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    Global Shipping Delays Loom Over Retailers for the Holidays

    The travails of a Chicago fishing company’s advent calendar highlight the supply chain hurdles for businesses trying to deliver items in time for the holidays.WASHINGTON — It was 73 days until Christmas, and the clock was ticking down for Catch Co.The Chicago-based fishing company had secured a spot to sell a new product, an advent calendar for fishing enthusiasts dubbed “12 Days of Fishmas,” in 2,650 Walmart stores nationwide. But like so many products this holiday season, the calendars were mired in a massive traffic jam in the flow of goods from Asian factories to American store shelves.With Black Friday rapidly approaching, many of the calendars were stuck in a 40-foot steel box in the yard at the Port of Long Beach, blocked by other containers stuffed with toys, furniture and car parts. Truckers had come several times to pick up the Catch Co. container but been turned away. Dozens more ships sat in the harbor, waiting their turn to dock. It was just one tiny piece in a vast maze of shipping containers that thousands of American retailers were trying desperately to reach.“There’s delays in every single piece of the supply chain,” said Tim MacGuidwin, the company’s chief operations officer. “You’re very much not in control.”Catch Co. is one of the many companies finding themselves at the mercy of global supply chain disruptions this year. Worker shortages, pandemic shutdowns, strong consumer demand and other factors have come together to fracture the global conveyor belt that shuffles consumer goods from Chinese factories, through American ports and along railways and freeways to households and stores around the United States.American shoppers are growing nervous as they realize certain toys, electronics and bicycles may not arrive in time for the holidays. Shortages of both finished products and components needed to make things like cars are feeding into rising prices, halting work at American factories and dampening economic growth.The disruptions have also become a problem for President Biden, who has been vilified on Fox News as “the Grinch who stole Christmas.”The White House’s supply chain task force has been working with private companies to try to speed the flow of goods, even considering deploying the National Guard to help drive trucks. But the president appears to have limited power to alleviate a supply chain crisis that is both global in nature and linked to much larger economic forces that are out of his control. On Sunday, Mr. Biden met with other world leaders at the Group of 20 in Rome to discuss supply chain challenges.On Oct. 13, the same day that Catch Co. was waiting for its calendars to clear the port, Mr. Biden announced that the Port of Los Angeles and companies like FedEx and Walmart would move toward around the clock operations, joining the Port of Long Beach, where one terminal had begun staying open 24 hours just weeks before.Shipping containers stacked up at the Port of Long Beach in California in October. One terminal has begun operating 24 hours. Allison Zaucha for The New York TimesMany of Catch Co.’s advent calendars were stuck in the yard at the Port of Long Beach. Allison Zaucha for The New York Times“This is a big first step in speeding up the movement of materials and goods through our supply chain,” Mr. Biden said. “But now we need the rest of the private sector chain to step up as well.”Mr. MacGuidwin praised the announcement but said it had come too late to make much difference for Catch Co., which had been working through supply chain headaches for many months.The company’s problems first began with the pandemic-related factory shutdowns in China and other countries, which led to a shortage in the graphite used to make fishing poles. A worldwide scramble for shipping containers soon followed, as Americans began spending less on movies, travel and restaurants, and more on outfitting their home offices, gyms and playrooms with products made in Asian factories.Shipping rates soared tenfold, and big companies turned to extreme measures to deliver their goods. Walmart, Costco and Target began chartering their own ships to ferry products from Asia and hired thousands of new warehouse employees and truck drivers.Smaller companies like Catch Co. were struggling to keep up. As soon as Apple launched a new iPhone, for example, the available shipping containers vanished, diverted to ship Apple’s products overseas.The timing could not have been worse for Catch Co., which was seeing demand for its poles, lures and other products surge, as fishing became an ideal pandemic hobby. The company turned briefly to air freighting products to meet demand, but at five or six times the cost of sea freight, it cut into the company’s profits.The supply chain woes became an even bigger problem for Catch Co.’s “12 Days of Fishmas” calendar, which featured the company’s plastic worms, silver fish hooks and painted lures hiding behind cardboard windows. The calendar, which retails for $24.98, was a “big deal” for the company, Mr. MacGuidwin said. It would account for more than 15 percent of the company’s holiday sales and introduce customers to its other products. But it had an expiration date: Who would buy an advent calendar after Christmas?Mr. MacGuidwin thought briefly about storing late arrivals for next year before realizing the calendar said “2021.”Catch Co. had secured a spot to sell a new product, an advent calendar dubbed “The 12 Days of Fishmas,” in 2,650 Walmart stores nationwide.Chase Castor for The New York TimesBoxes of the calendars were prepared for distribution in Kansas City.Chase Castor for The New York Times“It cannot be sold after Christmas,” he said. “It is a scrapped product after that.”Like many American companies, Catch Co. had tried to prepare for the global delays.The Chinese factories the company works with began manufacturing the calendar in April, before Walmart had even confirmed its orders. On July 10, the calendars were shipped to the port at Qingdao. But a global container shortage kept the calendars idling at the Chinese port for a month, awaiting for a box to be shipped in.On Sept. 1, nearly three weeks after setting sail across the Pacific Ocean, the vessel anchored off the coast of Southern California, alongside 119 other ships vying to unload. Two weeks later Catch Co.’s containers were off the ship, where they descended into the maze of boxes at the Port of Long Beach.Inside the BoxThe twin ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles — which together process 40 percent of the shipping containers brought into the United States — have struggled to keep up with the surge in imports for many months.Together, the Southern California ports handled 15.3 million 20-foot containers in the first nine months of the year, up about a quarter from last year. Dockworkers and truckers had worked long hours throughout the pandemic. More than 100 trains, each at least three miles long, were leaving the Los Angeles basin each day.But by this fall, the ports and warehouses of Southern California were so overstuffed that many cranes at the port had actually come to a standstill, without space to store the containers or truckers to ferry them away.On Sept. 21, the Port of Long Beach announced that it had started a trial to keep one terminal open around the clock. A few weeks later, at Mr. Biden’s urging and with the support of various unions, the Port of Los Angeles and Union Pacific’s nearby California facility joined in.So far, few truckers have arrived during the expanded hours. The ports have pointed to bottlenecks in other parts of the supply chain — including a shortage of truckers and overstuffed warehouses that can’t fit more products through their doors.“We are in a national crisis,” said Mario Cordero, the executive director of the port of Long Beach. “It’s going to be an ongoing dynamic until we have full control of the virus that’s before us.”Worker shortages at warehouses have led to delays.Chase Castor for The New York TimesTruckers, who have worked long hours throughout the pandemic, are also in short supply.Chase Castor for The New York TimesIn the past, Catch Co. would often ship products from West Coast ports by rail. But longer travel times on rail lines — as well as the high demand for containers at Chinese ports — mean shipping companies have been loath to let their containers stray too far from the ocean.So instead, the Catch Co. calendars were moved by truck to a warehouse outside the port owned by freight forwarder Flexport. There, they were placed on another truck to be shipped to Catch Co.’s Kansas City distribution center, where workers would repack the calendars for Walmart. Mr. MacGuidwin estimated that the calendars would arrive in Walmart stores by Nov. 17 — just in time for Black Friday. The calendar’s entire trip from factory to store shelves would take about 130 days this year, compared with the typical 60.Mr. MacGuidwin said he believes supply chain difficulties may ease next year, as ports, rails and trucking companies gradually work through their backlogs. Asia remains the best place to manufacture many of their goods, he said. But if shipping costs remain high and disruptions continue, they may consider sourcing more products from the United States and Latin America.Catch Co. has already started designing its calendar for next year and is still deciding whether it should say “2022.”“It’s an open question,” said Mr. MacGuidwin. More

