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    Starbucks Is Moving to Oust Workers in Buffalo, Union Supporters Say

    Some employees who back unionization efforts have been told they must increase their work availability or leave. The company cites scheduling issues.Workers at Starbucks stores in Buffalo are accusing the company of retaliating against union supporters by telling some of them they may have to leave the company if they cannot increase their work availability.At least five of the cases have arisen at a store that unionized in December, though union supporters at other Buffalo-area stores report similar conversations with managers, frequently but not always involving pro-union employees. The company denies any connection between the scheduling issues and union activities and says the matter is strictly logistical.The tensions indicate how labor relations are playing out after initial successes in unionizing company stores. None of Starbucks’s roughly 9,000 corporate-owned stores in the United States were unionized before early December, but three have unionized since then, and workers at more than 100 stores across the country have filed for union elections.One of the Buffalo workers, Cassie Fleischer, said her manager told her on Feb. 20 that she would soon no longer be employed at the store where she had worked since 2020 because she had sought to reduce her hours from around 30 to 15, a change the manager said she could not accommodate. The store was recently unionized, and Ms. Fleischer is a prominent union supporter.Kellen Montanye, who works at the same store, said the manager told him in a meeting Sunday that he would have to decide this week if he could increase his availability to 15 or 20 hours or leave the company. Mr. Montanye was also outspoken in supporting the union.“This new policy is a complete betrayal of the promise made by Starbucks to its partners, to schedule us around our other jobs or our school hours,” Starbucks Workers United, the union representing the workers, said in a statement, using the company’s term for its employees. “This is a part of Starbucks’s broader strategy to bust our union.”News that the company was asking some employees to be available to work more hours or leave was reported earlier by the labor-oriented website More Perfect Union.Reggie Borges, a Starbucks spokesman, said that the company was not firing the workers and that there was no policy requiring minimum availability. The company generally tries to honor employees’ preferences on availability, he said, but it cannot guarantee that it will do so, especially when several employees request more limited availability around the same time.Mr. Borges said that 10 people at Ms. Fleischer’s and Mr. Montanye’s store, on Elmwood Avenue in Buffalo, had made such requests recently, out of a total of about 27 workers there.Union supporters said they had not previously faced resistance when making such requests. Many union supporters were also skeptical that 10 workers at the Elmwood store had asked to scale back their hours in ways that posed an unusual challenge for management. A recording of a meeting between Ms. Fleischer and her manager, provided to a reporter by the union, seemed to indicate that the number was lower.“There’s your shift and a couple other people that really, with the hours that I — I just, I don’t have the quite the availability,” the manager told Ms. Fleischer. If fewer workers had sought significant reductions in availability, that would presumably be easier to accommodate.The manager appeared to acknowledge in the recording that the refusal to grant the reduction in hours was a break with her previous approach. “There’s certain things that I have to take care of as well, that maybe I didn’t do the right way before, but I have to get on board,” the manager said.Mr. Montanye, a graduate student at the University at Buffalo, said that he had worked at Starbucks since 2018 and at the Elmwood store for roughly one year, and that he had frequently adjusted his hours. He said he typically worked nearly full time during winter and summer breaks and only one or two days a week while school was in session. His managers had never taken issue with these requests, he added.But at an initial meeting on Feb. 13, he said, his manager told him that his current schedule of one day a week no longer met the store’s “needs” and that he would have to provide 15 or 20 hours of weekly availability to stay on the schedule. At a follow-up meeting over the weekend, he said, the manager told him to decide this week whether he could provide the additional availability. He may seek a leave of absence instead.The Starbucks store on Elmwood Avenue in Buffalo. Union supporters were skeptical that 10 workers at the store had asked to scale back their hours.Mustafa Hussain for The New York TimesMs. Fleischer had worked at Starbucks for over four years, and at the Elmwood store since the summer of 2020. She was typically scheduled for about 33 or 34 hours a week during the second half of last year. But she began looking for additional work elsewhere to cover expenses after her scheduled hours dropped somewhat in January.She asked to scale back to 15 hours a week upon finding a second job, at which point her manager told her in an initial meeting in early February that the more limited availability didn’t meet the “needs of the business,” according to Ms. Fleischer.In her final meeting with her manager, which Ms. Fleischer recorded on Feb. 20, the manager said that she had not put Ms. Fleischer on the schedule for the next two weeks and that, after a certain number of weeks of being unscheduled, Ms. Fleischer would be “termed out” — that is, no longer employed by Starbucks. She is scheduled to meet with her district manager to discuss the issue on Mar. 7.Ms. Fleischer said she would have been unlikely to look for a second job had her hours not dropped in January. Hours at Starbucks tend to fall somewhat during the slow months of January and February, but Ms. Fleischer and Mr. Montanye said they believed the changes were also driven by the addition of several new workers to the store in the fall.The union has said the fall hiring was intended to dilute union support ahead of an election at the store; the company has said the hiring was intended to address understaffing. Mr. Borges said that a similar number of workers had left the store since then and that hours had been fairly consistent.An employee at another Starbucks in Buffalo, Roisin Doherty, said her store also cut back her hours. In late January she too took another job, then informed her manager that she would need to change her availability to weekends only. Screenshots provided by Ms. Doherty show that the manager congratulated her through a messaging app and did not indicate that the new constraints would be a problem. But in early February the manager wrote that she would need “at least four days” of availability. Workers at her store filed for a union election in between the two exchanges, on Jan. 31, and Ms. Doherty has helped lead the union campaign, though she said another worker who is not identified with the union had also been told that his availability was insufficient.Ms. Doherty said that she remained on the schedule and that she had yet to have a second interaction with a manager forcing the issue.Mr. Borges, the Starbucks spokesman, said Ms. Doherty’s hours were reduced after she was given a written warning about tardiness and attendance issues. He said managers would continue contacting employees when necessary to explain that narrow availability could lead them to go unscheduled for a few weeks, which could ultimately cause their separation from the company.“Leaders are trying to make sure partners understand that the lack of availability could lead to that,” Mr. Borges said in an email. More

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    The Age of Anti-Ambition

