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    As Dockworkers Near Contract’s End, Many Others Have a Stake

    LOS ANGELES — David Alvarado barreled south along the highway, staring through the windshield of his semi truck toward the towering cranes along the coastline.He had made the same 30-minute trek to the Port of Los Angeles twice that day; if things went well, he would make it twice more. Averaging four pickups and deliveries a day, Mr. Alvarado has learned, is what it takes to give his wife and three children a comfortable life.“This has been my life — it’s helped me support a family,” said Mr. Alvarado, who for 17 years has hauled cargo between warehouses across Southern California and the twin ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, a global hub that handles 40 percent of the nation’s seaborne imports.He weathered the blow to his paycheck early in the pandemic when he was idling for six hours a day, waiting for cargo to be loaded off ships and onto his truck. Now the ports are bustling again, but there is a new source of anxiety: the imminent expiration of the union contract for dockworkers along the West Coast.If negotiations fail to head off a slowdown, a strike or a lockout, he said, “it will crush me financially.”The outcome will be crucial not only for the union dockworkers and port operators, but also for the ecosystem of workers surrounding the ports like Mr. Alvarado, and for a global supply chain reeling from coronavirus lockdowns and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Inflation’s surge to the highest rate in more than four decades is due, in part, to supply chain complications.The contract between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, which represents 22,000 workers at 29 ports from San Diego to Seattle, and the Pacific Maritime Association, representing the shipping terminals, is set to expire on Friday. The union members primarily operate machinery like cranes and forklifts that move cargo containers on and off ships.In a statement this month, representatives of the two sides said that they didn’t expect a deal by the deadline but that they were dedicated to working toward an agreement.The negotiations have centered largely on whether to increase wages for the unionized workers, whose average salaries are in the low six figures, and expanding automation, such as using robots to move cargo containers, to speed up production, a priority for shipping companies.“It will crush me financially,” David Alvarado said of any work stoppage.Stella Kalinina for The New York TimesTrucks lined up to enter the Port of Los Angeles. Any slowdown, strike or lockout could further snarl the global supply chain.Stella Kalinina for The New York Times“Automation allows greater densification at existing port terminals, enabling greater cargo throughput and continued cargo growth over time,” Jim McKenna, the chief executive of the Pacific Maritime Association, said in a recent video statement on the negotiations.In an open letter posted on Facebook last month, the union president, Willie Adams, attacked moving toward automation, saying it would translate to lost jobs and prioritizes foreign profits over “what’s best for America.”The State of Jobs in the United StatesJob gains continue to maintain their impressive run, even as government policymakers took steps to cool the economy and ease inflation.May Jobs Report: U.S. employers added 390,000 jobs and the unemployment rate remained steady at 3.6 percent ​​in the fifth month of 2022.Downsides of a Hot Market: Students are forgoing degrees in favor of the attractive positions offered by employers desperate to hire. That could come back to haunt them.Slowing Down: Economists and policymakers are beginning to argue that what the economy needs right now is less hiring and less wage growth. Here’s why.Opportunities for Teenagers: Jobs for high school and college students are expected to be plentiful this summer, and a large market means better pay.“Automation,” Mr. Adams wrote, “poses a great national security risk as it places our ports at risk of being hacked as other automated ports have experienced.”As the negotiations, which began in early May, continue, record levels of cargo have arrived here.In May, the Port of Los Angeles had its third-busiest month ever, handling nearly one million shipping container units, largely stocked with imports from Asia. Twenty-one ships were waiting to dock outside the local ports this week, down from 109 in January, according to the Marine Exchange of Southern California.On a recent trip here, President Biden — who authorized a plan last year to keep the Port of Los Angeles open 24 hours a day — met with negotiators to urge a swift agreement. Leaders on both sides say Mr. Biden has worked behind the scenes on the matter, hoping to avoid delays.When a breakdown in talks resulted in an 11-day lockout in 2002, the U.S. economy lost an estimated $11 billion. President George W. Bush eventually intervened, and the lockout was lifted. In 2015, when negotiations went on for nine months, the Obama administration intervened after the standoff led to a work slowdown and congestion at West Coast ports.Mr. Biden’s early intervention could help stave off severe backlogs, said Geraldine Knatz, a professor of the practice of policy and engineering at the University of Southern California.