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    Amazon Union Success May Point to a New Labor Playbook

    After the stunning victory at Amazon by a little-known independent union that didn’t exist 18 months ago, organized labor has begun to ask itself an increasingly pressing question: Does the labor movement need to get more disorganized?Unlike traditional unions, the Amazon Labor Union relied almost entirely on current and former workers rather than professional organizers in its campaign at a Staten Island warehouse. For financing, it turned to GoFundMe appeals rather than union coffers built from the dues of existing members. It spread the word in a break room and at low-key barbecues outside the warehouse.In the end, the approach succeeded where far bigger, wealthier and more established unions have repeatedly fallen short.“It’s sending a wake-up call to the rest of the labor movement,” said Mark Dimondstein, the president of the American Postal Workers Union. “We have to be homegrown — we have to be driven by workers — to give ourselves the best chance.”The success at Amazon comes on the heels of worker-driven initiatives in a variety of other industries. In 2018, rank-and-file public-school teachers in states like West Virginia and Arizona used social media to plan a series of walkouts, setting in motion one of the largest labor actions in recent decades and forcing union leaders to embrace their tactics.White-collar tech workers have organized protests at Google and Netflix over issues like sexual harassment and prejudice toward transgender people. At colleges like Grinnell and Dartmouth, workers have recently formed unions that are unaffiliated with existing labor groups.And at Starbucks, where workers have voted to unionize 10 corporate-owned stores and filed for elections in roughly 150 more over the past six months, the campaign has largely expanded through worker-to-worker interactions over email, text and Zoom, even as it is being overseen by Workers United, an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union.Nonunion Starbucks employees typically receive advice from their newly unionized counterparts, then meet with co-workers in their stores, distribute union cards, decide whether and when to file for an election and respond to media inquiries — responsibilities that professional union staff members often carry out in traditional campaigns.“I can give my opinions — experience means something, but living it means more,” said Richard Bensinger, an organizer for Workers United, referring to the difference between organizing as an outsider and working at a company.Some union officials have criticized the labor movement for being content to shrink gradually, like a wheezing media giant ill suited for the internet age, rather than experiment with new models and invest aggressively in recruitment. They have pointed to a decline in funding for an A.F.L.-C.I.O. department dedicated to organizing, though the federation’s president, Liz Shuler, has said organizing remains a priority and is funded through different mechanisms.A Landmark Win for Unionization at AmazonWorkers at an Amazon warehouse on Staten Island delivered one of the biggest victories for organized labor in a generation.The Vote: Despite heavy lobbying by the company, workers at the warehouse chose to unionize by a wide margin.How the Union Won: After Amazon fired Christian Smalls, he and his best friend rallied other warehouse workers with home cooking and TikTok videos.Amazon’s Approach: The company has tried to counter unionization efforts with employee “training” sessions that carry clear anti-union messages.Times Investigation: In 2021, we found that the Staten Island facility clearly displayed the stresses in Amazon’s employment model.Other activists and scholars have complained that even when established unions do invest in organizing, some are too intent on controlling key decisions and use workers merely as props who recite union-crafted talking points.Amazon employees on Staten Island lined up to vote last month.DeSean McClinton-Holland for The New York TimesIn her book “No Shortcuts: Organizing for Power in the New Gilded Age,” the organizer and scholar Jane McAlevey wrote skeptically of two common approaches of established unions. One is “advocacy,” in which union officials try to hammer out deals with corporate executives or political power brokers to allow workers to unionize, but with little input from workers.Ms. McAlevey also questioned an approach she called “mobilization,” in which the union takes on an employer primarily through the efforts of a professional staff, consultants and a cadre of activists rather than a large group of rank-and-file workers. “The staffers see themselves, not ordinary people, as the key agents of change,” she wrote.Some union officials have argued that the Fight for $15 campaign, in which the service employees’ union has spent tens of millions of dollars seeking to raise wages and help fast-food workers unionize, and OUR Walmart, which had similar goals for Walmart employees, were effectively mobilization efforts run largely by professional operatives.