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    Program to Lend Billions to Aid California’s Supply-Chain Infrastructure

    The Transportation Department and the state are teaming up on the program, which aims to prevent a repeat of the supply-chain crisis by bolstering ports and other sources of bottlenecks.WASHINGTON — The Transportation Department will team up with California to provide billions in loans to strengthen the state’s overwhelmed ports and supply-chain infrastructure, in an effort to prevent a repeat of the bottlenecks that have crippled the flow of goods into and out of the United States, officials announced on Thursday.Most of the projects will probably take years to fund and complete, a department spokesman said, so the initiative will offer little relief for the supply-chain crisis now gripping the globe. But with potentially more than $5 billion in loan money on offer, officials say the investment is a necessary step to bolster the state’s aging infrastructure.The loans could be used to upgrade ports, expand capacity for freight rail, increase warehouse storage and improve highways to reduce truck travel times. The Transportation Department will provide some of the loan money through its own programs, while also working with the California State Transportation Agency to identify other financing opportunities.Backlogs of ships at ports and shortages of shipping containers, truck drivers and warehouse workers have aggravated the delivery delays and rising prices that began when coronavirus outbreaks shut down factories around the world even as demand for goods spiked. The Biden administration moved this month to nearly double the hours that the Port of Los Angeles is open, shifting to a 24/7 operation.“Our supply chains are being put to the test, with unprecedented consumer demand and pandemic-driven disruptions combining with the results of decades-long underinvestment in our infrastructure,” Pete Buttigieg, the transportation secretary, said in a statement. “Today’s announcement marks an innovative partnership with California that will help modernize our infrastructure, confront climate change, speed the movement of goods and grow our economy.”The announcement comes as President Biden and lawmakers try to push through Congress their own major infrastructure plan, which includes money for ports and other transportation initiatives. Progressive lawmakers in the House have resisted throwing their support behind the bipartisan infrastructure bill as leverage while negotiations continue over a separate $1.85 trillion economic and environmental bill.David S. Kim, the secretary of the California State Transportation Agency, said it was the first time California had worked with the federal government to issue loans for infrastructure projects on such a broad scale.“Our supply-chain infrastructure is outdated,” Mr. Kim said. “Now’s the time to modernize it and prepare our system for what will be huge growth and huge demand for years to come.”The partnership comes after Gov. Gavin Newsom of California signed an executive order last week directing state agencies to identify longer-term solutions to alleviate congestion at California ports, which he said were “key” to the country’s supply chain. Mr. Newsom said the new agreement would help accelerate upgrades to the state’s infrastructure system.“This innovative federal-state partnership will help us fast-track those projects that will make our ports and infrastructure even more efficient,” Mr. Newsom said in a statement.California’s budget this year includes $250 million for ports, $280 million for infrastructure projects at and around the Port of Oakland, and $1.3 billion over three years for zero-emission trucks, transit buses and school buses, including the deployment of more than 1,000 zero-emission port drayage trucks. More

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    Are Tesla and Texas a Perfect Match? It’s Questionable.

