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    Brexit Turns 3. Why Is No One Wearing a Party Hat?

    The divorce between Britain and the European Union has become the dark thread that, to many, explains why Britain is suffering more than its neighbors.LONDON — The third anniversary of Britain’s departure from the European Union passed without fanfare on Tuesday, and why not? Brexit has faded from the political forefront, unmentioned by politicians who don’t want to touch it and overlooked by a public that cares more about the country’s economic crisis.The severity of that crisis was underscored by the International Monetary Fund, which forecast this week that Britain will be the world’s only major economy to contract in 2023, performing even worse than heavily blacklisted Russia.The I.M.F. only indirectly attributed some of Britain’s woes to Brexit, noting that it suffered from a very tight labor market, which had constrained output. Brexit has aggravated those shortages by choking off the pipeline of workers from the European Union — whether waiters in London restaurants or fruit and vegetable pickers in fields.The effects of Brexit run through Britain’s last-in-class economy because they also run through its divided, exhausted politics. In a country grappling with the same energy shocks and inflation pressures that afflict the rest of Europe, Brexit is the dark thread that, to some critics, explains why Britain is suffering more than its neighbors.“One of the reasons for our current economic weakness is Brexit,” said Anand Menon, a professor of West European politics at King’s College London. “It’s not the main reason. But everything has become so politicized that the economic debate is carried out through political shibboleths.”Years of debate over Brexit, he said, had contributed to a kind of policy paralysis. “If you look at it, it is astounding how little actual governing has happened since 2016,” Professor Menon said. “It has been seven years, and virtually nothing has been done on a governmental level to fix the country’s problems.”Inflation, though it has eased slightly, continues to run at a double-digit rate.Neil Hall/EPA, via ShutterstockThose problems continue to proliferate. Inflation, though it has eased slightly, continues to run at a double-digit rate. Britain’s National Health Service is facing the gravest crisis in its history, with overcrowded hospitals and hourslong waits for ambulances. On Wednesday, Britain will face its largest coordinated strikes in a decade, with teachers, railway workers and civil servants walking off the job.Not all these problems are wholly, or even principally, a result of Brexit. But tackling any of them, experts said, will require bolder solutions than the government of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has yet proposed. Owing largely to Brexit, Mr. Sunak’s Conservative Party remains torn by factions that thwart action on issues from urban planning to a new relationship with the European Union.Part of the problem, experts said, is that the neither the government nor the opposition Labour Party is prepared to acknowledge the negative effects Brexit has had on the economy. The government may not ring the bell of Big Ben to celebrate the anniversary, as it did on Brexit day in 2020. But to the extent that Mr. Sunak refers to Brexit, he still portrays it as an undiluted boon to the country.“In the three years since leaving the E.U., we’ve made huge strides in harnessing the freedoms unlocked by Brexit,” Mr. Sunak said in a statement marking the anniversary. “Whether leading Europe’s fastest vaccine rollout, striking trade deals with over 70 countries or taking back control of our borders, we’ve forged a path as an independent nation with confidence.”A protest on Monday against a proposed bill to limit strikes outside Downing Street in London.Andy Rain/EPA, via ShutterstockHis predecessor, Boris Johnson, also cited the early authorization and rapid deployment of a coronavirus vaccine as proof of Brexit’s value — never mind that health experts said Britain would have had the authority to approve a vaccine before its neighbors, even if it had been part of the European Union.“Let’s shrug off all this negativity and gloom-mongering that I hear about Brexit,” Mr. Johnson said in a video posted on Twitter on Tuesday afternoon. “Let’s remember the opportunities that lie ahead, and the vaccine rollout proves it.”There is little evidence that Mr. Sunak and Mr. Johnson are convincing many people. Public opinion has turned sharply against Brexit: Fifty-six percent of those surveyed thought leaving the European Union was a mistake, according to a poll in November by the firm YouGov, while only 32 percent thought it was a good idea.And the sense of disillusion is nationwide. In all but three of Britain’s 632 parliamentary constituencies, more people now agree than disagree with the statement, “Britain was wrong to leave the E.U,” according to a poll released Monday by the news website, UnHerd, and the research firm, Focaldata.The three holdouts are agricultural areas around Boston and Skegness on the country’s eastern coastline, where immigration is still a resonant issue. And even in these places, public opinion about Brexit is finely balanced.At the same time, few people express a desire to open a debate over whether to rejoin the European Union. The prospects of doing that on terms that would be remotely acceptable to either side are, for the moment, far-fetched. The Labour leader, Keir Starmer, prefers to frame his party’s message as “Making Brexit Work,” having lost an election to the Tories in 2019, whose slogan was “Get Brexit Done.”The chief executive of the N.H.S., Amanda Pritchard, from left, with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak of Britain. They were visiting the University Hospital of North Tees in Stockton-on-Tees.Pool photo by Phil NobleBritain’s problems are exacerbated by the fact that the one leader who proposed radical remedies, Liz Truss, triggered such a backlash in the financial markets that she was forced out of office in 45 days. To restore the country’s reputation with investors, Mr. Sunak has scrapped her tax cuts and adopted a fiscally austere program of higher taxes and spending cuts that the I.M.F. says will curb growth.“Although we no longer have lunatics running the asylum, we have essentially a lame-duck government that doesn’t have any semblance of a plan to restore economic growth,” said Jonathan Portes, a professor of economics at King’s College London.The trouble is that the bitter squabbling over Brexit has made obvious responses politically perilous for the prime minister. Even the I.M.F.’s projection for Britain’s growth ignited a storm of commentary on social media about whether it would help the cause of “Remainers” or reopen the Brexit debate.The fund’s assessment was not completely gloomy despite its prediction of contraction in 2023. Britain, it estimated, grew faster than Germany or France last year. After inflation cools and the burden of higher taxes eases, it said, Britain should return to modest growth in 2024.Professor Portes said that there were policies Mr. Sunak could pursue, from liberalizing planning laws to overhauling immigration rules to ease the labor shortage, that would stimulate growth. “If you put all those together,” he said, “there is a reasonable, feasible strategy that could make the next 10 years better than the last.”But he added, “Any coherent strategy involves repairing the economic relationship with Europe, and that will depend on the political dynamic.” More