“They were engaged in a campaign to try to bring to bear a lot of external pressure, with show strikes and community support, to jack up Walmart to deal with them,” said Peter Olney, a former organizing director of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, alluding to protests involving activists but few workers. “My critique is that was not going to happen. Walmart is not going to respond to show strikes. You have to have real strikes.”The critics typically acknowledge that the campaigns helped galvanize support for higher wages even if they fell short of unionizing workers. Defenders say the goal is to have an impact on a company- or industrywide scale rather than a few individual stores. They point to certain developments, like a pending California bill that would regulate fast-food wages and working conditions, as signs of progress.In other cases, workers themselves have perceived the limitations of established unions and the advantages of going it alone. Joseph Fink, who works at an Amazon Fresh grocery store in Seattle with roughly 150 employees, said the workers there had reached out to a few unions when seeking to organize in the summer but decided that the unions’ focus on winning recognition through National Labor Relations Board elections would delay resolution of their complaints, which included sexual harassment and health and safety threats.When the workers floated the idea of staging protests or walkouts as an alternative, union officials responded cautiously. “We received the response that if we were to speak up, assert our rights publicly, we’d be terminated,” Mr. Fink said. “It was a self-defeating narrative.”The workers decided to form a union on their own without the formal blessing of the N.L.R.B., a model known as a “solidarity union,” whose roots precede the modern labor movement.For workers who do seek N.L.R.B. certification, doing so independent of an established union also has advantages, such as confounding the talking points of employers and consultants, who often paint unions as “third parties” seeking to hoard workers’ dues.At Amazon, the strategy was akin to sending a conventional army into battle against guerrillas: Organizers said the talking points had fallen flat once co-workers realized that the union consisted of fellow employees rather than outsiders.“When a worker comes up to me, they look at me, then see I have a badge on and say, ‘You work here?’ They ask it in the most surprising way,” said Angelika Maldonado, an Amazon employee on Staten Island who heads the union’s workers committee. “‘I’m like, ‘Yeah, I work here.’ It makes us relatable from the beginning.”In recent years, a variety of groups have sought to make it easier for workers to organize independently. The nonprofit Solidarity Fund has provided stipends to workers involved in organizing campaigns and awarded $2,500 grants to seven Amazon workers on Staten Island last year.A for-profit company, Unit, provides software allowing workers to track the support of co-workers and file authorization signatures electronically with the N.L.R.B. The company, structured as a public benefit corporation, pairs workers with one of its professional organizers during the most delicate portions of the unionizing process, such as employer anti-union meetings. It recently helped its first group of workers unionize at Piedmont Health Services, a health care provider in North Carolina with roughly 40 eligible employees.Christian Smalls, an Amazon union leader and former employee, introduced Angelika Maldonado, who works at the Staten Island warehouse, at a rally last month.DeSean McClinton-Holland for The New York TimesThe problem for independent organizing efforts is that their momentum can be hard to sustain, even with such cutting-edge tools, or after securing a win through a strike or an election.“The organizing never stops,” said Kate Bronfenbrenner, director of labor education research at Cornell University. “You can’t sit back. For a normal first contract campaign, it averages three years. If Amazon contests this in court, this is going to take a lot longer.”Established unions like the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, which came close to winning a do-over election last week at an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Ala., and recently notched a victory at the outdoor retailer REI, can provide institutional support to see the effort through.For worker-led unions, such challenges may point to the need for a hybrid approach in which they retain control of their organizations but seek guidance and resources from more established unions — something that is already occurring to varying degrees.The Amazon workers on Staten Island received pro bono legal help from employees of established unions as well as office space, and the Communications Workers of America lent them a messaging platform capable of sending out texts to co-workers en masse.At Starbucks, Workers United has paid for extensive legal work, such as litigating the company’s challenges to election petitions. One of the Buffalo baristas involved in the original campaign is also an organizer paid by Workers United.The question is whether traditional unions, while ramping up their contributions to these efforts, including opposition research and other public relations strategies, will be able to resist the temptation to seize control from the workers who fueled them.Mr. Dimondstein, who said his postal workers union was prepared to contribute resources to the Amazon campaign with no strings attached, advised his fellow union leaders to stand down and play a similar long game.“We need to make sure this doesn’t break down into jurisdictional fights — who’s getting these types of workers, these members,” he said.But when asked whether he thought established unions would be able to resist that temptation, Mr. Dimondstein confessed his uncertainty. “Well, I don’t know how confident I am,” he said. “I know it’s necessary.” More

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    Truck Drivers’ On-the-Job Training Can Be Costly if They Quit

