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    Drivers and Dealers Could Soon Feel Impact of U.A.W. Strikes

    Lengthy and expanding walkouts by the United Automobile Workers union against Ford, General Motors and Stellantis could strain a fragile supply chain.More than a week into its targeted strike at the three established U.S. car companies, the United Automobile Workers union has poked holes in a supply chain that has still not fully recovered from the pandemic.The companies and the union remain far apart in negotiations, and the U.A.W. could expand its strikes to more locations as soon as Friday. Depending on how long the strikes last, it could exact a heavy toll on autoworkers and the three companies — General Motors, Ford Motor and Stellantis, the parent of Chrysler and Jeep. But the work stoppages could also be painful to drivers, car dealers and auto-parts suppliers.A long and expanding strike will reduce the number of new cars on dealer lots, make it harder for people to repair their vehicles and reduce demand for parts needed to make new vehicles.So far, the economic damage has been limited because the U.A.W. has struck only a small number of plants and warehouses, but the pain could worsen if work stoppages grow to include many more locations and last weeks or months.“The economic spillovers from the U.A.W. strike remain contained as we near the two-week mark,” said Gabriel Ehrlich, an economic forecaster at the University of Michigan. “We are seeing some layoffs among automotive suppliers, ranging from seat makers to steelworkers. We would expect these impacts to accumulate as the strike persists and additional targets are announced.”When the union started walkouts at assembly plants, it appeared to target plants that make popular models, like the Ford Bronco, the Jeep Wrangler and the Chevrolet Colorado. It widened the strike on Sept. 22 to include parts distribution centers at G.M. and Stellantis.As those popular models become more scarce, dealers are likely to push up prices.“They took out the ones that are going to hurt the most,” said Jeff Rightmer, a professor at Wayne State University who specializes in supply chain management. “At this point, they’re not going to be able to get that production back.”New-car sales are expected to rise this month, despite the strike and high interest rates, according to Cox Automotive. And for now, overall inventories for the three companies remain stable, except for the most popular models, according to data from CoPilot, a firm that tracks dealer inventories.As of Sept. 24, G.M. had enough vehicles on dealer lots to meet demand for 40 to 70 days across its four brands. Ford had enough cars and trucks for 74 days. And Stellantis had more than 100 days across three of its four divisions; Jeep had less than 100 days.Jeep Wranglers at the Stellantis Toledo Assembly Complex in Toledo, Ohio, at the beginning of the strike.Evan Cobb for The New York TimesAmong the 10 models affected by the first set of U.A.W. strikes, supply for four models has dwindled to less than one month’s sales.“Once that dries up, they’re not building anything, so it’s important that the strike is as short as possible,” said Wes Lutz, a car dealer in Jackson, Mich., who sells Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep and Ram models.He has been getting cars from other plants, including large pickup trucks imported from Mexico. But he is worried that an expanding strike could reduce the supply of more models.An even bigger concern, Mr. Lutz said, is that the strikes at G.M. and Stellantis parts warehouses could soon make it hard to repair vehicles, leaving some drivers stranded. He said that he was working with other dealers to trade spare parts among themselves to keep their service departments going.Servicing and repairing vehicles is generally the most profitable part of car dealerships. Service departments bring in so much money that they can cover most or all of the costs of running dealerships, said Pat Ryan, chief executive of CoPilot.That’s why a parts shortage could deal a bigger blow to dealers than not having enough vehicles to sell. If parts are hard to come by for weeks or months, some dealers may suspend repairs and lay off mechanics.Another group of businesses exposed to the strikes are the companies that make parts and components like batteries and mufflers for new vehicles. Nearly 700 auto suppliers could be hurt by the strike, according to Resilinc, a supply chain monitoring company.CIE Newcor, an auto components maker, notified workers on Sept. 21 that it expected to lay off 300 employees at four Michigan plants starting Oct. 2. The extent of the layoffs will be “determined by the length of the potential U.A.W. — Detroit 3 strike,” the company said in a regulatory filing.Much of the auto industry practices “just in time” production, meaning materials are delivered and parts are built and sent to car factories as they are needed.If smaller suppliers go more than a few weeks without selling products to customers, some may have to seek bankruptcy protection, said Ann Marie Uetz, a Detroit-based partner at the law firm Foley & Lardner who represents auto suppliers. “There is definite strain in the supply chain, and you’re going to see some of them suffer as a result of the strike if it lingers for a month or more.” More