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    Apple Reaches Deal With Investors to Audit Its Labor Practices

    The tech giant will assess its compliance with its official human rights policy, according to a federal filing.Apple will conduct an assessment of its U.S. labor practices under an agreement with a coalition of investors that includes five New York City pension funds.The assessment will focus on whether Apple is complying with its official human rights policy as it relates to “workers’ freedom of association and collective bargaining rights in the United States,” the company said in a filing last week with the Securities and Exchange Commission.The audit comes amid complaints by federal regulators and employees that the company has repeatedly violated workers’ labor rights as they have sought to unionize over the past year. Apple has denied the accusations.“There’s a big apparent gap between Apple’s stated human rights policies regarding worker organizing, and its practices,” said Brad Lander, the New York City comptroller, who helped initiate the discussion with Apple on behalf of the city’s public worker pension funds.As part of its agreement with the coalition of investors, which also includes other pension funds for unionized workers, Apple agreed to hire a third-party firm to conduct the assessment, the coalition said in a letter to the company’s chairman on Tuesday.Labor Organizing and Union DrivesN.Y.C. Nurses’ Strike: Nurses at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx and Mount Sinai in Manhattan ended a three-day strike after the hospitals agreed to add staffing and improve working conditions.Amazon: A federal labor official rejected the company’s attempt to overturn a union victory at a warehouse on Staten Island, removing a key obstacle to contract negotiations between the union and the company.A Union Win: Organized labor claimed a big victory on Jan. 3, gaining a foothold among about 300 employees at a video game maker owned by Microsoft.Electric Vehicles: In a milestone for the sector, employees at an E.V. battery plant in Ohio voted to join the United Automobile Workers union, citing pay and safety issues as key reasons.The letter also laid out recommendations for the assessment, which include hiring a firm that has expertise in labor rights and that does not advise companies on how to avoid unionization. It recommended that the firm be “as independent as practicable.”Apple’s federal filing did not refer explicitly to a third party, and the company declined to comment further.Members of the investor coalition controlled about $7 billion worth of Apple stock as of last week, out of a market capitalization of more than $2 trillion. In its financial filing announcing the assessment, Apple offered few details, saying that it would conduct the assessment by the end of the year and that it would publish a report related to the assessment.Last year, workers voted to unionize at two Apple stores — in Townson, Md., and Oklahoma City — and workers at two other stores filed petitions to hold union election before withdrawing them.Many workers involved in union organizing at the company said they enjoyed their jobs and praised their employer, citing benefits like health care and stock grants and the satisfaction of working with Apple products. But they said they hoped that unionizing would help them win better pay, more input into scheduling and more transparency when it comes to obtaining job assignments and promotions.In May, Apple announced that it was raising its minimum hourly starting wage to $22 from $20, a step that some workers interpreted as an effort to undermine their organizing campaigns.Workers have also filed charges accusing Apple of labor law violations in at least six stores, including charges that the company illegally monitored them, prohibited union fliers in a break room, interrogated them about their organizing, threatened them for organizing and that it stated that unionizing would be futile.The Communications Workers of America, the union representing Apple workers in Oklahoma City, has also filed a charge accusing Apple of setting up an illegal company union at a store in Columbus, Ohio — one created and controlled by management with the aim of stifling support for an independent union.The National Labor Relations Board has issued formal complaints in two of the cases, involving stores in Atlanta and New York.Apple has said that “we strongly disagree” with the claims brought before the labor board and that it looks forward to defending itself. The company has emphasized that “regular, open, honest, and direct communication with our team members is a key part of Apple’s collaborative culture.”The investor coalition that pushed for the labor assessment argues that Apple’s response to the union campaigns is at odds with its human rights policy because that policy commits it to respect the International Labor Organization’s Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, which includes “freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining.”Mr. Lander, the New York comptroller, said that the coalition initially reached out to Apple’s board last spring to discuss the company’s posture toward the union organizing, but that it did not get a substantive response.The coalition then filed a shareholder proposal in September urging Apple to hire an outside firm to assess whether the company was following through on its stated commitment to labor rights. The company responded late last year and the two sides worked out an agreement in return for the coalition withdrawing its proposal, according to Mr. Lander.A coalition of some of the same investors, including the New York pension funds, has filed a similar proposal at Starbucks, where workers have voted to unionize at more than 250 company-owned stores since late 2021. Like Apple, Starbucks has cited its commitment to the International Labor Organization standards like freedom of association and the right to take part in collective bargaining.But Starbucks has consistently opposed its employees’ attempts to unionize, and Starbucks has not engaged with the coalition of investors to work out an agreement. Jonas Kron, chief advocacy officer of Trillium Asset Management, one of the investors pushing proposals at both companies, said he expected the Starbucks proposal to go to a vote of the company’s shareholders. The company declined to comment.The federal labor board has issued a few dozen formal complaints against Starbucks for violations including retaliating against workers involved in organizing and discriminating against unionized workers when introducing new benefits; the company has denied breaking labor laws. More

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    U.K. Rail Strike May Scuttle Post-Holiday Plans to Return to Work