    Listen to This ArticleAudio Recording by AudmTo hear more audio stories from publications like The New York Times, download Audm for iPhone or Android.I used to think of my job as existing in its own little Busytown — as in the Richard Scarry books, where there’s a small, bright village of workers, each focused on a single job, whose paths all cross in the course of one busy, busy day. In my neighborhood in Brooklyn, I would see the same person at the Myrtle Avenue bus stop several days a week and imagine where he was going with his Dell laptop bag and black sneakers. I’d buy coffee from a rotating cast of the same baristas at the cafe on the third floor of my office building, where I worked as an editor at a magazine. I’d stop to chat with another editor, whose office was on the other side of the wall from mine; sometimes, she would motion for me to shut the door, and we would say what we really thought about some piece of minor professional gossip, important to at most about 3.5 people in the world. I would watch my boss walk toward a meeting with his boss and wonder whether their chat would wind up affecting my job.We all mostly worked on computers, typing in documents and sending emails to the person on the other side of a cubicle wall, but there was a bustle to the whole endeavor. It was a little terrarium where we all spent 50 hours a week, and we filled it with office snacks and bathroom outfit compliments and after-work drinks. Even on a day when nothing much happened professionally, there was the feeling of having worked, of playing your part in an ecosystem.Every job had its own Busytown. Although no one in the broader world wanted to talk about, say, cost-cutting strategies for a potential new client, you could find someone in your Busytown who was just as preoccupied about it as you were. In Scarry’s actual Busytown, meanwhile, the world is populated by people (OK, animals) who find it very easy to explain their jobs. They’re policemen and grocers and postmen and doctors and nurses. When the pandemic hit, the people with those Scarry-style jobs had to keep going to work. Their Busytowns rolled on. And actually, those jobs got harder.Everyone else has lost all touch with theirs. They log on to Slack and Zoom, where their co-workers are two-dimensional or avatars, and every day is just like the last one. Depending on what’s happening with the virus, their children might be there again, just as in March 2020, demanding attention and sapping mental energy. The internet is definitely there, always, demanding attention and sapping mental energy. A job feels like just one more incursion, demanding attention and sapping mental energy.And it didn’t help that, early in the pandemic, all jobs were pointedly rebranded: essential or nonessential. Neither label feels good. There is still plenty of purpose to be found in a job that isn’t in one of the helper professions, of course. But “nonessential” is a word that invites creeping nihilism. This thing we filled at least eight to 10 hours of the day with, five days a week, for years and decades, missed family dinners for … was it just busy work? Perhaps that’s what it was all along.For the obviously essential workers — I.C.U. nurses, pulmonologists — the burden of being needed is a costly one. The word “burnout,” promiscuously applied these days, was in fact coined to diagnose exhaustion in medical workers (in a more quaint time, when we weren’t heading into the third year of a multiwave global pandemic). And meanwhile, a vast majority of people deemed essential have jobs like Amazon warehouse worker or cashier. To be told that society can’t function without you, and that you must risk your health to come in, while other people push around marketing reports from home — often for much more money — it becomes difficult not to wonder if “essential” is cynical, a polite way of classing humans as “expendable” or “nonexpendable.”Teachers, who happen to be both highly unionized and college-educated, haven’t taken kindly to being on the expendable end of the equation, asked to work in person with tiny people who aren’t good at distancing and masking and have spent the past years cooped up. In early January, I read an article in The Times about the drama between the Chicago teachers’ union and the city over in-person instruction. When classes were abruptly canceled, a mother who worked as a bank teller had taken her child in for day care, provided by nonunionized school employees. (Day care workers: even further down the ugly new caste lines than teachers.) “I understand they want to be safe, but I have to work,” the bank teller said of her child’s teachers. “I don’t understand why they are so special.” This kind of comparison can curdle people’s relationships to one another — and to their own jobs.Essential or nonessential, remote or in person, almost no one I know likes work very much at the moment. The primary emotion that a job elicits right now is the determination to endure: If we can just get through the next set of months, maybe things will get better.The act of working has been stripped bare. You don’t have little outfits to put on, and lunches to go to, and coffee breaks to linger over and clients to schmooze. The office is where it shouldn’t be — at home, in our intimate spaces — and all that’s left now is the job itself, naked and alone. And a lot of people don’t like what they see.There are two kinds of stories being told about work right now. One is a labor-market story, and because that’s a little dull and quite confusing, it’s mixed up with the second one, which is about the emotional relationship of American workers to their jobs and to their employers. The Great Resignation is the phrase that has been used, a little incorrectly, to describe each story.The Future of WorkDive into the magazine’s annual exploration of the ways in which work, and our lives with it, is changing.The Age of Anti-Ambition: When 25 million people leave their jobs, it’s about more than just burnout.Calling All Job Haters: Inside the rise and fall of r/Antiwork — the Reddit community that made it OK to quit, but couldn’t quite spark a labor movement.Nurse Shortages: As the coronavirus spread, demand for nurses came from every corner. Some jobs for those willing to travel  paid more than $10,000 a week. Is this a permanent shift?It’s true that we’re in the midst of a “quitagion,” as this paper has jauntily termed it, citing the record number of people (4.5 million) who gave notice in November alone. An estimated 25 million people left their jobs in the second half of 2021; it’s all but certain that this is the highest U.S. quit rate since the Bureau of Labor Statistics began tracking those numbers in 2000.The labor market, as economists like to say, is tight: Employment statistics are strong and getting stronger. Despite inflation, real income is up across all income levels. It’s a remarkable turnaround, following the early pandemic’s horrific job losses, which disproportionately affected the lowest earners and those with little job security. Many of the recent quitters have been on the lower part of the income ladder. They’re getting or seeking better work, for more money, because they can. And that kind of labor market means at least some lower-income workers get to think about their jobs the way the white-collar class more traditionally has, as something that needs to work for them, rather than the other way around.But those top-line numbers obscure a muddier truth. After the latest employment numbers were released in February (which seemed to show remarkable job growth and an unemployment rate of 4 percent), one B.L.S. economist took to his Substack to call it the “most complicated job report ever.” In addition to those workers trying to trade their way into objectively better jobs, millions of others have simply left the work force — because they’re sick, or taking care of children, or retiring, or just plain miserable.The precise reasons are a little mysterious. The jobs recovery isn’t spread evenly across industries, nor is the quit rate. Staffing levels in the leisure and hospitality sectors are still 10 percent lower than they were prepandemic, and according to December’s job report, people who work in hotels and restaurants are the most likely to have quit. Eight percent of all jobs in health care are open right now. There are almost 400,000 fewer health care workers now than there were before the pandemic. As LinkedIn’s chief economist put it to CBS News, “It may not just be worth it for some folks.”Even among the people who were technically employed, a sizable number were unable to work because of child care issues or sick leave. Add to that the fact that many people who would prefer full-time work with benefits are still working on employers’ terms, which means part-time, unstable employment, as The Times’s Noam Scheiber recently reported. And if you dig into the quit numbers for higher-wage workers, it’s still hardly about people going on “Eat, Pray, Love” journeys. The full picture just isn’t that rosy.It’s also not entirely a fluke of this moment. For decades, job productivity has been increasing while real wages haven’t. People were already stretched thin. The writer Anne Helen Petersen, who has made a specialty of truffle-hunting for the millennial internet’s preoccupations, recently wrote a book about professional-class burnout based on a viral 2019 BuzzFeed article she wrote on the same subject. (Her lead personal example involved not getting around to having her knives sharpened.) I was in a particularly stressful moment of a management job at the time and would Google the symptoms of burnout late at night, on a private browser screen. But I was allergic to people talking ostentatiously about it, and I was embarrassed by the indulgence of the language, or, maybe, what I saw as the self-importance of it.Now, though, it’s as if our whole society is burned out. The pandemic may have alerted new swaths of people to their distaste for their jobs — or exhausted them past the point where there’s anything to enjoy about jobs they used to like.Perhaps that’s why the press is filled with stories about widespread employee dissatisfaction; last month a Business Insider article declared that companies “are actively driving their white-collar workers away by presuming that employees are still thinking the way they did before the pandemic: that their jobs are the most important things in their lives,” and pointed to a Gallup poll that showed that last year only a third of American workers said they were engaged in their jobs.At Amazon, in its managerial ranks, employee departures have reached what is being seen as a “crisis” level, according to Bloomberg’s Brad Stone. (A source told him that the turnover rate was as high as 50 percent in some groups, although Amazon disputes this.) One woman, leaving her job, posted in an internal listserv she started called Momazonian, which has more than 5,000 members. “While it has been an incredibly rewarding place to work, the pressure often feels relentless and at times, unnecessary,” she wrote, in a Jerry Maguire screed for the careful networker set; she also copied senior vice presidents and some board members.It’s not an accident that it was the moms’ affinity group where she aired that feeling. A McKinsey study from last year showed that 42 percent of women feel burned out, compared with 32 percent in 2020. (For men, it jumped to 35 percent from 28 percent.) At the beginning of the pandemic, the working world lost more than 3.5 million mothers, according to the Census Bureau; and the National Women’s Law Center found that in early 2021, women’s labor-force participation was at a 33-year-low, returning us all the way back to the era when “Working Girl” was revolutionary. Many of those women haven’t come back.Illustration by María Jesús ContrerasSo the numbers are bad enough. But then there’s the way the hard facts of the economy interact with our emotions. Consider this theory: that the current office ennui was simply the inevitable backlash to the punishing culture of the previous decade’s #ThankGodItsMonday culture. And furthermore, sometime around the rise of #MeToo (and after Donald Trump’s election), ambition began to seem like a mug’s game. The enormous personal costs of getting to the top became