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

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

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    How a Dollar General Employee Went Viral on TikTok

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

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

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

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

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

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

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    Warehouses Transform N.Y.C. Neighborhoods as E-Commerce Booms

    The region is home to the largest concentration of online shoppers in the country. The facilities, key to delivering packages on time, are reshaping neighborhoods.An e-commerce boom turbocharged by the pandemic is turning the New York City region into a national warehouse capital.In just two years, Amazon has acquired more than 50 warehouses across the city and its surrounding suburbs. UPS is building a logistics facility larger than Madison Square Garden on the New Jersey waterfront near Lower Manhattan.In Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx, 14 huge warehouses to help facilitate e-commerce operations are rising, including multistory centers previously found only in Asia.Fueled by the soaring growth of e-commerce while so many Americans have been working from home, online retailers, manufacturers and delivery companies are racing to secure warehouses in the country’s most competitive real estate market for them.Every day, more than 2.4 million packages are delivered just in New York City, an online-buying mecca in a region of 20.1 million people.The feverish activity has already transformed the landscape of city neighborhoods and rural towns, transforming Red Hook in Brooklyn into a bustling logistics hub and replacing farmland in southern New Jersey with sprawling warehouses where packages are sorted, packed and delivered, often within hours of being ordered.An Amazon grocery hub in Red Hook, Brooklyn, which has emerged as a nexus of e-commerce warehouses in New York because it offers relatively easy access to Lower Manhattan, Queens and the rest of Brooklyn.Clark Hodgin for The New York TimesJust 1.6 percent of all warehouses in New York City and only 1.3 percent in New Jersey are available for lease, according to the real estate firm JLL; only the Los Angeles area has fewer warehouse vacancies in the United States. Some companies are converting buildings never intended to be warehouses. Amazon turned a shuttered supermarket in Queens into a makeshift package hub.The soaring demand for warehouses, once the ugly duckling of the real estate industry, underscores their pivotal role in a complex global supply chain. Nationwide, developers are pouring billions of dollars into the construction of new facilities, helping lift the commercial real estate sector, which has been battered by the emptying of offices during the pandemic.But the rise of warehouses has also sparked significant opposition. While they provide jobs and can lower residential property taxes by contributing to the local tax base, people across the region say the large hubs will lead to constant flows of semi-trucks and delivery vans that will worsen pollution and traffic congestion.Understand the Supply Chain CrisisThe Origins of the Crisis: The pandemic created worldwide economic turmoil. We broke down how it happened.Explaining the Shortages: Why is this happening? When will it end? Here are some answers to your questions.A New Normal?: The chaos at ports, warehouses and retailers will probably persist through 2022, and perhaps even longer.A Key Factor in Inflation: In the U.S., inflation is hitting its highest level in decades. Supply chain issues play a big role.They have also bemoaned the loss of open land to mega facilities. In recent months, residents in the southern New Jersey township of Pilesgrove, just across the Delaware River from Wilmington, Del., protested plans for a 1.6 million square-foot warehouse — larger than Ellis Island — on former farmland.While Amazon, major retailers and logistics operators such as UPS, FedEx and DHL dominated the initial wave of warehouse deals at the start of the pandemic, interest is now coming from smaller businesses seeking greater control of their supply chain amid a global bottleneck in the movement of goods.“I’ve been doing this for 30-some-odd years, and I’ve never seen it like this,” said Rob Kossar, a vice chairman at JLL who oversees the company’s industrial division in the Northeast. “In order for tenants to secure space, they are having to negotiate leases with multiple landlords on spaces that aren’t even available. It’s insane what they are having to do.”The rising cost to lease facilities has frustrated some small business owners who cannot compete with retail and logistics giants, as well as newcomers like Tesla and Rivian, which have opened showrooms and service centers for their electric vehicles in Brooklyn warehouses. Leasing prices for warehouses in the Bronx, for instance, have jumped 22 percent since the pandemic started.Warehouse jobs are still just a fraction of New York City’s labor force, but companies are on a hiring spree. Since 2019, the number of warehouse jobs doubled to 16,500 positions in late 2021. New hires at Amazon make around $18 an hour and get starting bonuses up to $3,000. But the company has also been fighting workers at some of its warehouses, including on Staten Island, who are trying to unionize to improve working conditions.Prose employs about 150 employees at its facility in Brooklyn from where it ships products across the United States and to Canada.Clark Hodgin for The New York TimesToday, nearly everything — from cars to electronics and groceries to prescription drugs — can be ordered online and arrive in as little as a few hours. In New York City, new companies are offering 15-minute grocery delivery.And though most retail sales nationwide still happen at brick-and-mortar stores, online sales are increasing at breakneck speed, growing by 50 percent over the last five years to reach 13 percent of all retail purchases, according to the census.That surge is pummeling many retailers, especially smaller businesses, that have also had to weather the loss of customers during the pandemic.At the onset of the pandemic shoppers switched to online buying at a rate that had been expected to take a decade to reach, according to analysts.Some large retailers, such as Target and Best Buy, that have a handful of warehouses in the region lean on their stores to fulfill online orders. Wal-Mart, the nation’s largest retailer, does not have a store in New York City so it uses a warehouse in Lehigh Valley, Pa., just over the border from New Jersey, and stores in surrounding suburbs to serve city residents.Amazon is taking a different approach. Across New Jersey to the northern New York City suburbs to Long Island, Amazon is cobbling together a sprawling network of fulfillment centers, package-sorting facilities and last-mile hubs. In the city it has set up a handful of facilities in the Red Hook and Sunset Park neighborhoods of Brooklyn.Amazon’s rapid expansion is not unique to the New York area. Last September alone, Amazon said in a recent earnings call, it added another 100 facilities to its delivery network in the United States.Red Hook, a neighborhood of just under a square mile bounded by water on three sides, has become a center for warehouses in the city because it is near major roadways into population centers in other parts of Brooklyn, Lower Manhattan and Queens.The owner of Prose decided to keep all his manufacturing under one roof before the supply chain problems emerged. “It has been a great decision,” he said.Clark Hodgin for The New York TimesAt least three new warehouses have opened in the neighborhood and more could be on the horizon. UPS paid $300 million for a 12-acre property, and two developers of logistics centers spent $123 million in December to buy several industrial sites there.How the Supply Chain Crisis UnfoldedCard 1 of 9The pandemic sparked the problem. More