“In the past, the federal government would swoop in at the end when negotiations were at a stalemate,” said Ms. Knatz, who was executive director of the Port of Los Angeles from 2006 to 2014. “The relationship that developed between the ports and the Biden administration as a result of the supply chain crisis is something that did not exist before.”The contract between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the Pacific Maritime Association is set to expire this week. Stella Kalinina for The New York TimesEven so, contingency plans are in place, said Jonathan Gold, vice president of supply chain and customs policy at the National Retail Federation. Some retailers began pushing up their timetables months ago, ordering supplies long before they needed them, he said, and using ports along the East and Gulf Coasts when feasible.In an interview, Gene Seroka, executive director of the Port of Los Angeles, said he didn’t believe the looming contract deadline would lead to any delays: All the parties involved, he said, know that it’s already an exceptionally busy time for the region.Retail imports account for 75 percent of all cargo coming into the ports, and with back-to-school and holiday shopping seasons nearing, Mr. Seroka said he did not expect cargo volumes to shrink to more typical levels until next year.“Everyone is working as hard as they can,” Mr. Seroka said.But for some retailers, the current limbo brings back painful memories.In early 2015, as delays arose during contract talks, Charlie Woo laid off more than 600 seasonal workers from his company, Megatoys.“It was rough back then,” Mr. Woo said on a recent morning from his 330,000-square-foot warehouse in Commerce, Calif., an industrial city in Los Angeles County not far from the ports.Mr. Woo started Megatoys in 1989 and now imports around 1,000 cargo containers from China every year. The 40-foot containers come filled with small toys like plastic Easter eggs and miniature rubber soccer balls and basketballs, which his employees package into baskets sold at grocery stores and bigger outlets like Walmart and Target.During the pandemic disruptions last fall, some of his shipments were stalled by nearly three months — delays that ultimately translated into a 5 percent drop in sales for his company, which Mr. Woo said brings in tens of millions of dollars annually.He’s bracing for another hard year.“I expect problems; I just don’t know how big the problem will be,” said Mr. Woo, who also owns a manufacturing plant near Shenzhen, China, and said he hoped more U.S. terminals moved toward more automation.“We must find innovative solutions to catch up with the ports in Asia,” Mr. Woo said.Charlie Woo started Megatoys in 1989 and now imports around 1,000 cargo containers from China every year. Stella Kalinina for The New York TimesShipping containers at the Port of Los Angeles. The current limbo brings back painful memories for some retailers.Stella Kalinina for The New York TimesOn a recent afternoon, Mr. Alvarado, the truck driver, reminisced about the early days of the career he’d been born into.During summer vacations as a little boy, he’d ride shotgun with his father, who has driven a semi truck for nearly four decades at the ports, and they’d listen to Dodger baseball games together.“This is all I ever wanted to be,” Mr. Alvarado, 38, said. Over the years, he has seen many childhood friends move away because they could not afford to live here.It hasn’t always been easy for him, either. Last fall, with more than 80 cargo carriers anchored off the coast here, in part because of the lingering pandemic and a surge of imports ahead of the holiday season, he sometimes waited for hours before he finally got a load, said Mr. Alvarado, who is among the roughly 21,000 truck drivers authorized to pick up cargo at the ports.For an independent contractor, time is money: Mr. Alvarado works 16 hours some weekdays and aims to pick up and drop off four loads each day. When he does that consistently, he said, he can make up to $4,000 a week, before expenses.During the worst of the pandemic delays, he was lucky to get two loads a day, and although things have improved in recent months, he now frets about fuel prices.“Inflation has been intense,” he said.Filling up with 220 gallons for the week now typically costs $1,200, double that of several months ago, Mr. Alvarado said.“It all starts to add up,” he said. “You wonder if you should think about doing something else.”As for the prospects in the labor talks, Mr. Alvarado said he was trying to remain optimistic. The union workers, he said, remind him of his own family: men and women from blue-collar upbringings, many of them Latino with deep family ties to the ports. A work stoppage would be painful for many of them, too.“It will hurt all Americans,” he said.As he drove past the ports, Mr. Alvarado turned his truck into a warehouse parking lot, where the multicolored containers lined the asphalt like a row of neatly arranged Lego blocks.It was his third load of the day, and for this round, he didn’t have to wait on the longshoremen to load the carrier onto his truck. Instead, he backed his semi up to a chassis, and the blue container snapped into place.He pulled up Google Maps on his iPhone and looked at the distance to the drop-off in Fontana, Calif.: 67 miles, an hour and half.It might, Mr. Alvarado said, end up being a four-load day after all. More