    Wayne Orr didn’t yet know that his foot was broken as he made his way back from Texas to his home in South Carolina, but he did know that he couldn’t continue pressing the pedals on the tractor-trailer he had been driving.A new driver only a few months past his training period, he had to sit out for six weeks without pay. Then, when his foot finally healed, he discovered that his company, CRST Expedited, had fired him. Frustrated and needing a paycheck, he found a new job driving for Schneider International, but was once again stymied: CRST threatened to sue Schneider for hiring him, he said.“I called CRST and they told me that they would not take me back and that I had to pay them $6,500 or I could never drive for another company, either,” Mr. Orr, 59, said.He had signed a contract to work for CRST for 10 months in exchange for a two-week training course. If he didn’t last 10 months, the contract required him to pay the company $6,500 for that training.Each year, thousands of aspiring truck drivers sign up for training with some of the nation’s biggest freight haulers. But the training programs often fail to deliver the compensation and working conditions they promise. And drivers who quit early can be pursued by debt collectors and blacklisted by other companies in the industry, making it difficult for them to find a new job.At least 18 companies, employing tens of thousands of drivers, run programs aimed at qualifying trainees for a commercial driver’s license, or C.D.L. Typically, to get free training, the new hires must drive for the company for six months to about two years, usually starting at a reduced wage.The companies “sign them into this indentured servitude contract where they basically have to drive and be a profit source for the company,” said Michael Young, a lawyer in Utah representing a former trainee in a lawsuit against C.R. England, a privately held trucking company that employs about 4,800 drivers.With e-commerce leading Americans to expect quick delivery, trucking companies face pressure to haul more and do it faster. The American Trucking Associations, a trade association, has warned of a vast truck driver shortage. But researchers and drivers’ representatives maintain that the high turnover occurs because too many large companies fail to make their jobs attractive enough. The industry has been plagued with class-action lawsuits about working conditions and wages, leading to hundreds of millions of dollars in settlements.Nine in 10 drivers leave their jobs within a year at large carriers like CRST and C.R. England, according to the trucking trade group. The companies need a constant flow of new recruits to keep revenue up, and without locking them into a contract, they risk losing their newly trained drivers to competitors offering a higher wage.“We think paying for C.D.L. school is a great benefit we can offer but not one that we can afford to do if folks do not come work with our team or ultimately pay us back,” said TJ England, chief legal officer of C.R. England. “If people just want to go to a different company, that’s where we try to protect our investment.”On the Road With America’s Truck DriversThe Cost of Quitting: Thousands of aspiring truckers sign up for training each year. But if they quit early, they may be pursued by debt collectors.Trucker Shortages: The real reason there aren’t enough drivers? It is a job full of stress, physical deprivation and loneliness.Supply Chain Issues: A wave of trucker retirements combined with those quitting for less stressful jobs is exacerbating shipping delays.‘We’re Throwaway People’: Trucking is no longer the road to the middle class that it once was. In 2017, we asked drivers why they do it.CRST, an Iowa-based company, would not answer specific questions for this article but said in an emailed statement that its training program “has brought thousands of drivers into the industry who may not otherwise have been able to obtain a commercial driver’s license.” As for Mr. Orr’s account, a spokeswoman would say only that it omitted key facts.The New York Times and The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit news organization, interviewed more than 30 current and former truckers with direct knowledge of company training programs, including 15 who had gone through them. Almost all 15 left before their contracts were up, despite intending to stick it out. One was given only four days at home in the four months he drove for CRST, just a quarter of what he said was promised in his contract, according to a complaint filed with the Iowa attorney general’s office.Others described weeks of unpaid time spent waiting for trainers. Many said they were never told that they would sit for hours, unpaid, while they waited for their trucks to be loaded and unloaded, or even for days to get a new assignment. Many drivers said they were told by the companies that they would make more than they did. Since drivers are paid by the mile, the time spent waiting cut significantly into their paychecks.In job advertisements and in their pitches to recruits, companies promise earnings of up to $70,000 in the first year and even higher salaries in the future. But the median annual wage for all truck drivers, regardless of experience, was $47,000 in May 2020, according to the most recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Only the top 10 percent of earners were making above $69,500.Wayne Orr attended CRST’s training program in 2019. “That training program is like a money mill to them,” he said. Sean Rayford for The New York TimesStill, many are attracted to trucking despite its sometimes punishing demands, seeing it as a possible on-ramp to the middle class. New drivers can train at independent schools, which can be expensive, or community colleges, which may take more time. Company training programs are a popular option for those eager for a paycheck right away.Many large companies start classes weekly; keeping a constant flow of people is crucial. They deputize their drivers, offering referral bonuses for every new person brought on board, and employ recruiters to pursue anyone who has expressed interest. In a training manual filed as an exhibit to a lawsuit in 2021, CRST instructed recruiters: “Create urgency. Tell the applicant we have a ‘few’ spots open. Our school and orientation will fill up quickly.”At most company schools, trainees typically spend two to four weeks learning in a classroom and in parking lots. Many former trainees said that the instruction was insufficient and that they spent little time in trucks.Amy Jeschke attended C.R. England’s program in Indiana in 2019. She went out on the road only twice during her training, she said, and the rest of the time did maneuvers in a yard or memorized what to do on a pre-trip inspection.