    Public sympathy for striking nurses and other health workers is particularly strong, posing a challenge for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who has promised to confront trade unions.The winter holiday season across most of Britain ends on Tuesday, but the return to work for millions of Britons comes on the same day as yet another train strike, promising a commute as unpredictable as the country’s increasingly erratic rail network.Britain begins the new year just as it ended the old one, in the middle of a wave of labor unrest that has involved as many as 1.5 million workers so far, concentrated in the public sector and formerly state-owned businesses. Nurses in England, Northern Ireland and Wales walked out twice last month; ambulance crews have staged their largest work stoppage in decades; and border agents, postal staff and garbage collectors have taken similar action in a “winter of discontent.”With wages lagging galloping inflation, many, including nurses, plan to stop work again this month, leading some British news outlets to raise fears of a de facto general strike that could bring the country to a grinding halt.Yet while months of disruption have eroded some sympathy for rail workers, with the public roughly split over train strikes, support for health workers, whose tireless efforts during the coronavirus pandemic were widely lauded as heroic, remains buoyant.“January will be the test: Will the British public shift?” said Steven Fielding, an emeritus professor of political history at the University of Nottingham. He added that while further rail strikes might prompt a long-predicted backlash against the unions, “It’s remarkable how much it hasn’t happened.”Sympathy for strikes by nurses and ambulance workers has been stoked by a sense than Britain’s National Health Service is overwhelmed.Andrew Testa for The New York TimesThat is not for want of effort by Britain’s conservative tabloids. One newspaper nicknamed Mick Lynch, the combative leader of a rail union, “The Grinch,” accusing him of wrecking Christmas, spoiling office parties and hampering family reunions. In the city of Bristol, one pub canceled a rail workers’ Christmas party in retaliation for strikes thought to have hurt the hospitality trade.But in general, support for the strikers has stayed strong, according to a YouGov opinion poll last month, which showed 66 percent of respondents supported striking nurses and 28 percent opposed them, 58 favoring firefighters with 33 against, and 43 percent in favor of rail workers with 49 opposed. Another poll, by Savanta ComRes, found the same percentage in support of further rail strikes, but only 36 percent opposed.Even many Britons who support the governing Conservative Party say they believe that health workers have a case, a reflection both of the popularity of the country’s National Health Service and concerns about its ability to cope with huge pressures. And, underscoring a growing sense of malaise, another poll recorded a majority agreeing with the statement that “nothing in Britain works anymore.”That may pose a challenge for Britain’s prime minister, Rishi Sunak, who insists that agreeing to raises could embed inflation, which he sees as the real enemy of working people. Instead, he promises new, and as yet unspecified, laws to restrict labor unrest, while critics of trade unions argue rail workers are risking their futures as commuters stay away from a network already suffering from the growth of working from home.“It’s difficult for everybody because inflation is where it is, and the best way to help them and everyone else in the country is for us to get a grip and reduce inflation as quickly as possible,” Mr. Sunak told a parliamentary committee in December, when asked about the plight of striking workers.Nurses striking in London last month. A poll last month found 66 percent of respondents in favor of the strike, with 28 percent opposed.Maja Smiejkowska/ReutersNews reports suggest that an agreement to end the rolling series of rail strikes could be close, but despite holding the purse strings over the employers of rail staff, the government has resisted direct involvement in negotiations.The wave of strikes comes amid Britain’s cost-of-living crisis and follows years of constrained public spending, and unions say they are responding to a decade of neglect of vital services.“I think the fact that this comes after 10 to 12 years of austerity has affected the public mood and is maybe what’s helping the unions and their members not to lose public support,” said Peter Kellner, a polling expert. “The evidence so far is that public opinion hasn’t materially shifted. I don’t see any particular reason why it should, especially with the health service,” he added.At King’s Cross Station in London last week, there were certainly signs of annoyance among commuters at the disrupted services.“Most of the time my train is canceled or delayed,” said Daisy Smith, an airline worker from London who was waiting to travel to York, about two hours north of the capital. “It is ridiculous that they are on strike.”King’s Cross Station in London last week. Britons have long found their train service unreliable.Hollie Adams/Getty ImagesBut Ms. Smith said she sympathized with the strikers, believed they deserved a pay rise and was frustrated by the standoff. “The government needs to do something about it,” she said, adding that the dispute had been allowed to fester for months.Andrew Allonby, a public-sector worker who was traveling home to Newcastle, in northeast England, said he, too, supported the strikers.“I know there is no money around, but there has got to be a line,” he said, referring to reports that some health workers were relying on donated groceries. “Nurses having to go to food banks is ridiculous.”Public sympathy is being driven by a widespread feeling that the health system is understaffed and overwhelmed. One senior doctor made headlines by warning that as many as 500 patients a week could be dying because of long delays in emergency rooms across the country. And on Monday the vice president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine said many emergency departments were in a state of crisis.Pay levels for nurses are recommended by an independent body whose suggestion of a 4.3 percent increase, issued before much of last year’s inflation was evident, had been accepted by the government.That is well short of the 19 percent demanded by nurses, but ministers have refused to budge, pointing to a 3 percent annual raise for nurses in 2021, when the pay of many others was frozen for the year.Britain’s health secretary, Steve Barclay, raised hackles last month by saying that striking ambulance unions had made a “conscious choice to inflict harm on patients” — a statement described by Sharon Graham, general secretary of the union Unite, as a “blatant lie.”Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has promised new laws to restrict labor unrest.Kin Cheung/Associated PressMark Serwotka, general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services Union, told the broadcaster Sky News, “We have had 10 years where our pay has not kept pace with inflation.” He added that 40,000 government staff members used food banks and that 45,000 of them were so poor they had to claim welfare payments.Dawn Poole, a striking border force officer at London’s Heathrow International Airport and representative of the union, said that rising food and energy costs, combined with a hike in mortgage interest rates, had been the final straw for already-struggling staff.