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    Fed Confronts a ‘New World’ of Inflation

    Central banks had a longstanding playbook for how inflation worked. In the postpandemic era, all bets are off.Federal Reserve officials are questioning whether their longstanding assumptions about inflation still apply as price gains remain stubbornly and surprisingly rapid — a bout of economic soul-searching that could have big implications for the American economy.For years, Fed policymakers had a playbook for handling inflation surprises: They mostly ignored disruptions to the supply of goods and services when setting monetary policy, assuming they would work themselves out. The Fed guides the economy by adjusting interest rates, which influence demand, so keeping consumption and business activity chugging along at an even keel was the primary focus.But after the global economy has been rocked for two years by nonstop supply crises — from shipping snarls to the war in Ukraine — central bankers have stopped waiting for normality to return. They have been raising interest rates aggressively to slow down consumer and business spending and cool the economy. And they are reassessing how inflation might evolve in a world where it seems that the problems may just keep coming.If the Fed determines that shocks are unlikely to ease — or will take so long that they leave inflation elevated for years — the result could be an even more aggressive series of rate increases as policymakers try to quash demand into balance with a more limited supply of goods and services. That painful process would ramp up the risk of a recession that would cost jobs and shutter businesses.“The disinflationary forces of the last quarter-century have been replaced, at least temporarily, by a whole different set of forces,” Jerome H. Powell, the Fed chair, said during Senate testimony on Wednesday. “The real question is: How long will this new set of forces be sustained? We can’t know that. But in the meantime, our job is to find maximum employment and price stability in this new economy.”When prices began to pick up rapidly in early 2021, top Fed policymakers joined many outside economists in predicting that the change would be “transitory.” Inflation had been slow in America for most of the 21st century, weighed down by long-running trends like the aging of the population and globalization. It seemed that one-off pandemic shocks, especially a used-car shortage and ocean shipping issues, should fade with time and allow that trend to return.But by late last year, central bankers were beginning to rethink their initial call. Supply chain problems were becoming worse, not better. Instead of fading, price increases had accelerated and broadened beyond a few pandemic-affected categories. Economists have made a monthly habit of predicting that inflation has peaked only to see it continue to accelerate.Now, Fed policymakers are analyzing what so many people missed, and what it says about the unrelenting inflation burst.“Of course we’ve been looking very carefully and hard at why inflation picked up so much more than expected last year and why it proved so persistent,” Mr. Powell said at a news conference last week. “It’s hard to overstate the extent of interest we have in that question, morning, noon and night.”The Fed has been reacting. It slowed and then halted its pandemic-era bond purchases this winter and spring, and it is now shrinking its asset holdings to take a little bit of juice out of markets and the economy. The central bank has also ramped up its plans to raise interest rates, lifting its main policy rate by a quarter point in March, half a point in May and three-quarters of a point last week while signaling more to come.Understand Inflation and How It Impacts YouInflation 101: What’s driving inflation in the United States? What can slow the rapid price gains? Here’s what to know.Inflation Calculator: How you experience inflation can vary greatly depending on your spending habits. Answer these seven questions to estimate your personal inflation rate.An Economic Cliff: Inflation is expected to remain high later this year even as the economy slows and layoffs rise. For many Americans, it’s going to hurt.Greedflation: Some experts say that big corporations are supercharging inflation by jacking up prices. We take a closer look at the issue. It is making those decisions without much of an established game plan, given the surprising ways in which the economy is behaving.“We’ve spent a lot of time — as a committee, and I’ve spent a lot of time personally — looking at history,” Patrick Harker, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, said in an interview on Wednesday. “Nothing quite fits this situation.”A recruiter at a job fair in North Miami Beach, Fla., last week. Labor shortages are pushing up wages, which is likely contributing to higher inflation. Scott McIntyre for The New York TimesGas prices have helped drive inflation higher.Scott McIntyre for The New York TimesThe economic era before the pandemic was stable and predictable. America and many developed economies spent those decades grappling with inflation that seemed to be slipping ever lower. Consumers had come to expect prices to remain relatively stable, and executives knew that they could not charge a lot more without scaring them away.Shocks to supply that were outside the Fed’s control, like oil or food shortages, might push up prices for a while, but they typically faded quickly. Now, the whole idea of “transient” supply shocks is being called into question.The global supply of goods has been curtailed by one issue after another since the onset of the pandemic, from lockdowns in China that slowed the production of computer chips and other goods to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which has limited gas and food availability.At the same time, demand has been heady, boosted by government pandemic relief checks and a strong labor market. Businesses have been able to charge more for their limited supply, and consumer prices have been picking up sharply, climbing 8.6 percent over the year through May.Research from the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco released this week found that demand was driving about one-third of the current jump in inflation, while issues tied to supply or some ambiguous mix of supply-and-demand factors were driving about two-thirds.That means that returning demand to more normal levels should help ease inflation somewhat, even if supply in key markets remain roiled. The Fed has been clear that it cannot directly lower oil and gas prices, for instance, because those costs turn more on the global supply than they do on domestic demand.“There’s really not anything that we can do about oil prices,” Mr. Powell told senators on Wednesday. Still, he added later, “there is a job to moderating demand so that it can be in better balance with supply.”Inflation F.A.Q.Card 1 of 5What is inflation? More

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    Starbucks Executive, Prominent in Push Against Union Drive, Will Leave

    Starbucks said Friday that an executive who played a key role in the company’s response to a growing union campaign would leave by the end of the month.In a letter to employees, whom Starbucks calls “partners,” the company’s chief operating officer said that Rossann Williams, the president of retail for North America, would be leaving after 17 years at the company. The letter said the decision was “preceded by discussion about a next opportunity for Rossann within the company, which she declined.”John Culver, the chief operating officer, added in the letter that Ms. Williams “has not only been a fierce advocate for our partners, but she has been a champion of our mission, our culture and operational excellence.”Since December, when a store in Buffalo became the only one of Starbucks roughly 9,000 corporate-owned stores with a union, the campaign has spread rapidly across the country.The union has won over 80 percent of the more than 175 elections in which the National Labor Relations Board has declared a winner, and workers have formally sought elections at more than 275 stores in all.After workers at three Buffalo-area stores filed for union elections in August, Ms. Williams went to the city and spent much of the fall there leading the company’s response to the campaign. She spent many hours in stores, asking employees about concerns they had at their workplaces and even pitching in on tasks like throwing out garbage.But some workers said the presence of such a high-ranking official in their stores was intimidating and even “surreal.”Labor experts also raised concerns that Ms. Williams and other Starbucks officials deployed to the stores could be violating labor laws by intimidating workers and effectively offering to improve working conditions if employees voted against unionizing.The National Labor Relations Board later issued a complaint against the company along these lines, after investigating and finding merit to the accusations.The company denied that it had violated the law and has long said that it is seeking to address operational issues like understaffing and inadequate training, efforts it said had preceded the organizing campaign.In response to a question about whether she or the company might be undermining the conditions for a fair union election, Ms. Williams said in an interview in October that she had no choice but to intervene.“If I went to a market and saw the condition some of these stores are in, and I didn’t do anything about it, it would be so against my job,” she said at the time. “There’s no way I could come here and say I’m not going to do anything.”Mr. Culver’s letter said that Ms. Williams would be replaced by Sara Trilling, who most recently oversaw the company’s operations in the Asia-Pacific region. More

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    Inflation Expected to Remain High Even as Economy Slows and Layoffs Rise