clear, and the potential warping effects of being in charge also did. It wasn’t just the bad sexually harassing bosses who were fired but the toxic ones, too, and soon enough we began to question the whole way power in the office worked. What started out as a hopeful moment turned depressing fast. Power structures were interrogated but rarely dismantled, a middle ground that left everyone feeling pretty bad about the ways of the world. It became harder to trust anyone who was your boss and harder to imagine wanting to become one. Covid was an accelerant, but the match was already lit.Recently, I stumbled across the latest data on happiness from the General Social Survey, a gold-standard poll that has been tracking Americans’ attitudes since 1972. It’s shocking. Since the pandemic began, Americans’ happiness has cratered. The graph looks like the heart rate has plunged and they’re paging everyone on the floor to revive the patient. For the first time since the survey began, more people say they’re not too happy than say they’re very happy.The plague, the death, the supply chain, long lines at the post office, the collapse of many aspects of civil society might all play a role in that statistic. But in his classic 1951 study of the office-working middle class, the sociologist C. Wright Mills observed that “while the modern white-collar worker has no articulate philosophy of work, his feelings about it and his experiences of it influence his satisfactions and frustrations, the whole tone of his life.” I remember a friend once saying that although her husband wasn’t depressed, he hated his job, and it was effectively like living with a depressed person.After the latest job report, the economist and Times columnist Paul Krugman estimated that people’s confidence in the economy was about 12 points lower than it ought to have been, given that wages were up. As the pandemic drags on, either the numbers aren’t able to quantify how bad things have become or people seem to have persuaded themselves that things are worse than they actually are.It’s not in just the data where the words “job satisfaction” seem to have become a paradox. It’s also present in the cultural mood about work. Not long ago, a young editor I follow on Instagram posted a response to a question someone posed to her: What’s your dream job? Her reply, a snappy internet-screwball comeback, was that she did not “dream of labor.” I suspect that she is ambitious. I know that she is excellent at understanding the zeitgeist.It is in the air, this anti-ambition. These days, it’s easy to go viral by appealing to a generally presumed lethargy, especially if you can come up with the kind of languorous, wry aphorisms that have become this generation’s answer to the computer-smashing scene in “Office Space.” (The film was released in 1999, in the middle of another hot labor market, when the unemployment rate was the lowest it had been in 30 years.) “Sex is great, but have you ever quit a job that was ruining your mental health?” went one tweet, which has more than 300,000 likes. Or: “I hope this email doesn’t find you. I hope you’ve escaped, that you’re free.” (168,000 likes.) If the tight labor market is giving low-wage workers a taste of upward mobility, a lot of office workers (or “office,” these days) seem to be thinking about our jobs more like the way many working-class people have forever. As just a job, a paycheck to take care of the bills! Not the sum total of us, not an identity.Even elite lawyers seem to be losing their taste for workplace gunning. Last year, Reuters reported an unusual wave of attrition at big firms in New York City — noting that many of the lawyers had decided to take a pay cut to work fewer hours or move to a cheaper area or work in tech. It’s happening in finance, too: At Citi, according to New York magazine, an analyst typed “I hate this job, I hate this bank, I want to jump out the window” in a chat, prompting human resources to check on his mental health. “This is a consensus opinion,” he explained to H.R. “This is how everyone feels.”Things get weird when employers try to address this discontent. Amazon’s warehouse workers have, for the past year, been asked to participate in a wellness program aimed at reducing on-the-job injuries. The company recently came under fire for the reporting that some of its drivers are pushed so hard to perform that they’ve taken to urinating in bottles, and warehouse employees, for whom every move is tracked, live in fear of being fired for working too slowly. But now, for those warehouse workers, Amazon has introduced a program called AmaZen: “Employees can visit AmaZen stations and watch short videos featuring easy-to-follow well-being activities, including guided meditations [and] positive affirmations.” It’s self-care with a dystopian bent, in which the solution for blue-collar job burnout is … screen time.The cultural mood toward the office even appears in the television shows that knowledge workers obsessed over. Consider “Mad Men,” a show set during the peaking economy of the late 1960s. It was a show that found work romantic. I don’t mean the office affairs. I mean that the characters were in love with their work (or angrily sometimes out of love, but that’s a passion of its own). More than that, their careers and the little dramas of their daily work — the presentations to clients, the office politics — gave their lives a sense of purpose. (At the show’s end, Don Draper went to a resort that looks an awful lot like Esalen to find out the meaning of life, and meditated his way into a transformative … Coke ad campaign.)Peggy Olson, the striving adwoman on the make, has recently been taken up as the patron saint of quitters. An image of her shows up frequently illustrating articles about people leaving their jobs, sometimes in GIF form. In it, Olson is wearing sunglasses, carrying a box of office stuff. She has a cigarette dangling from her mouth, off to the side for maximum self-assurance. But she isn’t actually quitting in that scene. Instead, she’s walking into a new, better job at a different agency. The swagger she has comes from ambition, not from opting out.That show was on the air from 2007 to 2015, at the peak of what sometimes gets called hustle culture (and Obama-era optimism). Back then — just before, during and after a psyche-shattering global recession — work had betrayed large swaths of the population, but many (at least those who were better off, for whom the economy recovered much more quickly) took that as inspiration to work harder, to short-circuit the problems of employment with entrepreneurship, or the dreams of it. Start a company! Build a brand! Become a girlboss! (A word that used to be a compliment, not an insult.)Now, Sunday nights are for “Succession,” the beloved pitch-black workplace drama of the post-Trump nihilistic years. On that show, whose third season recently came to a close, work is a corrupting force. The Roy family is ruined not by their money but by their collective desire to run a conglomerate. Ambition perverts the love between parent and child, husband and wife, brother and sister. Even the from-nothing strivers on the show are ruined by their jobs. It’s a Greek tragedy filtered through the present moment, in which every bit of labor is said to happen under late capitalism, and all the jobs are burnout jobs.When “Succession” was over, the office workers of America got up off the couch, and they turned off the TV. They dozed off thinking about the psychological abuse the Roys heap on one another and their Waystar Royco underlings, then sat on the same couch Monday morning.It’s important to acknowledge that some people have reacted to this moment by becoming less cynical about the possibilities of work. The broader world is getting darker — climate change, crumbling democracy. It feels impossible to change it. But work? Work could change. An idealistic generation has set about demanding a utopian world, on a local scale, in their own little Busytowns. More diversity, more attention to structural racism, better hours, better boundaries, better leave policies, better bosses.At some companies, it finally feels as if the old hierarchies are being upended, and the top-paid people are running a little scared of their underlings, rather than the other way around. (No one has much sympathy for managers, and it’s true, as Don Draper once told Peggy Olson, that’s what the money is for. But steering a company through the past few years has been its own particular challenge.)Confronted with this world, many young people with professional options want to be in solidarity with their colleagues instead of climbing the ladder above them. The meaning that they once found in work is now found in trying to make the workplace itself better. At Authentic, a Democratic consulting firm, some members of the unionized staff are refusing to work a contract serving Senator Kyrsten Sinema. Unionized think-tankers at the Center for American Progress, which tends to serve as a pipeline to coveted roles in Democratic presidential administrations, threatened to strike in mid-February over their wages. Some congressional staff members have begun the process of forming a union.I’m now on staff at a digital news site that is unionized; I marvel at the fact that I can have a job with a title like “editor at large” and all the benefits that come from union membership. At Google, home of plush offices and free meals, the company formally recognized a union in early 2021 composed of 400 of its highly paid engineers. The professional managerial classes — as Bernie Sanders supporters called that slice of the white-collar work force pejoratively — are in the middle of developing a class consciousness.So some of the most prestigious offices are organizing, and the college-educated make up a larger slice of the union pie than ever, thanks largely to growth among teachers’ unions. But union membership, more broadly, is at an all-time low. Those warehouse employees at Amazon voted against unionization in Alabama last year. (A federal review board found that Amazon had improperly pressured staff members against forming a union, and ordered a revote, which will take place in five weeks.) Amazon workers might end up voting to join a union. Starbucks employees are starting the process, too. But somehow, workplace protections still seem in danger of becoming one more luxury item that accrues to the privileged.Perhaps there’s no better example of this than what happened at Goldman Sachs last year. Junior bankers in San Francisco felt alienated over their long hours, what they considered low pay and lack of Seamless stipends while working from home. They made a formal presentation to their office’s top executives, relying on survey data they gathered that showed, for instance, that three-quarters of them felt they had been victims of workplace abuse. It was something a little like collective action by America’s future elite.One lead organizer of that action was, as Bloomberg reported, the son of the vice chairman of TPG Capital, a private-equity firm. His father, a creature of a previous zeitgeist, got his start working for Michael Milken at Drexel Burnham Lambert, the famously competitive (and corrupt) investment bank.The son’s hostile takeover worked. The Goldman analysts got their base pay raised by nearly 30 percent. New York magazine reported that while at least five of the 13 analysts from the protest cohort in San Francisco had already left Goldman (four of whom were women of color), the bank was having no trouble recruiting college students to join the next class of analysts.The Goldman raise is a reminder of a cold, hard fact. One that is explained in the very first sentence of Richard Scarry’s “What Do People Do All Day?”: “We all live in Busytown and we are all workers. We work hard so that there will be enough food and houses and clothing for our families.” Work is mainly, really, about making money to live. And then trying to make some more. A boring, ancient story. The future of work might be more like its past than anyone admits.Noreen Malone is an editor at large for Slate Magazine. In 2015, she won a George Polk Award and a Newswomen’s Club award for her reporting in New York magazine on the women who accused Bill Cosby of rape and sexual assault. More