“We have had people selling houses to downsize or struggling to pay the rent,” she said. Mr. Sunak’s tough stance is a gamble. If the strikes collapse, that could build his reputation as a leader able to stand firm and administer tough measures to stabilize the economy. It could also bolster his leadership within a fractious Conservative Party, where standing up to trade unions is associated with former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who came to power in 1979 after labor unrest also known as the winter of discontent and faced down striking miners.Mrs. Thatcher, however, prepared for her standoff with the miners, ensuring that coal stocks were high and confronting them at a time when unions were widely seen as too powerful.Inflation in Britain has been running at an annual rate of over 10 percent.Andy Rain/EPA, via ShutterstockBy contrast, today’s unions appear to be more in sync with the popular mood, analysts say, because Britons know that well before the strikes, their railways were unreliable and their health service was creaking under acute pressure.“The argument that ‘We’re on strike to save the National Health Service,’ which is what the nurses have been saying, resonates with what people know from their own experience,” said Professor Fielding.Mr. Kellner, the polling expert, said he believed that the government should separate the nurses and ambulance crews from other strikers.“As long as the health workers are on strike, the other unions have some degree of cover,” he said. “If in a month’s time we are where we are now, with nothing settled, I think the government will be in a really bad position.”In the meantime, rail travelers must decide whether to even try to head to the office this week. As one rail operator warned: “Until Jan. 8, only travel by train if absolutely necessary.” More

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    Southwest CEO Bob Jordan Faces a Giant Crisis, 10 Months Into the Job

    Bob Jordan, the airline’s top executive, heralded the company’s performance just weeks before the storm highlighted gaping weaknesses in its operations.After Southwest Airlines made it through Thanksgiving with few flight cancellations, Bob Jordan, the company’s chief executive, was in a celebratory mood. At a meeting with Wall Street analysts and investors this month at the New York Stock Exchange, he said the company’s performance had been “just incredible.”But a few weeks later, over the Christmas holiday, Southwest’s operations went into paralysis, forcing the company to resort to mass cancellations. The debacle has raised questions about Mr. Jordan’s performance and has prompted employees and analysts to ask why the company has been slow to fix well-known weaknesses in its operations.Other airlines fared far better during the extreme cold weather over Christmas weekend than Southwest, which after days of disruption canceled more than 2,500 flights on Wednesday, vastly more than any other U.S. airline, according to FlightAware, a flight tracking service. The airline has already canceled more than 2,300, or 58 percent, of its flights planned for Thursday.Travelers, lawmakers and even employees are increasingly demanding answers from Southwest and Mr. Jordan. While the company has repeatedly apologized for its performance, it has provided few details about how things went so wrong and what it is doing to right its operations. The company said on Wednesday that Mr. Jordan and other executives were not available for interviews.Mr. Jordan implied on Tuesday that the airline was caught out by a low-probability event after many delays and cancellations.Christopher Goodney/BloombergIn a video posted on Southwest’s website late Tuesday, Mr. Jordan, who became chief executive in February after three decades at Southwest, implied that the airline was caught out by a rare event. “The tools we use to recover from disruption serve us well 99 percent of the time,” he said, “but clearly we need to double down on our already existing plans to upgrade systems for these extreme circumstances.”Southwest has known for years that computer systems that manage customer reservations and assign pilots and flight attendants to each flight needed improvements. Union leaders and even the company’s executives have acknowledged that the systems struggle to handle large numbers of changes when the company’s operations are disrupted.Disruptions can have a cascading effect on Southwest’s flights because it operates a point-to-point system, in which planes travel from one destination to another; other large airlines use the hub-and-spoke system, with flights typically returning frequently to a hub airport.Southwest is now trying to piece together its operations after many of its crews and planes were not where they were scheduled to be because of earlier flight cancellations, the company said in an emailed statement to The New York Times. Because the company’s operations have been so thoroughly upended, the effort is expected to take days. To get crews and planes in the right places, Southwest had to reduce its schedule. This should allow the airline to bring crews to the airports where they are needed.In his video on Tuesday, Mr. Jordan appeared to acknowledge that Southwest’s model was susceptible to breaking down under stress. “Our network is highly complex, and the operation of the airline counts on all the pieces, especially aircraft and crews remaining in motion to where they’re planned to go,” he said.Many travelers have expressed frustration with Southwest, saying it has become impossible to get information from the company.Emil Lippe for The New York TimesThe company has spent years trying to overhaul its technology systems, but this latest crisis is expected to ratchet up the pressure on Southwest and Mr. Jordan to make progress faster.Union leaders said they had run out of patience with how the company had been updating the technology systems.Labor Organizing and Union DrivesU.K.’s ‘Winter of Discontent’: As Britain grapples with inflation and a recession, labor unrest has proliferated, with nurses, railway workers and others leading job actions across the country.Starbucks: The union organizing Starbucks workers declared a strike at dozens of stores, the latest escalation in its campaign to secure a labor contract.Education: The University of California and academic workers announced a tentative labor agreement, signaling a potential end to a high-profile strike that has disrupted the system for more than a month.Electric Vehicles: In a milestone for the sector, employees at an E.V. battery plant in Ohio voted to join the United Automobile Workers union, citing pay and safety issues as key reasons.