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    Oakland Cannabis Sellers, Once Full of Hope, Face a Harsh Reality

    OAKLAND, Calif. — Across from where the Athletics play baseball sits a two-story concrete building painted bright orange and white. It is home to a cannabis dispensary called Blunts and Moore.A pair of inflatable “tube guys” flap crazily on the roof, beckoning customers with their windblown gyrations. A food truck sells tacos in the parking lot under a bright California sun.But there are signs that all is not well here. Bullet holes etched by an assault rifle dot the entrance. Three security guards, dressed in military fatigues, screen customers as they pass through a metal detector. One of the guards, a former infantryman, wears a camouflage Kevlar vest and mirrored sunglasses. A 9-millimeter pistol and 50 rounds of ammunition are strapped to his waist.“It’s crazy to think we need all this war stuff to protect our business,” said the store’s owner, Alphonso Blunt, who is known as Tucky. “But that’s where we are today.”In May 2020, Blunts and Moore was ransacked by thieves with automatic weapons, incurring losses of nearly $1 million, much of which insurance would not cover. The store, which has the air of a high-end boutique, was robbed again in late November, its shelves cleared and the floor speckled with blood from where the thieves had cut their hands on all the smashed glass. Struggling financially, Mr. Blunt turned to his landlord for a rescue but had to give up some managerial control of the store.This is not what Mr. Blunt, the City of Oakland or the State of California had in mind for an ambitious effort to help grow a cannabis industry and provide financial opportunity to struggling neighborhoods with a large number of Black and Hispanic residents.The city’s social equity initiative is designed to help entrepreneurs like Alphonso Blunt, who was arrested for a nonviolent cannabis offense in 2005. He was granted an equity license in 2018 by the city to run his dispensary, Blunts and Moore. Mr. Blunt is among the entrepreneurs in Oakland, many of whom are Black, who were granted equity licenses to run cannabis businesses after California legalized the substance for recreational use in 2016. Applicants who live in areas that had a high number of drug-related arrests or who have a cannabis-related arrest record are given priority to receive the licenses.Race has often been at the heart of the movement to legalize cannabis. Some states legalized the drug largely to stop the cannabis-related arrests that disproportionately ensnared Black and Hispanic people. But there has also been a push by lawmakers in states like California, Illinois and New Jersey to ensure that those same communities can profit from the legalized industry, which has been largely dominated by white owners, some of whom have made a fortune on cannabis.On Thursday, Gov. Kathy Hochul of New York announced that the state planned to give its first cannabis retail licenses to people who had been convicted of a cannabis crime or their relatives.Oakland was one of the first cities to prioritize equity licenses for those like Mr. Blunt, 42, who got teased in high school because his name is a common term for a cannabis cigar. In 2005, he was arrested and accused of possessing several small bags of the drug. The nation’s emerging cannabis industry is being shaped by the broader push for racial justice and the belief that creating business opportunities for Black individuals will help lift communities.But interviews with more than 30 cannabis business owners, investors and regulators in California, an early adopter of equity licenses, show how the hope of fixing historical wrongs is being challenged by the reality of an industry facing troubled business conditions, including issues like high taxes and volatile sales.Billy Martin, left, helping a customer at Blunts and Moore. The store has been robbed at least twice, one of those times by assailants with automatic weapons.Some of the problems are being exacerbated by conflicting state and federal policies. Even as 18 states have legalized the substance for recreational use, the federal government still prohibits it.That means cannabis stores are limited in their access to federally regulated banking services, such as credit cards. Forced to deal largely in cash, the businesses can be a tantalizing target for thieves.The federal prohibition also makes it difficult to obtain bank financing or small-business loans, forcing some Black social equity applicants to enter deals with investors who sometimes end up controlling the business.Another challenge is policing. Some say the police in Oakland, at times, have not switched their mind-set from arresting cannabis dealers to protecting their legal businesses. During a wave of robberies late last year, the police never showed up to some of the crimes, business owners say. The police say a surge in crime during the pandemic has stretched their resources.Insurance companies are also adding to the challenges. Some owners said their claims were denied even though their policies indicated they would be covered. Others said they believe they were treated unfairly during the claims process because they were Black. “You are giving licenses to people who would struggle in any industry, but in cannabis, the deck is further stacked against them,” said John Hudak, deputy director of the Center for Effective Public Management at the Brookings Institution. “States need to do a better job adjusting for the structural racism built into the system.”Since the initiative began in 2017, Oakland has granted cannabis licenses to 282 equity applicants and 328 non-equity applicants. But the city does not keep an ongoing tally of how many of those businesses are currently operating.