    Kat Johnston didn’t expect the pandemic to make her less stressed about her finances. After all, she temporarily lost her job at the library where she worked full time. But, like many Americans, she found an unexpected reprieve from money worries: Months at home limited her spending, and she received expanded unemployment insurance and two one-time checks from the government.“When I first came back to work, I had probably $2,200 in savings — which I know is not much, but it’s more than I’d had in a while,” she said. But it was no match for the inflation that has come since. “That savings is pretty much gone now. As things have gotten so expensive, it’s been almost a paycheck-to-paycheck life.”Ms. Johnston, 31, lives in the Dallas area in a studio apartment and had hoped to upgrade to a one-bedroom — her cat will occasionally use her bed as a litter box, so being able to shut the door would be good. Yet rent is increasing enough that she is considering moving in with a roommate instead.Gas is so expensive that she is buying just a quarter of a tank at a time. Her $65,000 in student loans from undergraduate and graduate school were in forbearance before the pandemic because she was struggling to afford them on her roughly $40,000 annual income. She has been able to continue not paying them because of a government moratorium, but she knows that may not last forever.She’d like to find a better-paying job, but she’s unsure about leaving a secure position — and embarking on a draining job search — at a moment when economists and investors warn of an impending recession. “It does feel like whatever I was thinking I was going to do is on hold,” she said.Kat Johnston has returned to work full time but her savings are depleted and she is thinking about getting a roommate as rents in the Dallas area climb sharply.Dylan Hollingsworth for The New York TimesMillions of Americans are feeling similarly stuck as their savings run low and their cost of living runs high. Now, the economy appears poised to slow — potentially sharply — in ways that could limit wage growth and cause job losses even as prices remain elevated. But instead of rushing to the economy’s aid by giving Americans money, as they did in March 2020, policymakers are engineering this slowdown. Then, the problem was a global pandemic; now, it’s stubbornly high inflation, and the main way the government knows to solve that is by inflicting some economic pain.In other words, the long-predicted “cliff” may finally have arrived.When the first round of pandemic aid programs began to expire in the summer of 2020, economists warned of a looming cliff facing both Americans who still needed government help and the pandemic-addled economy that was not yet ready to stand on its own. They repeated those warnings last fall, when Congress allowed unemployment benefits to expire for millions of workers, and again in January, when monthly payments for families with children came to an end.The loss of those programs and others, including enhanced nutrition benefits, was painful for many families. But for the economy as a whole, the cliffs turned out to be more like potholes. Consumers kept on spending, in part because trillions in government aid had allowed many Americans to build up at least a small financial buffer — as Ms. Johnston did — and in part because a record-setting recovery in the job market gave workers an income boost that helped offset the loss in government aid.Now, as savings run dry and consumers struggle under the weight of higher prices and rising interest rates, early cracks are beginning to show — and are likely to widen from here.Understand Inflation and How It Impacts YouInflation 101: What is inflation, why is it up and whom does it hurt? Our guide explains it all.Greedflation: Some experts contend that big corporations are supercharging inflation by jacking up prices. We take a closer look at the issue. Inflation Calculator: How you experience inflation can vary greatly depending on your spending habits. Answer these seven questions to estimate your personal inflation rate.For Investors: At last, interest rates for money market funds have started to rise. But inflation means that in real terms, you’re still losing money.Pay gains have been falling behind inflation for months. Credit card balances, which fell early in the pandemic, are rising toward a record high. Subprime borrowers — those with weak credit scores — are increasingly falling behind on payments on car loans in particular, credit bureau data show. Measures of hunger are rising, even with unemployment still low and the overall economy still strong.“It’s a grim picture already,” said Elizabeth Ananat, an economist at Barnard College who has studied the pandemic’s impact on low-income families. “Families are doing much worse than they were a few months ago.”Matrice Moore-Carr, a registrar at a public hospital in Nashville, Tenn., kept her job during the pandemic, and even managed to get a bit ahead, thanks to stimulus checks that helped her pay off her electric bill and stop worrying, at least for a little while, about whether she could afford gas for her car.When prices began to rise last year, Ms. Moore-Carr took on overtime shifts in the emergency room to make ends meet. When that wasn’t enough, she took a part-time job as a hotel receptionist. Now she is working seven days a week, often multiple jobs in one day, and still struggling to pay her bills.“That’s what’s been helping me keep the gas in the car and food on the table and the electricity going,” she said. “I’ve been making it work. I’m tired, I’ll tell you that. I’m so sleepy.”Ms. Moore-Carr, 52, owns her home, which she said is the only thing that allows her to keep living in Nashville, where both rents and home prices have soared in the pandemic. But the price of everything else has gone up — she joked about buying a horse to save on gas. On Tuesday, she stopped by the bank and turned in $47 in pennies.What she said she really worries about is the prospect of losing her overtime hours.“I don’t know what I’m going to do if anything gets any worse than it is now,” she said. “Am I going to have to cut my meals back? Am I going to have to eat once a day as opposed to three? I don’t know. It’s just tough.”Low-income households, at least on average, emerged from the first two years of the pandemic in remarkably strong financial shape. Trillions of dollars in government aid ensured that poverty fell in 2020, despite the loss of tens of millions of jobs. New rounds of assistance in 2021, including monthly payments through an expanded Child Tax Credit, led to a sharp drop in measures of childhood poverty and hunger. Those programs came from a very different economic moment, however. In 2020, and to a lesser degree in 2021, the needs of individual households and the needs of the broader economy were aligned: Stimulus checks and other forms of government aid helped jobless workers and their families avoid eviction, while at the same time helping businesses avoid bankruptcy, landlords avoid foreclosure, and cities and states avoid a collapse in their tax revenue.Today, that alignment has broken down. Giving people money now might help them pay their bills, but it could also make inflation worse by adding to demand as businesses are already failing to produce enough goods and hire enough workers.The Federal Reserve is instead trying to cool off the economy by raising interest rates, making it more expensive to borrow money to buy a house or expand a company. Weaker business activity will slow hiring, leading to slower wage growth and, most likely, more layoffs. It could also allow America’s goods and services — limited for more than a year by supply chain snarls and labor shortages — to catch up to demand, putting a damper on rising prices.Fed policymakers argue that this strategy is necessary to put the economy on a more sustainable path. But even as conditions take a turn for the worse, inflation will probably take a while to slow, and Fed officials themselves think it will still be elevated at the end of the year.“The transition is going to be very difficult,” said Seth Carpenter, global chief economist at Morgan Stanley and a former Fed economist. “At least historically, it takes a really long time for inflation to come down, even after the economy slows.”Even if the Fed can avoid causing a recession, a weakening labor market will bring hardship for many. Job losses can be devastating, often setting off a downward spiral of eviction and debt. Those who keep their jobs are likely to get fewer hours of work and to lose bargaining power.“Low-income workers, workers with low levels of education, Black and brown workers are the first to lose their jobs and the last to get them back,” said Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach, a Northwestern University economist who studies anti-poverty programs.Inflation F.A.Q.Card 1 of 5What is inflation? More

