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    The Era of Cheap and Plenty May Be Ending

    Supplies of goods are coming up short in the pandemic, and prices have jumped. Some economists warn that the changes could linger.For the past three decades, companies and consumers benefited from cross-border connections that kept a steady supply of electronics, clothes, toys and other goods so abundant it helped prices stay low.But as the pandemic and the war in Ukraine continue to weigh on trade and business ties, that period of plenty appears to be undergoing a partial reversal. Companies are rethinking where to source their products and stocking up on inventory, even if that means lower efficiency and higher costs. If it lasts, such a shift away from fine-tuned globalization could have important implications for inflation and the world’s economy.Economists are debating whether recent supply chain turmoil and geopolitical conflicts will result in a reversal or reconfiguration of global production, in which factories that were sent offshore move back to the United States and other countries that pose less of a political risk.If that happens, a decades-long decline in the prices of many goods could come to an end or even begin to go in the other direction, potentially boosting overall inflation. Since around 1995, durable goods like cars and equipment have tamped down inflation, and prices for nondurable goods like clothing and toys have often grown only slowly.Those trends began to change in late 2020 after the onset of the pandemic, as shipping costs soared and shortages collided with strong demand to push car, furniture and equipment prices higher. While few economists expect the past year’s breakneck price increases to continue, the question is whether the trend toward at least slightly pricier goods will last.The answer could hinge on whether a shift away from globalization takes hold.“It would certainly be a different world — it might be a world of perhaps higher inflation, perhaps lower productivity, but more resilient, more robust supply chains,” Jerome H. Powell, the Fed chair, said at an event last month when asked about a possible move away from globalization.Still, Mr. Powell said, it’s not obvious how drastically conditions will change. “It’s not clear that we’re seeing a reversal of globalization,” he said. “It’s clear that it’s slowed down.”Prices Have Shot UpPrices for durable goods had been falling for decades. Lately, though, they’ve been a major factor pushing inflation higher.

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    Annual Change in the Personal Consumption Expenditure Index by Category
    Source: Commerce DepartmentBy The New York TimesThe period of global integration that prevailed before the pandemic made many of the things Americans buy cheaper. Computers and other technology made factories more efficient, and they chugged out sneakers, kitchen tables and electronics at a pace unmatched in history. Companies slashed their production cost by moving factories offshore, where wages were lower. The adoption of steel shipping containers, and ever larger cargo ships, allowed products to be whisked from Bangladesh and China to Seattle and Tupelo and everywhere in between for astonishingly low prices.But those changes also had consequences for American factory workers, who saw many jobs disappear. The political backlash to globalization helped carry former President Donald J. Trump into office, as he promised to bring factories back to the United States. His trade wars and rising tariffs encouraged some companies to move operations out of China, although typically to other low-cost countries like Vietnam and Mexico.Understand Inflation in the U.S.Inflation 101: What is inflation, why is it up and whom does it hurt? Our guide explains it all.Your Questions, Answered: Times readers sent us their questions about rising prices. Top experts and economists weighed in.Interest Rates: As it seeks to curb inflation, the Federal Reserve announced that it was raising interest rates for the first time since 2018.How Americans Feel: We asked 2,200 people where they’ve noticed inflation. Many mentioned basic necessities, like food and gas.Supply Chain’s Role: A key factor in rising inflation is the continuing turmoil in the global supply chain. Here’s how the crisis unfolded.The pandemic also exposed the snowball effect of highly optimized supply chains: Factory shutdowns and transportation delays made it difficult to secure some goods and parts, including semiconductors that are crucial for electronics, appliances and cars. Shipping costs have soared by a factor of 10 in just two years, erasing the cost savings of making some products overseas.Starting late in 2020, prices for washing machines, couches and other big products jumped sharply as production limitations collided with high demand.Inflation has only accelerated since. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has further snarled supply chains, raising the prices of gas and other commodities in recent months and helping to push the Fed’s closely watched inflation index up 6.6 percent over the year through March.That is the fastest pace of inflation since 1982, and price gains are touching the highest level in decades across many advanced economies, including the eurozone and Britain.Many economists expect price increases for durable goods to cool substantially in the months ahead, which should help calm overall price gains. Data from March suggested that they were beginning to moderate. Rising Fed interest rates could help temper buying, as borrowing to buy cars, machines or home improvement supplies becomes more expensive.But there are still questions about whether — in light of what companies and countries have learned — major products will return to the steady price declines that were the norm before the coronavirus.It’s not clear yet to what extent factories are moving closer to home. A “reshoring index” published by Kearney, a management consulting firm, was negative in 2020 and 2021, indicating that the United States was importing more manufactured goods from low-cost countries.But more firms reported moving their supply chains out of China to other countries, and American executives were more positive about bringing more manufacturing to the United States.Duke Realty, which rents warehouse and industrial facilities in the United States, expects the change to be a source of demand in years to come, though the reworking may take a while. Customers are “now future-proofing their supply chains,” Steve Schnur, the firm’s chief operating officer, said on an earnings call last week.“Some reshoring is occurring — let’s make no mistake about that,” Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the director general of the World Trade Organization, said in an interview. But the data show that most businesses are mitigating risk by building up their inventories and finding additional suppliers in low-cost countries, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala said. That process could end up integrating poorer countries in Africa and other parts of the world more deeply into global value chains, she said.Janet L. Yellen, the Treasury secretary, said last month that supply chains had proved too vulnerable given the pandemic and the war in Ukraine, and urged a reorientation around “a large group of trusted partners,” an approach she called “friendshoring.”The approach might result in some higher costs, she said, but it would be more resilient, and a large enough group would allow countries to maintain efficiencies from the global division of labor.Inflation F.A.Q.Card 1 of 6What is inflation? More

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    Hot Job Market, an Economic Relief, Is a Wall Street Worry

    This year’s decline in stock prices follows a historical pattern: “When unemployment is ultra low, the uppity times are behind us,” a bank research chief said.The U.S. unemployment rate is 3.6 percent — only a hair above its level just before the pandemic, which was a 50-year low. Corporate profits rocketed by 35 percent in 2021, and profit margins were at their widest since 1950. Yet stocks have been hammered lately: Two key stock indexes, the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq 100, have been deep in negative terrain since the start of the year.What may seem a contradiction is actually a historical pattern: Hot labor markets and hot stock markets often don’t mix well.In fact, times of low unemployment are correlated with somewhat subdued stock returns, while valuations trend higher on average during periods of high unemployment. Analysts explain this phenomenon as a plain function of the unemployment rate’s status as a “lagging indicator” — letting people know how the economy was faring in the immediate past — while the stock market itself constantly serves as a “leading indicator,” coldly, if somewhat imperfectly, projecting an evolving consensus about the fate of companies as time goes on.“When unemployment is ultra low, the uppity times are behind us, and when it’s super high, there are good times ahead,” said Padhraic Garvey, a head of research at ING, a global bank.Stocks outperform on average when unemployment is high.Average annual returns in the S&P 500 index from 1948 to 2022, by the concurrent rate of unemployment

