Biden throws support behind Amazon workers holding milestone union vote

From today’s CNN Online:

President Joe Biden on Sunday night lent his support to Amazon workers who are pushing to unionize — and appeared to warn Amazon (AMZN) not to deter them.

In a video posted on Twitter, Biden didn’t mention the company by name, but he did reference workers in Alabama, where a milestone union election is underway at an Amazon facility in Bessemer. Eligible workers at the facility are currently voting by mail to decide whether to form Amazon’s first US-based union.”Today and over the next few days and weeks, workers in Alabama, and all across America, are voting on whether to organize a union in their workplace,” Biden said in the video.

“There should be no intimidation, no coercion, no threats, no anti-union propaganda,” Biden continued. “No supervisor should confront employees about their union preferences. You know, every worker should have a free and fair choice to join a union. The law guarantees that choice.”

Biden’s remarks reflect the high profile of the Amazon vote, which has garnered national attention and support from prominent Democrats including Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders as well as Stacey Abrams. A group of 50 Congresspeople sent a letter last month urging Amazon’s outgoing CEO, Jeff Bezos, to “treat your employees as the critical asset they are, not as a threat to be neutralized or a cost to be minimized.”

Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, which is conducting the union drive for Amazon workers at the Bessemer facility, thanked Biden “for sending a clear message of support” for the workers.

“As President Biden points out, the best way for working people to protect themselves and their families is by organizing into unions. And that is why so many working women and men are fighting for a union at the Amazon facility in Bessemer, Alabama,” Appelbaum said in a statement.

Read the complete article here.

L.A. County approves ‘hero pay’ of $5 an hour for grocery store workers

From today’s Los Angeles Times:

Hundreds of grocery store workers in unincorporated Los Angeles County will receive $5 an hour in hazard pay on top of their regular wages as part of the county’s “hero pay” mandate that goes into effect Friday and lasts 120 days.

The L.A. County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 Tuesday to mandate the pay bump for publicly traded grocery store or retail drug companies, or companies that have at least 300 employees nationwide and more than 10 employees per store site. The measure applies only to unincorporated areas, benefiting about 2,500 hourly grocery store workers.

“These workers … have put their lives on the line since the beginning of the pandemic to keep our food supply chain running and provide access to medicine our families need,” Supervisor Hilda Solis, who authored the motion, said in a statement. “Many are working in fear and without adequate financial support, while their employers continue to see profits grow and top executives receive steep pay bonuses.”

Supervisor Kathryn Barger voted against the measure, saying she felt that it leaves out many essential workers and that it could have unintended consequences.

Barger said officials have worked hard to bring retailers to food deserts in unincorporated areas, such as Grocery Outlet in Altadena, which has donated food for food drives during the pandemic.

“I would hate to think we’re driving [out of business] the very businesses we fought so hard to locate in unincorporated areas, many of which are working class neighborhoods … and that’s why I can’t vote for this,” said Barger, the only Republican on the board.

Since January, several cities, including Santa Monica, San Jose, Berkeley and West Hollywood, have considered or passed some level of hazard pay mandates.

The county’s ordinance will probably be challenged in court in the coming days by the California Grocers Assn., which has sued the city of Long Beach after it passed its “hero pay” measure.

Read the complete article here.

The Jobs the Pandemic May Devastate

From todays’ New York Times:

Projecting how many people will work in hundreds of detailed occupations in 2029 is a bold exercise — even without the uncertainty of the pandemic.

But labor experts within the U.S. government try to do just that. And their latest assessment of which jobs will grow over the next decade has alarming implications for jobs requiring less education — while also forecasting a boom for epidemiologists and other health-science jobs.

That assessment, from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, emphasizes all the uncertainty that accompanies projections, and it stresses that these are estimates of structural changes, not forecasts of cyclical booms and busts. Long-term projections are often wrong, especially for more volatile sectors like mining and construction, but the agency’s estimates are typically well reasoned and sober.

The original B.L.S. projections, made last year without taking pandemic effects into account, called for cumulative economywide job growth of 3.7 percent from 2019 to 2029. The new pandemic-informed projections cut that to 2.9 percent in the “moderate impact” pandemic outlook and 1.9 percent in the “strong impact” one.

Both of these new outlooks assume more remote work and higher demand for relevant technology services; less in-person entertainment and travel; and more investment in public health than would have happened without the pandemic.