    While its C.E.O., Elon Musk, and the state’s conservative lawmakers share libertarian sensibilities, they differ greatly on climate change and renewable energy.Tesla’s move from Silicon Valley to Texas makes sense in many ways: The company’s chief executive, Elon Musk, and the conservative lawmakers who run the state share a libertarian philosophy, favoring few regulations and low taxes. Texas also has room for a company with grand ambitions to grow.“There’s a limit to how big you can scale in the Bay Area,” Mr. Musk said Thursday at Tesla’s annual meeting hosted at its new factory near the Texas capital. “Here in Austin, our factory’s like five minutes from the airport, 15 minutes from downtown.”But Texas may not be the natural choice that Mr. Musk makes it out to be.Tesla’s stated mission is to “accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy,” and its customers include many people who want sporty cars that don’t spew greenhouse gases from their tailpipes. Texas, however, is run by conservatives who are skeptical of or oppose efforts to address climate change. They are also fiercely protective of the state’s large oil and gas industry.And, despite the state’s business-friendly reputation, Tesla can’t sell vehicles directly to customers there because of a law that protects car dealerships, which Tesla does not use.Tesla’s move is not surprising: Mr. Musk threatened to leave California in May 2020 after local officials, citing the coronavirus, forced Tesla to shut down its car factory in the San Francisco Bay Area. But his decision to move to Texas highlights some gaping ideological contradictions. His company stands at the vanguard of the electric car and renewable energy movement, while Texas’ lawmakers, who have welcomed him enthusiastically, are among the biggest resisters to moving the economy away from oil and natural gas.“It’s always a feather in Texas’ hat when it takes a business away from California, but Tesla is as much unwelcome as it is welcome,” said Jim Krane, an energy expert at Rice University in Houston. “It’s an awkward juxtaposition. This is a state that gets a sizable chunk of its G.D.P. from oil and gas and here comes a virulent competitor to that industry.”In February, a rare winter storm caused the Texas electric grid to collapse, leaving millions of people without electricity and heat for days. Soon after, the state’s leaders sought — falsely, according to many energy experts — to blame the blackout on renewable energy.“This shows how the Green New Deal would be a deadly deal for the United States of America,” Gov. Greg Abbott said of the blackout on Fox News. “It just shows that fossil fuel is necessary for the state of Texas as well as other states to make sure we will be able to heat our homes in the wintertimes and cool our homes in the summertimes.”Mr. Musk, a Texas resident since last year, seemed to offer a very different take on Thursday, suggesting that renewable energy could in fact protect people from power outages.“I was actually in Austin for that snowstorm in a house with no electricity, no lights, no power, no heating, no internet,” he said. “This went on for several days. However, if we had the solar plus Powerwall, we would have had lights and electricity.”Tesla is a leading maker of solar panels and batteries — the company calls one of its products Powerwall — for homeowners and businesses to store renewable energy for use when the sun has gone down, when electricity rates are higher or during blackouts. The company reported $1.3 billion in revenue from the sale of solar panels and batteries in the first six months of the year.Mr. Musk’s announcement that Tesla would be moving its headquarters from Palo Alto, Calif., came with few details. It is not clear, for example, how many workers would move to Austin. It’s also unknown whether the company would maintain a research and development operation in California in addition to its factory in Fremont, which is a short drive from headquarters and which it said it would expand. The company has around 750 employees in Palo Alto and about 12,500 in total in the Bay Area, according to the Silicon Valley Institute for Regional Studies.It is also not clear how much money Tesla will save on taxes by moving. Texas has long used its relatively low taxes, which are less than California’s, to attract companies. County officials have already approved tax breaks for the company’s new factory, and the state might offer more.Over the years, California granted Tesla hundreds of millions of dollars in tax breaks, something that Gov. Gavin Newsom noted on Friday. But because Tesla will continue to have operations in California, it may still have to pay income tax on its sales in the state, said Kayla Kitson, a policy analyst at the California Budget & Policy Center.Whatever incentives they offer Tesla, Texas officials are not likely to change their support for the fossil fuel industries with which the company competes.In a letter to state regulators in July, Mr. Abbott directed the Public Utility Commission to incentivize the state’s energy market “to foster development and maintenance of adequate and reliable sources of power, like natural gas, coal and nuclear power.”A Tesla factory under construction in Austin in September.Joe White/ReutersThe governor also ordered regulators to charge suppliers of wind and solar energy “reliability” fees because, given the natural variability of the wind and the sun, suppliers could not guarantee that they would be able to provide power when it was needed.Mr. Abbott’s letter made no mention of battery storage, suggesting that he saw no role for a technology that many energy experts believe will become increasingly important in smoothing out wind and solar energy production. Tesla is a big player in such batteries. Its systems have helped electric grids in California, Australia and elsewhere, and the company is building a big battery in Texas, too, Bloomberg reported in March.Texas has no clean energy mandates, though it has become a national leader in the use of solar and wind power — driven largely by the low cost of renewable energy. The state produces more wind energy than any other.Another issue that divides Tesla and Texas is the state’s law about how cars can be sold there.As in some other states, Texas has long had laws to protect car dealers by barring automakers, including Tesla, from selling directly to consumers. California, the company’s biggest market by far, has long allowed the company to sell cars directly to buyers, which lets it earn more money than if it had to sell through dealers.Tesla has showrooms around Texas, but employees are not even allowed to discuss prices with prospective buyers and the showrooms cannot accept orders. Texans can buy Teslas online and pick the vehicles up at its service centers.Once the Austin factory starts producing vehicles, including a new pickup truck Tesla calls Cybertruck, those vehicles will have to leave the state before they can be delivered to customers in Texas.Efforts to change the law by Tesla and some state lawmakers have gone nowhere, including during the legislative session that concluded this year. That’s partly because car dealers have tremendous political influence in the state.Perhaps once Tesla has moved to Austin and started producing cars, Mr. Musk might have enough political clout to get the Legislature to act. Texas lawmakers typically meet only every two years, however, so it would most likely take at least until 2023 for the company’s customers to receive a car directly from its factory there.Michael Webber, professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Texas at Austin, said Mr. Musk’s decision to move to Texas might have been influenced in part by the ability to pressure the state to change its law.“The Texas car market is the second-largest car market in America after California, so if you are selling cars it kind of makes sense to get closer to your customers,” Mr. Webber said. “The Texas car market is particularly difficult outside of cities because of the legislative barriers.”There were already signs on Friday that some in Texas, including those involved in oil and gas and related industries, were happy to have Tesla because it could eventually employ thousands of people.“It can only be positive for Texas, because it brings more business to Texas,” said Linda Salinas, vice president for operations at Texmark Chemicals, which is near Houston. “Even though it’s not fossil business, it’s still business.”She said Texmark might even benefit from Tesla’s manufacturing operations in the state. “Texmark produces and sells mining chemicals to people who mine copper, and guess what batteries are made out of?”Peter Eavis More

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    California Senate Passes Bill Reining In Amazon Labor Model

