Business Updates: A Biden Task Force Will Promote Unions

,

S&P 500

%

Dow

%

Nasdaq

%

President Biden with Vice President Kamala Harris will promote unions through a White House task force.
President Biden with Vice President Kamala Harris will promote unions through a White House task force.Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

President Biden will sign an executive order on Monday creating a task force to promote labor organizing, according to a White House fact sheet.

The task force, to be led by Vice President Kamala Harris and populated by cabinet officials and top White House advisers, will issue recommendations on how the federal government can use existing authority to help workers join labor unions and bargain collectively. It will also recommend new policies aimed at achieving these goals.

The White House document notes that the National Labor Relations Act, the 1935 law governing federal labor rights, explicitly sought to encourage collective bargaining, but that the law has never been fully carried out in this regard. “No previous administration has taken a comprehensive approach to determining how the executive branch can advance worker organizing and collective bargaining,” the document states.

The task force will focus, among other things, on helping the federal government encourage its own workers to join unions and bargain collectively, and on finding ways to make it easier for workers, especially women and people of color, to organize and bargain in parts of the country and in industries that are hostile to unions.

Even before the announcement of the task force, many labor leaders regarded Mr. Biden as the most pro-union president in generations. They cited his quick ouster of Trump appointees they regarded as anti-labor, the tens of billions of dollars for shoring up union pension plans enacted in his pandemic relief bill and a video message during a recent union campaign at an Amazon warehouse in Alabama warning employers not to coerce or threaten workers who are deciding whether to unionize.

The task force comes at a particularly frustrating moment for organized labor. Roughly two-thirds of Americans approve of unions, according to a 2020 Gallup poll, but just over 6 percent of private-sector workers belong to them.

Union leaders say the law, which allows employers to saturate workers with anti-union messages and does little to punish employers who threaten or fire workers seeking to join a union, makes it very difficult to unionize.

Mr. Biden’s task force will solicit the views of union leaders, academics and labor advocates and is to deliver its recommendations within 180 days.

Labor Secretary Martin J. Walsh will serve as vice chair of the group, which will include Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, the White House economic advisers Cecilia Rouse and Brian Deese, and the White House climate adviser, Gina McCarthy.

Outside a cryptocurrency exchange in Istanbul. Dozens of online cryptocurrency trading platforms have sprung up in Turkey in recent years, and the business is little regulated.
Outside a cryptocurrency exchange in Istanbul. Dozens of online cryptocurrency trading platforms have sprung up in Turkey in recent years, and the business is little regulated.Credit…Chris Mcgrath/Getty Images

Turkish authorities arrested four employees of a cryptocurrency trading platform on suspicion of fraud after customer accounts were frozen, authorities said, the second collapse of a digital currency firm in Turkey within a week.

The collapse of Vebitcoin, one of dozens of cryptocurrency trading platforms that have sprung up in Turkey in recent years, came after the Thodex trading platform shut down last week, more than 60 of its employees were arrested, and its chief executive left the country.

Vebitcoin was a relatively small operation and the losses from it are unlikely to be big, said Turan Sert, who advises BlockchainIST, a cryptocurrency research center affiliated with Bahcesehir University in Istanbul.

Ilker Bas, the chief executive of Vebitcoin, told police after his arrest that the platform has 90,000 registered users and had a trading volume of 600 million lira to 800 million lira, or $72 million to $96 million, per month, the private news agency Demiroren reported. Customer losses are probably much smaller, because the same assets are typically traded repeatedly during the course of a month.

“Due to the recent developments in the crypto money industry, our transactions have become much more intense than expected,” Vebitcoin said on its website. “We have decided to cease our activities in order to fulfill all regulations and claims.”

Cryptocurrency trading is little regulated in Turkey, and the number of platforms has proliferated because of the relatively low cost of setting up. Off-the-shelf trading software costs around $100,000, said Mr. Sert, who also advises Paribu, one of the largest cryptocurrency trading platforms.

Mr. Sert estimated that there were more than 90 platforms, mostly “very small mom-and-pop shops.”