“We’re at the point where we’ve given him enough grace,” Michael Santoro, vice president of the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association, said in an interview, referring to Mr. Jordan.Transport Workers Union Local 556, which represents Southwest’s flight attendants, issued a statement agreeing with the pilots. “It is not weather; it is not staffing; it is not a concerted labor effort; it is the complete failure of Southwest Airlines’ executive leadership. It is their decision to continue to expand and grow without the technology needed to handle it,” the union’s president, Lyn Montgomery, said.These statements stand out because Southwest has generally had very good relations with most of its labor unions. After the meltdown, labor leaders have grown increasingly critical of the company this week. The pilots group, for example, expressed frustration that the company had not yet shared its plan for getting its operation back to normal, something it typically does after disruptions. “We have heard zero,” Mr. Santoro said.Southwest Airlines staff members helped customers at Dallas Love Field Airport on Tuesday.Emil Lippe for The New York TimesIn the last few days, union officials, pilots and flight attendants have complained to journalists and on social media that crew members have often had to wait hours to be assigned to their next flight or be directed to hotels where they could spend the night.Customers have also expressed intense frustration with the airline, saying it had become impossible to get any information from the company. Some people have said they waited hours at baggage and ticket counters and gates to speak to Southwest agents. Others have tried and failed to get through to the company by phone or online.Howard Tutt came to Chicago’s Midway airport on Wednesday to try to retrieve a bag his son had checked for a flight to California that was ultimately canceled. He said he had waited hours with other customers to speak to someone to no avail. Nearby, dozens of bags were waiting to be reunited with travelers outside Southwest’s baggage office and near its carousels.“He had to leave in the middle of Christmas dinner because they told him the only flight he could get on was at 9 p.m. on the 25th,” Mr. Tutt, 61, said, referring to his son. “Then he got to the airport, checked his bags and was delayed for six hours before they canceled the flight.”Mr. Tutt, a resident of Orland Park, Ill., said the family had tried a variety of approaches to locate the bag, which contains Christmas gifts for his son’s girlfriend and her family. “We’ve emailed, tried via chat message, and called but cannot reach anyone.”Analysts said that, as cancellations piled up, Southwest found itself in a dire position in which it needed to almost start from scratch to rebuild. “You’ve lost control of what you expected the operation to be,” said Samuel Engel, a senior vice president and airline industry analyst at ICF, a consulting firm.The question that will loom over the company for a long time is why Southwest’s system broke down while those of other large airlines held up relatively well. Analysts say Southwest’s point-to-point network, which is quite different from the hub-and-spoke system used by its peers, made it harder to restart operations.But they also say Southwest’s technology, despite yearslong efforts to modernize it, was lacking. And Mr. Jordan is likely to be asked why he didn’t do more to make the systems strong enough to deal with weather and technology disruptions, which have dogged Southwest in recent years, including two mass flight cancellations and delays last year.Though Mr. Jordan has been chief executive for a short time, he has long been a member of Southwest’s senior leadership team, which would have given him plenty of opportunity to understand the company’s strengths and weaknesses. He started at the company as a computer programmer, helped develop its frequent flier program and aided in incorporating the planes and crews of AirTran Airways after Southwest acquired that company.Robert W. Mann Jr., a former airline executive who now runs the consulting firm R.W. Mann & Company, said Mr. Jordan was “in the hot seat right now.”But analysts were skeptical that Southwest could change quickly. They say the company’s management suffers from “Southwest exceptionalism,” or a stubborn belief that its unique approach to running an airline is best. Even though Southwest has it origins as an upstart taking on sleepy incumbents, analysts say its decision making can move at glacial speeds. “The airline has always been very cautious about change,” Mr. Engel said.Southwest’s approach works well much of the time, and it has contributed to the company’s strong financial performance over the last five decades, analysts say. It allowed, for instance, for planes to be used more quickly for their next flight. Longtime shareholders have done well. Southwest’s stock is up 217 percent over the last decade, outpacing the wider stock market and its best-performing rivals. But this month, Southwest’s stock, down by nearly a fifth, has performed worse than the market and its peers.There is no evidence that Mr. Jordan is vulnerable. But poor crisis management has severely weakened other airline executives.In February 2007 JetBlue experienced a meltdown when the airline did not act as quickly as its peers to cancel flights, hoping an ice storm on the East Coast would not have affected air travel as much as it did. At one point, nine JetBlue planes filled with passengers sat on the tarmac at Kennedy International Airport for six hours.David G. Neeleman, JetBlue’s founder and chief executive at the time, who was also a former Southwest executive, said he was “humiliated and mortified.” Months later, he agreed to step down as chief executive.Mr. Neeleman did not respond to requests for comment.Robert Chiarito More

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    ‘Most Pro-Union President’ Runs Into Doubts in Labor Ranks

    Many union leaders say the Biden White House has delivered on its promises. But its handling of a freight rail dispute has given rise to detractors.Joseph R. Biden Jr. vowed to be “the most pro-union president you’ve ever seen.” And for the last two years, labor leaders have often lauded him for delivering on that promise.They cite appointees who are sympathetic to unions and a variety of pro-labor measures, like a pandemic relief bill that included tens of billions to shore up union pension funds.But in recent weeks, after Mr. Biden helped impose a contract on railroad workers that four unions had rejected, partly over its lack of paid sick days, many labor activists and scholars have begun to ask: How supportive is the president, really?To those reassessing Mr. Biden, the concern is that the president, by asking Congress to intervene and avert a strike, missed a rare opportunity to improve workers’ bargaining power in ways that could extend beyond the rail sector. They worry that the move essentially validated an employer strategy of waiting out workers in hopes that the pressure would fizzle.“Whether this group of workers has sick days or not on some level was not the issue,” said Kim Phillips-Fein, a historian at Columbia University who studies labor. “It was: What can people ask for and expect to win through collective action?”That Mr. Biden did not take a stronger stand, she added, “suggested a political blindness to what was really at stake.”At heart, the railroad episode has stirred a debate over what it means to be a pro-labor president.Defenders see Mr. Biden as unusually outspoken on behalf of workers’ rights. They cite his declaration during a unionization vote at an Amazon warehouse in Alabama that “there should be no intimidation, no coercion, no threats” — an unusual if carefully worded gesture of presidential solidarity — and his dismay that Kellogg planned to permanently replace striking workers.