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    Average annual returns
    Note: The S&P 500 index was formally introduced in 1957. The performance of companies prior to 1957 that joined the index later are included in this analysis.Sources: Ben Koeppel, BXK Capital; Ben Carlson, Ritholtz Wealth By The New York TimesIn 2007, for instance, unemployment sank as low as 4.4 percent, but the annual return for the S&P 500 index was only 5.5 percent. Stocks plunged during the financial crisis the next year — and then, in 2009, as unemployment ripped higher to 10 percent, the index gained 26.5 percent. (Breaks in the pattern occur, since various tailwinds for big business, such as the tech boom of the 1990s, can briefly overpower historical trends.)When recoveries peak, investor exuberance can lead to excessive risk taking by businesses, which plants the seeds of the next downturn — just as workers are benefiting from being in high demand, with their higher wages cutting into corporate cash piles built up during good times, putting pressure on near-term profits. Financial investors also have to contend with the Federal Reserve’s response to the cycle — if there’s inflation, as there is now, a strong labor market may give it room to raise interest rates. A weak one can pressure it to cut rates. Action in either direction affects stock valuations.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.Job Market and Stocks: This year’s decline in stock prices follows a historical pattern: Hot labor markets and stocks often don’t mix well.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.This year, in addition to those forces, the war in Ukraine has slowed global growth and added to the pandemic’s strain on global supply chains, increasing the cost of raw materials.Senior executives at Morgan Stanley wrote in a recent note that their “strategists see higher wages amid the tightening labor market and related labor shortages posing a risk to 2022 corporate profit margins,” adding a reminder that “what matters for markets isn’t always the same as what matters for the aggregate economy.”Wage growth, milder in recent history, has spiked quickly.Median wage growth for hourly workers from the prior year, three-month average

    Note: Gaps in the data are due to methodology changes in the Current Population Survey that prevent year-over-year comparisons.Source: Federal Reserve Bank of AtlantaBy The New York TimesEven though large companies achieved record profit margins last year, earnings estimates for many firms are declining compared with expectations set earlier this year. Recent “wage inflation,” as many frame it, is seen by countless stock traders as adding one burden too many — rapid enough to worry not only executives but also some prominent liberal economists who typically shrug off complaints about labor expenses as overplayed.Federal Reserve data shows that median annual pay increases are within the range — 3 to 7 percent — that prevailed from the 1980s until the 2007-9 recession. But a variety of leaders in business and in government, including the Fed chair, Jerome H. Powell, and Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen, have become more wary of their brisk pace.Corporate profits hit new highs last year.After-tax profits for U.S. corporations, seasonally adjusted

    Notes: Profits are in current dollars, not adjusted for inflation, minus capital consumption adjustment or inventory valuation adjustment (IVA). Sources: U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis; Federal Reserve Bank of St. LouisBy The New York TimesIn the nonfinancial “real” economy, intense competition for workers that leads to greater choice and compensation is positive “because we’re making more money, we have more money to spend, we can absorb inflation better because we’ve gotten raises,” said Liz Young, head of investment strategy at SoFi, a San Francisco-based financial services company. At the same time, she acknowledged, “The other thing with a tight labor market is that when wages increase somebody has to pay for that.”Through most of the swift recovery from the pandemic-induced recession, money managers made a simple bet on the strengthening labor market as a signal that more people earning more disposable income would lead to even more spending on goods and services sold by the companies they trade, enhancing their future earnings.Now, the calculus on Wall Street isn’t so simple.In the coming months, many financial analysts say they’ll pay less attention to data on job creation and focus instead on growth in average hourly earnings — cheering for them to flatten or at least moderate, so that labor costs can ebb.Stocks have tumbled so far in 2022.S&P 500 daily close through April 26

    Source: S&P Dow Jones Indices LLCBy The New York TimesAfter three years of outsized returns, the down year in markets is compounding the sour mood among the nation’s broadly defined middle class, whose wage gains have generally not kept up with inflation, and whose retirement savings and net worth (outside of home equity) are partly tied to such indexes. The University of Michigan consumer sentiment index has been hovering near lows not reached since the slow jobs recovery after the 2008 financial crisis.Ultimately, this cranky disconnect between strong jobs data and the national mood may stem from an initial lag between relative winners and losers in this robust-but-rocky recovery: The economic benefits of tightening an already-tight labor market are, in the short run, relatively concentrated — accruing to those with lower starting wages and less formal education, and to demographic cohorts like Black Americans, who are often “last hired, first fired” during business cycles. In the meantime, the downsides of even temporary high inflation are diffuse — spread broadly across the population, though frequently damaging the finances of lower-income groups the most.It remains true that the increased demand for labor has helped millions of workers come out ahead. After adjusting for inflation, wages have fallen for middle- and high-income groups but risen for the bottom third of earners on average: The wages of the typically lower-paid employees of the leisure and hospitality industry — the broad sector focused on travel, dining, entertainment, recreation and tourism — have risen nearly 15 percent over the past year, far outpacing inflation.A substantial bloc of economists are contending that wages are receiving too much blame for inflation. A recent analysis across 110 industries by the Economic Policy Institute, a progressive think tank based in Washington, concluded that wage growth wasn’t correlated with the surge in costs that suppliers dealt with last year, suggesting that much of inflation could still be stemming from other forces, like supply chain imbalances.Many analysts believe that if unemployment stays low enough for long enough, the fruits of a hot labor market will widen — creating a virtuous cycle in which employers increase pay for various rungs of workers, while economizing their business models to become more efficient, increasing capacity, productivity and the health of corporate balance sheets.That hope is under threat, as the Federal Reserve proceeds with a plan to increase borrowing costs by quickly raising interest rates to rein in some lending, consumer spending, business investment and demand for labor.Despite various challenges, the most optimistic market participants predict that employers, workers and consumers can experience a so-called “soft landing” this year, in which the Fed increases borrowing costs, helping inflation and wage growth moderate without a painful slowdown that kills off the recovery: Morgan Stanley strategists, for instance, expect real wages to turn positive overall by midyear, outpacing price increases, as inflation eases and pay rates maintain some strength. That could be a boon for stocks as well.“It’s possible that over the next few quarters the labor market continues to be tight despite the Fed hiking,” said Andrew Flowers, a labor economist at Appcast, a tech firm that helps companies target recruitment ads. He still sees an “overwhelming appetite” for hiring.Although especially low unemployment isn’t typically a bullish sign for stocks, some recent years have bucked the trend. In 2019, when the S&P 500 returned roughly 30 percent, unemployment by year’s end had fallen to 3.6 percent, in line with present levels.In such an uncertain environment, forecasts for how stocks will fare by the end of the year are varying widely among top Wall Street firms. By several technical measures, the market’s trajectory is currently near “make or break” levels.Public companies have “become massively efficient, so from an operating performance basis, they’ve been able to take on these extra costs,” said Brian Belski, the chief investment strategist at BMO Capital Markets. The outlook from Mr. Belski’s bank is among the most confident, with a call that the S&P 500 index will finish 2022 at 5,300 — 27 percent above Tuesday’s close, and far above most estimates.“At the end of the day, I think for the economy it’s good that we are seeing these sort of wages,” he said. “Don’t ever bet against the U.S. consumer, ever.” More