“Honestly, we weren’t doing anything for most of the time,” Ms. Jeschke, 46, said. “You’re lucky if you got in the truck once a day.”Joy Skamser, 44, who also attended C.R. England’s training program in 2019 and lives in Southern Illinois, said she felt unprepared to drive, despite earning her commercial driver’s license at the end of the training.“They do not teach you how to drive a truck, they just teach you how to pass the test, and that’s very dangerous,” she said.Mr. England said the company gave high-quality training to its students that includes time in the classroom, on the driving range and on the road, with skill assessments throughout. Students who fail the assessments are given additional practice, he said.Once they have earned the license, drivers haul actual loads for their new employers. For typically four to 12 weeks, they are accompanied by a trainer. They earn a set weekly rate, varying by company but often $500 to $800, according to company websites. Mr. England said his company’s pay was $560 a week in 2019 and about $784 today.Trainers may be barely trained themselves, often needing only six months’ experience, and they are allowed to sleep in the back while the new driver is alone in the cab, according to industry experts and many companies.Ms. Jeschke said she finished her training without being able to back up, a crucial skill for truckers. She said she once spent a week at a truck stop, unpaid, waiting for another driver because she didn’t yet have the expertise to pick up a load on her own.Frustrated with the working conditions and the low pay, she and Ms. Skamser left C.R. England before their contracts were up and went to work for another trucking company, Werner Enterprises, where they say they were more fully trained.“I do not have words for how bad it was,” Ms. Jeschke said. “They do not care about drivers, only the loads.”Ms. Skamser said a debt collection agency was pursuing her for $6,000 that C.R. England says she owes for her training.It’s reasonable for companies to want to recoup the cost of training an individual, said Stewart J. Schwab, a professor at Cornell Law School. Still, he noted, like noncompete clauses, these contracts can significantly restrict worker mobility and hinder competition. In 2021, Mr. Schwab worked on a proposed law about restrictive employment agreements, such as the ones trucking companies use, with the Uniform Law Commission, a nonpartisan organization that drafts laws for states.The proposed legislation calls for the repayment of the training cost to be prorated based on when an employee leaves and says it should not exceed the actual cost of the training.Many major trucking companies don’t prorate their charges, meaning a driver who leaves on Day 1 after training would owe the same amount as one let go the day before fulfilling the contract. And companies are generally not made to account for how much they spend on the actual training. In 2019, a judge found that CRST’s charging $6,500 for its training “when in fact the cost was thousands of dollars lower” was a “deceptive practice.”That finding came as part of a class-action lawsuit that Mr. Orr eventually joined. The suit, which contended that drivers were being overcharged for their training and paid less than minimum wage for their hours worked, was settled for $12.5 million in 2021.Companies can come after drivers for money — or send them to debt collection — regardless of the reasons they leave or are let go. They also can try to prevent drivers from taking other jobs, as CRST did with Mr. Orr, lawyers for the drivers say. Such actions effectively deny those who want to leave a company the opportunity to do so and pay off their debt.Drivers who leave trucking companies before their contracts are up can be pursued by those companies — or by debt collectors — to pay thousands for training.Sean Rayford for The New York TimesA lawsuit filed in 2017 on behalf of drivers contends that eight companies, including CRST and C.R. England, are conspiring to block drivers under contract from changing jobs. Some companies refuse to release drivers’ records to prospective employers or send letters threatening litigation to competitors who don’t abide by a no-poaching agreement, the complaint says.Mr. England described the allegations as meritless but acknowledged in an interview that his company had “sued or threatened to sue some of our competitors for unlawfully interfering with those contractual relationships.”He said his company’s competitors had “unfairly taken advantage” of the training C.R. England provides to its drivers.Worried about being blackballed wherever he went, Mr. Orr took out a loan — the lowest interest rate he could find was 14 percent — and paid CRST. Through the class-action lawsuit, he was reimbursed for about two-thirds of what he had paid.“That training program is like a money mill to them,” he said. “They pretty much sell you a lot of dreams.”This article was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. More

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    The US Economy Is Booming. Why Are Economists Worrying About a Recession?