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    Making ‘Dinobabies’ Extinct: IBM’s Push for a Younger Work Force

    Documents released in an age-discrimination case appear to show high-level discussion about paring the ranks of older employees.In recent years, former IBM employees have accused the company of age discrimination in a variety of legal filings and press accounts, arguing that IBM sought to replace thousands of older workers with younger ones to keep pace with corporate rivals.Now it appears that top IBM executives were directly involved in discussions about the need to reduce the portion of older employees at the company, sometimes disparaging them with terms of art like “dinobabies.”A trove of previously sealed documents made public by a Federal District Court on Friday show executives discussing plans to phase out older employees and bemoaning the company’s relatively low percentage of millennials.The documents, which emerged from a lawsuit contending that IBM engaged in a yearslong effort to shift the age composition of its work force, appear to provide the first public piece of direct evidence about the role of the company’s leadership in the effort.“These filings reveal that top IBM executives were explicitly plotting with one another to oust older workers from IBM’s work force in order to make room for millennial employees,” said Shannon Liss-Riordan, a lawyer for the plaintiff in the case.Ms. Liss-Riordan represents hundreds of former IBM employees in similar claims. She is seeking class-action status for some of the claims, though courts have yet to certify the class.Adam Pratt, an IBM spokesman, defended the company’s employment practices. “IBM never engaged in systemic age discrimination,” he said. “Employees were separated because of shifts in business conditions and demand for certain skills, not because of their age.”Mr. Pratt said that IBM hired more than 10,000 people over 50 in the United States from 2010 to 2020, and that the median age of IBM’s U.S. work force was the same in each of those years: 48. The company would not disclose how many U.S. workers it had during that period.A 2018 article by the nonprofit investigative website ProPublica documented the company’s apparent strategy of replacing older workers with younger ones and argued that it followed from the determination of Ginni Rometty, then IBM’s chief executive, to seize market share in such cutting-edge fields as cloud services, big data analytics, mobile, security and social media. According to the ProPublica article, based in part on internal planning documents, IBM believed that it needed a larger proportion of younger workers to gain traction in these areas.In 2020, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission released a summary of an investigation into these practices at IBM, which found that there was “top-down messaging from IBM’s highest ranks directing managers to engage in an aggressive approach to significantly reduce the head count of older workers.” But the agency did not publicly release evidence supporting its claims.The newly unsealed documents — which quote from internal company emails, and which were filed in a “statement of material facts” in the lawsuit brought by Ms. Liss-Riordan — appear to affirm those conclusions and show top IBM executives specifically emphasizing the need to thin the ranks of older workers and hire more younger ones.“We discussed the fact that our millennial population trails competitors,” says one email from a top executive at the time. “The data below is very sensitive — not to be shared — but wanted to make sure you have it. You will see that while Accenture is 72% millennial we are at 42% with a wide range and many units falling well below that average. Speaks to the need to hire early professionals.”“Early professionals” was the company’s term for a role that required little prior experience.Another email by a top executive, appearing to refer to older workers, mentions a plan to “accelerate change by inviting the ‘dinobabies’ (new species) to leave” and make them an “extinct species.”A third email refers to IBM’s “dated maternal workforce,” an apparent allusion to older women, and says: “This is what must change. They really don’t understand social or engagement. Not digital natives. A real threat for us.”Mr. Pratt, the spokesman, said that some of the language in the emails “is not consistent with the respect IBM has for its employees” and “does not reflect company practices or policies.” The statement of material facts redacts the names of the emails’ authors but indicates that they left the company in 2020.Both earlier legal filings and the newly unsealed documents contend that IBM sought to hire about 25,000 workers who typically had little experience during the 2010s. At the same time, “a comparable number of older, non-Millennial workers needed to be let go,” concluded a passage in one of the newly unsealed documents, a ruling in a private arbitration initiated by a former IBM employee.Similarly, the E.E.O.C.’s letter summarizing its investigation of IBM found that older workers made up over 85 percent of the group whom the company viewed as candidates for layoffs, though the agency did not specify what it considered “older.”The newly unsealed documents suggest that IBM sought to carry out its strategy in a variety of ways, including a policy that no “early professional hire” can be included in a mass layoff in the employee’s first 12 months at the company. “We are not making the progress we need to make demographically, and we are squandering our investment in talent acquisition and training,” an internal email states.Previously sealed documents show IBM executives bemoaning the company’s relatively low percentage of millennials.David Paul Morris/Bloomberg
    The lawsuit also argues that IBM sought to eliminate older workers by requiring them to move to a different part of the country to keep their jobs, assuming that most would decline to move. One internal email stated that the “typical relo accept rate is 8-10%,” while another said that the company would need to find work for those who accepted, suggesting that there was not a business rationale for asking employees to relocate.And while IBM employees designated for layoffs were officially allowed to apply for open jobs within the company, other evidence included in the new disclosure suggests that the company discouraged managers from actually hiring them. For example, according to the statement of material facts, managers had to request approval from corporate headquarters if they wanted to move ahead with a hire. Several of the plaintiffs in a separate lawsuit brought by Ms. Liss-Riordan appeared to have been on the receiving end of these practices. One of them, Edvin Rusis, joined IBM in 2003 and had worked as a “solution manager.” He was informed by the company in March 2018 that he would be laid off within a few months. According to his legal complaint, Mr. Rusis applied for five internal positions after learning of his forthcoming layoff but heard nothing in response to any of his applications.Mr. Pratt, the spokesman, said that the company’s efforts to shield recent hires from layoffs, as well as its approach to relocating workers, were blind to age, and that many workers designated for layoffs did secure new jobs with IBM.The ProPublica story from 2018 identified employees in similar situations, and others who were asked to relocate out of state and decided to leave the company instead.The company has faced other age discrimination claims, including a lawsuit filed in federal court in which plaintiffs accused the company of laying off large numbers of baby boomers because they were “less innovative and generally out of touch with IBM’s brand, customers and objectives.” The case was settled in 2017, according to ProPublica.In 2004, the company agreed to pay more than $300 million to settle with employees who argued that its decision in the 1990s to replace its traditional pension plan with a plan that included some features of a 401(k) constituted age discrimination.The federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act prohibits discrimination against people 40 or over in hiring and employment on the basis of their age, with limited exceptions.The act also requires companies to disclose the age and positions of all people within a group or department being laid off, as well as those being kept on, before a worker waives the right to sue for age discrimination. Companies typically require such waivers before granting workers’ severance packages.But IBM stopped asking workers who received severance packages to waive their right to sue beginning in 2014, which allowed it to cease providing information about the age and positions of workers affected by a mass layoff.Instead, IBM required workers receiving a severance package to bring any discrimination claims individually in arbitration — a private justice system often preferred by corporations and other powerful defendants. Mr. Pratt said the change was made to better protect workers’ privacy.While some former employees preserved their ability to sue IBM in court by declining the severance package, many former employees accepted the package, requiring them to bring claims in arbitration. Ms. Liss-Riordan, who is running for attorney general of Massachusetts, represents employees in both situations.The particular legal matter that prompted the release of the documents in federal court was a motion by one of the plaintiffs whose late husband had signed an agreement requiring arbitration, and whose arbitration proceeding IBM then sought to block.IBM argued that the plaintiff sought to pursue the claim in arbitration after the window for doing so had passed, and that some of the evidence the plaintiff sought to introduce was confidential under the arbitration agreement. The plaintiff argued that those provisions of the arbitration agreement were unenforceable.The judge in the case, Lewis J. Liman, has yet to rule on the merits of that argument. But in January, Judge Liman ruled that documents in the case, including the statement of material facts, should be available to the public.IBM asked a federal appellate court to stay Judge Liman’s disclosure decision, but a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit rejected the company’s argument, and the full circuit court also declined to grant a stay. The New York Times filed an amicus brief to the circuit court arguing that the First Amendment applied to the documents in question. More