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    Rapid Inflation, Lower Employment: How the U.S. Pandemic Response Measures Up

    The United States spent more on its policy response than other advanced economies. Now economists are revisiting how that worked.The United States spent more aggressively to protect its economy from the pandemic than many global peers, a strategy that has helped to foment more rapid inflation — but also a faster economic rebound and brisk job gains.Now, though, America is grappling with what many economists see as an unsustainable worker shortage that threatens to keep inflation high and may necessitate a firm response by the Federal Reserve. Yet U.S. employment has not recovered as fully as in Europe and some other advanced economies. That reality is prodding some economists to ask: Was America’s spending spree worth it?As the Fed raises interest rates and economists increasingly warn that it may take at least a mild recession to bring inflation to heel, risks are mounting that America’s ambitious spending will end up with a checkered legacy. Rapid growth and a strong labor market rebound have been big wins, and economists across the ideological spectrum agree that some amount of spending was necessary to avoid a repeat of the painfully slow recovery that followed the previous recession. But the benefits of that faster recovery could be diminished as rising prices eat away at paychecks — and even more so if high inflation prods central bank policymakers set policy in a way that pushes up unemployment down the road.“I’m worried that we traded a temporary growth gain for permanently higher inflation,” said Jason Furman, an economist at Harvard University and a former economic official in the Obama administration. His concern, he said, is that “inflation could stay higher, or the Fed could control it by lowering output in the future.”The Biden administration has repeatedly argued that, to the extent the United States is seeing more inflation, the policy response to the pandemic also created a stronger economy.“We got a lot more growth, we got less child poverty, we got better household balance sheets, we have the strongest labor market by some metrics I’ve ever seen,” Jared Bernstein, an economic adviser to President Biden, said in an interview. “Were all of those accomplishments accompanied by heat on the price side? Yes, but some degree of that heat showed up in every advanced economy, and we wouldn’t trade that back for the historic recovery we helped to generate.”Inflation has picked up around the world, but price increases have been quicker in America than in many other wealthy nations.Consumer prices were up 9.8 percent in March from a year earlier, according to a measure of inflation that strips out owner-occupied housing to make it comparable across countries. That was faster than in Germany, where prices rose 7.6 percent in the same period; the United Kingdom, where they rose 7 percent; and other European countries. Other measures similarly show U.S. inflation outpacing that of its global peers.The Rise of InflationInflation has risen worldwide in the past year, but the increase has been fastest in the United States.

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    Change in consumer prices from a year earlier
    Note: Euro area and U.K. data are Harmonised Index of Consumer Prices. U.S. data is the Consumer Price Index excluding owners’ equivalent rent.Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, O.E.C.D., EurostatBy The New York TimesThe comparatively large jump in prices in America owes at least partly to the nation’s ambitious spending. Research from the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco attributed about half of the nation’s 2021 annual price increase to the government’s spending response. The researchers estimated the number, which is imprecise, by measuring America’s inflation outcome compared with what happened in countries that spent less.“The size of the package was very large compared to any other country,” said Òscar Jordà, a co-author on the study.Understand Inflation in the U.S.Inflation 101: What is inflation, why is it up and whom does it hurt? Our guide explains it all.Your Questions, Answered: Times readers sent us their questions about rising prices. Top experts and economists weighed in.Interest Rates: As it seeks to curb inflation, the Federal Reserve announced that it was raising interest rates for the first time since 2018.How Americans Feel: We asked 2,200 people where they’ve noticed inflation. Many mentioned basic necessities, like food and gas.Supply Chain’s Role: A key factor in rising inflation is the continuing turmoil in the global supply chain. Here’s how the crisis unfolded.The Trump and then Biden administrations spent about $5 trillion on pandemic relief in 2020 and 2021 — far more as a share of the nation’s economy than what other advanced economies spent, based on a database compiled by the International Monetary Fund. Much of that money went directly to households in the form of stimulus checks, expanded unemployment insurance and tax credits for parents.Payments to households helped to fuel rapid consumer demand and quick economic growth — progress that has continued into 2022. A global economic outlook released by the International Monetary Fund last week showed that America’s economy is expected to expand by 3.7 percent this year, faster than the roughly 2 percent trend that prevailed before the pandemic and the 3.3 percent average expected across advanced economies this year.That comes on the heels of even more rapid 2021 growth. And as the U.S. economy has expanded so quickly, unemployment has plummeted. After spiking to 14.7 percent in early 2020, joblessness is now roughly back to the 50-year lows that prevailed prior the pandemic.That’s a victory that politicians have celebrated. “Our economy roared back faster than most predicted,” Mr. Biden said in his State of the Union address last month. A major report from the White House on April 14 noted that the United States has experienced a faster recovery than other advanced economies, as measured by gross domestic product, consumer spending and other indicators.The Rebound in SpendingConsumer spending has recovered more quickly in the United States, even after accounting for faster inflation.