    There is little sign that a recession is imminent. But sky-high demand and supply shortages are testing the economy’s limits.Employers are adding hundreds of thousands of jobs a month, and would hire even more people if they could find them. Consumers are spending, businesses are investing, and wages are rising at their fastest pace in decades.So naturally, economists are warning of a possible recession.Rapid inflation, soaring oil prices and global instability have led forecasters to sharply lower their estimates of economic growth this year, and to raise their probabilities of an outright contraction. Investors share that concern: The bond market last week flashed a warning signal that has often — though not always — foreshadowed a downturn.Such predictions may seem confusing when the economy, by many measures, is booming. The United States has regained more than 90 percent of the jobs lost in the early weeks of the pandemic, and employers are continuing to hire at a breakneck pace, adding 431,000 jobs in March alone. The unemployment rate has fallen to 3.6 percent, barely above the prepandemic level, which was itself a half-century low.But to the doomsayers, the recovery’s remarkable strength carries the seeds of its own destruction. Demand — for cars, for homes, for restaurant meals and for the workers to provide them — has outstripped supply, leading to the fastest inflation in 40 years. Policymakers at the Federal Reserve argue they can cool off the economy and bring down inflation without driving up unemployment and causing a recession. But many economists are skeptical that the Fed can engineer such a “soft landing,” especially in a moment of such extreme global uncertainty.“It’s like trying to land during an earthquake,” said Tara Sinclair, a professor of economics at George Washington University.William Dudley, a former president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, called a recession “virtually inevitable.” He is among the economists arguing that if the Fed had begun raising interest rates last year, it might have been able to rein in inflation merely by tapping the brakes on the economy. Now, they say, the economy is growing so rapidly — and prices are rising so quickly — that the only way for the Fed to get control is to slam on the brakes and cause a recession.Still, a majority of forecasters say a recession remains unlikely in the next year. High oil prices, rising interest rates and waning government aid will all drag down growth this year, said Aneta Markowska, chief economist for Jefferies, an investment bank. But corporate profits are strong, households have trillions in savings, and debt loads are low — all of which should provide a cushion against any slowdown.“It’s easy to construct a very negative narrative, but when you actually look at the magnitude of all those impacts, I don’t think they’re significant enough to push us into a recession in the next 12 months,” she said. Recessions, almost by definition, involve job losses and unemployment; right now, companies are doing practically anything they can to retain workers.“I just don’t see what would cause businesses to do a complete 180 and go from ‘We need to hire all these people and we can’t find them’ to ‘We have to lay people off,’” Ms. Markowska said. Economists, however, are notoriously terrible at predicting recessions. So it makes sense to focus instead on where the recovery is right now, and on the forces that are threatening to knock it off course.The State of Jobs in the United StatesJob openings and the number of workers voluntarily leaving their positions in the United States remained near record levels in March.March Jobs Report: U.S. employers added 431,000 jobs and the unemployment rate fell to 3.6 percent ​​in the third month of 2022.A Strong Job Market: Data from the Labor Department showed that job openings remained near record levels in February.Wages and Inflation: Economists hoped that as households shifted spending back to services, price gains would cool. Rapid wage growth could make that story more complicated.New Career Paths: For some, the Covid-19 crisis presented an opportunity to change course. Here is how these six people pivoted professionally.Return to the Office: Many companies are loosening Covid safety rules, leaving people to navigate social distancing on their own. Some workers are concerned.Unionization Efforts: The pandemic has fueled enthusiasm for organized labor. But the pushback has been brutal, especially in the private sector.Growth will slow. That’s not necessarily a bad thing.Last year was the best year for economic growth since the mid-1980s, and the best for job growth on record. Those kinds of explosive gains — enabled by vaccines and fueled by trillions of dollars in government aid — were not likely to be repeated this year.In fact, some slowdown is probably desirable. The rapid rebound in consumer spending, especially on cars, furniture and other goods, has overwhelmed supply chains, driving up prices. Demand for workers is so strong that jobs are going unfilled despite rising wages. Jerome H. Powell, the Fed chair, said recently that the labor market had gotten “tight to an unhealthy level.”Some economists, particularly on the left, took issue with that claim, arguing that the hot labor market was good for workers. But even most of them said the recent pace of job growth was unsustainable for long.“We have torn back toward normal at a really fast pace, and it would be unrealistic to think that could continue,” said Josh Bivens, the director of research at the Economic Policy Institute, a progressive think tank. Even slower wage growth, he said, wouldn’t worry him, as long as pay increases didn’t fall further behind inflation.But some economists cautioned against rooting for a slowdown in a rare moment when low-wage workers were seeing substantial pay increases, and unemployment was falling for vulnerable groups. The unemployment rate among Black Americans fell to 6.2 percent in March, but was still nearly double that of white Americans.