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    How The Trucker Protests Are Snarling the Auto Industry

    Blockades of U.S.-Canada border crossings could hurt the auto industry, factory workers and the economy, which are still recovering from pandemic disruptions.After two years of the pandemic, semiconductor shortages and supply chain chaos, it seemed as if nothing else could go wrong for the auto industry and the millions of people it employs. But then came thousands of truckers who, angry about vaccine mandates, have been blocking major border crossings between Canada and the United States.With Canadian officials baffled about what to do, the main routes that handle the steel, aluminum and other parts that keep car factories running on both sides of the border were essentially shut down Wednesday and Thursday.Ford Motor, General Motors, Honda and Toyota have curtailed production at several factories in Michigan and Ontario, threatening paychecks and offering a fresh reminder of the fragility of global supply chains and of the deep interdependence of the U.S. and Canadian economies, which exchange $140 million in vehicles and parts every day.No one knows how this is going to end. The protests are expected to swell in the coming days and could spread, including to the United States. Canada’s transport minister has called the bridge blockades illegal. Marco Mendicino, Canada’s minister of public safety, said on Thursday that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the national force, was sending additional officers to the Canadian capital, Ottawa, and to Windsor, Ontario. The mayor of Windsor has threatened to remove the protesters. But those statements have seemed to have little impact. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan pleaded with Canadian officials to quickly reopen traffic.“They must take all necessary and appropriate steps to immediately and safely reopen traffic so we can continue growing our economy,” Ms. Whitmer said in a statement on Thursday.The chaos is already starting to take an economic toll. The pain is likely to be most acute for smaller auto parts suppliers, for independent truckers and for workers who get paid based on their production. Many of these groups, unlike large automakers like G.M., Ford and Toyota, lack the clout to raise prices of their goods and services. Companies and workers in Canada are more likely to suffer because they are more dependent on the United States.The longer crossings between the countries remain blocked, the more severe the damage, not only to the auto industry but also to the communities that depend on manufacturing salaries. Workers at smaller firms typically receive no compensation for lost hours, said Dino Chiodo, the director of auto at the giant Canadian union Unifor. Workers who have been sent home early because of parts shortages will spend less at stores and restaurants.“People say, ‘I have $200 less this week, what do I do?’” Mr. Chiodo said. “It affects the Canadian and U.S. economy as a whole.”Auto factories and suppliers in the United States generally keep at least two weeks of raw materials on hand, said Carla Bailo, the president of the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Mich. If the bridges remain blocked for longer than that, she said, “then you’re looking at layoffs.”The blockades came after a demonstration in Ottawa that started nearly two weeks ago. The protests began over a mandate that truck drivers coming from the United States be vaccinated against the coronavirus and have grown to include various pandemic restrictions. Some have demanded that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau resign. The truckers have been joined by various groups, including some displaying Nazi symbols and damaging public monuments. Police in Ottawa said on Thursday that the protesters and their supporters, including some in the United States, had almost overwhelmed the city’s 911 system with calls.The crossing that has the auto industry and government officials most concerned is the Ambassador Bridge, which connects Windsor and Detroit. It carries roughly a quarter of the trade between the two countries, which has been relatively unrestricted for decades. While food and other products are also affected, about a third of the cargo that uses the bridge is related to the auto industry, Ms. Bailo said.The blockade has been felt as far south as Kentucky, where production has been disrupted at a Toyota factory, the company said on Thursday. The shutdown at the border also will prevent manufacturing at Toyota’s three Canadian plants for the rest of the week, a spokesman for the automaker, Scott Vazin, said.Demonstrators blocking access to the Ambassador Bridge in Windsor. The bridge accounts for roughly a quarter of the trade between the United States and Canada.Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press, via Associated PressG.M. said it had canceled two shifts on Wednesday and Thursday at a factory in Lansing, Mich., that makes Buick Enclave and Chevrolet Traverse sport utility vehicles. The company also sent workers from the first shift at a plant in Flint, Mich., home early. Ford said Thursday that plants in Windsor and Oakville, also in Ontario, were running at reduced capacity.Shortages of semiconductors and other components have not been all bad for giant automakers, creating scarcity that has driven up prices of cars in the last year. Ford and G.M. both reported healthy profits for 2021. And the economic damage will not be severe if the bridge and other crossings reopen soon, industry experts said.But the last two years have shown that, because supply chains are so complex, problems at obscure parts makers can have far-reaching and unpredictable impact. Last year, Ford had to shut down plants for weeks at a time in part because of a fire at a chip factory in Japan.“If it stretches on for weeks it could be catastrophic,” said Peter Nagle, an analyst who covers the car industry at IHS Markit, a research firm.Mr. Nagle said the bridge blockade was worse than the semiconductor shortage for carmakers. They “were already running pretty tight because of other supply chain shortages,” he said. “This is just bad news on top of bad news.”The auto industry operates relatively seamlessly across Canada, the United States and Mexico. Some parts can travel back and forth across borders multiple times as raw materials are processed and are turned into components and, eventually, vehicles.An engine block, for example, might be cast in Canada, sent to Michigan to be machined for pistons, then sent back to Canada for assembly into a finished motor. The blockades have stranded some truckers on the wrong side of the border, creating a chain reaction of missed deliveries.The slowdown in Canadian trade will disproportionately affect New York, Michigan and Ohio, said Arthur Wheaton, the director of labor studies at Cornell’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations. At the same time, he added, the protests were “certainly raising concerns for all U.S. manufacturers.”“There is already a shortage of truck drivers in North America, so protests keeping truckers off their routes exacerbates problems for an already fragile supply chain,” Mr. Wheaton said.Carmakers had hoped that shortages of computer chips and other components would ease this year, allowing them to concentrate on the long-term: the transition to electric vehicles.A larger fear for many elected officials and business executives is that the scene at the Ambassador Bridge could inspire other protests. The Department of Homeland Security warned in an internal memo that a convoy of protesting truckers was planning to travel from California to Washington, D.C., potentially disrupting the Super Bowl and President Biden’s State of the Union address on March 1.“While there are currently no indications of planned violence,” the memo, which was dated Tuesday, said, “if hundreds of trucks converge in a major metropolitan city, the potential exists to severely disrupt transportation, federal government operations, commercial facilities and emergency services through gridlock and potential counter protests.”Mr. Chiodo, the Canadian union leader, said that “the people who are demonstrating are doing it for the wrong reasons. They want to get back to the way things were before the pandemic, and in reality they are shutting things down.”The scene in Ottawa remained a raucous party Thursday, with hundreds of people on the street, many wearing Canadian flags like capes. The song “Life Is a Highway,” by the Canadian musician Tom Cochrane, pumped from loudspeakers set up on the back of an empty trailer that had been converted into a stage.But there was a thinning out of protesters — with some empty spaces where trucks had been the day before.Johnny Neufeld, 39, a long-haul trucker from Windsor, Ontario, said the vaccine mandate would spell the end of his job transporting molds into the United States since he had chosen not to be inoculated out of fear the shots had been developed too quickly. He got his first ticket from the police Thursday morning, a fine of 130 Canadian dollars (about $100) for being in a no-stopping zone.“This is a souvenir,” he said.Dan Bilefsky More