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    Change in per capita household spending since fourth quarter of 2019
    Notes: Quarterly data, adjusted for inflationSource: O.E.C.D.By The New York TimesBut increasingly, at least when it comes to the job market, America’s achievement looks less unique.Unemployment in the United States jumped much higher at the outset of the pandemic in part because America’s policies did less to discourage layoffs than those in Europe. While many European governments paid companies to keep workers on their payrolls, the U.S. focused more on providing money directly to those who lost their jobs.Joblessness fell fast in the United States, too, but that was also true elsewhere. Many European countries, Canada and Australia are now back to or below their prepandemic unemployment rates, data reported by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development showed.And when it comes to the share of people who are actually working, the United States is lagging some of its global peers. The nation’s employment rate is hovering around 71.4 percent, still down slightly from nearly 71.8 percent before the pandemic began.By comparison, the eurozone countries, Canada and Australia have a higher employment rates than before the pandemic, and Japan’s employment rate has fully recovered.The Rebound in JobsEmployment rates fell further in the U.S. than in many peer countries, and have not yet returned to their prepandemic level.

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    Change in employment rate since fourth quarter of 2019
    Note: Quarterly data, ages 15 to 64Source: O.E.C.D.By The New York TimesEurope’s more complete employment recovery may partly reflect its different regulations and different approach to supporting workers during the pandemic, said Nick Bennenbroek, international economist at Wells Fargo. European aid programs effectively paid companies to keep people on the payroll even when they couldn’t go to work, while the United States supported workers directly through the unemployment insurance system.That relatively subtle difference had a major consequence: Because fewer Europeans were separated from employers, many flowed right back into their old jobs as the economy reopened. Meanwhile, pandemic layoffs touched off an era of soul-searching and job shuffling in the United States.“You didn’t have as much motivation to reconsider your assessment of your work-life situation,” Mr. Bennenbroek said. “What we initially saw in the U.S. was much more disruptive.”Inflation F.A.Q.Card 1 of 6What is inflation? More

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    Labor board issues complaint against Starbucks in firing of 7 workers.

    The National Labor Relations Board issued a complaint against Starbucks on Friday for what the agency said was the unlawful firing of seven employees in Memphis in retaliation for seeking to unionize.The labor board said the company fired the workers in February because they “joined or assisted the union and engaged in concerted activities, and to discourage employees from engaging in these activities.”The employees are part of a wave of organizing at Starbucks in which workers have voted to unionize at more than 20 stores and filed petitions to hold votes at more than 200. The company has roughly 9,000 corporate-owned locations nationwide.Complaints are issued after a labor board regional office concludes that there is merit to accusations against employers or unions and are litigated before an administrative law judge. The regional office is seeking to require that Starbucks make the fired employees whole — for example, by reimbursing them for lost wages. The company could appeal an adverse decision to the national labor board in Washington.“Although we are excited about the news, we knew from the moment each of us were terminated that this would be the outcome,” Nikki Taylor, one of the fired workers, said in a statement. “We are excited for the public to know the truth and to return to work at our soon-to-be-unionized Starbucks.”Starbucks did not immediately comment but said at the time that it had fired the workers for violating safety and security policies, including allowing members of the media into the store to conduct interviews after hours and failing to wear masks during the encounter. More

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    Atlanta Apple Store Workers Are the First to Formally Seek a Union

    Employees at an Apple store in Atlanta filed a petition on Wednesday to hold a union election. If successful, the workers could form the first union at an Apple retail store in the United States.The move continues a recent trend of service-sector unionization in which unions have won elections at Starbucks, Amazon and REI locations.The workers are hoping to join the Communications Workers of America, which represents workers at companies like AT&T Mobility and Verizon, and has made a concerted push into the tech sector in recent years.The union says that about 100 workers at the store — at Cumberland Mall, in northwest Atlanta — are eligible to vote, including salespeople and repair technicians, and that over 70 percent of them have signed authorization cards indicating their support.In a statement, the union said Apple, like other tech employers, had effectively created a tiered work force that denied retail workers the pay, benefits and respect that workers earned at its corporate offices.Workers said they loved working at Apple but sometimes felt they were treated like second-class employees. “We want equal to what corporate actually gets,” said Sydney Rhodes, an employee at the store who is involved in the union campaign.Ms. Rhodes, who has worked at Apple for four years, said that she and many of her co-workers hoped to continue working for Apple for years to come but that it was often unclear how they could progress within the company. “Another reason why we’re working toward this union is for a more clear and concise way to grow, especially internally,” she added.An Apple spokesman said the company offered strong benefits, including health care coverage, tuition reimbursement and paid family leave, and a minimum pay rate of $20 per hour for retail workers.“We are fortunate to have incredible retail team members, and we deeply value everything they bring to Apple,” the spokesman said, but declined to comment on the union effort. The company would not say whether it would recognize the union voluntarily.Officials at the National Labor Relations Board will next determine whether there is sufficient interest among workers to hold an election — the bar is officially 30 percent — and set the terms for a potential vote. Both the union and the employer will have an opportunity to weigh in on the details, including the universe of employees eligible to take part and whether the vote should occur by mail or in person.Other unions, most notably Workers United, an affiliate of the giant Service Employees International Union that has led the organizing campaign at Starbucks, are also seeking to unionize Apple retail workers, of which there are tens of thousands in the United States.Workers at an Apple Store at Grand Central Terminal in New York City have begun to sign authorization cards that could lead to a filing for a union vote that would allow them to join Workers United. The move was reported over the weekend by The Washington Post.Activism and labor organizing at Apple have been building since last summer, when discontent over the company’s plan to require employees to return to the office snowballed into a broader movement, called #AppleToo. That movement aimed to highlight workplace problems like harassment, unequal pay and what workers described as a culture of secrecy that pervaded the company.“Apple workers across every line of business and around the world are using their voices to demand better treatment,” Janneke Parrish, one of the #AppleToo leaders, said of the union effort. Ms. Parrish has said Apple fired her in retaliation for her organizing. “I’m so happy to see workers taking this big step to stand up for their rights,” she said. Apple has disputed Ms. Parrish’s accusations.The #AppleToo movement included retail workers, who have said throughout the pandemic that Apple did not do enough to keep them safe from the coronavirus.Retail workers’ complaints escalated late last year when the Omicron variant spread rapidly throughout the country and at least 20 Apple stores had to close temporarily as a precaution or because so many of their workers had become infected that the stores could no longer operate. On Christmas Eve, several dozen Apple workers walked off their jobs to demand better pay and working conditions. Ms. Rhodes said that the effort at her store began in earnest last fall, and that her co-workers had taken encouragement from the union campaigns at companies like Starbucks and Amazon.Beyond its overtures at Apple, the communications workers union has had a presence at Google in recent years, helping workers form a so-called solidarity or minority union that enables them to coordinate actions without holding a union election and seeking certification from the labor board. Companies are not required to bargain with minority unions, as they are with more formal unions.The union also recently won a vote to represent about one dozen retail employees at Google Fiber stores in Kansas City, Mo., who are formally employed by a Google contractor. It is seeking to represent a few dozen Wisconsin-based quality assurance workers at the video-game maker Activision Blizzard, which Microsoft is acquiring, pending approval from regulators. More