“While not a panacea, this program is a meaningful step toward embedding fairness and justice in all we do to improve conditions for communities of color,” Greg Minor, an assistant to the city administrator, said in an email. Amid the industry’s struggles, Mr. Minor said, the state recently authorized a $5.4 million grant to support Oakland’s equity program and was considering reducing the cannabis taxes.But for Mr. Blunt, legalization has not produced the boon some might expect. Since he opened his licensed store four years ago, Mr. Blunt has yet to generate a profit.“Social equity sounds like peaches and cream,” Mr. Blunt said. “But I did better selling weed on the street than I am doing right now.”Thin margins and, often, lossesKeith Stephenson started his dispensary, Purple Heart Patient Center, in 2006, but financial difficulties and a robbery in 2020 led him to close it. He hopes to reopen.Keith Stephenson, 53, is a former aviation maintenance technician who is originally from South Los Angeles. He suffers from a severe form of arthritis and takes cannabis to relieve his constant pain.“Cannabis saved my life,” he said.Mr. Stephenson opened his dispensary on Fourth Street in downtown Oakland in 2006, 10 years after California legalized cannabis for medical use.His goal has long been to own a publicly traded cannabis company. But his store has been closed to customers for nearly two years, the result of theft, vandalism and an insurance company that he says treated him poorly because of his race.When Mr. Stephenson started his business, there were few of the generous loans or rent subsidies that the city’s equity initiative now provides. He took out a second mortgage on his house and put up $60,000 in cash as collateral for a secured bank loan. He called the store the Purple Heart Patient Center, inspired by a cannabis strain known as the Granddaddy Purple.Business was rough at first. He was losing $130,000 each month, paying to process the raw cannabis, and for security guards at the front door.Broader legalization brought more customers, but not necessarily higher profits. The state and city impose steep taxes — which can total more than 30 percent of each sale. Some dispensaries take in about $3 million in revenue annually, but their taxes and expenses leave little left over.Mr. Stephenson bought a pair of four-ton safes to store his cash and inventory.Yet there has been a perception around Oakland, he said, that cannabis operators are swimming in money.On May 29, 2020, Mr. Stephenson was watching the news about the murder of George Floyd when he looked at footage from his store’s security camera on his phone. A man was trying to break in through the bulletproof front door.Over the next few days, a band of thieves returned and ransacked the store, stealing everything they could. The police told him they were too busy with the broader unrest provoked by Mr. Floyd’s killing to help.The real fight came months later, when his insurance company reviewed his claims. The adjuster, he said, asked him “leading and insulting” questions, like whether he had left the door open or whether Mr. Stephenson personally knew any of the thieves.“Are you kidding me?” Mr. Stephenson said in recounting the conversation. “Did I leave the door open? Come on, man. Why is the door beaten in?”At one point, the adjuster falsely suggested that money had been taken from an A.T.M. inside the store. Mr. Stephenson believed the adjuster wanted to see if he could catch him in a lie. “It is my belief he would not have said that if I was a white male,” he said.Christy Thiems, a senior director at American Property Casualty Insurance Association, a trade group, said that she did not know the specifics of Mr. Stephenson’s case, but that the claims process could be difficult. Some questioning, she said, could seem offensive to a business owner because adjusters were acting like investigators. Only a limited number of insurance companies are willing to cover the cannabis industry, she added, because of the federal prohibition, and the few insurers operating in the sector are still trying to understand the “unique risk” that the businesses pose.In the end, Mr. Stephenson’s insurer rejected most of his claims. Mr. Stephenson is still planning to reopen his doors to customers late next month or in May.“There is no Plan B,” he said.‘Where are the police?’Amber Senter in the doorway of a secured area at her cannabis facility, damaged by robbers. The police wouldn’t go to the site when she reported the break-in.Weighing a package of cannabis-infused honey at Ms. Senter’s facility.The honey and other extracts can be used in edible products.In the early hours of Nov. 20, a group of 12 people, many of their faces obscured by sweatshirt hoods, streamed into Amber Senter’s cannabis manufacturing facility in East Oakland.This is where Ms. Senter provides space to help social equity cannabis businesses get off the ground.The robbers broke through the first door easily, security footage showed, then a second door and a third. Most of the cannabis product was locked in a cage, which the thieves couldn’t breach. Ms. Senter estimates that the damage totaled $20,000.But when she called the police, they told her to fill out a report online. “Where are the police?” Ms. Senter said. “Why aren’t they helping us?”Over one 24-hour period in November, the police said, they investigated more than a dozen reported burglaries of cannabis businesses across Oakland, including several in which the thieves were armed