In the “strong impact” projection, there would be 25 percent more epidemiologists in 2029 than the original baseline projection for 2029, the largest increase among nearly 800 detailed occupations. The 10 occupations with the biggest increase in projected employment relative to the baseline projection are all in medical, health-science and technology fields. The 10 occupations with the largest declines relative to the baseline projection include restaurant, hotel and transportation jobs.

Read the complete article here.

Advocates Say New Georgia GOP Voting Bill Targets Black Voters

From today’s CNN Online:

Georgia voting rights groups are denouncing a sweeping voting bill introduced this week by Republican state legislators as a “direct attack on democracy” and on Black voters.

The bill comes as Georgia has become ground zero for election law changes in the wake of the 2020 election. Republicans in the state, citing baseless allegations of voter fraud pushed by former President Donald Trump and other GOP officials, have moved to roll back access to mail-in voting and early voting.

The Republican House bill would give counties less time to send out absentee ballots and do away with Sunday voting, among other measures.

“After stunning losses in the general election and January runoffs, it’s no mystery why Georgia Republicans have rushed to enact restrictions on early, absentee and weekend voting. They know their only hope for winning elections is to restrict the right to vote and silence Black voices,” said New South super PAC founder Nsé Ufot in a press release. “Georgia Republicans saw what happens when Black voters are empowered and show up at the polls, and now they’re launching a concerted effort to suppress the votes and voices of Black Georgians.”

The new voting bill is the latest effort by the GOP to clamp down after the record turnout in the state for the November election and Senate runoffs that turned the state blue.

Georgia state senate Republicans just two weeks ago introduced their own sweeping voting bill including measures that would repeal no-excuse absentee voting and automatic voter registration. Both bills look to limit the use of drop boxes, impose a voter ID requirement and expand poll watcher access.

“These new burdens will disproportionately fall on communities of color and other historically disenfranchised groups. Eliminating Sunday early voting blatantly targets a mobilizer of voters of color: Black churches that run Souls to the Polls operations,” Nancy Abudu, deputy legal director for the Southern Poverty Law Center Fund, said in a statement.

Read the complete article here.

Robinhood ‘buried’ info on consumer rights in runup to GameStop saga

From today’s MarketWatch.com:

Sen. Elizabeth Warren denounced online broker Robinhood’s practices for disclosing its customer rights in a statement Wednesday, while calling on the Securities and Exchange Commission to ban the practice of requiring new customers to forfeit their right to sue their stock brokers in court.

“Robinhood promised to democratize trading, but hid information about its prerogative to change the rules by cutting off trades without notice — and about customers’ inability to access the courts if they believe they’ve been cheated — behind dozens of pages of legalese,” the Massachusetts Democrat said.

Robinhood’s user agreement, like those of its largest competitors, requires new customers to agree that disputes between them and the company must be resolved through binding arbitration. Robinhood did not immediately respond a request for comment.

She also criticized the firm’s decision to temporarily restrict trading of a number of so-called meme stocks, including GameStop Inc. GME, -7.21% and AMC Entertainment Inc., AMC, -1.77% once their volatility triggered large clearinghouse deposit requirements. Warren said the company “did not have enough cash on had to manage a surge in trading and buried important information about consumers’ rights.”

Along with the statement, Warren released Robinhood’s response to a Feb. 2 letter in which she asked for a detailed description of the broker’s relationship with market makers, hedge funds and other entities that may have influenced its decisions. Robinhood executives have said in sworn statements that its decision to restrict trading was due solely to its need to manage risk and meet clearinghouse requirements, though Warren does not appear fully satisfied with this explanation.

“What’s still not clear from Robinhood’s response to my questions is the full extent of Robinhood’s ties to giant hedge funds and market makers,” Warren explained. “I’m going to keep pushing regulators to use the full range of their regulatory tools to ensure the fair operation of our markets, particularly for small investors.”

Read the complete article here.

What McDonald’s Shows Us About Raising the Minimum Wage

From today’s NPR News Online:

On November 29, 2012, dozens of fast-food workers assembled at a McDonald’s in midtown Manhattan to demand better pay. Their demonstration kicked off a massive wave of protests for a $15 minimum wage. Since then, cities and states around the nation have taken action. And now, the federal government, led by President Biden and a Democratic-controlled Congress, has begun to consider making the $15 minimum wage national.