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    How a Dollar General Employee Went Viral on TikTok

    Mary Gundel loved managing a store in Tampa, Fla. But when she detailed its challenges on social media, the company — and fellow employees — took notice.In January 2021, Mary Gundel received a letter from Dollar General’s corporate office congratulating her for being one of the company’s top-performing employees. In honor of her hard work and dedication, the company gave Ms. Gundel a lapel pin that read, “DG: Top 5%.”“Wear it proudly,” the letter said.Ms. Gundel did just that, affixing the pin to her black-and-yellow Dollar General uniform, next to her name badge. “I wanted the world to see it,” she said.Ms. Gundel loved her job managing the Dollar General store in Tampa, Fla. It was fast-paced, unpredictable and even exciting. She especially liked the challenge of calming down belligerent customers and pursuing shoplifters. She earned about $51,000 a year, far more than the median income in Tampa.But the job had its challenges, too: Delivery trucks that would show up unannounced, leaving boxes piled up in the aisles because there weren’t enough workers to unpack them. Days spent running the store for long stretches by herself because the company allotted only so many hours for other employees to work. Cranky customers complaining about out of stock items.So on the morning of March 28, in between running the register and putting tags on clothing, Ms. Gundel, 33, propped up her iPhone and hit record.The result was a six-part critique, “Retail Store Manager Life,” in which Ms. Gundel laid bare the working conditions inside the fast-growing retail chain, with stores that are a common sight in rural areas. “Me talking out about this is actually kind of bad,” Ms. Gundel said as she looked into her camera. “Technically, I could get into a lot of trouble.”But she added: “Whatever happens, happens. Something needs to be said, and there needs to be some changes, or they are probably going to end up losing a lot of people.”Her videos, which she posted on TikTok, went viral, including one that has been viewed 1.8 million times.

    @alwaysmrsgundel #corperateslavery #retail #dobetter #storemanagerlife #storemanagerlife ♬ original sound – ❤️AlwaysMrs.Gundel❤️ And with that, Ms. Gundel was instantly transformed from a loyal lieutenant in Dollar General management into an outspoken dissident who risked her career to describe working conditions familiar to retail employees across the United States.As Ms. Gundel had predicted, Dollar General soon fired her. She was let go less than a week after posting her first critical video, but not before she inspired other Dollar General store managers, many of them women working in stores in poor areas, to speak out on TikTok.“I am so tired I can’t even talk,” said one woman, who described herself as a 24-year-old store manager but did not give her name. “Give me my life back.”“I’ve been so afraid to post this until now,” another unidentified woman said, as she walked viewers through a Dollar General store while discussing how she was forced to work alone because of labor cuts.“This will be my last day,” she said, citing Ms. Gundel’s videos. “I am not doing this anymore.”In a statement, Dollar General said: “We provide many avenues for our teams to make their voices heard, including our open-door policy and routine engagement surveys. We use this feedback to help us identify and address concerns, improve our workplace and better serve our employees, customers and communities. We are disappointed any time an employee feels that we have not lived up to these goals and we use those situations as additional opportunities to listen and learn.“Although we do not agree with all the statements currently being made by Ms. Gundel, we are doing that here.”The store where Ms. Gundel worked. “You can only feel unappreciated for so long,” she said in an interview.Todd Anderson for The New York TimesBefore March 28, Ms. Gundel’s TikTok page was a mix of posts about hair extensions and her recent dental surgery. Now it is a daily digest dedicated to fomenting revolt at a major American company. She’s trying to build what she calls a “movement” of workers who feel overworked and disrespected and is encouraging Dollar General employees to form a union.Just about every day, Ms. Gundel announces on TikTok a newly “elected spokesperson” — each one a woman who works for Dollar General or worked there recently — from Arkansas, Ohio, Tennessee, West Virginia and other places. These women have been assigned to answer questions and concerns from fellow employees in those states and most are keeping their identities hidden because they worry about losing their jobs.Social media not only gives workers a platform to vent and connect with one another, it empowers rank-and-file workers like Ms. Gundel to become labor leaders in the postpandemic workplace. Ms. Gundel’s viral videos appeared as Christian Smalls, an Amazon warehouse employee on Staten Island who was derided by the company as “not smart or articulate,” organized the first major union in Amazon history last month.Ms. Gundel — who often dyes her hair pink and purple and has long painted nails that she uses to slice open packaging at work — has been able to break through, it seems, because other workers see themselves in her.“Everyone has their breaking point,” she said in a telephone interview. “You can only feel unappreciated for so long.”Ms. Gundel planned on a long career at Dollar General when she started working in her first store in Georgia three years ago. She has three children, including one who is autistic, and her husband works at a defense contractor. She grew up in Titusville, Fla., near Cape Canaveral. Her mother was a district manager at the Waffle House restaurants. Her grandmother worked in the gift store at the Kennedy Space Center. Ms. Gundel moved to Tampa as a Dollar General store manager in February 2020, just before the pandemic.Two of the awards that Ms. Gundel received from Dollar General.Todd Anderson for The New York TimesTodd Anderson for The New York TimesThe store used to have about 198 hours a week to allocate to a staff of about seven people, she said. But by the end of last month, she had only about 130 hours to allocate, which equated to one full-time employee and one part-time employee fewer than when she started.With not as many hours to give to her staff, Ms. Gundel often had to operate the store on her own for long stretches, typically working six days and up to 60 hours a week with no overtime pay.Ms. Gundel’s protest was prompted by a TikTok video posted by a customer complaining about the disheveled state of a Dollar General store. Ms. Gundel had heard these complaints from her own customers. Why are boxes blocking the aisles? Why aren’t the shelves fully stocked?She understood their frustration. But the blame on employees is misplaced, she said.“Instead of getting mad at the people working there, trying to handle all of their workload, why don’t you say something to the actual big people in the company?” Ms. Gundel said on TikTok. “Why don’t you demand more from the company so they actually start funding the stores to be able to get all this stuff done?”Ms. Gundel soon tapped into a network of fellow employees, some of whom had already gone public about challenges at work. They included Crystal McBride, who worked at a Dollar General in Utah and had made a video that showed her store’s dumpster overflowing with trash that people had deposited there.“Thanks, guys, for adding some more dirty work for me,” Ms. McBride, 37, said in her post.