“He has helped create a mood in the country as it relates to unions that has helped propel the extraordinary organizing going on,” said Stuart Appelbaum, the president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, which organized the unsuccessful drive at the Alabama warehouse and is challenging the result. Mr. Appelbaum added that Mr. Biden’s announcement during the campaign was “beyond what we’d hoped for.”The president’s backers also point to a raft of labor-friendly regulations and legislation. Mr. Biden issued an executive order requiring so-called project labor agreements on federal construction projects above $35 million — agreements with unions that set wages and work rules — and the major climate and health bill he signed created incentives for clean energy projects to pay wages similar to union rates.Celeste Drake, a senior White House labor adviser, said in a statement that Mr. Biden had made “lasting strides for workers and unions” and that many of his achievements were “passed on a razor’s edge of tight margins in Congress, often with Republican votes, where the president’s advocacy for unions as a means to rebuilding the middle class could have jeopardized everything.” (More than 70 percent of Americans approve of labor unions, according to a recent Gallup poll.)Liz Shuler, the president of the A.F.L.-C.I.O., who was the labor federation’s second-ranking official during the Obama presidency, said Mr. Biden’s administration had been far more solicitous of labor than the previous Democratic president, whom labor leaders sometimes criticized for backing free trade deals and contentious changes in education policy.“For the decisions made in the Obama administration, labor was often an afterthought,” Ms. Shuler said. “It’s the polar opposite with Biden. We’re included at the table ahead of time, before decisions are made.”Even the railway labor situation, in which Mr. Biden urged Congress to enact a contract that included significant wage gains and improvements in health benefits, ended up more favorable to workers than it probably would have under another administration, union officials say.The alternative view of Mr. Biden, put forth by many labor historians and activists, is that while the president has in fact been more obliging to unions and maintained better relationships with union leaders than his recent Democratic predecessors, the difference is one of degree rather than kind.They say that like his predecessors, Mr. Biden effectively seeks to manage the long-term decline of labor in a relatively humane way — by making favorable appointments and enacting measures that help at the margins — but has yet to take the sorts of risks that would restore power to workers.Mr. Biden has “gestured in interesting ways in certain moments,” said Gabriel Winant, a labor historian at the University of Chicago. “But it doesn’t seem like he has the stomach to see the gestures through.”For those who subscribe to this view, the rail labor dispute was a telling encapsulation of Mr. Biden’s approach: an instance in which the administration worked closely with many leaders of the dozen unions representing rail workers but angered portions of the rank and file. Members of four unions voted down the deal that the administration had helped broker but were not allowed to strike for a better one.Administration officials say that while Mr. Biden strongly supports the right to strike, the potential costs to the economy, which the industry said could be more than $2 billion per day, were simply too high to allow rail workers to walk off the job. They point out that a strike could have also posed health and safety risks — for example, by halting shipments of chemicals that ensure clean drinking water.But to critics, these risks were in some sense the point: They provided workers with a rare moment of leverage. They say Mr. Biden could have simply refused to sign any legislation that didn’t include paid sick days, then made clear that rail carriers were to blame for any disruption if they refused.Administration officials say the potential costs to the economy were simply too high to allow rail workers to walk off the job.Dustin Chambers for The New York Times“Biden in this case revealed that I’m your friend, but I won’t risk anything for you,” said Joseph A. McCartin, a historian at Georgetown University who has written extensively about transportation labor disputes.And if taking a more forceful stand on behalf of rail workers was high risk, Mr. McCartin said, it was also high reward: Because transportation infrastructure touches almost every part of the country, labor relations in that sector tend to reverberate widely.“Everybody sees it, everybody watches, everybody’s affected,” he said. An open letter to Mr. Biden last month, signed by Mr. McCartin and more than 400 other scholars, said federal interventions in transportation labor disputes “can set the tone for entire eras.”The letter cited the government’s move to grant rail workers an eight-hour workday to avoid a strike during World War I, which paved the way for similar gains by other workers in the 1930s. By contrast, the letter said, President Ronald Reagan’s firing of striking air traffic controllers in the early 1980s helped undermine the leverage of workers across the economy for decades.The contention among critics is that by effectively depriving rail workers of the right to strike, Mr. Biden has made it more difficult for other workers to use that tool — and, ultimately, to reverse the movement’s long-term decline.Strikes with strong backing from union membership “are the only way to win standard-setting contracts, and winning standard-setting contracts is the only way to rebuild the labor movement,” said Jane McAlevey, a scholar and longtime organizer. Her coming book, “Rules to Win By: Power and Participation in Union Negotiations,” documents the importance of aggressive labor actions in improving pay and working conditions.Workers and organizers at the forefront of recent union campaigns at companies like Starbucks and Amazon said they worried that Mr. Biden’s intervention in the rail labor dispute sent employers a message that the federal government would not punish them for anti-union behavior.“Everyone understands the significance of the president getting involved,” said Christian Smalls, the president of the Amazon Labor Union, which won an election to represent workers at a Staten Island warehouse in April. “To claim you’re the most pro-union president in history and do something like this contradicts everything.” (Amazon has challenged the union’s victory.)In some respects, it may have been unrealistic for labor activists to expect that Mr. Biden, who has carried himself as a middle-of-the-road Democrat for much of his career, would depart from the basic model of labor relations that has long prevailed in his party.But during the presidential campaign, Mr. Biden and some of his senior advisers discussed ways in which they hoped to break with longstanding economic orthodoxy in Washington, with its emphasis on free markets and a small role for government.Those who support more populist-minded policies say Mr. Biden has delivered in certain ways: enacting subsidies for domestic manufacturing and restrictions on trade with China and appointing regulators who have frequently gone to court to block large mergers.“There obviously has been progress made,” said Oren Cass, a former Republican policy aide and the founder of American Compass, which seeks to make conservatism more supportive of workers.Yet when it comes to labor, some say Mr. Biden has been less willing to rethink the reigning economic model.“If Biden had intervened in a way that was more favorable and sympathetic to the rail workers, that would have been a sign of him really breaking with that model, and the model itself no longer seeming to fit the current moment,” said Ms. Phillips-Fein, the Columbia historian. “That it didn’t happen suggests the limits of his political imagination.” More