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    Job Openings Remained Elevated in December Despite Omicron Surge

    The Omicron variant of the coronavirus has disrupted business and kept millions of people home from work. But in December, at least, it did little to cool off the red-hot job market.Employers posted 10.9 million open jobs in the last month of 2021, the Labor Department said Tuesday. That was up modestly from November, and close to the record 11.1 million openings in July. There were roughly 1.7 job openings for every unemployed worker in December, the most in the two decades the government has been keeping track.Lots of jobs, not enough workersThere were nearly 11 million jobs posted in December and fewer than 7 million unemployed workers, the highest ratio in the two decades the government has been keeping track.

    Notes: Unemployment figures adjusted to account for workers misclassified as employed. Data is seasonally adjusted.Source: Labor DepartmentBy The New York TimesForecasters had expected the jump in coronavirus cases to lead to a pullback in recruiting, and a slowdown is still possible. Nationally, coronavirus cases did not reach their peak until mid-January, and they are still rising in some parts of the country. Job postings on the career site Indeed, which tend to track the government’s data relatively closely, remained high through much of December but fell in January.The virus kept millions of workers home in December and January, leaving many businesses short staffed and forcing some to close or limit their hours. That probably forced some companies to postpone hiring. Employers might have also found it harder to hire because some people were unwilling to look for or start new jobs as virus cases rose, or unable to do so because of child care obligations.But there is little evidence so far that Omicron has derailed a strong job market. Employers laid off or fired just 1.2 million workers in December, the fewest on record. The difficult hiring environment may have led some companies that normally shed temporary workers after the holidays to hold on to them this year, said Diane Swonk, chief economist for the accounting firm Grant Thornton.“Companies kept their seasonal hires,” she said. “One, because it’s already a labor shortage. And two, because they had so many people out sick that they wanted to keep people on.”Many workers are taking advantage of their leverage by seeking out better jobs. More than 4.3 million workers quit their jobs voluntarily, down a bit from November but still near a record.With workers scarce and employees in the driver’s seat, companies are raising pay. Wages and salaries rose 4.5 percent in the final three months of 2021, according to separate data released by the Labor Department last week. Wages are rising fastest in sectors where labor is particularly scarce, such as leisure and hospitality.Economists will get a more up-to-date snapshot of the labor market on Friday, when the Labor Department releases data on job growth and unemployment in January. Forecasters surveyed by FactSet expect the report to show that employers added 165,000 jobs. But Omicron has created an unusual amount of uncertainty, and some economists believe the report could show a net loss of jobs last month. More

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    Jobless for a Year? Employment Gaps Might Be Less of a Problem Now.