    The bill would curb production quotas at Amazon and other companies that critics say are excessive and force workers to forgo bathroom breaks.In the latest sign of the growing scrutiny of Amazon’s labor practices, the California State Senate on Wednesday approved a bill that would place limits on production quotas for warehouse workers.The bill, which passed the Senate 26-to-11, was written partly in response to high rates of injuries at Amazon warehouses. The legislation prohibits companies from imposing production quotas that prevent workers from taking state-mandated breaks or using the bathroom when needed, or that keep employers from complying with health and safety laws.The Assembly, which passed an initial version in May, is expected to approve the Senate measure by the end of the state’s legislative session on Friday.“In the Amazon warehouse space, what we’re trying to take on is this increased use of quotas and discipline based on not meeting the quotas, without a human factor in dealing with a reason why a worker might not make a quota,” Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, the bill’s author, said in an interview last week.Gov. Gavin Newsom had not indicated before the vote whether he would sign the bill, but his staff was involved in softening certain provisions that helped pave the way for its passage.Experts said the bill was novel in its attempts to regulate warehouse quotas that are tracked by algorithms, as at Amazon, and make them transparent.“I believe one of Amazon’s biggest competitive advantages over rivals is this ability to monitor their work force, prod workers to work faster and discipline workers when they fail to meet quotas,” said Beth Gutelius, research director at the Center for Urban Economic Development at the University of Illinois Chicago.“It’s unprecedented for a bill to intervene like this in the ways that technology is used in the workplace,” added Dr. Gutelius, who focuses on warehousing and logistics.Business groups have strongly opposed the bill, complaining that it will lead to costly litigation and hamstring the entire industry even though it is primarily intended to address labor practices at a single company.Amazon has not commented on the bill but has said that it tailors performance targets to individual employees over time based on their experience level and that the targets take into account employee health and safety. The company has emphasized that fewer than 1 percent of terminations are related to underperformance.The bill would require Amazon and other warehouse employers to disclose productivity quotas to workers and regulators, and would allow workers to sue to eliminate quotas that prevent them from taking breaks and following safety protocols.While it is unclear how big an impact the bill would have on Amazon’s operations, limiting the company’s hourly productivity quotas would probably affect its costs more than its ability to continue next-day and same-day delivery.“I think it’s all about money, not about what the system is set up to handle,” said Marc Wulfraat, president of the supply-chain and logistics consulting firm MWPVL International. “If you said to me, ‘Bring the rate down from 350 to 300 per hour,’ I’d say, ‘OK, we need to add more people to the operation — maybe we need 120 people instead of 100.’”A report by the Strategic Organizing Center, a group backed by four labor unions, shows that Amazon’s serious-injury rate nationally was nearly double that of the rest of the warehousing industry last year.“They would say, ‘Always pivot, never twist,’ all this stuff you’re supposed to do,” said Nathan Morin, who worked in an Amazon warehouse in California for more than three years packing and picking items before leaving in December. “But it’s oftentimes impossible to follow the proper body movements while also making rate.”The company has vowed to improve worker safety and said it had spent more than $300 million this year on new safety measures.Amazon is under growing pressure from unions and other groups over its labor practices. A regional office of the National Labor Relations Board has indicated that it is likely to overturn a failed union election at an Amazon warehouse in Alabama on the grounds that the company improperly interfered with the voting.The objections to the election were brought by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, which spearheaded the organizing campaign.The International Brotherhood of Teamsters, which backed the California bill and whose local officials have helped to derail a tax abatement for Amazon in Indiana and approval for an Amazon facility in Colorado, has committed to providing “all resources necessary” to unionize Amazon workers.“This is a historic victory for workers at Amazon and other major warehouse companies,” Ron Herrera, a Teamsters official who is president of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, said in a statement. “These workers have been on the front lines throughout the pandemic, while suffering debilitating injuries from unsafe quotas.” More

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    California Bill Could Alter Amazon Labor Practices

