.2% dive in first-quarter profit due to higher medical costs and expenses from its acquisition of rival WellCare. Centene has not revised its adjusted profit projection of $4.56 to $4.76 per share for the year. (Investor’s Business Daily)

COVID-19 shutdowns may have put Bayer in a more favorable position
With courthouses closed around the country, Bayer finds itself with time to assess the impact of the pandemic and potentially keep the total sum of Roundup settlements below $10 billion. (St. Louis Business Journal)

Columbia’s resilient housing market remains an anomaly
Single-family home sales in Columbia jumped 17.5% in March compared to last year, despite challenges related to low inventory and the coronavirus pandemic, according to a new Columbia Board of Realtors report. However, the number of new listings has dropped 38% for the month, casting some uncertainty over the supply of new homes in the short term. (Columbia Missourian)

Grizzly Industrial plans $3 million facility expansion
The Washington, Missouri-based company, which sells woodworking and metalworking machinery, is adding 62,000 square feet to an existing 300,000-square-foot facility in the Springfield area. (Springfield Business Journal)

Wash U students to work as summer consultants
In lieu of summer internships that have been canceled due to the pandemic, teams of students at the Washington University Olin School of Business will set out to remotely address challenges at businesses locally and across the U.S. The program is an adaptation of a semester-long consulting model used by the school. (St. Louis Business Journal)

St. Louis startups partner on COVID-19 texting tool
TCARE and CareSignal, two St. Louis-based health tech startups, are working together to design and deploy a program that disseminates information on COVID-19 via text messages. (St. Louis Business Journal)

Say that again

“Airbnb pretty much abandoned their hosts.”

That’s St. Louis Airbnb host Jean Corbett talking about the short-term rental company’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has effectively halted nearly all her business in the past month, the St. Louis Business Journal reports. According to Corbett, whose primary source of income is her Airbnb business, she hasn’t gotten any help from the company, which didn’t receive any CARES Act aid. According to David Rothschild, another St. Louis Airbnb host, “instead of saving face with the hosts, they tried to save face with the guests.” The company offered 100% refunds to guests who needed to cancel already-booked reservations due to “COVID-19 related circumstances.” The company said it is working to help through a $250 million fund for hosts affected by cancellations, but neither Corbett nor Rothschild have seen any relief to date.

Go figure

$2.38 million

That’s roughly how much Allied Healthcare Products, a publicly traded health care equipment manufacturer based in the St. Louis area, received through the Paycheck Protection Program administered by the Small Business Administration, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports. The public company typically flies under the radar, but because it produces respirator equipment and emergency medical supplies direly needed through the course of the pandemic, its shares have skyrocketed nearly tenfold this year, a trend analysts expect will continue. More than 200 public companies that have received PPP loans worth more than $775 million, according to the Wall Street Journal, with some drawing criticism for seeking small business aid.

Hello, my name is

Anthony Sansone Sr.

The 93-year-old founder of Sansone Group, the Clayton-based real estate company, died Monday at his home in Florida of natural causes, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports. The firm, which Sansone started in 1957, has since grown to over 350 employees and manages some 10 million square feet of property, including the Promenade at Brentwood, Cross Keys in Florissant, the Plaza and Shoppes at Sunset Hills. Sansone was also president of Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital and the Urological Research Foundation and served on the board of trustees for the Missouri Botanical Garden.

It’s been a pleasure doing business with you this morning.


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