The phenomenon is by no means limited to Turkey. Cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin or Dogecoin have attracted the attention of serious investors and become a hot topic on Wall Street. Coinbase, a U.S.-based cryptocurrency trading platform, sold shares to the public for the first time this month and is valued by the stock market at $58 billion. Regulators in the United States and other countries have struggled to keep up with the fast growth of digital money.

The Turkish Central Bank barred the use of cryptocurrencies for purchases this month, citing their riskiness and popularity with criminals, and signaled that more regulation of the sector is coming. The prospect of greater scrutiny could be prompting some platforms to shut down, Mr. Sert said.

Customers of Thodex may have lost $2 billion, a lawyer for the firm’s clients said last week, but Mr. Sert said that figure probably referred to the site’s trading volume and greatly overstated the potential losses. Many platforms exaggerate their trading volume to attract customers, he said.

The total losses to cryptocurrency investors, while devastating to some individuals, are not large enough to push Turkey’s already shaky economy into crisis, Mr. Sert said.

“I don’t think this will create any instability in the system,” he said.

The gap between executive compensation and average worker pay has been growing for decades. Chief executives of big companies now make, on average, 320 times as much as their typical worker, according to the Economic Policy Institute. In 1989, that ratio was 61 to 1.

The pandemic compounded these disparities, as hundreds of companies awarded their leaders pay packages worth significantly more than most Americans will make in their entire lives, David Gelles reports for The New York Times.

In the course of his reporting, corporate public relations teams employed various tactics to justify their bosses’ big paydays:

  • A Hilton spokesman stressed that the figure in its latest proxy filing did not represent take-home pay for Chris Nassetta, because the company restructured several stock awards. “Said directly, Chris did not take home $55.9 million in 2020,” the spokesman said. “Chris’s actual pay was closer to $20.1 million.” Hilton lost $720 million last year.

  • Boeing wanted to make clear how much money Dave Calhoun “voluntarily elected to forgo to support the company through the Covid-19 pandemic” — some $3.6 million, according to a spokesman. Nonetheless, Mr. Calhoun was awarded $21.1 million last year, while Boeing lost $12 billion.

  • Starbucks, which awarded Kevin Johnson $14.7 million, was among many companies making the case that their chief executive was essential to future success. “Continuity in Kevin’s role is particularly vital to Starbucks at this time,” said Mary Dillon, a member of the compensation committee. The company made a $930 million profit in its latest fiscal year, down three-quarters from the previous year.

Technical glitches marred the Small Business Association's first attempt at accepting applications for the grant program.
Technical glitches marred the Small Business Association’s first attempt at accepting applications for the grant program.Credit…Zack Wittman for The New York Times

Music club operators, theater owners and others in the live-event market have been waiting nearly four months for a $16 billion federal grant fund for their industry to start taking applications. Their hopes were briefly raised two weeks ago when the program’s application website opened, then dashed as a technical malfunction prevented the site from accepting any applications.

Now, the Small Business Administration, the federal agency that runs the program, plans to try again on Monday at noon — but only after one last round of confusion and frustration.

Late Thursday, the agency announced that it would reopen its application system for the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant on Saturday. After heavy pushback from angry applicants — especially Jewish business owners who do not use electronics on Saturdays in observation of the Sabbath — the agency changed course Friday night and rescheduled the reopening for Monday.

“We understand the challenges a weekend opening would bring, and to ensure the greatest number of businesses can apply for these funds, we decided to reschedule,” the agency said in a statement. “We remain committed to delivering economic aid to this hard-hit sector quickly and efficiently.”

The money will be awarded on a first-come-first-served basis and is widely expected to run out fast. That means many applicants will feel pressure to submit paperwork as soon as the application system opens — even if it is at an inconvenient time.

Applicants were generally relieved by the shift to Monday, but annoyed by the whiplash.

“It’s been a mess on so many levels. I feel like they’re torturing us,” said Dani Zoldan, the owner of Stand Up NY, a comedy club in Manhattan. Mr. Zoldan is Jewish and had been vocal on Twitter about the obstacles of a Saturday start.

The National Independent Venue Association, an industry group that lobbied for the relief fund, said it endorsed the decision to postpone the start.