    The bill would rein in production quotas at warehouses that critics say are excessive and force workers to forgo bathroom breaks.Among the pandemic’s biggest economic winners is Amazon, which nearly doubled its annual profit last year to $21 billion and is on pace to far exceed that total this year.The profits flowed from the millions of Americans who value the convenience of quick home delivery, but critics complain that the arrangement comes at a large cost to workers, whom they say the company pushes to physical extremes.That labor model could begin to change under a California bill that would require warehouse employers like Amazon to disclose productivity quotas for workers, whose progress they often track using algorithms. “The supervisory function is being taken over by computers,” said Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, the bill’s author. “But they’re not taking into account the human factor.”The bill, which the Assembly passed in May and the State Senate is expected to vote on this week, would prohibit any quota that prevents workers from taking state-mandated breaks or using the bathroom when needed, or that keeps employers from complying with health and safety laws.The legislation has drawn intense opposition from business groups, which argue that it would lead to an explosion of costly litigation and that it punishes a whole industry for the perceived excesses of a single employer.“They’re going after one company, but at the same time they’re pulling everyone else in the supply chain under this umbrella,” said Rachel Michelin, the president of the California Retailers Association, on whose board Amazon sits.California plays an outsize role in the e-commerce and distribution industry, both because of its huge economy and status as a tech hub and because it is home to the ports through which much of Amazon’s imported inventory arrives. The Inland Empire region, east of Los Angeles, has one of the highest concentrations of Amazon fulfillment centers in the country.Kelly Nantel, an Amazon spokeswoman, declined to comment on the bill but said in a statement that “performance targets are determined based on actual employee performance over a period of time” and that they take into account the employee’s experience as well as health and safety considerations.“Terminations for performance issues are rare — less than 1 percent,” Ms. Nantel added.The company faces growing scrutiny of its treatment of workers, including an expected ruling from a regional director of the National Labor Relations Board that it unlawfully interfered in a union vote at an Alabama warehouse. The finding could prompt a new election there, though Amazon has said it would appeal to preserve the original vote, in which it prevailed.In June, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters passed a resolution committing the union to provide “all resources necessary” to organize Amazon workers, partly by pressuring the company through political channels. Teamsters officials have taken part in successful efforts to deny Amazon a tax abatement in Indiana and approval for a facility in Colorado and are backers of the California legislation.Both sides appear to regard the fight over Amazon’s quotas as having high stakes. “We know that the future of work is falling into this algorithm, A.I. kind of aspect,” said Ms. Gonzalez, the bill’s author. “If we don’t intervene now, other companies will be the next stage.”Ms. Michelin, the retail association president, emphasized that the data was “proprietary information” and said the bill’s proponents “want that data because it helps unionize distribution centers.”A report by the Strategic Organizing Center, a group backed by four labor unions, shows that Amazon’s serious-injury rate nationally was almost double that of the rest of the warehousing industry in 2020 and more than twice that of warehouses at Walmart, a top competitor.Asked about the findings, Ms. Nantel, the Amazon spokeswoman, did not directly address them but said that the company recently entered into a partnership with a nonprofit safety advocacy group to develop ways of preventing musculoskeletal injuries. She also said that Amazon had invested over $300 million this year in safety measures, like redesigning workstations.Amazon employees have frequently complained that supervisors push them to work at speeds that wear them down physically.“There were a lot of grandmothers,” one worker said in a study underwritten by the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, another backer of the California bill. Managers would “come to these older women, and say, ‘Hey, I need you to speed up,’ and then you could see in her face she almost wants to cry. She’s like, ‘This is the fastest my body can literally go.’”Yesenia Barrera, a former Amazon worker in California, said that managers told her she needed to pull 200 items an hour from a conveyor belt, unbox them and scan them. She said she was usually able to reach this target only by minimizing her bathroom use.“That would be me ignoring using restroom-type things to be able to make it,” Ms. Barrera said in an interview for this article. “When the bell would ring for a break, I felt like I had to do a few more items before I took off.”An employee sorted items at a Staten Island warehouse in May. Workers have complained that supervisors push them to work at speeds that wear them down.Chang W. Lee/The New York TimesEdward Flores, faculty director of the Community and Labor Center at the University of California, Merced, says repetitive strain injuries have been a particular problem in the warehousing industry as companies have automated their operations.“You’re responding to the speed at which a machine is moving,” said Dr. Flores, who has studied injuries in the industry. “The greater reliance on robotics, the higher incidence of repetitive motions and thus repetitive injuries.” Amazon has been a leader in adopting warehouse robotics.Ms. Gonzalez said that when she met with Amazon officials after introducing a similar bill last year, they denied using quotas, saying that they relied instead on goals and that workers were not punished for failing to meet them.During a meeting a few days before the Assembly passed this year’s bill, she said, Amazon officials acknowledged that they could do more to promote the health and safety of their workers but did not offer specific proposals beyond coaching employees on how to be more productive.At one point during the more recent meeting, Ms. Gonzalez recalled, an Amazon official raised concerns that some employees would abuse more generous allotments of time for using the bathroom before another official weighed in to de-emphasize the point.“Someone else tried to walk it back,” she said. “It’s often said quietly. It’s not the first time I’ve heard it.”The bill’s path has always appeared rockier in the State Senate, where amendments have weakened it. The bill no longer directs the state’s occupational safety and health agency to develop a rule preventing warehouse injuries that result from overwork or other physical stress.Instead, it gives the state labor commissioner’s office access to data about quotas and injuries so it can step up enforcement. Workers would also be able to sue employers to eliminate overly strict quotas.Ms. Gonzalez said she felt confident about the Senate vote, which must come by the close of the legislative session on Friday, but business groups are still working hard to derail it.Ms. Michelin, the retailer group president, said that the Senate committees’ changes had made the bill more palatable and that her members might support a measure that gave more resources to regulators to enforce health and safety rules. But she said they had serious concerns about the way the bill empowers workers to sue their employers.As long as that provision remains in the bill, she said, “we will never support it.” More

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    It’s Summer in the Ski Towns, 2.0