“The recovery from my perspective is fairly robust, and so why not enjoy this right now?” said Michelle Holder, president of the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, a progressive think tank. She said that while economists were right to be concerned about high inflation, “I don’t think similar voices were this bent out of shape about high unemployment.”A slowdown doesn’t have to mean a recession. (In theory.)Rush-hour commuters are returning to New York City’s subways. The United States has regained more than 90 percent of the jobs lost in the early weeks of the pandemic.Gabby Jones for The New York TimesThe key question for policymakers is whether they can cool the economy without putting it into deep freeze. Mr. Powell argues that they can, though he acknowledges that it won’t be easy.His argument goes something like this: There are 11 million open jobs and fewer than six million unemployed workers. There are more would-be home buyers than there are homes to buy, and more would-be car buyers than available cars. By gradually raising interest rates and making it more expensive to borrow, the Fed is hoping to curb demand for workers and homes and cars, but not by so much that employers start cutting jobs.That is a tricky balance, and historically the Fed has failed to achieve it more often than not. But unlike after the last recession, when the grindingly slow recovery seemed at constant risk of stalling out, the current rebound is fast enough that it could lose substantial momentum without going into reverse. Employers could slash hiring plans, for example, and still have jobs for practically anyone who wanted one.Some economists also remain hopeful that supply constraints will ease as the pandemic recedes, which would allow inflation to cool without the Fed’s needing to do as much to reduce demand. There are some signs of that happening: More than 400,000 people rejoined the labor force in March, as falling coronavirus cases and more reliable school schedules allowed more people to return to work.Aaron Sojourner, an economist at the University of Minnesota, said policymakers shouldn’t think of the economy as “overheating” so much as “fevered,” its capacity limited by the pandemic.“When you have a fever, you can’t perform at the level that you can perform at when you’re healthy, and you break a sweat even when you’re doing less than what you used to be able to do,” he said. Improvements in the public health crisis, he said, should allow the fever to break.A lot could go wrong.For much of last year, Fed officials shared Mr. Sojourner’s view, seeing inflation as a result of pandemic-related disruptions that would soon dissipate. When those disruptions proved more persistent than expected, policymakers changed course, but too late to prevent inflation from accelerating beyond what they intended to allow.The challenge is that central bankers must make decisions before all the data is available.It is possible, for example, that the imbalances that led to rapid inflation are beginning to dissipate, largely on their own. Federal aid programs created early in the pandemic have mostly ended, and many families have drawn down their savings. That could bring down demand just as supply is starting to catch up. In that scenario, the Fed could short-circuit the recovery if it acts too aggressively.But it is also possible that strong job growth and rising wages will keep consumer demand high, while supply-chain disruptions and labor shortages linger. In that case, if the Fed is too cautious, it runs the risk of letting inflation spiral further out of control. The last time that happened, the Fed under Paul A. Volcker had to induce a crippling recession in the early 1980s to bring inflation to heel.Mr. Powell has argued it is not too late to prevent such a “hard landing.” But even if a recession is inevitable, it isn’t likely to happen overnight.“I don’t think we’re going to go into a recession in the next 12 months,” said Megan Greene, a senior fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School and global chief economist for the Kroll Institute. “I think it’s possible in the 12 months after that.”Global turmoil makes everything more complicated. Soaring oil prices and global instability have led forecasters to lower their estimates of economic growth this year.Gabby Jones for The New York TimesWhen this year began, forecasters pegged February or March as the moment when major inflation indexes would hit their peak and begin to fall. But the war in Ukraine, and the resulting spike in oil prices, dashed those hopes. The year-over-year rate of inflation hit a 40-year high in February, and almost certainly accelerated further in March as gas prices topped $4 a gallon in much of the country.The pandemic itself also remains a wild card. China in recent weeks has imposed strict lockdowns in parts of the country in an effort to stop the spread of coronavirus cases there, and a new subvariant has led to a rise in cases in Europe. That could prolong supply-chain disruptions globally, even if the United States itself avoided another coronavirus wave.“The biggest unknown is global supply chains and how we manage all of those because it’s contingent on Chinese Covid policy and a war in Europe,” Ms. Greene said.There is little sign so far that rising gas prices, stock market volatility or fear of Covid has damped consumers’ willingness to spend, or businesses’ willingness to hire. But those factors are adding to uncertainty, making it harder for policymakers to discern where the economy is headed, and to decide how to react. More

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    Amazon Workers on Staten Island Vote to Unionize