“While we’re all anxious to apply as soon as possible, we support the S.B.A.’s decision to reopen the portal Monday and encourage a fair and equitable process for all,” said Audrey Fix Schaefer, a spokeswoman for the group. “The S.B.A. has responded to our desperate need and we’re grateful for that.”

The Small Business Administration is also preparing to open a second grant program, the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, which is a $28.6 billion support fund for bars, restaurants and food trucks. That program is planning a seven-day test to help the agency avoid the kind of technical problems that plagued the venue program.

A Meituan delivery worker in Shanghai. Last year the firm made more than 27 million food-delivery transactions per day.
A Meituan delivery worker in Shanghai. Last year the firm made more than 27 million food-delivery transactions per day.Credit…Aly Song/Reuters

China’s fast-moving campaign to rein in its internet giants is continuing apace with an antitrust investigation into Meituan, a leading food-delivery app.

The investigation, which the country’s market regulator announced with a terse, one-line statement on Monday, focuses on reports that the company blocked restaurants and other merchants on its platform from selling on rival food-delivery sites.

Earlier this month, the regulator imposed a record $2.8 billion fine on the e-commerce titan Alibaba for exclusivity requirements of this sort. In a statement on Chinese social media, Meituan said that it would cooperate with the authorities and that its operations were continuing as usual.

Meituan is a powerhouse in China. It made more than 27 million food-delivery transactions a day last year and reported around $18 billion in revenue, making it larger than Uber by sales. Meituan’s main rival in takeout delivery in China is Ele.me, a service owned by Alibaba.

Alibaba has been an early major target in China’s efforts to curb what officials describe as unfair competitive practices in the internet industry. But Beijing has made clear that it will be keeping a much closer eye on all of the sector’s biggest and richest companies.

Meituan was one of 34 Chinese internet firms that were summoned to meet with the antitrust authority this month. The following day, the regulator began publishing on its website statements from the companies, Meituan included, in which they vowed to obey laws and regulations.

Bodies awaiting cremation on Friday in East Delhi.
Bodies awaiting cremation on Friday in East Delhi.Credit…Atul Loke for The New York Times

NEW DELHI — With a devastating second wave of Covid-19 sweeping across India and lifesaving supplemental oxygen in short supply, India’s government on Sunday said it had ordered Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to take down dozens of social media posts critical of its handling of the pandemic.

The order was aimed at roughly 100 posts that included critiques from opposition politicians and calls for Narendra Modi, India’s prime minister, to resign. The government said that the posts could incite panic, used images out of context and could hinder its response to the pandemic.

The companies complied with the requests for now, in part by making the posts invisible to those using the sites inside India. In the past, the companies have reposted some content after determining that it didn’t break the law.

The takedown orders come as India’s public health crisis spirals into a political one, and set the stage for a widening struggle between American social media platforms and Mr. Modi’s government over who decides what can be said online.

On Monday, the country reported almost 353,000 new infections and 2,812 deaths, marking the fifth consecutive day it set a world record in daily infection statistics, though experts warn that the true numbers are probably much higher. The country now accounts for almost half of all new cases globally. Its health system appears to be teetering. Hospitals across the country have scrambled to get enough oxygen for patients.

In New Delhi, the capital, hospitals this weekend turned away patients after running out of oxygen and beds. Last week, at least 22 patients were killed in a hospital in the city of Nashik, after a leak cut off their oxygen supplies.

Online photos of bodies on plywood hospital beds and the countless fires of overworked crematories have gone viral. Desperate patients and their families have pleaded online for help from the government, horrifying an international audience.

Mr. Modi has been under attack for ignoring the advice of experts about the risks of loosening restrictions, after he held large political rallies with little regard for social distancing. Some of the content now offline in India highlighted that contradiction, using lurid images to contrast Mr. Modi’s rallies with the flames of funeral pyres.

People waiting to get vaccinated in New Orleans this month.
People waiting to get vaccinated in New Orleans this month.Credit…Emily Kask for The New York Times

More than five million Americans, or nearly 8 percent of those who got a first shot of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, have missed their second doses, according to the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That is more than double the rate among people who got inoculated in the first several weeks of the nationwide vaccination campaign.