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    The Fed Raises Interest Rates by 0.75 Percentage Points to Tackle Inflation

    The Federal Reserve took its most aggressive step yet to try to tame rapid and persistent inflation, raising interest rates by three-quarters of a percentage point on Wednesday and signaling that it is prepared to inflict economic pain to get prices under control.The rate increase was the central bank’s biggest since 1994 and could be followed by a similarly sized move next month, suggested Jerome H. Powell, the Fed chair, underscoring just how much America’s unexpectedly stubborn price gains are unsettling Fed officials.As central bankers drive their policy rate rapidly higher, it will make buying a home or expanding a business more expensive, restraining spending and slowing the broader economy. Officials expect growth to moderate in the coming months and years and predicted that unemployment will rise about half a percentage point to 4.1 percent by late 2024 as their policy squeezes companies and workers.Mr. Powell acknowledged that it was becoming increasingly difficult for the Fed to slow inflation without causing a recession as outside forces, including the war in Ukraine and factory shutdowns in China, threaten to curb the supply of goods and commodities like oil. If the Fed has to quash demand to an extreme degree in an effort to bring it into line with limited supply, it could make for a slump that leaves businesses shuttered and people unemployed.“We’re not trying to induce a recession right now, let’s be clear about that,” Mr. Powell said, explaining that the Fed still wants to reduce inflation to its 2 percent goal while keeping the labor market strong — an outcome economists call a “soft landing.”But “those pathways have become much more challenging due to factors that are outside of our control,” he said, later adding that “the environment has become more difficult, clearly, in the last four or five months.”The latest move set the Fed’s policy rate in a range of 1.50 percent to 1.75 percent, and more rate increases are to come. Mr. Powell signaled that the debate at the Federal Open Market Committee’s next meeting in July will be over whether to raise rates half a point or to repeat an increase of three-quarters of a point, though he added that he did “not expect moves of this size to be common.”Officials expect interest rates to hit 3.4 percent by the end of 2022, according to economic projections they released Wednesday, which would be the highest level since 2008. They also foresee the Fed’s policy rate peaking at 3.8 percent at the end of 2023, up from 2.8 percent when projections were last released in March.As rates rise, policymakers anticipate that growth will slow and joblessness will climb slightly, starting this year.“What Powell and the rest of the F.O.M.C. are saying is that restoring price stability is the primary focus — if they risk a mild recession, or a bumpy soft landing, that would still be successful,” said Kathy Bostjancic, chief U.S. economist at Oxford Economics. “The focus is greatly on inflation right now.”Until late last week, investors and many economists expected the central bank to raise interest rates just half a percentage point at this week’s meeting. The Fed had lifted rates by a quarter point in March and half a point in May, and had signaled that it expected to continue that pace in June and July.But central bankers have received a spate of bad news on inflation in recent days. The Consumer Price Index jumped 8.6 percent in May from a year earlier, the fastest increase since late 1981. The pace was brisk even after the stripping out of food and fuel prices.While the Fed’s preferred price gauge — the Personal Consumption Expenditures measure — is climbing slightly more slowly, it remains too hot for comfort as well. And consumers are beginning to expect faster inflation in the months and years ahead, based on surveys, which is a worrying development. Economists think that expectations can be self-fulfilling, causing people to ask for wage increases and accept price jumps in ways that perpetuate high inflation.“What we’re looking for is compelling evidence that inflationary pressures are abating, and that inflation is moving back down,” Mr. Powell said at his news conference Wednesday, noting that instead the inflation situation has worsened. “We thought that strong action was warranted.”One Fed official, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, Esther George, voted against the rate increase. Though Ms. George has historically worried about high inflation and favored higher interest rates, she would have preferred a half-point move in this instance.Some analysts found the Fed’s economic projections and Mr. Powell’s view that a soft landing may still be possible to be optimistic in light of the more aggressive policy path the central bank has charted. Economists at Wells Fargo announced after the Fed meeting that they expected a downturn to start midway through next year.“The Fed is becoming a bit more realistic about how difficult it is going to be to lower inflation without inflicting damage on the labor market,” said Sarah House, a senior economist at Wells Fargo. “There is that growing acknowledgment that a soft landing is increasingly difficult — I still think they’re painting a fairly rosy picture.”Stock prices have been plummeting and bond market signals are flashing red as Wall Street traders and economists increasingly expect that the economy may tip into a recession. On Wednesday, the S&P 500 rose 1.5 percent, climbing after the release of the decision and Mr. Powell’s news conference, most likely because investors had already expected the Fed to make a large move.The economy remains strong for now, but the Fed’s actions are beginning to have a real-world impact: Mortgage rates have risen sharply and are helping to cool the housing market; demand for consumer goods is showing signs of beginning to slow as borrowing becomes more expensive; and job growth, while robust, has begun to moderate.While the economic path ahead may be a rocky one, the Fed’s policymakers contend that things would be worse in the long run if they did not act. As prices surge, worker pay is not keeping up. That means that families are falling behind as they try to afford gas, food and rent, even in a very strong labor market.“You really cannot have the kind of labor market we want without price stability,” Mr. Powell said Wednesday, explaining that what officials want is a job market with lots of job opportunities and rising wages. “It’s not going to happen with the levels of inflation we have.”The White House has been emphasizing that the Fed plays the key role in bringing down inflation, even as the Biden administration does what it can to reduce some costs for beleaguered consumers and urges companies to improve gas supply.“The Federal Reserve has a primary responsibility to control inflation,” President Biden wrote in a recent opinion column. He added that “past presidents have sought to influence its decisions inappropriately during periods of elevated inflation. I won’t do this.” More