    It was a union organizing campaign that few expected to have a chance. A handful of employees at Amazon’s massive warehouse on Staten Island, operating without support from national labor organizations, took on one of the most powerful companies in the world.And, somehow, they won.Workers at the facility voted by a wide margin to form a union, according to results released on Friday, in one of the biggest victories for organized labor in a generation.Employees cast 2,654 votes to be represented by Amazon Labor Union and 2,131 against, giving the union a win by more than 10 percentage points, according to the National Labor Relations Board. More than 8,300 workers at the warehouse, which is the only Amazon fulfillment center in New York City, were eligible to vote.The win on Staten Island comes at a perilous moment for labor unions in the United States, which saw the portion of workers in unions drop last year to 10.3 percent, the lowest rate in decades, despite high demand for workers, pockets of successful labor activity and rising public approval.Critics — including some labor officials — say that traditional unions haven’t spent enough money or shown enough imagination in organizing campaigns and that they have often bet on the wrong fights. Some point to tawdry corruption scandals.The union victory at Amazon, the first at the company in the United States after years of worker activism there, offers an enormous opportunity to change that trajectory and build on recent wins. Many union leaders regard Amazon as an existential threat to labor standards because it touches so many industries and frequently dominates them.Amazon employees waited to vote in the parking lot of the JFK8 fulfillment center last week.DeSean McClinton-Holland for The New York TimesBut the win by a little-known, independent union with few ties to existing groups appears to raise as many questions for the labor movement as it answers: not least, whether there is something fundamentally broken with the traditional bureaucratic union model that can be solved only by replacing it with grass-roots organizations like the one on Staten Island.Amazon is likely to aggressively contest the union’s win. An unsigned statement on its corporate blog said, “We’re disappointed with the outcome of the election in Staten Island because we believe having a direct relationship with the company is best for our employees.”The Staten Island outcome followed what appears likely to be a narrow loss by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union at a large Amazon warehouse in Alabama. The vote is close enough that the results will not be known for several weeks as contested ballots are litigated.The surprising strength shown by unions in both locations most likely means that Amazon will face years of pressure at other company facilities from labor groups and progressive activists working with them. As a recent string of union victories at Starbucks have shown, wins at one location can provide encouragement at others.Amazon hired voraciously over the past two years and now has 1.6 million employees globally. But it has been plagued by high turnover, and the pandemic gave employees a growing sense of power while fueling worries about workplace safety. The Staten Island warehouse, known as JFK8, was the subject of a New York Times investigation last year, which found that it was emblematic of the stresses — including inadvertent firings and sky-high attrition — on workers caused by Amazon’s employment model.“The pandemic has fundamentally changed the labor landscape” by giving workers more leverage with their employers, said John Logan, a professor of labor studies at San Francisco State University. “It’s just a question of whether unions can take advantage of the opportunity that transformation has opened up.”Standing outside the N.L.R.B. office in Brooklyn, where the ballots were tallied, Christian Smalls, a former Amazon employee who started the union, popped a bottle of champagne before a crowd of supporters and press. “To the first Amazon union in American history,” he cheered.Christian Smalls, a former Amazon worker who led union efforts on Staten Island, popped a bottle of champagne before a crowd of supporters and press on Friday.DeSean McClinton-Holland for The New York TimesAmazon said it was evaluating its options, including potentially filing an objection to “inappropriate and undue influence” by the N.L.R.B. for suing Amazon in federal court last month.In that case, the N.L.R.B. asked a judge to force Amazon to swiftly rectify “flagrant unfair labor practices” it said took place when Amazon fired a worker who became involved with the union. Amazon argued in court that the labor board abandoned “the neutrality of their office” by filing the injunction just before the election.Amazon would need to prove that any claims of undue influence undermined the so-called laboratory conditions necessary for a fair election, said Wilma B. Liebman, the chair of the N.L.R.B. under President Barack Obama.President Biden was “glad to see workers ensure their voices are heard” at the Amazon facility, Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, told reporters. “He believes firmly that every worker in every state must have a free and fair choice to join a union,” she said.The near-term question facing the labor movement and other progressive groups is the extent to which they will help the upstart Amazon Labor Union withstand potential challenges to the result and negotiate a first contract, such as by providing resources and legal talent.“The company will appeal, drag it out — it’s going to be an ongoing fight,” said Gene Bruskin, a longtime organizer who helped notch one of labor’s last victories on this scale, at a Smithfield meat-processing plant in 2008, and has informally advised the Staten Island workers. “The labor movement has to figure out how to support them.”Sean O’Brien, the new president of the 1.3 million-member International Brotherhood of Teamsters, said in an interview on Thursday that the union was prepared to spend hundreds of millions of dollars unionizing Amazon and to collaborate with a variety of other unions and progressive groups.