and one in which officers were shot at as they responded.That rash of robberies followed burglaries and crimes at other cannabis businesses through the spring and summer of 2020.In a statement, a spokesman for the Oakland Police Department said it “treats the cannabis businesses as it does all businesses in the city of Oakland” and added that the police were engaged in “ongoing meetings with cannabis business owners” over safety issues.Ersie Joyner, a security consultant to the cannabis industry, is a former Oakland police captain. He was shot multiple times during a robbery at this Oakland gas station.Ersie Joyner, a retired captain in the Oakland Police Department, said that after arresting drug dealers for decades, some officers still did not respect the cannabis industry as a legitimate enterprise.Mr. Joyner, who supervised Mr. Blunt’s arrest 17 years ago, understands how ingrained drug prosecution is in law enforcement.“The messaging from the highest level of government was that drugs are bad and destroying the community, and law enforcement should have zero tolerance,” Mr. Joyner said. “Looking back, it was absolutely the wrong way of dealing with this societal issue.”Mr. Joyner, who now works as a security consultant to cannabis businesses, said the police needed to adjust their attitudes. He said it took the Oakland police nearly three hours to dispatch officers to the store of one of his clients, whose cannabis business had been robbed.“If this happened to Bank of America, the police would have a more robust response,” said Mr. Joyner, who was nearly killed in a shootout with robbers at an Oakland gas station in late October. The doctors, he said, found 22 bullet holes in his body.In many instances, private security companies are acting as the unofficial police force of the city’s cannabis industry.A door broken in a robbery awaiting repair at Blunts and Moore.One security firm, Black Anchor Tactical Response, operates a set of sport utility vehicles with a color scheme similar to those of Oakland police cruisers. When a client transports cannabis from a warehouse to a store, the company’s guards, some of whom are veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, block off city streets to prevent ambushes. The firm also guards cannabis operators’ homes.While it is difficult to pinpoint what prompted surging crime during the pandemic, the legacy of mass drug arrests still looms over Oakland.About 71 percent of those arrested on suspicion of cannabis offenses in Oakland between 1995 and 2015 were Black, according to an analysis by the city. During that time, Oakland’s Black population was 30 percent.The robberies and property damage are compounding the cannabis industry’s other challenges, such as high taxes.“Why would I want to transition to the legal market if I know I am going to go broke?” said Chaney Turner, a member of the city’s Cannabis Regulatory Commission.Chaney Turner, a member of the city’s Cannabis Regulatory Commission, said the legal, heavily taxed industry had a hard time competing with the lower prices charged on the street.‘This is not sustainable’When Tucky Blunt was selected for one of Oakland’s first equity cannabis licenses in early 2018, he remembers shouting out his gratitude to the crowd gathered at City Hall.“Praise you all,” Mr. Blunt said.Mr. Blunt, who started selling cannabis to his co-workers at a grocery store when he was 16, also remembers being surrounded that day by representatives from established cannabis companies looking to be his partner. Some wanted to lend him money in exchange for an ownership stake in his store; he wanted to own it outright.But he didn’t have the money needed to start a licensed business. So he agreed to do a deal with a larger cannabis operator, Grizzly Peak, started by a real estate contractor from San Diego named Dave Gash.Grizzly Peak, which focuses on cultivating cannabis, was denied a dispensary license in Oakland and was looking for a partner to open a store.Faced with financial difficulties, Mr. Blunt, left, accepted help from his landlord but ceded more managerial control. He still owns the business.Mr. Blunt was proud of his store’s appearance: glass cases displaying cannabis cigarettes and brightly colored packs of gummies and lots of natural light.But Mr. Blunt also struggled with the rising taxes; the cost of the armed guards, who are each paid about $30 an hour; and the looting in the late spring of 2020.The bigger problem, he said, was that one of his partners, who oversaw the books, stopped paying taxes and vendors. A year ago, Mr. Blunt had to close for several months because the store’s finances were a shambles.Grizzly Peak agreed to bail him out, but Mr. Gash told Mr. Blunt, “We have to do it our way, and we need total control.”Mr. Gash’s company has now taken tighter oversight of the store and will split any profits with Mr. Blunt, who still owns a majority stake in the store but is paid a salary as a consultant.“I am grateful that Grizzly Peak believes in me,” Mr. Blunt said. “I wouldn’t be in business without them.”In late November, business was looking up. The store’s finances had been stabilized. But then, a few days before Thanksgiving, Mr. Blunt’s store was robbed for the second time in 18 months. The thieves cleared out much of the store.“This,” he said, “is not sustainable.”“My guys are seeing things they saw in combat,” said Gerritt Jones, center, who served in the Army and is the founder of Black Anchor Tactical Response, which provides security services to cannabis businesses. 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    Retail Sales Rebounded in January 2022, Jumping 3.8%