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    Fed Set to Lift Rates as ‘Soft-ish Landing’ Becomes a Harder Sell

    The central bank has hoped to cool down the economy without pushing unemployment much higher. Stubborn inflation narrows that path.Federal Reserve officials are meeting this week with one major goal in mind: cooling the economy enough to slow rapid inflation.The odds of pulling that off without plunging the nation into a recession are growing slimmer.As the Fed prepares to take an aggressive stance to tamp down persistent inflation — likely discussing raising interest rates by three-quarters of a point on Wednesday — investors, consumers and economists increasingly expect that the economy could tip into a downturn next year. Even researchers who think the central bank can still pull off a “soft landing,” in which policymakers guide the economy onto a more sustainable path without causing a spike in unemployment and an outright contraction, acknowledge that the path toward that optimistic outcome has become narrower.“It was not obvious that a soft landing was feasible,” said Michael Feroli, chief U.S. economist at J.P. Morgan, who still thinks it could happen. “The degree of difficulty has probably increased.”The trouble stems from America’s inflation data, which have been growing more worrying. Consumer prices accelerated in May to an 8.6 percent pace, the fastest since 1981. Even after volatile food and fuel costs, which the central bank cannot do much to control, are stripped out, inflation was firmer than expected last month as rents, airfares and hotel room rates surged. Compounding the problem, two recent reports showed, inflation expectations are headed higher.The data suggest the Fed may need to act more decisively, slowing consumer and business spending and the job market even more, to bring prices under control.Before last week’s inflation report, central bankers had been expected to raise interest rates by half a percentage point this week and then again in July. But now the Fed is likely to discuss moving more rapidly to try to stamp out inflation pressures before they become a permanent feature of the economic backdrop. It could also continue to raise rates by more than the usual quarter-point increments into September or even beyond, many economists predict.The Fed has already raised rates twice this year, by a quarter point in March and half a point in May. If it takes more drastic action — making mortgages and business loans even more expensive, choking off corporate expansion plans and crimping the labor market — it would make higher unemployment and a shrinking economy more likely.Understand Inflation and How It Impacts YouInflation 101: What is inflation, why is it up and whom does it hurt? Our guide explains it all.Greedflation: Some experts contend that big corporations are supercharging inflation by jacking up prices. We take a closer look at the issue. Inflation Calculator: How you experience inflation can vary greatly depending on your spending habits. Answer these seven questions to estimate your personal inflation rate.For Investors: At last, interest rates for money market funds have started to rise. But inflation means that in real terms, you’re still losing money.For months, the Fed has acknowledged that the path toward slower inflation was likely to be an unpleasant one. When the central bank raises the federal funds rate, it filters out through the economy to slow consumer and business demand, eventually weighing on wages and prices. The way to bring inflation under control is, essentially, to cause a little economic pain.Still, top policymakers have voiced consistent optimism that because America’s labor market was starting from a solid position, it might be possible to cool down inflation without erasing recent job market progress. With so many job openings per unemployed worker, the logic went, it might be possible to restrain conditions just enough to bring the supply of workers into better balance with employer demands.“I think we have a good chance to have a soft or soft-ish landing,” Jerome H. Powell, the Fed chair, said at his news conference after the central bank’s May meeting. He added that “the economy is strong and is well positioned to handle tighter monetary policy.”Food and fuel costs are very volatile, but the central bank cannot do much to control them. Alisha Jucevic for The New York TimesBut somebody has to feel the pressure and stop spending for the Fed’s policy to work — and with inflation higher and more stubborn, it will take a bigger squeeze on demand to bring it in line.In fact, Mr. Feroli at J.P. Morgan said, the Fed’s economic projections — which will be released for the first time since March after this meeting — could show a marked slowdown in growth and an increase in the jobless rate to illustrate that policymakers are serious about reining in the economy and controlling prices. Joblessness is now at 3.6 percent, which is below the 4 percent level that Fed officials believe a healthy economy can sustain over the longer run.If the Fed has to slow the economy drastically, it will be a challenge to do that without causing a recession. For one thing, when unemployment spikes, recession tends to follow. Downturns have happened when the unemployment rate rose 0.5 percentage points over its recent low on average over a three-month period — a relationship called the Sahm Rule, after economist Claudia Sahm.For another, interest rates are a blunt tool and work with a lag, and the Fed may simply overdo it.Investors fear a bad outcome. Stocks sank into a bear market on Monday — meaning they have quickly dropped in value by 20 percent — as investors become nervous that the central bank is about to spur a recession in its quest to tame inflation.“People think that the soft-ish landing is a dream,” said Priya Misra, head of global rates strategy at TD Securities. “That’s the big picture.”It’s not just Wall Street that is increasingly glum. Consumer confidence fell to its lowest level on record in preliminary data from the University of Michigan survey, and expectations of higher unemployment in a New York Fed survey have been picking up.Inflation F.A.Q.Card 1 of 5What is inflation? More

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    Microsoft Pledges Neutrality in Union Campaigns at Activision