    Last year, mountain resorts were overrun by travelers in search of space and fresh air. The visitors are expected back, but now the towns have expanded activities and plans in place to deal with the crowds.For their vacation this summer, Susan Tyler and her husband have booked a house in the small ski resort town of Red Lodge, Mont., with a group of friends. As they message daily about the trip, the anticipation grows, said Ms. Tyler, a performing arts administrator in Texarkana, Texas. “Being outside with friends is smart and renewing, and it feeds your soul,” she said.True, but not when the trailhead is so packed you can’t find a place to park. Last summer, pandemic travelers, remote workers and an unprecedented number of new full-time residents descended on mountain towns in search of space and fresh air, prompting longtime locals to complain about overcrowding and quality-of-life concerns. This year promises more of the same.The difference? Resort towns are prepared, with on-mountain activities back to operating at full capacity, programs in place to educate visitors on outdoors etiquette, plans to address overcrowding and new attractions that highlight the alpine environment.A mid-May report from DestiMetrics, which tracks lodging in mountain resort destinations, describes bookings as “surging” for this summer, with July, August and September already well ahead of the same time period two years ago, which was itself a record-setting summer for resort visitation and revenue. At the same time, average daily hotel rates were 32 percent higher than they were in summer 2019.“We’re seeing earlier demand than we’ve ever seen before and at higher levels,” said Anna Olson, the president and chief executive of the Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce, who noted that lodges in nearby Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks that had closed for most of last summer have reopened, increasing the number of rooms available near the Wyoming resort town; additionally, the Cloudveil, a new Autograph Collection hotel, has opened.Not just for skiingOf course, summering near ski resorts is nothing new. Some towns, like Jackson and Whitefish, Mont., have historically attracted warm-weather visitors because of their proximity to national parks. Others, like Colorado’s Aspen and Telluride, have drawn vacationers with longstanding cultural events, like the eight-week-long Aspen Music Festival and School and the Telluride Bluegrass Festival. And many ski areas have long offered scenic chairlift rides to hiking and biking trails. But now resorts are increasingly promoting themselves as warm-weather destinations and adding more outdoors-oriented activities like purpose-built bike parks, forest canopy tours, mountain coasters and via ferratas, a European-derived system that consists of permanent steps and ladders bolted into a rock face; users attach themselves with carabiners to steel cables to prevent big falls.Summer visitors have long been drawn to ski towns for cultural events like the Telluride Bluegrass Festival in Colorado. Benko PhotographicsFor one, there’s the desire to create more of a year-round — and less snow-dependent — economy. Additionally, passage of the Ski Area Recreational Opportunities Enhancement Act in 2011, and subsequent policy guidelines issued by the U.S. Forest Service in 2014, eliminated cumbersome aspects of the permitting processes on federal land, making it easier for many mountains to develop summer recreation.Vail Resorts was one of the first to capitalize on the new legislation with its Epic Discovery summer program, introduced at Vail Mountain and Breckenridge in Colorado, and Heavenly in California, starting in 2016. Zip lines, alpine slides, ropes courses and more, along with educational components, aim to let visitors immerse themselves in the mountain environment. Since then, many other resorts have followed suit. This June, for example, Telluride, in southwestern Colorado, introduced its first canopy tour, with zip lines, aerial bridges and rappels.The approach has been working. Some would even say too well. “Now at most mountain destinations in the West, and at many in the Northeast, the summer occupancy is as high or higher than during the winter months,” said Tom Foley, the senior vice president for business operations and analytics for Inntopia, a resort marketing and e-commerce firm. (He adds that lodging prices, however, still lag behind winter’s peak rates.)Even resorts that long had infrastructure in place have benefited. Vermont’s Killington introduced its bike park (which sits on a combination of state and private land) 30 years ago. But from 2016 to 2018, visits surged to 30,000 from 12,000, said the resort spokeswoman, Courtney DiFiore. She attributed the growth to new beginner and intermediate trails, more programming for children and an all-season pass option.This year, resorts expect summer visitation to ramp up several notches, in reaction to the pandemic. “It’s unreal how much demand there is for Jackson right now,” said the ski area spokeswoman, Anna Cole. “Jackson by nature is outdoors and pretty distanced, and people want to get in their cars and drive,” she said. “We fit the bill on all fronts.”In the summer, visitors enjoy the patio of the Piste restaurant at the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort in Teton Village, Wyo.Natalie Behring for The New York TimesThe ski area continues to expand its offerings. The Sweetwater gondola is running for the first time in summer, hauling riders and their bikes to new routes within a growing trail network, and last summer the mountain added to its guided via ferrata routes.Other resorts, like California’s Mammoth Mountain, have also built via ferratas. For some ski areas with rugged winter reputations (including Jackson Hole), offering hikers the challenge and reward of safely ascending rock features is a fitting alternative to more passive experiences. “We’re not looking for zip lines or mountain coasters,” said David Norden, the chief executive of Taos Ski Valley in New Mexico, which added a via ferrata last August. “We want people to engage with the mountain and get that sense of accomplishment.” Colorado’s Arapahoe Basin delves into summer operations for the first time this year with its own via ferrata — topping out at 13,000 feet in elevation, it’s North America’s highest — along with an aerial adventure course.Taos also introduced lift-served mountain biking last year, tapping into another summer growth area, as resorts across the country have introduced or expanded existing bike parks. Though these projects have taken at least a couple of years to plan and construct, they coincide fortuitously with the pandemic-inspired surge in cycling.For instance, New Hampshire’s Cranmore Mountain Resort, near North Conway, opened a family-friendly bike park last year, while nearby Loon Mountain opened its version in fall 2019. In Idaho, lift-accessed mountain biking returns to Sun Valley’s extensive trail network after a year’s hiatus and Snowmass, Colo., continues to add trails to its park. Even Mammoth, which was the world’s first resort to offer lift-served mountain biking back in 1986 and now hosts California’s largest park, is still expanding, adding some e-bike-specific on-mountain trails last summer.Goodbye to the slow seasonBut the increase in visitors has come at a cost, especially in summer, when recreation takes place across more outdoor venues with greater impact. The upsurge of people vying for space on trails and in restaurants in the summer months means resort towns never get a break. “Discussions about overtourism in mountain towns have been going on for a long time,” said Inntopia’s Mr. Foley, who also noted the scarcity of affordable housing for workers, especially given the recent run up in prices as new home buyers have sought refuge from the pandemic in the mountains. “Every problem that existed before the pandemic is still there and probably worse.”Many longtime locals say the growing number of visitors, especially those who may not be familiar with low-impact outdoors practices is having a negative effect — and they are taking their objections public. Perhaps the most notorious instance took place in Lake Tahoe last August, as groups of residents, fed up by the onslaught of tourists and an avalanche of litter, staged protests at several busy intersections.The Taos Ski Valley Via Ferrata, situated at 11,500 feet in a sub-alpine ecosystem, features beginner-through-advanced climbing route challenges, a 100-foot skybridge and a double-cable catwalk. photo via Taos Ski Valley.As a result, mountain towns are planning to greet this summer’s visitors with messages about how to encounter wildlife and engage with other people, especially given the ever-changing Covid regulations and staffing shortages in the hospitality industry. “We need the summer of courtesy and kindness,” said Rose Abello, the director of Snowmass Tourism.Remember to be niceWhitefish, home to a large ski area and a gateway to Glacier National Park, encourages visitors to Be a Friend of the Fish by limiting social media tagging on popular trails, staying calm in lines or traffic, packing out trash and keeping a safe distance from wildlife. Similarly, Sun Valley’s Mindfulness in the Mountains campaign asks visitors and newer residents to practice good environmental stewardship and adjust their pace and expectations to the area’s “modest, unpretentious, down-to-earth feel.” Jackson Hole’s Wild Rules tool kit provides expectation-managing emails and social media posts for businesses to share with guests, ideally before they arrive. And Breckenridge touts its new B Like Breckenridge program, which emphasizes respect for wildlife, using good trail etiquette, consuming less and walking more.The town of Mammoth Lakes, home of Mammoth ski area, opted to fund a community host program, with both paid and volunteer ambassadors answering questions and handing out maps that show where dispersed camping is allowed and list important backcountry basics, like how to douse a campfire and bury or pack out human waste. At many resorts, hikers will be encouraged to cut down on trailhead crowding by going midweek or earlier or later in the day or by choosing less-frequented but still rewardingly scenic trails.How travelers will respond and whether or not this new outreach will have a positive effect could go a long way toward decreasing friction between residents and tourists. “We’re a resort town but also a tight-knit community,” said Laura Soard, the marketing director for the Steamboat Springs Chamber, in Colorado. “It’s newer for us to be giving visitors behavior expectations, saying we want you to come visit us, but we want you to follow our rules and respect our community.”The return of signature summer events, from outdoor concerts to food festivals, may mean fewer people all heading to the trail at the same time. Last summer, “we saw trailheads being stacked with cars, camping sites full and recreation stores sold out of gear,” said Ray Gadd of Visit Sun Valley. “This summer will have much more of a feeling of normalcy,” he said, mentioning annual gatherings like a multiday wellness festival and well-known writers’ conference that are once again on the schedule.At New Hampshire’s Cranmore Mountain Resort, a new bike park features lift-serviced, beginner-friendly downhill mountain biking.Josh BogardusAs for traffic, road trips will likely still be a popular form of travel this summer, but resorts hope to alleviate congestion by encouraging visitors to return to public buses and shuttles or to bike around town. New transportation options that make a rental car unnecessary have special appeal this summer, when cars are in short supply. Taos Ski Valley’s airline, Taos Air, offers new direct flights from Texas and California to a small nearby airport, and then shuttle service to the resort. Travelers to Breckenridge can book a United Airlines package that offers seamless transfer to the resort: They’ll board a 35-seat motor coach directly on the tarmac at Denver International Airport, along with their luggage, for the drive to their final destination.Among the most important messages mountain towns hope to convey this summer: Plan and book well in advance, whether for lodging, restaurant reservations or guided outdoor activities. “Booking early helps us prepare and makes for a more relaxed experience for guests,” said Abe Pacharz, the owner of Colorado Adventure Guides in Breckenridge. You’ll get a spot on a trip, and perhaps advice on acclimating to the altitude, what gear you’ll need and what activities are the most appropriate.“You have to have a reservation,” said Ms. Olson from the Jackson Hole Chamber. “The idea that you can come to national parks or ski area destinations and find somewhere to stay or camp is very limited. It may not be their vision of being on the open road and making last-minute decisions, but the reality of coming to these beautiful places with limited resources is that people have to be planners.”Follow New York Times Travel on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. And sign up for our weekly Travel Dispatch newsletter to receive expert tips on traveling smarter and inspiration for your next vacation. Dreaming up a future getaway or just armchair traveling? Check out our 52 Places list for 2021. More