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    Workers at E.V. Battery Plant in Ohio Vote to Unionize

    The result, at a plant owned by General Motors and a South Korean company, is a milestone for the auto union in organizing electric vehicle workers.In an early test of President Biden’s promise that the transition to electric vehicles will create high-paying union jobs, employees at a battery plant in eastern Ohio have voted to join the United Automobile Workers union.The outcome appears to create the first formal union at a major U.S. electric car, truck or battery cell manufacturing plant not owned entirely by one of the Big Three automakers. The factory, known as Ultium Cells, is a joint venture of General Motors and the South Korean manufacturer LG Energy Solution.A union statement early Friday said the result was 710 to 16 in two days of balloting.“As the auto industry transitions to electric vehicles, new workers entering the auto sector at plants like Ultium are thinking about their value and worth,” said Ray Curry, the U.A.W. president, in the statement. “This vote shows that they want to be a part of maintaining the high standards and wages that U.A.W. members have built in the auto industry.”The National Labor Relations Board said it had received the tally and would move to certify the result if no objections were filed.Mr. Biden issued a statement after the vote saluting the Ultium workers and declaring, “In my administration, American and union workers can and will lead the world in manufacturing once again.”While existing plants owned by the three legacy U.S. automakers have maintained a union presence as they have shifted production to electric vehicles, the union must start from scratch at plants like the one in Ohio and joint ventures through which Ford Motor is building battery factories in the South. Other electric vehicle companies, like Tesla, Rivian and Lucid, are also not unionized.The autoworkers union has long worried about the transition to electric vehicles, first noting in a 2018 research paper that electric vehicles require about 30 percent less labor to produce than internal combustion vehicles. The paper also pointed out that the United States was falling far behind Asian and European countries in establishing an electric vehicle supply chain.Read More on Electric VehiclesGoing Mainstream: U.S. sales of battery-powered cars jumped 70 percent in the first nine months of the year, as non-affluent buyers are choosing electric vehicles to save money on gas.A Bonanza for Red States: No Republican in Congress voted for the Inflation Reduction Act. But their states will greatly benefit from the investments in electric vehicles spurred by the law.Rivian Recall: The electric-car maker said that it was recalling 13,000 vehicles after identifying an issue that could affect drivers’ ability to steer some of its vehicles.China’s Thriving Market: More electric cars will be sold in the country this year than in the rest of the world combined, as its domestic market accelerates ahead of the global competition.A report last year by the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal think tank, estimated that the transition to electric vehicles could cost at least 75,000 U.S. auto industry jobs by 2030 if the government did not provide additional subsidies for domestic production, but could create 150,000 jobs if those subsidies were forthcoming.An ambitious climate and health care bill signed by Mr. Biden in August provided tens of billions of dollars in subsidies for the industry, raising the probability that auto industry jobs will be created rather than lost.But while Congress included certain incentives for union-scale wages in the construction of new plants, it ultimately removed elements of the legislation that would have helped ensure the creation of union jobs, such as a $4,500 incentive for vehicles assembled at a unionized facility in the United States.Josh Bivens, an author of the Economic Policy Institute report, said in an interview that he was pleasantly surprised that the administration managed to pass strong incentives for domestic production of electric vehicles. But whether the incentives will lead to good jobs, he added, is an open question.“There’s no real explicit subsidy or incentive to make these unionized or even high-wage,” Mr. Bivens said.Under the union’s contract with the Big Three automakers, veteran rank-and-file production workers make about $32 per hour. New hires start at a substantially lower wage and work their way up to that amount over several years.By contrast, companies that make electric vehicles or their components typically pay workers hourly wages in the midteens to the mid-20s.The union campaign at the Ohio plant was one of the easier tests facing U.A.W. organizers at electric vehicle facilities. The plant is in Warren, within a mile or two of a unionized General Motors facility in Lordstown that operated for decades before the company idled it and then sold it in 2019, making local residents familiar with the benefits of union membership.And while Ultium did not agree to a so-called card check process that could have bypassed a union election, it also did not wage a campaign seeking to dissuade workers from unionizing, according to a U.A.W. spokeswoman. Mary T. Barra, the General Motors chief executive, said in an interview on Bloomberg Television last week that the company was “very supportive” of the plant’s unionization.It is less clear how successful the union will be at organizing other new electric vehicle plants, such as an Ultium facility being built in Tennessee or three factories being built jointly by Ford and the South Korean battery maker SK Innovation in Kentucky and Tennessee, where the political culture is less hospitable to unions. Battery packs, which can cost around $15,000, are by far the most expensive component of an electric vehicle powertrain, the key parts and systems that power a car.The task may be even taller at plants owned solely by foreign manufacturers, such as an SK battery plant in Georgia or a huge plant that Hyundai is building in the state. The union has for decades struggled to organize so-called transplant facilities owned by foreign automakers in the South.Workers at the Ultium plant in Ohio, which began production this year, cited pay and safety issues as key reasons for unionizing. Dominic Giovannone, who helps fabricate battery cells, said he was now making about $16.50 per hour — a roughly $8 pay cut from his job at a plastic bag factory. He said the Ultium job attracted him because the plant was far closer to his home than his previous job had been.An Ultium spokeswoman said that hourly pay for rank-and-file workers ranged from $15 to $22 depending on experience and skills, and that the company paid a quarterly bonus and provided benefits as soon as employment began.Mr. Giovannone said that while the health care benefits were “phenomenal,” he wished the 401(k) match were more generous. He also said workers in his department were frequently required to handle harsh chemicals without enough information from the company to ensure that they did so safely.The lack of specific guidance on chemicals “is a big concern in the plant,” he said, adding that supervisors had not been very responsive when he and his co-workers prodded them on the