Even as the country wrestles with the problem of millions of people who are wary about getting vaccinated at all, local health officials are confronting a new challenge of ensuring that those who do get inoculated are doing so fully, Rebecca Robbins reports for The New York Times.

The reasons that people are missing their second shots vary. In interviews, some said they feared the side effects, including flulike symptoms, which were more common and stronger after the second dose. Others said they felt that they were sufficiently protected with a single shot.

Those attitudes were expected, but another hurdle has been surprisingly prevalent. A number of vaccine providers have canceled second-dose appointments because they ran out of supply or didn’t have the right brand in stock.

Walgreens, one of the biggest vaccine providers, sent some people who got a first shot of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine to get their second doses at pharmacies that had only the other vaccine on hand.

Several Walgreens customers said in interviews that they scrambled, in some cases with help from pharmacy staff members, to find somewhere to get the correct second dose. Others, presumably, simply gave up.

  • U.S. stocks drifted higher on Monday, ahead of a week loaded with corporate earnings results and a meeting of the Federal Reserve.

  • The S&P 500 climbed less than 0.2 percent in early trading. Stocks in Europe were mixed, with the benchmark Stoxx Europe 600 index little changed.

  • Still, stocks remained close to recent record highs, and on Monday, yields on U.S. Treasury bonds rose. The yield on 10-year notes climbed 3 basis points to 1.59 percent. Later this week, the Federal Reserve will announce its latest monetary policy decisions, but forecasters aren’t expecting a change. Policymakers have promised to telegraph any pull back in monetary stimulus well in advance.

  • Apple said Monday that it would spend more than $1 billion to open a new office in North Carolina, part of an expansion by the technology giant away from its headquarters in California. Apple said the new campus, in the Research Triangle area, would create at least 3,000 new jobs in machine learning, artificial intelligence and other research fields.

  • Among the companies scheduled to report results this week are the electric vehicle maker Tesla, and the four largest technology companies — Apple, Microsoft, Amazon and Alphabet.

  • “With a lot of good news already priced into markets, stocks could be vulnerable to negative surprises, whether from growth disappointments, higher inflation, or policy missteps,” strategists at UBS Global Wealth Management wrote in a note.

  • Futures on West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. crude benchmark, fell 1.8 percent to $61 a barrel.

The Supreme Court will hear a case that involves a fight over California's donor disclosure requirements for charities.
The Supreme Court will hear a case that involves a fight over California’s donor disclosure requirements for charities.Credit…Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

On Monday, the Supreme Court will hear a case that could upend American politics. It has largely escaped attention because it’s not obviously political at all.

The case, Americans for Prosperity Foundation v. Rodriquez, involves a fight over California’s donor disclosure requirements for charities and “may seem like a measly spat over state nonprofit rules,” Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Democrat of Rhode Island, told the DealBook newsletter. “But a massive threat lurks within.”

Americans for Prosperity Foundation is a nonprofit organization arguing that the right to anonymous assembly guaranteed by the First Amendment extends to donor data. Critics say that a ruling in favor of the Koch-funded charity would allow more untraceable money to flow through groups designed to mask the outsize role that a few wealthy players have in American politics. If the foundation wins, “special interests will have a free pass to rig our democracy from behind a veil of secrecy,” Mr. Whitehouse said.

Companies influence politics with “dark money” donations that are deliberately opaque. Some nonprofit groups are quasi-political yet don’t have the same reporting requirements as explicitly political groups. Similarly, trade groups take corporate donations and pass them on, obscuring the sources.

“The importance of dark money in society, the scope of it, is something people don’t really grasp, but it impacts everyday life,” said Anna Massoglia, a researcher at the Center for Responsive Politics.

A decision in the case is expected around late June. Notably, the court took the case on Jan. 8, two days after the Capitol riot prompted a reckoning over corporate political donations. Both the Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers filed briefs supporting the foundation’s case for anonymity, and Allen Dickerson, a member of the Federal Election Commission, argued the same in a Wall Street Journal op-ed.

Leave a Reply