    The accord could ease the path for thousands of workers to unionize at the game company, which Microsoft is acquiring, and addresses an antitrust objection.Microsoft and the Communications Workers of America union announced an agreement on Monday that would make it easier for employees to unionize at the video game maker Activision Blizzard, which Microsoft is acquiring for $70 billion.Under the deal, which appears to be the first of its kind in the technology industry, Microsoft agreed to remain neutral if any of Activision’s eligible U.S. employees want to unionize, and employees would no longer have to petition the National Labor Relations Board for an election. The company has almost 7,000 employees in the United States, most of whom will be eligible to unionize under the arrangement.A group of nearly 30 employees at one of Activision’s studios voted to unionize through an N.L.R.B. election in May despite Activision’s opposition to holding the election. But completing such a process can be time consuming, with unions and employers sometimes spending months or even years litigating the results.Through the agreement, workers will have access to an expedited process for unionizing, overseen by a neutral third party, in which they will indicate their support for a union either by signing cards or confidentially through an electronic platform.“This process does gives us and Microsoft a way to do this quote unquote election without spending the time, the effort and the controversy that goes along with an N.L.R.B. election,” Chris Shelton, the president of the Communications Workers union, said in an interview.The union said that the neutrality agreement resolved the antitrust concerns it had with the acquisition, and that it now supported the deal, which Microsoft has said will close by the end of next June.Mr. Shelton and Brad Smith, Microsoft’s president, suggested that the deal could pave the way to wider unionization across the company and the industry. “This is a great opportunity for us to work with Chris and the C.W.A. and to learn and innovate,” Mr. Smith said in an interview. Microsoft said it was prepared to “build on” the deal in the future, but did not specifically comment on whether it planned to extend the terms to other gaming workers at the company.Microsoft indicated that under the agreement, it would refrain from an aggressive anti-union campaign if other Activision employees sought to unionize. “In practical terms, it means that we’re not going to try to jump in and put a thumb on the scale,” Mr. Smith said in the interview. “We will respect the fact that our employees are capable of making decisions for themselves and they have a right to do that.”Brad Smith of Microsoft said he was committed to engaging with unions “when employees wish to exercise their rights and Microsoft is presented with a specific unionization proposal.”Markus Schreiber/Associated PressFacing their own union campaigns, companies like Amazon and Starbucks have held frequent mandatory meetings with employees to argue that a union could leave them worse off.The labor board has issued complaints against Amazon that include accusations of threatening workers with a loss of benefits if they unionize, and against Starbucks over accusations that it fired workers who sought to form a union and effectively promised benefits to workers if they chose not to unionize. Both companies have denied the accusations. In a recent case brought by the N.L.R.B. in Arizona, a federal judge denied a request for an injunction to reinstate pro-union workers whom the labor board said Starbucks had forced out illegally.The agreement between Microsoft and the union would also protect workers’ right to communicate among themselves and with union officials about a union campaign — something many employers seek to discourage — and stipulates that disagreements between the company and the union will be resolved through an “expedited arbitration process.” N.L.R.B. complaints can take months or years to resolve.When Microsoft and Activision announced their blockbuster deal in January, the game maker was under stress as it faced accusations that senior executives had ignored sexual harassment and discrimination. Those concerns spurred organizing among Activision employees, including workers at its Raven Software studio in Wisconsin, which has developed games in popular franchises like Call of Duty.After a group of roughly 30 quality assurance, or Q.A., workers announced that they were seeking to unionize, Activision sought to convince the federal labor board that their election should not go forward. The game workers accused Activision of union-busting tactics, like increasing the pay of non-Raven Q.A. workers and splitting Q.A. workers up by embedding them across the Raven studio.Activision maintained that while some changes in this vein had come after the union campaign went public, the broader shift in approach had already been underway — for example, its move to change the status of hundreds of temporary and contingent workers to permanent full-time employees in the fall.The company argued that the entire Raven studio, comprising hundreds of workers, should have been allowed to vote on forming a union, rather than just a few dozen Q.A. workers. Q.A. employees, often on temporary contracts, are commonly considered the most overworked and underpaid members of game studios.In early March, the union signed a letter asking federal regulators to scrutinize the acquisition. “The potential takeover by Microsoft threatens to further undermine workers’ rights and suppress wages,” the letter said.Microsoft has since tried to strike a conciliatory tone. It said it would not stop Activision from voluntarily recognizing the union before a formal election, which Activision did not do. After the Raven Q.A. workers voted in late May to form the first union at a major North American game publisher, Phil Spencer, the head of gaming at Microsoft, told employees that he would recognize the Raven union once the deal between the two companies closed, the gaming news site Kotaku reported, citing a video of an employee town hall.Activision said on Friday that it was starting contract negotiations with the newly unionized Raven workers. “We decided to take this important step forward with our 27 represented employees and C.W.A. to explore their ideas and insights for how we might better serve our employees, players and other stakeholders,” Bobby Kotick, the company’s chief executive, said in a statement.In a blog post this month that appeared to foreshadow the deal, Mr. Smith announced a set of principles to guide Microsoft’s response to labor organizing, an indication that it was taking a more open approach across the company’s businesses.He wrote that he had observed Microsoft’s successful “collaborative experiences with works councils and unions” while working in Europe and said that in the United States the company would pursue “collaborative approaches that will make it simpler, rather than more difficult, for our employees to make informed decisions and to exercise their legal right to choose whether to form or join a union.”In the interview, Mr. Smith called the neutrality agreement “our first opportunity to put those principles into practice.”The Communications Workers of America, which represents employees at companies like AT&T Mobility, Verizon and The New York Times, has sought to organize tech industry workers in recent years. It has begun organizing retail workers at Apple Stores and helped workers at Google form a so-called minority union, which allows them to act together on workplace issues without having to win a union election.About a dozen retail employees at Google Fiber stores in Kansas City, Mo., who are formally employed by a Google contractor, recently voted to join the union.Kellen Browning More

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    Trader Joe’s Workers File to Hold Company’s First Union Election