    @cruiseforkarma #trash #retaillife #GameTok #utah #fyp #putinaticket ♬ original sound – Crystal She said in an interview that Dollar General had fired her earlier this month, and that her manager had warned her about some of her videos. As someone who had walked out of an abusive relationship with “just the clothes on my back” and lost her 11 year-old daughter to cancer in 2018, “I wasn’t afraid of losing my job,” she said. “I was not going to be silenced.”Neither was Ms. Gundel. As her online following grew, she kept posting more videos, many of them increasingly angry.She talked about a customer who had pulled a knife on her and a man who had reached into her car in the store parking lot and tried yanking her through the window.She said the company’s way of avoiding serious issues was to bury them in bureaucracy. “You know what they tell you? ‘Put in a ticket,’” she said.Ms. Gundel started using the hashtag #PutInATicket, which other TikTok users tagged in their own videos.On the night of March 29, Ms. Gundel posted a video, saying her boss had called her that day to discuss her videos. He told her to review the company’s social media policy, she said. She told him that she was well aware of the policy.“I was not specifically told to take my videos down, but it was recommended,” she said in the video. “To save my job and future career and where I want to go.”She closed her eyes for a moment.“I had to respectfully decline” to remove the videos, she said. “I feel like it would be against my morals and integrity to do so.”

    @alwaysmrsgundel #dobetter #retail #corperateslavery #putinaticket #fyp #storemanagerlife #corperateamerica #harrassment #viral ♬ original sound – ❤️AlwaysMrs.Gundel❤️ Ms. Gundel also got a call from one of the senior executives who had sent her the “DG: 5%” pin she had been so proud of. Ms. Gundel insisted on recording the call to protect herself. The executive said she just wanted to talk through Ms. Gundel’s concerns, but didn’t want to be recorded. The call ended politely but quickly.On April 1, Ms. Gundel reported to work at 6 a.m. “Guess what,” she said in a post from outside the store. “I just got fired.”She added, “It’s pretty sad that a store manager or anybody has to go viral on a social media site in order to be listened to, in order to get some help in their store.”Ms. Gundel continues to post videos regularly and recently started driving for Uber and Lyft.While Ms. Gundel’s unionizing effort may be an uphill effort, some people say she has already had an impact. In one recent TikTok video, a woman shopping at a Dollar General in Florida credited Ms. Gundel with forcing the company to spruce up the store she shops in.“Look at the refrigerators — everything’s stacked in there,” the woman said as her camera panned the aisles. “They’ve got toilet paper to the roof, y’all.”“Thank you, Mary, for going viral and holding your ground and standing up to corporate and losing your job, because it wasn’t done in vain,” she said. “I’m proud to go into a Dollar General now, because look at it. Look at it.” More

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    Gopuff Buys Time for Its 30-Minutes-or-Less Delivery Promise

    The $15 billion rapid-delivery start-up decided to do business differently from rivals like Instacart. A changing environment is testing its model.From its beginning in 2013, Gopuff aimed to do rapid delivery differently.The start-up’s founders, Yakir Gola and Rafael Ilishayev, based the company in Philadelphia, away from other delivery ventures in Silicon Valley and New York. They opened warehouses and bought their own merchandise, instead of acting as middlemen who connected retailers and restaurants with customers. And they promised speed, delivering food and other items in 30 minutes or less.By late last year, Gopuff had amassed $3.4 billion in funding, bought the alcohol and beverage retailer BevMo! and was valued at $15 billion. This year, it appeared poised to go public.“We built a sustainable business that thrives and that is set up to win long term,” Mr. Gola, 29, said in an interview last month. Gopuff, he added, is “a disrupter.”Now the question is whether Gopuff has done delivery differently enough. In the past few months, the start-up environment has changed from boom to uncertainty, as tech stocks have cratered, inflation has risen, interest rates have increased and the economic outlook has darkened.In response, Gopuff recently put off its public listing and is trying to raise $1 billion in debt that could potentially be turned into stock. The unprofitable company also lowered its drivers’ minimum pay in California. This year, it has done two rounds of job cuts, including last month when it laid off about 450 people, or 3 percent of its 15,000 workers.Gopuff faces a dismal history of failed delivery start-ups, from Webvan and Kozmo.com in the early 2000s to Buyk, 1520 and Fridge No More in the past few months. Delivery — with high labor and transportation costs, stiff competition and lofty marketing expenses — is notoriously expensive and logistically complicated to provide and make money on.While delivery companies such as DoorDash and Grubhub have gone public, many of them lose money, and some have later been acquired. And with the bump in pandemic orders tailing off, many of these companies are hitting hurdles. Last month, the grocery delivery start-up Instacart cut its valuation to about $24 billion from $39 billion.“These companies are fine during a very ebullient and frothy capital markets environment,” said Ken Smythe, the chief executive of Next Round Capital Partners, which advises investors buying and selling stakes in start-ups. “The world has changed significantly in the past 60 days.”Gopuff’s delivery people are gig workers. The business also has warehouses where its workers are full-time employees.Gabby Jones for The New York TimesIn the interview, Mr. Gola acknowledged that delivery was “very logistically complex — it takes a lot of time and a lot of effort and capital.” But having warehouses and inventory is the only way to profit over time, he said, because it allows the company to make money from selling goods and not just charging delivery fees.