    People who were out of work for a while have typically found it much harder to get a job. The pandemic may have changed how employers view people who have been unemployed for months or years.Jamie Baxter used to be skeptical of job applicants who had not worked for long stretches of time, assuming that other employers had passed them over.“My mind would jump to the negative stigma of ‘Wow, why could this person not get a job for this long?’” said Mr. Baxter, who is chief executive of Qwick, a temporary staffing company for the hospitality industry.Yet recently, he has hired at least half a dozen people who had been out of work for several months or longer. The pandemic, he said, “made me open my eyes.”Mr. Baxter’s change of heart reflects an apparent willingness among employers in the pandemic era to hire applicants who have been jobless for long periods. That’s a break from the last recession, when long-term unemployment became self-perpetuating for millions of Americans. People who had gone without a job for months or years found it very difficult to find a new one, in part because employers avoided them.The importance of what are often referred to as “résumé gaps” is fading, experts say, because of labor shortages and more bosses seeming to realize that long absences from the job market shouldn’t taint candidates. This is good news for the 2.2 million people who have been out of work for more than six months, and are considered long-term unemployed, according to the Labor Department, double the number before the pandemic.But that change may not last if more people decide to return to the job market or if the economy cools because of another wave of coronavirus cases, experts say.Mr. Baxter, whose company is based in Phoenix, said he has learned from his own experience. Forced to lay off roughly 70 percent of his 54 employees when the pandemic hit, he realized he was responsible for creating the very employment gaps he had once used to screen out job applicants.“I knew I was creating employment gaps,” he said. “Maybe other people would have employment gaps for very justifiable reasons. It doesn’t mean that they are not a good employee.”Even in normal times, the long-term unemployed face steep odds. The longer applicants are out of work, the more they may become discouraged and the less time they may spend searching for jobs. Their skills may deteriorate or their professional networks may erode.Some employers regard applicants with long periods of unemployment unfavorably, research shows — even if many are reluctant to admit it.“Employers don’t often articulate why but the idea, they believe, is that people who are out of work are damaged in some way, which is why they are out of work” said Peter Cappelli, the director of the Center for Human Resources at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.Some economists believe the pandemic’s unique effects on the economy may have changed things. Notably, the pandemic destroyed millions of jobs seemingly all at once, especially in the travel, leisure and hospitality industries. Many people could not, or chose not to, work because of health concerns or family responsibilities.“For people who were just laid off because of Covid, will there be a stigma? I don’t really think so,” Mr. Cappelli said. Although monthly job-finding rates plummeted for both the short- and long-term unemployed during the early part of the pandemic, the rate for the long-term jobless has since rebounded to roughly the same level as before the pandemic, according to government data. While that does not imply the employment-gap stigma has disappeared, it suggests it is no worse than it has been.That was what Rachel Love, 35, found when she applied for a job at Qwick.After Ms. Love was furloughed, and then laid off from her sales job at a hotel in Dallas last year, she kept hoping that her former company would hire her back. She had been unemployed for about a year when she came to terms with the idea of getting a new job and became aware of a business development position at Qwick.Interviewers did not press her about why she had been out of work for so long. “I hope now, just with everything going on, I think people can look at the résumé and look at the time frame and maybe just infer,” said Ms. Love, who began working remotely for Qwick in June.The tight labor market is almost certainly a factor. In October, there were 11 million job openings for 7.4 million unemployed workers.“The fact of the matter is, there are far more jobs in the U.S. than there are people to fill them right now,” said Jeramy Kaiman, who leads professional recruitment for the western United States at the Adecco Group, a staffing agency, working primarily with accounting, finance and legal businesses. As a result, he added, employers have had to become more willing to consider applicants who had been out of work for a while.Even when the worker shortage eases, labor experts express optimism that employers will care less about employment gaps than before, partly because the pandemic has made hiring managers more sympathetic.Zoë Harte, the chief people officer at Upwork, a company that matches freelancers with jobs, said there had been a “societal shift” in how companies understand employment gaps.“It’s become more and more evident that opportunity isn’t equally distributed, and so it’s important for us as people who are creating jobs and interviewing people to really look at ‘What can this person contribute?’ as opposed to ‘What does this piece of paper say they have done in the past?’” she said.That aligns with Burton Amos’s experience. After he was laid off from his job as a program support specialist with a federal contractor at the start of the pandemic, Mr. Amos, 60, started an online wireless accessories business and began studying for a career in information technology but was unable to land other work.On his résumé and LinkedIn profile, he was open about his lack of full-time employment, an approach that seemed to appeal to interviewers.“Every job did ask about ‘What am I doing right now?’” he said. “They didn’t specifically say anything specific about the pandemic.” He recently received multiple job offers and has accepted a position as a public aid eligibility assistant with the State of Illinois.Many companies have also redoubled their efforts on diversity and are more willing to employ people with a range of backgrounds and experiences, including applicants with long employment gaps.Scott Bonneau, vice president of global talent attraction at the hiring site Indeed, said employment gaps are “not a part of our consideration.” His company instead tries to evaluate a candidate’s skills and capabilities. That practice began before the pandemic, as part of the company’s diversity and inclusion efforts, and it is a shift that he said he expected to see at other businesses.“I think there is the beginnings of a movement to stop focusing on employment gaps entirely at least in certain parts of the employment world,” said Mr. Bonneau, whose responsibilities include hiring people for jobs at Indeed.But other labor experts worry that the employment-gap stigma will return once the economy stabilizes.Employers may not be as forgiving of gaps on résumés that stretch into next year now that jobs, and vaccines, are more available, said Jesse Rothstein, a professor of public policy and economics at the University of California, Berkeley. The stigma may be more evident for lower-wage workers in industries where current job openings are especially high.“I would expect that to whatever extent that it exists, it will come back,” Mr. Rothstein said.History also suggests that the empathy that hiring managers may feel now will not last, said Maria Heidkamp, the director of program development at the Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University.In a study released in 2013 by the Heldrich Center, a quarter of American workers said they were directly affected through a job loss and nearly 80 percent said they knew at least someone who had lost a job in the previous four years. Those levels would seem to make hiring managers more understanding of those who had lost their jobs because the experience was so common, Ms. Heidkamp said. “But that’s not what we saw,” she said.“The equation may play out differently” now, she added. “That said, I’m still worried.”Ben Casselman More

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    Why New York City’s Jobless Rate Is Double the Rest of the Country's