    Prices were rising fast, products were in short supply and the Omicron variant put a chill on the country at the start of the year. Through it all, American consumers kept spending.Retail sales rose 3.8 percent in January from the prior month, the Commerce Department reported on Wednesday, a faster-than-expected rebound from a sharp decline in December and another sign of the economy’s resilience, even as stores shortened their hours or closed as a surge in Covid-19 infections led to widespread staffing shortages. Wednesday’s sales data echoed a report that showed hiring was stronger than anticipated last month, with employers adding 467,000 jobs.Other factors were at play, too, most notably fast-rising prices. The retail sales data wasn’t adjusted to account for inflation, and that could continue to boost the sales figures for months to come, economists said. But the overall takeaway was still that consumer spending held up last month.“We are seeing a strong bounce to start the year, suggesting positive momentum for now, in spite of elevated prices,” said Rubeela Farooqi, the chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics.Consumer spending accounts for the bulk of economic activity in the United States, and the report arrived at a critical time for the economy, as the Federal Reserve shifts its focus to battling inflation from supporting growth. The central bank is expected to raise interest rates as soon as next month, and rising borrowing costs could dampen spending by consumers and businesses.Understand Inflation in the U.S.Inflation 101: What is inflation, why is it up and whom does it hurt? Our guide explains it all.Your Questions, Answered: We asked readers to send questions about inflation. Top experts and economists weighed in.What’s to Blame: Did the stimulus cause prices to rise? Or did pandemic lockdowns and shortages lead to inflation? A debate is heating up in Washington.Supply Chain’s Role: A key factor in rising inflation is the continuing turmoil in the global supply chain. Here’s how the crisis unfolded.Other factors could also curb spending. An expansion of the child tax credit — through which the government deposited as much as $300 per child into qualifying Americans’ bank accounts each month — ended at the start of the year, and although consumers haven’t been deterred by inflation yet, there have been signs it is beginning to wear them down. One measure of consumer sentiment released this month — the University of Michigan’s Index of Consumer Sentiment — showed the least favorable long-term economic outlook in a decade.“I think it’s a matter of time before there is pushback in terms of consumers stepping back, and that’s something we need to figure into our estimates,” Ms. Farooqi said.Some of January’s jump in sales probably had to do with one-off factors like a restocking of shelves that had emptied out last year, said Beth Ann Bovino, the chief U.S. economist at S&P Global. With more available to buy, spending increased, she said.Another was that people use gift cards in January after receiving them as Christmas presents. Sales of gift cards don’t show up in the data until they have been used, she said.“If they get it on Dec. 25, they probably take it out in January when they’re done with their festivities,” Ms. Bovino said, noting that shoppers may be more forgiving of higher prices when “they are buying with other people’s money.”Plus, spending patterns have become less predictable during the pandemic, complicating efforts to predict what will happen next. Before the pandemic, holiday shopping would push retail sales higher in December, and a slowdown in spending would be reflected in January. This year’s gain followed a drop in December that on Wednesday was revised to 2.5 percent.Still, Ms. Bovino noted that “people were still spending” in January, and the purchasing was broad-based: Sales at car dealers rose 5.7 percent over the previous month, while e-commerce sales rose 14.5 percent. Spending at electronics and appliances stores rose 1.9 percent, and sales at clothing and general merchandise stores, such as department stores, were higher as well.The effect of the latest coronavirus wave was evident in some sectors. Spending at restaurants, bars and gas stations fell about 1 percent as people stayed home. But overall, sales in January rose far faster than the 2 percent gain economists had expected.Inflation F.A.Q.Card 1 of 6What is inflation? More