“Once you can execute, and obviously that’s hard, it wins in the long term,” he said.Gopuff added that it was putting a public offering on the back burner because the stock market had been volatile and it had enough cash on hand. The layoffs were part of a global restructuring, it said.Mr. Gola and Mr. Ilishayev met as students at Drexel University in Philadelphia in 2011. In their sophomore year, they founded Gopuff for college students, offering fast late-night deliveries of junk food, condoms and smoking paraphernalia. They called themselves a “one-stop puff shop,” which led to the name Gopuff. Deliveries were available until 4:20 a.m.To set themselves apart from DoorDash and Instacart, which connect customers to restaurants and grocery stores via their apps and rely on gig workers, Mr. Gola and Mr. Ilishayev decided Gopuff would buy goods from distributors and wholesalers and have warehouses. Its warehouse workers would be full-time employees, though its delivery drivers and bike messengers would be contractors.Mr. Gola, who dropped out of college, and Mr. Ilishayev, who graduated from Drexel with a degree in legal studies, became co-chief executives of Gobrands, Gopuff’s parent company. To fund the business, they sold used office furniture on Craigslist and eBay. They also offered discounts on orders to attract customers and charged just $2.95 for delivery.As Gopuff gained traction beyond Drexel students, Mr. Gola and Mr. Ilishayev expanded their product offerings and set up warehouses in Boston, Washington and Austin, Texas. Starting in 2016, the company raised money from venture firms such as Anthos Capital and, later, investors including the Japanese conglomerate SoftBank.“We saw it in the data: customers coming back multiple times every month, very strong customer retention, customers who would stick around forever, basically,” said Jett Fein, a partner at Headline, a venture capital firm that invested in Gopuff.In 2020, the pandemic sent Gopuff’s business into overdrive as people shied away from shopping in person and relied on deliveries. Billions of dollars in new venture capital flooded in.Mr. Gola and Mr. Ilishayev went on a spending spree. That November, Gopuff acquired the California retailer BevMo! for $350 million, giving it a foothold in the state as well as the chain’s liquor licenses. In Europe, it bought the delivery start-ups Fancy and Dija.The company also started offering a $5.95 monthly subscription for delivery and began an advertising business.Gopuff now has nearly 700 warehouses that deliver to 1,200 cities in North America and Europe. It also has several retail locations in New York, Texas and Florida, where customers can walk in and shop.But profits have been elusive. The start-up is not cash-flow positive, which means it is spending more money than it is taking in, said Scott Minerd, the chief investment officer of Guggenheim Investments, which has invested in Gopuff. He added that the company had paused some plans to open new warehouses.Gopuff spends more on property and salaries of warehouse workers than its rivals, said John Mercer, head of global research at the firm Coresight Research. Discounts to attract customers have also eaten into revenue.Gopuff said it made money in its first three years. Its 2020 revenue was $340 million, according to a company document for potential landlords that was obtained by The New York Times. The document also showed that Gopuff’s cash balance dropped $111 million that year to $521 million.Revenue totaled $2 billion last year, Gopuff said. The company also lost $500 million, which was first reported by Axios.Some of its spending has gone toward handling delivery issues, said four former warehouse and district managers, three of whom declined to be identified because of severance agreements with the company. Several said they had sometimes spent hundreds or thousands of dollars a day on Instacart or at grocery stores to replenish Gopuff’s “never out of stock” staples like bacon, eggs and milk.At other times, suppliers sent pallets of items like ice cream that were not needed and could not be stored.“I would throw away $1,000, $2,000, $3,000 in inventory as soon as I received it because I had nowhere to put it,” said Anthony Nelson, who managed two Gopuff warehouses in Houston from 2019 through 2021. “That happened at least once or twice a week at bare minimum.”Mr. Gola said Gopuff bought items from Instacart or local retailers less than 1 percent of the time and threw out less inventory than the industry standard.The start-up has also faced questions over its use of gig workers, many of whom sign up for shifts with the company and report to managers. In 2018, the Labor Department found that Gopuff had misclassified delivery drivers in Pennsylvania as independent contractors.“Gopuff’s entire business model depends on flagrant misclassification of a kind that’s shocking well beyond what we see even from other gig companies,” said David Seligman, a lawyer who filed a 2017 class-action lawsuit claiming Gopuff wrongly categorized its drivers as contractors. The suit was settled in 2019.In November, hundreds of Gopuff gig workers went on strike, said Candace Hinson, a delivery driver in Philadelphia who helped organize the stoppage.Mr. Gola said the company used gig workers as drivers, rather than hiring employees, because “that’s what they want.” The company disputed that hundreds had gone on strike and said the workers’ action had not hurt its business.In the interview, Mr. Gola insisted that Gopuff would be the company to crack the instant delivery code.“The world is moving toward instant,” he said, “and Gopuff is at the forefront of that.” More