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    The Faces of Mothers Who Bore the Burden of the Pandemic

    For a business article on the price that working moms paid, a photographer couldn’t take portraits in person. But shooting them remotely led to a different connection.Times Insider explains who we are and what we do, and delivers behind-the-scenes insights into how our journalism comes together.As a freelance photographer, I was contacted by The New York Times in February to create a series of portraits of 15 mothers in Los Angeles who had been forced out of their jobs because of the pandemic.I had become a mother during the pandemic, so this story struck a particular chord with me. I had lost some work as the coronavirus shut down the country, and it scared me to begin motherhood while record numbers of women were leaving the work force.As soon as I had my heart set on taking the assignment, my editor, Crista Chapman, and I realized this would be difficult to execute. I was working in Florida for a few months and would need at least a week in California, and my doctor advised against being away from my breastfeeding infant for multiple days. Also, Los Angeles County was just beginning to recover from a devastating wave of Covid-19, so the initial plan for me to photograph everyone at their homes or in an open studio space was scrapped.I thought I was going to have to pass on the assignment all together, which felt particularly ironic. But I didn’t want to give up, so I decided to get creative and pitched remote portrait sessions with the women. I knew these might be a little trickier because all of our subjects were busy moms without a lot of time to deal with technology. So, to ensure I could pull this off, I did a practice session with my sister-in-law and her kids. I could use those images as a step-by-step guide for all the sessions, and Crista signed off on the idea.I emailed and called each woman with the general plan for the photo shoot and then jumped right into the work.I set up a video call, usually with my daughter on my lap, so a different kind of intimacy was quickly developed. We could relate to each other as mothers, which broke any awkwardness that might be felt from FaceTiming with a stranger. My daughter would giggle, their child would shove a stuffed animal on camera, and we would share stories about what we had been through over the past year.While we chatted, I would have each woman take me on a tour of her space and show me anything that reminded her of life before Covid. This typically took about 30 minutes while I figured out lighting and composition. Once we decided on the space, I would have her set her camera up on whatever she could find — a chair, bookshelf, laptop stand or kitchen table. Then I would have her sit with her kids.The women would set up the camera while I gave directions. Sometimes I had a child, husband or translator hold the phone and help me out. I was always clicking the capture button.A big part of my process is watching body language and documenting, with minimal direction, how people occupy space. To create organic, intimate images that tell a story, I usually have to share physical space with the people I photograph. So, remote shoots introduced a totally new dynamic.I typically work to create images with a sense of familiarity and closeness, and by creating remote photos this way, I was able to go (virtually) into these women’s homes and capture their daily life with their children in a new way, creating really intimate portraits that were much more immediate than they would have been had we done the photos in person as planned.I wanted to capture the feeling many of us have experienced communicating with family and friends through our phones and computers this past year, and this approach provided a different level of engagement.Since the shoot, I’ve continued working while raising our daughter. I think of those women often and wonder how they all feel as life in Los Angeles is opening back up. I don’t take for granted the work that I’ve gotten, and I hope we all collectively remember the women who are still at home, still taking care of the kids with their lives on hold. More

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    Why Are Jobless Claims Still High? For Some, It’s the Multiple Layoffs.