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    Despite Labor Shortages, Workers See Few Gains in Economic Security

    Over the past two months, Brenda Garcia, who works at a Chipotle in Queens, has struggled to land more than 20 hours per week, making it difficult to keep up with her expenses. When she confronts her manager, he vows to try to find her more work, but the problem invariably persists. In one recent week, the store scheduled her for a single 6.25-hour shift.“It’s not enough for me — they’re not giving me a stable job,” said Ms. Garcia, whose work involves chopping vegetables and other tasks before burritos are assembled. “They’re not giving me the hours and the days I’m supposed to be getting.”Ms. Garcia’s limited hours are not unusual at Chipotle, which has a largely part-time work force. A weekly schedule at her store from early January showed at least a dozen workers with fewer than 20 hours and several with fewer than 15.With workers nationwide quitting at high rates and companies complaining that they can’t fill jobs, employers might be expected to rethink their dependence on part-time scheduling. While some employees prefer the flexibility, many say it leaves them with too few hours, too little income or erratic hours.But that rethinking does not appear to have happened. Government data show that in retail businesses, the portion of workers on part-time schedules last year stood about where it was just before the pandemic, and that it increased somewhat in hospitality industries like restaurants and hotels.In a twice-yearly survey by Daniel Schneider, a Harvard sociologist, and Kristen Harknett, a sociologist at the University of California, San Francisco, one-quarter of workers at large retailers and restaurant chains said they were scheduled 35 hours a week or less and wanted more hours. That was down from about one-third in 2019, but the change was driven by a decline in the number of workers wanting more hours, most likely because of pandemic health risks and work-life conflicts, not because employers were providing more hours.Even as employers complain of having to scramble to fill vacancies, there is little evidence that service workers are winning any meaningful, long-term gains. While businesses have raised wages, those increases can be easily eroded by inflation, if they haven’t been already. The overall national rate of membership in unions — which can obtain wage increases for workers even absent labor shortages — matched its lowest level on record last year.Limited work hours are not unusual at Chipotle, which has a largely part-time work force.Brandon Bell/Getty ImagesAnd the unpredictable schedules that arise when employers constantly adjust staffing in response to customer demand, something that is common among part-timers, are roughly as prevalent as before the pandemic. The survey by Dr. Schneider and Dr. Harknett found that about two-thirds of workers continue to receive less than two weeks’ notice of their schedules.“Companies are doing all they can not to bake in any gains that are difficult to claw back,” Dr. Schneider said. “Workers’ labor market power is so far not yielding durable dividends.”The changes that make work lower paying, less stable and generally more precarious date back to the 1960s and ’70s, when the labor market evolved in two key ways. First, companies began pushing more work outside the firm — relying increasingly on contractors, temps and franchisees, a practice known as “fissuring.”Second, many businesses that continued to employ workers directly began hiring them to part-time positions, rather than full-time roles, particularly in the retail and hospitality industries.According to the scholars Chris Tilly of the University of California, Los Angeles, and Françoise Carré of the University of Massachusetts Boston, the initial impetus for the shift to part-time work was the mass entry of women into the work force, including many who preferred part-time positions so they could be home when children returned from school.Before long, however, employers saw an advantage in hiring part-timers and deliberately added more. “A light bulb went on one day,” Dr. Tilly said. “‘If we’re expanding part-time schedules, we don’t have to offer benefits, we can offer a lower wage rate.’”By the late 1980s, employers had begun using scheduling software to forecast customer demand and staffed accordingly. Having a large portion of part-time workers, who could be given more hours when stores got busy and fewer hours when business slowed, helped enable this practice, known as just-in-time scheduling.But the arrangement subjected workers to fluctuating schedules and unreliable hours, disrupting their personal lives, their sleep, even their children’s brain development.Nonetheless, the model continued to spread, and the shift to a heavily part-time work force was largely complete across retail by the mid-1990s.A recent study commissioned by Kroger found that about 70 percent of the supermarket company’s nearly 85,000 store employees in California, Colorado, Oregon and Washington State were part time. A survey of more than 10,000 Kroger workers on behalf of four union locals by the Economic Roundtable, a nonprofit research group, found widespread evidence of just-in-time