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    U.S. Tries New Tactic to Protect Workers’ Pay: Antitrust Law

    The Justice Department is using antitrust law to charge employers with colluding to hold down wages. The move adds to a barrage of civil challenges.Antitrust suits have long been part of the federal government’s arsenal to keep corporations from colluding or combining in ways that raise prices and hurt the consumer. Now the government is deploying the same weapon in another cause: protecting workers’ pay.In a first, the Justice Department has brought a series of criminal cases against employers for colluding to suppress wages. The push started in December 2020, under the Trump administration, with an indictment accusing a staffing agency in the Dallas-Fort Worth area of agreeing with rivals to suppress the pay of physical therapists. The department has now filed six criminal cases under the pillar of antitrust law, the Sherman Act, including prosecutions of employers of home health aides, nurses and aerospace engineers.“Labor market collusion dots the entirety of the U.S. economy,” said Doha Mekki, principal deputy assistant attorney general in the department’s antitrust division. “We’ve seen it in sectors across the board.”If the courts are swayed by the government’s arguments, they could drastically alter the relationship between workers and their employers across large swaths of the economy.“The expansion of Sherman Act criminal violations changes the ballgame when it comes to how companies engage with their workers,” noted an analysis by lawyers at White & Case, including J. Mark Gidley, chair of the firm’s global antitrust and competition practice. “Executives and managers could face jail time for proven horizontal wage-fixing conspiracies.” In addition to fines for corporations or individuals, the Sherman Act provides for prison terms of up to 10 years.The Biden administration is also deploying antitrust law in civil cases to shore up workers’ pay. And in another first, the Justice Department filed a lawsuit in November to stop Penguin Random House’s attempt to buy Simon & Schuster on the grounds that the resulting publishing Goliath would have the power to depress advances and royalty payments to authors.The move to block the publishers’ merger “declines to even allege the historically key antitrust harm — increased prices,” the White & Case lawyers argued. It is “emblematic of the Biden administration’s and the new populist antitrust movement’s push to direct the purpose of antitrust away from consumer welfare price effects and towards other social harms.”And yet the Justice Department’s push builds on a rationale for criminal antitrust enforcement articulated since the Obama administration. “Colluding to fix wages is no different than colluding to suppress the prices of auto parts or homes sold at auction,” said Renata Hesse, acting assistant attorney general for antitrust, in November 2016. “Naked wage-fixing or no-poach agreements eliminate competition in the same irredeemable way as per se unlawful price-fixing and customer-allocation agreements do.”The Biden administration has picked up the argument with a vengeance. Last summer, President Biden issued an executive order mandating a “whole of government” effort to promote competition across the economy. Last month, the Treasury Department issued a report on just how anticompetitive labor markets have become.Corporate America is alarmed. “In their minds, everything is an antitrust issue,” said Sean Heather, senior vice president for antitrust at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “There is a role for antitrust in labor markets,” he added. “But it is a limited one.”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.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.The latest criminal indictment, brought in January against owners and managers of four home health care agencies in Portland, Maine, is emblematic of the new approach.According to the indictment, the agencies agreed to keep the wage of health aides at $16 to $17 an hour. They encouraged other agencies to sign on, prosecutors said, and threatened an agency that raised its pay to between $17 and $18.50.The agencies’ margin is essentially the difference between the wage and the reimbursement from the Maine Department of Health and Human Services. In April 2020, the department raised the rate to $26.20 an hour, from $20.52, explicitly to “fund pay raises for approximately 20,000 workers,” according to the indictment.The agencies’ agreement, the indictment said, was “a per se unlawful, and thus unreasonable, restraint of interstate trade and commerce in violation of Section l of the Sherman Act.”That blows directly against the position of the Chamber of Commerce. Last April, it filed a brief in a similar case, opposing the government’s argument against an outpatient medical care facility that agreed with a rival not to solicit each other’s employees. The Justice Department was overstepping, the brief argued, because the company couldn’t know the behavior was “per se” illegal — an outright breach of the law irrespective of its effects — since the government’s argument had not been tested in court.American companies “are entitled to fair notice of what conduct is and is not prohibited by the federal antitrust laws,” it argued. “Because no court has previously held that nonsolicitation agreements are per se illegal, this prosecution falls far short of the fair notice that due process requires.”A federal court in a separate case has since sided with the government’s interpretation. In November, Judge Amos L. Mazzant III of the United States District Court in the Eastern District of Texas denied a motion to dismiss a federal criminal indictment alleging wage-fixing at a staffing company providing physical therapists, agreeing that price fixing would be “per se” illegal and that the defendants had fair warning that their behavior was against the law.But beyond the legal wrangling brought about by the Justice Department’s new approach, there are striking examples of efforts by employers to suppress wages.“I suspect those things are all over the place,” said Ioana Marinescu, an economist at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Social Policy and Practice, whether it is employers hoarding highly paid computer engineers or chicken plants paying $15 an hour. “The benefits of collusion may not be super large, but if the costs are quite low, why not do it if you can extract profit?”Until recently, over half of all franchise agreements in the United States, at companies including McDonald’s, Jiffy Lube and H&R Block, included provisions barring franchisees from hiring one another’s workers, according to research by the economists Alan B. Krueger and Orley Ashenfelter. Economic analysis has found that suppressing competition for workers, reducing their options, generally means lower wages. After challenges from several state attorneys general, hundreds of companies abandoned the practice.Another study found that 18 percent of workers are under contracts that forbid moving to a competitor. Most are highly skilled and well paid. Employers who invest in their training can plausibly argue that the noncompete clauses protect their investment and prevent workers from taking valuable information to a rival.But such provisions cover 14 percent of less-educated workers and 13 percent of low-wage workers, who receive little or no training and hold no trade secrets. Several states have challenged the provisions in court. Some, including California, Oklahoma and North Dakota, have prohibited their enforcement.Then there is the litigation. There are civil cases from the 1990s: one by the Justice Department against the Utah Society for Healthcare Human Resources Administration and several hospitals in the state that shared wage information about registered nurses and matched one another’s wages, keeping their pay low. Lawsuits filed by nurses in 2006 accusing hospital systems of conspiring to suppress their wages led to multimillion-dollar settlements in Albany and Detroit.In 2007, the Justice Department sued the Arizona Hospital and Healthcare Association for fixing the rates that hospitals paid to nursing agencies for their temporary nurses, putting a cap on their wages. In settling the case, the association agreed to abandon the practice.The pace picked up after a Justice Department lawsuit in 2010 taking aim at no-poaching agreements involving Adobe, Apple, Google, Intel, Intuit, Pixar and later Lucasfilm. The companies settled the case without admitting guilt or paying fines, but Adobe, Apple, Google and Intel paid $415 million to settle a subsequent class-action lawsuit.Since then, lawsuits have been filed across the industrial landscape. Pixar, Disney and Lucasfilm paid $100 million to settle an antitrust challenge to their agreements not to hire one another’s animation engineers. In 2019, 15 “cultural exchange” sponsors designated by the State Department paid $65.5 million to settle a lawsuit claiming, among other things, that they colluded to depress the wages of tens of thousands of au pairs on J-1 visas. Since 2019 Duke University and the University of North Carolina have paid nearly $75 million to settle two antitrust cases over agreements not to recruit each other’s faculty members.This month, Local 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission arguing that Planned Companies, one of the largest building services contractors in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, illegally forbids its clients to hire its janitors, concierges or security guards either directly or through another firm — locking its workers in.In perhaps the biggest case of all, in 2019 a class action was filed against the American chicken industry, growing to cover some 20 producers responsible for about 90 percent of the poultry market. The complaint accused them of exchanging detailed wage information to fix the wages of about a quarter-million employees, including hourly workers deboning chickens, refrigeration technicians and feed-mill supervisors on a salary.Four of the chicken processors have settled, agreeing to pay tens of millions of dollars. In February, Webber, Meng, Sahl & Company, one of two firms that collected wage data for the poultry companies, settled as well, offering a fairly clear window into the industry’s attempts to suppress wages.In a declaration to the court, part of the settlement agreement, the law firm’s president, Jonathan Meng, said the chicken companies had used the firm “as an unwitting tool to conceal their misconduct.” He offered details about how poultry executives would share detailed wage information. “They wanted to know how much and when their competitors were planning to increase salaries and salary ranges,” he said, because it would allow them “to limit and reduce their salary increases and salary range increases.”Most of the defendants, however, are still contesting the case. They have argued that to prove collusion, the plaintiffs must show that wages across the industry moved in tandem, an argument the court has yet to rule on.Another hurdle is convincing judges that chicken industry workers amount to a specific occupation. If workers deboning chickens could easily leave the poultry industry to work for a better wage at McDonald’s or 7-Eleven, they would have a tougher case to prove that anticompetitive practices by poultry processors caused them direct harm.In pursuing such cases, the government is likely to be challenged by corporate groups every step of the way.Mr. Heather at the Chamber of Commerce, for one, argues that “this narrative that lax antitrust is responsible for income inequality” is wrong. He notes a study sponsored by the chamber showing that corporate concentration is no higher than in 2002 and has been declining since 2007. “The heart of the premise is just flawed,” Mr. Heather said.Moreover, Mr. Heather said, labor markets are already covered by labor laws. “The chamber has an objection to the blending of antitrust and workplace regulation,” he said.Mr. Gidley of White & Case broadly agrees. “It is intriguing to us to see the last 40 years of antitrust law thrown out the window,” he said in an interview. “If antitrust is no longer about low prices but about a clean environment and wages and this, that and the other, it loses its compass.” More