McDonald’s is one of the nations’ biggest employers of low-wage workers. As such, it was kind of the perfect place to launch what was, in retrospect, the beginning of an historic labor movement. A new study by economists Orley Ashenfelter and Štěpán Jurajda suggests McDonald’s is also kind of the perfect place to test the effects of the minimum wage increases that workers have been fighting for.

Ashenfelter is an economist at Princeton University, and he’s spent a couple decades studying McDonald’s. Back in 2012, when he was president of the American Economic Association, he even dedicated part of his big presidential address to the company. And it’s not just because, as he told us, his “favorite meal is fries, a chocolate shake, and a Big Mac.” He views McDonald’s as a kind of natural “laboratory” to compare and contrast different labor markets. I mean, think about it: each McDonald’s restaurant is pretty much the same; the workers have almost identical jobs, regardless of which part of the world they’re in; the food they make is generally the same; and McDonald’s are basically everywhere.

Meanwhile, over the last decade, a McFlurry of cities and states has been raising their minimum wages. In their new study, Ashenfelter and Jurajda use McDonald’s restaurants as a kind of treatment and control group to assess the impact of these new minimum wage laws. They obtained data on hourly wage rates of McDonald’s “Basic Crew” employees, the prices of Big Macs, and other information from about ten thousand McDonald’s restaurants between 2016 and 2020. And they crunched the numbers to see what happens when a city or state increases its minimum wage.

One big fear of a higher minimum wage is that it could cause businesses to replace their workers with machines. Ashenfelter and Jurajda found some McDonald’s restaurants have already installed touch screens, so customers can input their meal orders without interacting with a human being. But they also found that those touch screens weren’t installed in response to a higher minimum wage. “We couldn’t find any relationship between minimum wage increases and the adoption of touch screen technology,” Ashenfelter says.

Read the complete article here.

San Jose passes mandatory $3-an-hour pay raise for grocery workers

From today’s San Jose Mercury News:

Thousands of San Jose grocery store workers will soon receive a $3-an-hour boost on their paychecks, as San Jose became the latest city to pass a new ordinance compelling large grocers to offer their employees  hazard pay for their high risk of catching COVID-19 at work.

The San Jose City Council voted 7-3 Tuesday night for a new ordinance temporarily requiring corporate grocery stores, chain supermarkets and retail stores that sell groceries and employ at least 300 people nationwide to pay workers an additional $3 an hour on top of their regular wages. The ordinance will last for 120 days after it goes into effect. Small businesses and franchises with less than 300 employees are exempt.

The ordinance failed to clear a requirement that it must be backed by at least eight members of the council to become effective immediately. Instead, the majority vote means that the new ordinance will be enacted in about two months.

Councilman Sergio Jimenez, who crafted the ordinance, said he had hoped that it would have garnered more support but was nonetheless pleased that the city will provide relief to front line grocery workers.

“I feel strongly that this is the right thing to do in my gut,” Jimenez said. “And I’m hoping that in 120 days, the sky didn’t fall, stores didn’t close, the economy is looking up and these companies continue to do well.”

San Jose will soon join the cities of Oakland, Long Beach, Santa Monica and Seattle, which have all passed similar ordinances in recent weeks to mandate increased wages for grocery store workers. Santa Clara County will vote later this month on a $5-an-hour boost on the paychecks of workers in grocery stores and fast-food restaurants everywhere in the county, except for San Jose.

San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo and council members Dev Davis and Matt Mahan voted against the ‘hazard pay’ legislation Tuesday night, citing an inadequate analysis of the possible financial effects, concerns over potential store closings and increased grocery prices and a disagreement over exactly which companies should be affected by the legislation. Councilmember Pam Foley recused herself from the vote because she holds stock in Amazon, the owner of Whole Foods, which would be affected by the ordinance.


Read the complete story here.

$15 Minimum Wage Would Reduce Poverty But Cost Jobs, CBO Says

From today’s NPR News Online:

Raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025 would increase wages for at least 17 million people, but also put 1.4 million Americans out of work, according to a study by the Congressional Budget Office released on Monday.

A phase-in of a $15 minimum wage would also lift some 900,000 out of poverty, according to the nonpartisan CBO. This higher federal minimum could raise wages for an additional 10 million workers who would otherwise make sightly above that wage rate, the study found.