scheduling, with more than half of workers reporting that their schedules changed at least weekly.Kroger, one of the nation’s largest employers, said in a statement that many of its employees sought part-time jobs for their flexibility and for health care benefits that competitors didn’t offer, as well as for opportunities for upward mobility. “We provide hundreds of thousands of people with first jobs (think baggers, cashiers, stockers, etc.), second chances, retirement employment, college gigs,” the statement said.The company added that locals of the United Food and Commercial Workers union had negotiated and agreed to the relevant provisions of its labor contracts for decades.A spokeswoman for Chipotle, where Service Employees International Union Local 32BJ is helping workers organize, likewise said that managers and employees mutually agreed on hours and that the company enabled employees to pick up additional shifts at other New York City stores when they were available.But the practices remain contentious. In mid-January, more than 8,000 Denver-area workers at King Soopers, a supermarket chain owned by Kroger, went on strike, citing the lack of full-time employment as a key issue.Workers picketing during a strike at King Soopers in Denver. A key issue was the lack of full-time employment.Michael Ciaglo/Getty ImagesRenae Vigil, who works in the meat department at a King Soopers in Denver and serves as a union steward, said many of her colleagues would like to work full time so that “they wouldn’t be worried about how to pay bills, how to get this or that paid, but at King’s, it’s like winning a lotto.”The frustrations suggest a relatively straightforward way for employers to reduce labor shortages: Offer more full-time positions.But Kim Cordova, president of U.F.C.W. Local 7, which represents the King Soopers workers, said employers like Kroger were rarely moved by this logic. “They’ve told us they think the market is going to correct itself, this is temporary and they don’t want to lock themselves into changing permanently,” she said. The food workers union estimated that King Soopers had 2,400 unfilled Denver-area jobs early this year.While the strike ended last month, after the company committed to raise pay, contribute more to health benefits and add at least 500 full-time positions, a majority of King Soopers workers are likely to remain on part-time schedules. Most retail and restaurant workers, who lack a union to organize a strike and provide strike pay, may have a harder time winning such changes.Susan Lambert, a social work scholar at the University of Chicago who studies employers’ scheduling practices, said she and a colleague had recently interviewed store managers in Seattle and Chicago and found that some had, in fact, sought to provide more consistent schedules during the pandemic.The change was driven by a combination of data, showing that more humane scheduling practices need not undermine profitability, and a desire by some employers to retain workers amid labor shortages, Dr. Lambert said. But she conceded that the changes were mostly at the margins.“There are not major investments in changing major systems,” she said.Data collected by the Labor Department indicate that the amount of part-time work in the retail and hospitality industries remains far above where it stood in the early 1970s. The same appears to be true of companies’ reliance on contractors and temps, which scholars say has helped weaken wage growth over the past several decades.Employers who outsource work to contractors or temps do not appear to have rethought those arrangements as a result of the pandemic, said Susan Houseman, a labor economist at the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research. She pointed to the temporary help industry’s return to close to its prepandemic share of employment and an increase in self-employment during the past two years.Gig companies whose apps allow people to find work as independent contractors say they have had an increase in workers over the last year or two. According to Uber, the number of drivers and couriers working through its service in a given month grew roughly 70 percent from January to October last year, or nearly 640,000.DoorDash said the number of people working through its delivery app as of the fall quarter had more than doubled during the pandemic, to over three million, and Instacart said the number of full-service shoppers on its service — those who shop for and deliver groceries — had increased by more than two and a half times, to over 500,000.The companies say that workers who use their apps value the flexibility of gig work, and that it helps sustain people during fallow periods or in places where work can be hard to find, such as rural communities. But gig jobs typically lack a variety of benefits and protections, like a minimum wage, and can reinforce economic insecurity.To Dr. Schneider, the Harvard sociologist, the insecurity that service workers continue to face during the pandemic, supposedly a period of unusual leverage, shows how resistant their industries are to changing.“I think it exposes something about how attached employers are to this just-in-time model,” he said. “This is something that goes to the heart of their business models.” More