issue.Ethan Surgenavic, a heating, ventilation and air-conditioning specialist at the plant, whose department is responsible for indoor conditions such as keeping humidity extremely low around certain components, said he, too, had taken a large pay cut to work there. He now makes $29 per hour, down from about $42, but he said the job also substantially reduced his commute.He agreed that the health benefits were strong but shared Mr. Giovannone’s concerns about safety. Mr. Surgenavic said that when workers raise questions about safety rules, “it feels like it lands on deaf ears.” He cited worries about having to change a machine’s air filter in a room that contains toxic material.The Ultium spokeswoman said that signs were posted throughout the plant with QR codes linking to safety information, and that paper handouts were also available. She said that the company had specific safety standards for issues like respiratory protection and chemical control and that it encouraged all workers to report concerns.The union campaign at Ultium took place against the backdrop of a recent U.A.W. election in which reformist candidates defeated several members of the longtime leadership caucus, citing rampant corruption within the union and members’ frustrations with limited improvements in their contracts over the past decade.In an interview, Shawn Fain, who will face the incumbent president, Mr. Curry, in a runoff election, said the union’s relative lack of progress in organizing electric vehicle plants reflected years of complacency with the union’s leadership.Mr. Fain said the Big Three automakers pursued electric vehicle joint ventures with foreign companies to make it harder for workers there to unionize. “The whole system is put together to circumvent the U.A.W. and any type of relationships with current members and employees,” he said. “At the first sign of that, our leadership should have went to war.”General Motors said it relied on joint ventures to bring in expertise that complemented its existing battery technology and to help meet the projects’ enormous capital requirements. The U.A.W. did not respond to a request for comment. More

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    Biden Devotes $36 Billion to Save Union Workers’ Pensions

    The money comes from last year’s Covid-19 relief package and will avert cuts of up to 60 percent in pensions for 350,000 Teamster truck drivers, warehouse and construction workers and food processors.WASHINGTON — President Biden announced Thursday that he was investing $36 billion in federal funds to save the pensions of more than 350,000 union workers and retirees, a demonstration of commitment to labor just a week after a rupture over an imposed settlement of a threatened rail strike.Mr. Biden gathered top union leaders at the White House to make the commitment, described by the White House as the largest ever award of federal financial support for worker and retiree pension security. The money, coming from last year’s Covid-19 relief package, will avert cuts of up to 60 percent in pensions for Teamster truck drivers, warehouse workers, construction workers and food processors, mainly in the Midwest.“Thanks to today’s announcement, hundreds of thousands of Americans can feel that sense of dignity again knowing that they’ve provided for their families and their future, and it’s secure,” Mr. Biden said, joined by Sean M. O’Brien, president of the Teamsters, and Liz Shuler, president of the A.F.L.-C.I.O., as well as Marty Walsh, the U.S. secretary of labor.The Biden PresidencyHere’s where the president stands after the midterm elections.A New Primary Calendar: President Biden’s push to reorder the early presidential nominating states is likely to reward candidates who connect with the party’s most loyal voters.A Defining Issue: The shape of Russia’s war in Ukraine, and its effects on global markets, in the months and years to come could determine Mr. Biden’s political fate.Beating the Odds: Mr. Biden had the best midterms of any president in 20 years, but he still faces the sobering reality of a Republican-controlled House for the next two years.2024 Questions: Mr. Biden feels buoyant after the better-than-expected midterms, but as he turns 80, he confronts a decision on whether to run again that has some Democrats uncomfortable.The pension investment came just a week after Mr. Biden prodded Congress to pass legislation forcing a settlement in a long-running dispute between rail companies and workers, heading off a strike that could have upended the economy just before the holidays. While the agreement included wage increases, schedule flexibility and an additional paid day off, several rail unions had rejected it because it lacked paid sick leave. A move to add seven days of paid sick leave failed in Congress before Mr. Biden signed the bill.The showdown over the rail settlement left Mr. Biden in the awkward position of forcing a deal over the objections of some union members even though he had promised to be the “the most pro-union president you’ve ever seen.” The pension rescue plan announced on Thursday put him back in the more comfortable stance of allying himself with organized labor, a key constituency of the Democratic Party.The $36 billion, drawn from the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan passed last year, will go to the Central States Pension Fund, which is largely made up of Teamster workers and retirees. The fund has been the largest financially distressed multi-employer pension plan in the nation. As a result of shortfalls, pensioners were facing 60 percent cuts over the next few years, but the White House said the federal funding will now ensure full benefits through 2051.Many of the affected workers and retirees are clustered in Midwestern states that have been battlegrounds in recent elections, including Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin and Minnesota as well as other states like Missouri, Illinois, Florida and Texas.In his remarks, Mr. Biden expressed sympathy for workers and retirees facing cuts not of their own making. “For 30, 40, 50 years you work hard every single day to provide for your family. You do everything right,” he said. “But then imagine losing half of that pension or more through no fault of your own. You did your part. You paid in. Imagine what it does financially to your peace of mind, to your dignity.”Mr. O’Brien hailed Mr. Biden’s move. “Our members chose to forgo raises and other benefits for a prosperous retirement, and they deserve to enjoy the security and stability that all of them worked so hard to earn,” he said in a statement. While much of public policy is determined by big corporations, “it’s good to see elected officials stand up for working families for once.”Republicans called it a politically inspired payoff. Representative Kevin Brady of Texas, the top Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee, dubbed the rescue plan “the largest private pension bailout in American history,” saying it rewarded those who mismanaged their pensions.“Despite years of bipartisan negotiations and recommendations, Democrats rejected protections for union workers in other underfunded multi-employer plans that are not as politically connected as the Teamsters’ Central States plan,” Mr. Brady said. “Now, American taxpayers are being forced to cover promises that pension trustees never should have been allowed to make.” More