Potential job losses were estimated to affect 0.9 percent of workers, the CBO wrote, adding: “Young, less educated people would account for a disproportionate share of those reductions in employment.”

President Biden has advocated for a gradual increase of the federal minimum over several years. The threshold has been stuck at $7.25 an hour since 2009. Dozens of states and cities have surpassed that level; several are already on track to $15 an hour.

Democrats in Congress have vowed to push ahead on raising the federal minimum, although the efforts to include the $15 minimum plan in coronavirus relief legislation have stalled.

Read the complete news story here.

CA lawmakers propose slate of reforms for troubled unemployment agency

From today’s Los Angeles Times:

After a pair of scathing audits confirmed California’s troubled unemployment agency has been plagued by years of mismanagement, state lawmakers on Thursday announced a raft of new bills to speed up the payment of jobless benefits and reduce fraud.

The package of bills proposed by nine Assembly members is aimed at forcing change at the state Employment Development Department, which was criticized by the state auditor last week for delays in providing unemployment benefits despite having been warned of problems in the system a decade ago.

The proposals would allow benefits to be provided by direct deposit rather than issued with debit cards sent through the mail, would require the agency to check claimants against lists of prison inmates to prevent fraud and would establish an Office of the Claimant Advocate to help people with claim problems.

“Many of the issues EDD is facing today have been known since the Great Recession,” said Assemblyman David Chiu (D-San Francisco). “Almost nothing was done to fix the problems or plan for another economic downturn.”

The EDD has been slow to respond to an unprecedented flood of unemployment benefit applications that resulted from the state shutting down much of the economy to stop the COVID-19 pandemic that began nearly a year ago.

Lawmakers said during a video news conference Thursday that many residents with legitimate unemployment claims have been harmed by an EDD decision to suspend 1.4 million claims in December to make sure they are not fraudulent.

Bay Area resident Laurel Carter joined the lawmakers’ event, saying her legitimate claim was suspended in mid-December with “no other explanation given.” She had difficulty uploading documents to prove her identity and was told she would have a five-hour wait to talk to a representative for help.

“I slept with my computer on for eight days just thinking that maybe in the middle of the night I would hear a ding and it would be someone that would speak to me,” Carter said. “I am now six weeks in without any payment.”

Though EDD Director Rita Saenz told lawmakers on Wednesday that she is committed to implementing improvements to the agency recommended by the state auditor and a strike team of government experts appointed last year by Gov. Gavin Newsom, skeptical lawmakers in both parties have introduced 20 bills in recent weeks in an attempt to more quickly address problems. They include legislation by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) that would provide claimants with theoption to receive their unemployment benefits via direct deposit to their bank accounts.

Read the complete article here.

Amazon to Pay $62 Million Fine for Withholding Tips From Delivery Drivers

From today’s New York Times:

Amazon agreed on Tuesday to pay $62 million to the Federal Trade Commission to settle charges that it withheld tips to delivery drivers over a two-and-a-half year period, in a case that highlights the federal government’s increased interest in gig-economy workers.

The F.T.C. said in an announcement that Amazon had promised its Flex delivery drivers that they would receive 100 percent of all customers’ tips. But starting in 2016, the F.T.C. said, Amazon secretly lowered the hourly delivery wages, which were advertised at $18 to $25, and tried to mask the smaller wages by using customer tips to cover for the smaller hourly pay. The net effect was that the contract workers received smaller overall take-home pay, the agency said.

The practice wasn’t disclosed to drivers but the Flex drivers noticed the compensation reductions and began to complain. Amazon stopped the practice in 2019, after it became aware of the F.T.C.’s investigation, the agency said. The company settled without admitting wrongdoing.

“Rather than passing along 100 percent of customers’ tips to drivers, as it had promised to do, Amazon used the money itself,” said Daniel Kaufman, the acting head of consumer protection at the F.T.C. “Our action today returns to drivers the tens of millions of dollars in tips that Amazon misappropriated, and requires Amazon to get drivers’ permission before changing its treatment of tips in the future.”

Flex workers are classified by Amazon as independent contractors and often use personal vehicles for deliveries of the company’s Prime Now and AmazonFresh items. Customers can give a tip to delivery drivers on the checkout page.

Amazon is facing greater regulatory scrutiny overall. The Seattle company is under investigation for antitrust violations amid growing concerns from lawmakers and regulators about the power of the big tech companies.

Read the complete article here.