“We’ve got a lot of partners in labor,” Mr. O’Brien said. “We’ve got community groups. It’s going to be a large coalition.”A culture of fear created by intense productivity monitoring that was documented by The Times at JFK8 has been a key motivator for the unionization drive, which started in earnest almost a year ago. The Amazon facility offered a lifeline to laid-off workers during the pandemic but burned through staff and had such poor communication and technology that workers inadvertently were fired or lost benefits.For some employees, the stress of working at the warehouse during Covid outbreaks was a radicalizing experience that led them to take action. Mr. Smalls, the president of the Amazon Labor Union, said he became alarmed in March 2020 after encountering a co-worker who was clearly ill. He pleaded with management to close the facility for two weeks. The company fired him after he helped lead a walkout over safety conditions in late March that year.Amazon said at the time that it had taken “extreme measures” to keep workers safe, including deep cleaning and social distancing. It said it had fired Mr. Smalls for violating social distancing guidelines and attending the walkout even though he had been placed in a quarantine.After workers at Amazon’s warehouse in Bessemer, Ala., overwhelmingly rejected the retail workers union in its first election last spring, Mr. Smalls and Derrick Palmer, an Amazon employee who is his friend, decided to form a new union, called Amazon Labor Union.While the organizing in Alabama included high-profile tactics, with progressive supporters like Senator Bernie Sanders visiting the area, the organizers at JFK8 benefited from being insiders. For months, they set up shop at the bus stop outside the warehouse, grilling meat at barbecues and at one point even passing out pot. (The retail workers said they were hamstrung by Covid during their initial election in Alabama.)They also filed numerous unfair-labor-practice charges with the N.L.R.B. when they believed Amazon had infringed on their rights. The labor agency found merit in several of the cases, some of which Amazon settled in a nationwide agreement to allow workers more access to organize on-site.At times the Amazon Labor Union stumbled. The labor board determined this fall that the fledgling union, which spent months collecting signatures from workers requesting a vote, had not demonstrated sufficient support to warrant an election. But the organizers kept trying, and by late January they had finally gathered enough signatures.Amazon played up its minimum wage of $15 an hour in advertising and other public relations efforts. The company also waged a full-throated campaign against the union, texting employees and mandating attendance at anti-union meetings. It spent $4.3 million on anti-union consultants nationwide last year, according to annual disclosures filed on Thursday with the Labor Department.In February, Mr. Smalls was arrested at the facility after managers said he was trespassing while delivering food to co-workers and called the police. Two current employees were also arrested during the incident, which appeared to galvanize interest in the union.The difference in outcomes in Bessemer and Staten Island may reflect a difference in receptiveness toward unions in the two states — roughly 6 percent of workers in Alabama are union members, versus 22 percent in New York — as well as the difference between a mail-in election and one conducted in person.But it may also suggest the advantages of organizing through an independent, worker-led union. In Alabama, union officials and professional organizers were still barred from the facility under the settlement with the labor board. But at the Staten Island site, a larger portion of the union leadership and organizers were current employees.“What we were trying to say all along is that having workers on the inside is the most powerful tool,” said Mr. Palmer, who makes $21.50 an hour. “People didn’t believe it, but you can’t beat workers organizing other workers.”The independence of the Amazon Labor Union also appeared to undermine Amazon’s anti-union talking points, which cast the union as an interloping “third party.” On March 25, workers at JFK8 started lining up outside a tent in the parking lot to vote. And over five voting days, they cast their ballots to form what could become the first union at Amazon’s operations in the United States.Another election, brought also by Amazon Labor Union at a neighboring Staten Island facility, is scheduled for late April.Jodi Kantor More

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    Rising Wages Are Good News for Workers but Keep Pressure on the Fed

    Wages climbed at a rapid pace in the year through March and the unemployment rate dropped notably last month, signs of a hot labor market that could keep pressure on the Federal Reserve as it contemplates how much and how quickly to cool down the economy.The central bank is trying to slow demand to a more sustainable pace at a moment when inflation is running at its fastest pace in 40 years. Fed officials began raising interest rates in March and have suggested that they may increase rates by half a percentage point in May — twice as much as usual. Making money more expensive to borrow and spend can slow consumption and eventually hiring, tempering wage and price growth.Friday’s employment report could bolster the case for at least one half-point increase.Wages have picked up by 5.6 percent over the past year, the report showed, a far quicker pace than the 2 to 3 percent annual pay gains that were typical during the 2010s. At the same time, the jobless rate fell, to 3.6 percent in March from 3.8 percent in February. Unemployment is now just slightly above the half-century lows it had reached before the pandemic.The unemployment rate continued to fall in March.The share of people who have looked for work in the past four weeks or are temporarily laid off, which does not capture everyone who lost work because of the pandemic. More

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    Industries hit hard by the pandemic continued their rebound.

    The jobs report released Friday — which showed U.S. employers added 431,000 jobs in March on a seasonally adjusted basis — received a round of applause from many economists and labor market analysts, cooling off fears of a major slowdown in growth. And it spurred hope in the service sector that good times may be back again, and stick around more sustainably.After experiencing nearly two years of stop-and-go reopenings — optimistic bursts of in-person activity as the virus ebbed, followed by fearful drawbacks as it rose again — experts say that the broadest swath of consumers yet may be returning to the sort of in-person activity that defined their Before Times lives: The sectors that cover travel, live entertainment, indoor dining, museums and historical sites, bars and other drinking places all saw major boosts.The leisure and hospitality sector saw the largest gains in March.Change in jobs from February to March, by sector More