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    Omicron’s Economic Toll: Missing Workers, More Uncertainty and Higher Inflation (Maybe)

    The Omicron wave of the coronavirus appears to be cresting in much of the country. But its economic disruptions have made a postpandemic normal ever more elusive.Forecasters have slashed their estimates for economic growth in the first three months of 2022. Some expect January to show the first monthly decline in employment in more than a year. And retail sales and manufacturing production fell in December, suggesting that the impact began well before cases hit their peak.“Those are Omicron’s fingerprints,” said Constance L. Hunter, chief economist for the accounting firm KPMG. “It will slow growth in the beginning of the first quarter.”On Monday, global markets were in a frenzy, with the S&P 500 plunging nearly 4 percent before recovering its losses. Market analysts said the early declines reflected fears that the Federal Reserve might need to respond more aggressively than expected to rapidly rising prices, a prospect that some economists say has been made more likely by Omicron.Recovery prospects in the longer run are uncertain. Some economists say even temporary job losses could force consumers to pull back their spending, especially now that federal programs that helped families early in the pandemic have largely ended. Others worry that Omicron could compound supply-chain backlogs both in the United States and overseas, prolonging the recent bout of high inflation and putting pressure on the Fed to act. But some see Omicron as the equivalent of a severe winter storm, causing disruptions and delays but ultimately doing little permanent economic damage. The recovery has proved resilient so far, they argue, and has enough underlying momentum to carry it through.“There are so many potential ways that this could go,” said Tara Sinclair, an economist at George Washington University. “We didn’t even agree on where we were going without Omicron, and then you throw Omicron on top.”Omicron is aggravating labor shortages.Travelers at Kennedy International Airport last month. Airlines canceled thousands of flights over the holidays because so many crew members were out sick.Karsten Moran for The New York TimesMore than 8.7 million Americans weren’t working in late December and early January because they had Covid-19 or were caring for someone who did, according to the latest estimate from the Census Bureau’s experimental Household Pulse Survey. Another 5.3 million were taking care of children who were home from school or day care. The cumulative impact is larger than at any other point in the pandemic.Covid-related absences are creating headaches for businesses that were struggling to hire workers even before Omicron. Restaurants and retail stores have cut back hours. Broadway shows called off performances. Airlines canceled thousands of flights over the holidays because so many crew members called in sick; on one day last month, nearly a third of United Airlines workers at Newark Liberty International Airport, a major hub, called in sick.The Status of U.S. JobsMore Workers Quit Than Ever: A record number of Americans — more than 4.5 million people — ​​voluntarily left their jobs in November.Jobs Report: The American economy added 210,000 jobs in November, a slowdown from the prior month.Analysis: The number of new jobs added in November was below expectations, but the report shows that the economy is on the right track.Jobless Claims Plunge: Initial unemployment claims for the week ending Nov. 20 fell to 199,000, their lowest point since 1969.At Designer Paws Salon, a pet grooming company with two locations in the Columbus, Ohio, area, business has been strong in recent months, thanks in part to a pandemic boom in pet ownership. But Misty Gieczys, the company’s founder and chief executive, has been struggling to fill 11 positions despite generous benefits and pay that can reach $95,000 a year in commissions and tips.Omicron has only made things worse, she said. Since Christmas, she has received only three job applications, and just one applicant got back to her after she reached out. Then Ms. Gieczys, who has two young daughters, got Covid-19 herself for the second time, forcing her to stay home. That, on top of day care shutdowns because of the virus, has meant she has spent a significant amount of time away from work.“If I wasn’t the owner, I think I would be fired, honestly,” she said.But while the Omicron wave has contributed to businesses’ staffing woes, there is little sign so far that it has set back the job market recovery more generally. New filings for unemployment insurance have risen only modestly in recent weeks, suggesting that employers are holding on to their workers. Job postings on the career site Indeed have edged down only slightly from record highs.“It’s a vast difference from 2020, where there were mass layoffs,” said Jason Furman, a Harvard economist who was an adviser to President Barack Obama. “Now employers are holding on to people because they expect to be in business in a month.”The new variant could make inflation worse (or maybe better).When the pandemic began in early 2020, it was a shock to both supply and demand, as companies and their customers pulled back in the face of the virus.With each successive wave, however, the impact on demand has gotten smaller. Businesses and consumers learned to adapt. Federal aid helped prop up people’s income. And more recently, the availability of vaccines and improved treatment options have made many people comfortable resuming more normal activities.Supply problems have been slower to dissipate, and in some cases have gotten worse as production and shipping backlogs have grown. If Omicron follows the same pattern, limiting the supply of goods and workers while doing little to dent consumers’ willingness to spend, it could lead to faster inflation.“What should happen is the supply shock should be much larger than the demand shock,” said Aditya Bhave, senior economist at Bank of America. “All of that just means more inflation.”But Omicron’s impact on inflation is not straightforward. Retail sales fell 1.9 percent in December, and restaurant reservations on OpenTable have fallen in January. That suggests that the record-breaking number of coronavirus cases is having an effect on demand, even if it is more muted than in past waves.The latest Covid surge is also the first to hit after the expiration of enhanced unemployment benefits, the expanded child tax credit and most other emergency federal aid programs. Nearly a quarter of private-sector workers get no paid sick time, meaning that even a temporary absence from work could force them to cut back spending now that government benefits aren’t replacing lost income.“That stimulus pay really helped push people past their reticence and say, ‘It’s OK to spend,’” said Nela Richardson, chief economist for ADP, the payroll company. “Now there’s no big push in stimulus, and so people might change their spending behavior.”One possibility is that Omicron could reduce inflation in the short term, as consumers pull back spending, but increase it in the longer run, as the virus leads to shutdowns in Asia that could prolong supply-chain disruptions.Increased uncertainty could cause longer-run damage.Testing facilities were inundated as the Omicron variant took off last month. Covid-related absences are creating headaches for businesses.Kim Raff for The New York TimesCozy Earth, a bamboo bedding and clothing company based in Salt Lake City, was poised to start 2022 on a strong note. Then Omicron “just hit the brakes on us,” said Tyler Howells, the company’s founder and president.Over a three-week period, roughly two-thirds of the company’s 50 employees contracted the virus. A group of web developers flew in for a meeting, but one tested positive, so the meeting had to be canceled. A contractor that was producing signs for an upcoming trade show put the order on hold for a few weeks because too many employees were sick. With so many people out sick in early January, Mr. Howells shut down the office for more than a week.Still, the direct damage to Cozy Earth’s business has been manageable, Mr. Howells said. He is more concerned about the subtler toll that each new false dawn takes on his business, and his ability to plan for the future.“If it continues, it will be a problem,” he said. “It will create damage to the business in terms of fits and starts.”Ms. Sinclair, the George Washington University economist, said the most lasting consequence of the Omicron wave might be the way it had again upended the plans of both businesses and workers. Every time that happens, she said, it increases the risk of permanent damage: Project delays turn into cancellations; expansion plans are abandoned; people who had been thinking about returning to work decide to retire instead.“This piling on of compounding uncertainty is causing further damage,” she said. “This uncertainty is particularly damaging because families aren’t able to make plans, businesses aren’t able to make plans, policymakers aren’t able to make plans.” More