    The workers, at a store in western Massachusetts, cited health and safety concerns and cuts to benefits at the grocery chain.In a sign that service industry workers continue to have a strong interest in unionizing after successful votes at Starbucks, REI and Amazon, employees at a Trader Joe’s in western Massachusetts have filed for a union election. If they win, they will create the only union at Trader Joe’s, which has more than 500 locations and 50,000 employees nationwide.The filing with the National Labor Relations Board late Tuesday seeks an election involving about 85 employees who would form an independent union, Trader Joe’s United, rather than affiliate with an established labor organization. That echoes the independent union created by Amazon workers on Staten Island and the worker-led organizing at Starbucks.“Over the past however many years, changes have been happening without our consent,” said Maeg Yosef, an 18-year employee of the store who is a leader of the union campaign. “We wanted to be in charge of the whole process, to be our own union. So we decided to go independent.”Ms. Yosef said the union had support from over 50 percent of workers at the store, known as crew members.“We have always said we welcome a fair vote and are prepared to hold a vote if more than 30 percent of the crew wants one,” said a company spokeswoman, Nakia Rohde, alluding to the N.L.R.B. threshold for an election. “We are not interested in delaying the process in any way.”The company shared a similar statement with workers after they announced their intention to unionize in mid-May.In explaining their decision, Ms. Yosef and four colleagues, all of whom have been with the company for at least eight years, cited changes that had made their benefits less generous over time, as well as health and safety concerns, many of which were magnified during the pandemic.“This is probably where we get to all of these things coming together,” said Tony Falco, another worker involved in the union campaign, alluding to Covid-19.Mr. Falco said the store, in Hadley, took several reassuring steps during the first 12 to 15 months of the pandemic. Management enforced masking requirements and restrictions on the number of customers who could be in the store at once. It allowed workers to take leaves of absence while continuing to receive health insurance and gave workers additional “thank you” pay as high as $4 per hour.But Mr. Falco and others said the company was too quick to roll back many of these measures — including additional pay — as vaccines became widely available last year, and noted that the store had suffered Covid outbreaks in the past several weeks after masking became laxer. The store followed the policy of the local health board, which altered its mask mandate at various points, lifting it most recently in March.Some employees were also upset that the company did not inform them that the state had passed a law requiring employers to provide up to five paid days off for workers who missed work because of Covid.“It was in effect seven months, and they never announced it,” Ms. Yosef said. “I figured that out at the end of December, early January.”Ms. Rohde, the spokeswoman, said this account was incorrect, but four other employees who support the union also said the company had not told them of the policy.A Trader Joe’s store in New York. Early in the pandemic, the chief executive wrote that union advocates “clearly believe that now is a moment when they can create some sort of wedge in our company.”Benjamin Norman for The New York TimesTrader Joe’s has generally resisted unionization over the years, including earlier in the pandemic. In March 2020, the chief executive, Dan Bane, sent employees a letter referring to “the current barrage of union activity that has been directed at Trader Joe’s” and complaining that union advocates “clearly believe that now is a moment when they can create some sort of wedge in our company through which they can drive discontent.”The company’s response to the current campaign appears somewhat less hostile, though union organizers have recently filed charges of unfair labor practices, such as asking employees to remove pro-union pins.Several employees said a broader issue was underlying their frustrations: what they saw as the company’s evolution from a niche outlet known for pampering customers and treating employees generously to an industrial-scale chain that is more focused on the bottom line.The company’s employee handbook urges workers to provide a “Wow customer experience,” which it defines as “the feelings a customer gets about our delight that they are shopping with us.” But longtime employees say the company, which is privately held, has gradually become stingier with workers.For years, the company offered health care widely to part-timers. In the early 2010s, the company raised the average weekly hours that employees needed to qualify for full health coverage to 30 from roughly 20, informing those who no longer qualified that they could receive coverage under the federal Affordable Care Act instead. (The company dropped the threshold to 28 hours more recently.)“It was done under the guise of ‘You can get these plans, they’re the same plans,’ but they were not the same plans,” said Sarah Yosef, the Hadley store’s manager at the time, who later stepped back from the role and is now a frontline worker there.“I had to sit there individually with crew members saying you’re going to be losing health insurance,” added Ms. Yosef, who is married to Maeg Yosef.Retirement benefits have followed a similar trajectory: Around the same time, Trader Joe’s lowered its retirement contribution to 10 percent of an employee’s earnings from about 15 percent, for employees 30 and older. Beginning with last year’s benefit, the company lowered the percentage again for many workers, who saw the contribution fall to 5 percent. The company is no longer specifying any set amount.Tony Falco and Sarah Yosef at the Trader Joe’s store in Hadley. She said, “I had to sit there individually with crew members saying you’re going to be losing health insurance.”Holly Lynton for The New York TimesMs. Rohde, the spokeswoman, said the change was partly a response to indications from many workers that they would prefer a bonus to a retirement contribution.Workers said the company’s determination to provide an intimate shopping experience had often come at their expense amid a rapid increase in business over the past decade, and then again with the resurgence of business as pandemic restrictions lifted.For example, Trader Joe’s doesn’t have conveyor belts at checkout lines and instructs cashiers to reach into customers’ carts or baskets to unload items. This can appear to personalize the service but takes a physical toll on workers, who typically bend over hundreds of times during a shift.(The company asks workers to perform different tasks throughout the day so they are not constantly ringing up customers.)Maeg Yosef and her co-workers began discussing the union campaign over the winter, angry over the store’s failure to publicize the state-mandated paid leave benefit and the change in retirement benefits, and some have drawn inspiration from the successful union elections at Starbucks, Amazon and REI.Their union campaign may also benefit from the same leverage that workers at those companies enjoyed as a result of the relatively tight job market.“People just keep leaving — I know they want to hire people now,” Maeg Yosef said. “It’s hard to keep people around.” More