    The city has regained fewer than 6 of every 10 jobs it lost since the pandemic began, while the nation as a whole has regained more than 90 percent of lost jobs.Since the start of the year, nearly six million jobs have been added in the United States. The unemployment rate has plummeted to 4.2 percent, close to where it stood before the pandemic. But in New York City, the economy appears to be in a rut.After gaining 350,000 jobs in the last months of 2020, employment has slowed considerably this year, with just 187,000 jobs added since March. The city’s unemployment rate of 9.4 percent is more than double the national average, and its decline in recent months was largely caused by people dropping out of the labor force.From the start of the pandemic, no other large American city has been hit as hard as New York, or has struggled as much to replenish its labor force. Nearly a million people lost their jobs in the early months of the pandemic, and thousands of businesses closed.As the city plunged into its worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, the unemployment rate skyrocketed, peaking in June 2020 at 20 percent. Nearly every industry — from construction to finance to social services — has fewer people employed now than before the pandemic swept into New York in March 2020.Nearly two years later, New York has added back a little more than half the jobs it lost, according to the state Labor Department, far less than the rest of the country, underscoring how the pandemic ravaged some of the city’s core economic engines like tourism, hospitality and retail.The protracted pandemic has shut out tourists and scared off the crush of suburbanites who filled office towers every weekday — a “double whammy,” said Andrew Rein, president of the Citizens Budget Commission, a nonprofit watchdog group. Just 8 percent of office workers were back at work five days a week in early November, according to a survey by the Partnership for New York City, a business group.Crowds are thinner at Pennsylvania Station in Midtown Manhattan with so many suburban office employees still working remotely.Yuvraj Khanna for The New York Times“Commuters and tourists consume a lot of the same stuff,” Mr. Rein said. “They consume, in a certain sense, the vibrancy of New York City.”Their absence has contributed to the loss of more than 100,000 jobs in the city’s restaurants, bars and hotels, plus nearly 60,000 additional jobs in retailing, performing arts, entertainment and recreation. The reopening of Broadway theaters and the high rate of vaccinations has provided a boost this fall that lowered the city’s official unemployment rate to 9.4 percent in October.But the rise of the Omicron variant could threaten the fledgling recovery just as the next mayor, Eric Adams, takes office in January. Mr. Adams has pledged to use the full resources of city government to reinvigorate the economy, creating a citywide jobs training and placement program.So far, the city has regained fewer than six of every 10 jobs it lost since the pandemic began in early 2020, while the nation as a whole has regained more than nine out of 10 lost jobs, said James Parrott, an economist with the Center for New York City Affairs. “It certainly looks to me like we’re going to have a much slower, much more drawn-out recovery,” Mr. Parrott said.The short but sharp pandemic recession was particularly painful for those in lower-paying service jobs: Positions in retail, restaurants and hotels help underpin the city’s economy and were the first to be cut in spring 2020. The jobs have been slow to reappear while a large share of their customers — office workers — have still not returned to the city’s business districts.The story is far different for one major industry and its employees, finance, which has thrived, with companies like JPMorgan Chase posting record revenues during the pandemic.In the two previous recessions — those that started in 2000 and 2008 — Wall Street shrank and the city lost tens of thousands of high-paying finance jobs. This time, the job losses on Wall Street have been minimal, helping tax collections to hold up as the city has continued to collect income tax from high-paid professionals who are working remotely.“Wall Street is having a banner year, and they did really well last year,” said Ana Champeny, deputy research director at the Citizens Budget Commission. “That has helped prop up the city’s income tax revenues and business tax revenues.”A strong employment rebound has yet to take hold despite an easing of pandemic-related business restrictions over the summer, the ending of expanded unemployment benefits in September and the reopening of international travel last month.An estimated 800,000 New York City residents, about 10 percent of the population, were receiving the benefits when they expired. Republican lawmakers and small business owners had blamed the benefits for discouraging people from working, though recent studies have shown that the extra payments most likely had little effect on labor shortages, which have continued after the payments ended.Before the pandemic, the tourism industry in New York City employed 283,000 people, with the majority of those jobs in Manhattan. By the end of 2020, roughly a third of those positions had been eliminated, according to the New York State comptroller’s office.Roughly a third of New York City’s 283,000 tourism positions had been eliminated by the end of 2020, though visitors have started to return in greater numbers in recent weeks.Gabby Jones for The New York TimesWhen the city locked down early last year, almost all of its tour guides were laid off, and most have not been rehired, said Patrick Casey, a board member of the Guides Association of New York City who is out of work himself.He had worked as a guide for New York Water Taxi, which operated a fleet of sightseeing boats, for more than 10 years before he was furloughed at the start of the pandemic. He had to fend for himself: Federal pandemic benefits have expired, and like many workers, he had exhausted his unemployment insurance.Mr. Casey said he had hoped to be rehired, but he gave up and started collecting Social Security when he turned 65 in early December. “It’s going to take a long time for my industry to come back,” he said.The pandemic has caused many workers to re-evaluate their own priorities, placing a greater importance on work-life balance, spending time with their families and protecting their health. It has led some workers to retire, while others are reluctant to rejoin the work force if it means taking a job that requires face-to-face interaction, economists say.Louisa Tatum, a career coach at the New York Public Library in the Bronx, said that more people with college degrees were seeking advice, and workers were more selective about what jobs they were willing to accept.While some businesses are hiring and some even have major staff shortages, many workers tell her that they are willing to wait to accept a position that pays well, has consistent hours and, in a reflection of how the pandemic has shifted priorities, offers greater flexibility for remote work.“There is a desire to work remotely and for opportunities that don’t put them at risk of anything,” Ms. Tatum said. The biggest barrier, she said, is the lack of desirable openings.For some industries in New York, the pandemic simply accelerated financial pressure that already existed. Retailers were already struggling with the rise of online shopping, and empty storefronts were adding up even on famed corridors like Madison Avenue.The apparel manufacturing business, a bedrock industry in New York a century ago that employed hundreds of thousands of people, shed more than 4,000 jobs during the pandemic, leaving just 6,100 employees in the city as of October.Taylor Grant moved back home to Alabama after being laid off from her clothing designing job and decided to stay after not being able to find a new job in New York.Julie Bennett for The New York TimesTaylor Grant was among those who lost a job in the apparel manufacturing trade. Ms. Grant, 25, accepted a job in early 2019 as a clothing designer at HMS Productions, a designer and manufacturer of women’s clothes sold at shops like TJ Maxx and Marshalls. Her office was in the garment district, the once booming textile neighborhood in Midtown Manhattan.Ms. Grant said she had survived rounds of layoffs in spring 2020 and had worked remotely for a couple of months in Dothan, Ala., her hometown. She lost her job that summer.Ms. Grant said she applied for a handful of jobs in the apparel business in New York through the rest of 2020, hoping to return while she still had an apartment in the city. Not one company responded, so she stopped looking. She now works as a manager at a women’s boutique started by her mother, Frou Frou Frocks in Dothan, and has helped increase its online sales and social media presence.“I definitely thought I would be with my company for at least five years,” Ms. Grant said. “Once I realized there were no job opportunities in New York, I decided to stay in Alabama.”The Hotel and Gaming Trades Council, a union that represents more than 30,000 hotel workers in New York, still has thousands of members who have been out of work for nearly two years. The outlook is so bleak that union officials have been counseling members on how to find work in other fields, even nonunion jobs. But replacing jobs that paid $35 an hour and provided free family health care is a tall order.“We have people waiting in line and anxious to go back to work,” said Rich Maroko, president of the union. “They’re having difficulty finding full-time work.”Kazi M. Hossain, 59, had served drinks at Bar Seine in the Hôtel Plaza Athénée in Manhattan for nearly 35 years when the pandemic forced the hotel to close in March 2020. It has never reopened, leaving Mr. Hossain without a full-time job for the first time since the mid-1970s.He has supported his family in Queens by taking on part-time work and borrowing $100,000 from his retirement savings. “If the hotel opens in the next three months, I could survive,” Mr. Hossain said. More

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    Better.com’s C.E.O. ‘Taking Time Off’ After Firing Workers Over Zoom

    Better.com’s mercurial chief executive, Vishal Garg, faced swift backlash for his decision to fire more than 900 employees on a Zoom call last week. The mortgage lender’s board announced in a memo sent to staff on Friday that Mr. Garg was “taking time off” after the “very regrettable events.”“I come to you with not great news,” Mr. Garg had said to about 9 percent of his staff, in a recording since shared widely online. “If you’re on this call you are part of the unlucky group that is being laid off. Your employment here is terminated effective immediately.”Better.com, which is backed by SoftBank, has brought on a third-party firm to assess its leadership and culture, according to a copy of the board’s memo obtained by The New York Times. Several top employees resigned following the firings, two in communications and one in marketing. Better.com did not respond to a request for comment on Friday.Christian Chapman, 41, a former underwriting trainer at Better.com, said he was used to preparing for company meetings by making sure his children weren’t around, because Mr. Garg tended to use foul language. But last Wednesday, when he received an unexpected invitation to the company call with Mr. Garg, he got a sense of foreboding because the chief executive looked so solemn.As Mr. Garg impassively delivered the news, Mr. Chapman said his “gut dropped to the floor,” and he tried to message teammates to ask what was happening but his computer access was shut off almost immediately.“I’ve been through layoffs and usually there’s closure because you talk to H.R., you go to your desk and grab your personal belongings and say goodbyes,” Mr. Chapman said. “There’s no closure here. You’re staring at an empty screen in your house.”It took about three hours for him to receive a follow-up email, reviewed by The Times, that explained the terms of the termination, Mr. Chapman added. On Thursday, the company increased his termination package from one to two months of pay. He also received a Christmas package containing a trophy, certificate and company T-shirt (which his wife offered to burn).Mr. Chapman said that the chief executive’s messaging about fired employees “stealing” from the company by working only two hours a day — which the former employee said was contradicted by his team’s recent promotions and raises — had made it challenging for them to apply for new jobs.Mr. Garg has apologized for his behavior on the Zoom call. In a memo dated Tuesday that was posted on the company’s site, Mr. Garg said he owned the choice to make layoffs but had “blundered” the approach. More