    A California study shows the extent of dependence on benefits over the last year and how many people have shuttled in and out of work.Jobs are coming back. Businesses are reopening. But a year after the pandemic jolted the economy, applications for unemployment benefits remain stubbornly, shockingly high — higher on a weekly basis than at any point in any previous recession, by some measures.And headway has stalled: Initial weekly claims under regular and emergency programs, combined, have been stuck at just above one million since last fall, and last week was no exception, the Labor Department reported Thursday.“It goes up a little bit, it goes down, but really we haven’t seen much progress,” said AnnElizabeth Konkel, an economist for the career site Indeed. “A year into this, I’m starting to wonder, what is it going to take to fix the magnitude problem? How is this going to actually end?”The continued high rate of unemployment applications has been something of a mystery for many economists. With the pandemic still suppressing activity in many sectors, it makes sense that joblessness would remain high. But businesses are reopening in much of the country, and trends on employment and spending are generally improving. So shouldn’t unemployment filings be falling?New evidence from California may offer a partial explanation: According to a report released Thursday by the California Policy Lab, a research organization affiliated with the University of California, nearly 80 percent of the unemployment applications filed in the state last month were from people who had been laid off earlier in the pandemic, gotten back to work, and then been laid off again.Such repeat claims were particularly common in the information sector — which in California includes many film and television employees who have been sidelined by the pandemic — and in the hard-hit hotel and restaurant industries, as well as in construction.The Policy Lab researchers had access to detailed information from the state that allowed them to track individual workers through the system, something not possible with federal data.California’s economy differs from that of the rest of the country in myriad ways, and the pandemic has played out differently there than in many other places. But if the same patterns hold elsewhere, it suggests that the ups and downs of the pandemic — lockdowns and reopenings, restrictions that tighten and ease as virus cases rise and fall — have left many workers stuck in a sort of limbo.A restaurant may recall some workers when indoor dining is allowed, only to lay them off again a few weeks later when restrictions are reimposed. A worker may find a temporary job at a warehouse, or pick up a few hours of work on a delivery app, but be unable to find a more stable job.“This shows the oscillation of employed, unemployed, employed, unemployed — people cycling back into the system,” said Elizabeth Pancotti, policy director at Employ America, a group in Washington that has been an advocate for the unemployed. “We did not see that in previous recessions.”What that instability will mean for workers’ long-term prospects remains unclear. Economic research has found that extended periods of unemployment can leave workers at a permanent disadvantage in the labor market. But there is little precedent for a period of such prolonged instability.Distributing food in Inglewood, Calif., in January. The pandemic’s economic effects hit Black workers in the state especially hard.Jenna Schoenefeld for The New York Times“We don’t know what happens if you’re out of work for two months, you come back to work for two months, you’re out of work for two months, you keep going back and forth,” Ms. Pancotti said.The California data shows how the economic effects of the pandemic have been concentrated among certain industries and demographic groups — and how the consequences continue to mount for the most affected workers, even as the crisis eases for many others.Nearly 90 percent of Black workers in the state have claimed unemployment benefits at some point in the pandemic, according to the Policy Lab analysis, compared with about 40 percent of whites. Younger and less-educated workers have been hit especially hard.Those totals include filings under the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, which covers people left out of the regular unemployment system, a group that disproportionately includes Black workers. The record-keeping for that program has been plagued by overcounting and fraudulent claims. But even a look at the state’s regular unemployment insurance program, which hasn’t faced the same issues, reveals remarkable numbers: Close to three in 10 California workers have claimed benefits during the crisis, and more than four in 10 Black workers.“That degree of inequality is mind-blowing,” said Till von Wachter of the University of California, Los Angeles, one of the report’s authors.Many of those who lost jobs early in the crisis have since returned to work. But millions have not. The Policy Lab found that nearly four million Californians had received more than 26 weeks of benefits during the pandemic, a rough measure of long-term unemployment.“We have solidly shifted into a world where a large-scale problem of long-term unemployment is now a reality,” Dr. von Wachter said. Black workers, older workers, women and those with less education have been more likely to end up out of work for extended periods.Nationally, nearly six million people were enrolled as of late February in federal extended-benefit programs that cover people who have exhausted their regular benefits, which last for six months in most states. The aid package signed by President Biden last week ensures that those programs will continue until fall, but benefits alone won’t prevent the damage that prolonged joblessness can do to workers’ careers and mental and physical health.“The recovery needs to be on the scale of being a once-in-a-generation economic upswing to really pull those people back into the labor market,” Ms. Konkel said.The latest data provides little sign of that happening. More than 746,000 people filed first-time applications for state unemployment benefits last week, up 24,000 from the previous week, according to the Labor Department. In addition, 282,000 filed for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance.Most forecasters expect the labor market recovery to accelerate in coming months, as warmer weather and rising vaccination rates allow more businesses to reopen, and as the new injection of government aid encourages Americans to go out and spend. Policymakers at the Federal Reserve said on Wednesday that they expected the unemployment rate to fall to 4.5 percent by the end of the year, a significant upgrade over the 5 percent they forecast three months ago.“We’re already starting to see improvement now, and I think that will start to accelerate fairly quickly,” said Daniel Zhao, an economist at the career site Glassdoor.But government aid can do only so much as long as the pandemic continues to limit consumers’ behavior. The pace of the recovery now, Mr. Zhao said, depends on a factor beyond the scope of normal economic analysis.“The dominating factor right now is how quickly we can get vaccines in arms,” he said. More