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    U.S. Issues Final Rules to Keep Chip Funds Out of China

    The rules, which aim to prevent chip makers from using new U.S. subsidies to benefit China, take into account the industry’s perspective.The Biden administration on Friday issued final rules that would prohibit chip companies vying for a new infusion of federal cash from carrying out certain business expansions, partnerships and research in China, in what it described as an effort to protect United States national security.The regulations come as the Biden administration prepares to disburse more than $52 billion in federal grants and tens of billions of dollars of tax credits to build up the U.S. chip industry. The new rules aim to prevent chip makers that benefit from U.S. grants from passing technology, business know-how or other benefits to China.The final restrictions will prohibit firms that receive federal money from using it to construct chip factories outside the United States. They also restrict companies from significantly expanding semiconductor manufacturing in “foreign countries of concern” — defined as China, Iran, Russia and North Korea — for 10 years after receiving an award, the administration said.The rules also prevent companies that receive funding from carrying out certain joint research projects in those countries, or licensing technology that would raise national security concerns to those countries.If a company violated those guardrails, the Commerce Department said, the government could claw back the firm’s entire award.“These guardrails will protect our national security and help the United States stay ahead for decades to come,” Gina M. Raimondo, the secretary of commerce, said in a statement.The restrictions have been the subject of heavy lobbying from the chip industry, which collectively earns about one-third of its revenue from China. Chip makers in comments filed this year expressed concerns that overly restrictive measures could disrupt supply chains and hamper their global competitiveness.Many of the rule’s broad principles, like the 10-year limit on new investments in China, were outlined in the bipartisan legislation that authorized funding for the sector. But Commerce Department officials were responsible for writing the detailed provisions of the rule.In its final rules issued Friday, the department appeared to take the perspective of chip makers and others into account. A comparison of the restrictions showed that the department had made several changes supported by chip makers, such as abolishing a specific dollar threshold for transactions that would expand chip companies’ manufacturing capacity in China, Russia, North Korea or Iran. Under the proposed rule in March, the Commerce Department would have reviewed any transaction that expanded a company’s semiconductor manufacturing capacity in such a “country of concern” valued at more than $100,000.But companies like Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company suggested that it would be more pragmatic for the department to monitor the physical expansion of the footprint of semiconductor factories, a standard that the commerce department adopted.It remains to be seen if any of the changes will prompt a backlash from Republicans on Capitol Hill, who have criticized the Biden administration as not being tough enough on Beijing and condemned a recent set of trips to China by top administration officials.In an interview on Friday, Commerce Department officials said that they had received various requests from the industry to relax certain guidelines, but that they had maintained or even strengthened some provisions where necessary to protect national security.One official added that the national security goal of the program was to have companies operating in the United States and doing so successfully, and that the department aimed to work with companies to ensure they were executing on U.S. grants.“My sense is that they struck a reasonable balance between trying to be restrictive but also not trying to be draconian with the impact on existing facilities in China,” said Chris Miller, the author of “Chip War” and an associate professor of international history at the Fletcher School at Tufts University. More

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    Auto Strike by U.A.W. Could Have Wide Economic Effects

    An extended walkout by the United Auto Workers in a contract dispute could raise car prices and affect jobs at the companies’ suppliers.Two years after the auto industry survived the supply-chain upheaval of the pandemic, another disruption — the prospective strike by the United Auto Workers — threatens to upend the production and distribution of new cars, and the impact could be wide-ranging.A U.A.W. strike against one or more of Detroit’s Big Three — Ford Motor, General Motors and Stellantis, which owns Chrysler, Jeep and Ram — is likely to quickly affect the U.S. economy, particularly in the Midwest. And a prolonged strike, by crimping the availability of new vehicles, could lead to soaring car prices. The combination of slower growth and higher prices could complicate matters for the Federal Reserve, which has sought to bring down inflation while maintaining job growth.“We’ve been counting on vehicle prices coming down, adding to the disinflation and taking pressure off the Fed so the Fed doesn’t have to keep on raising interest rates,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics. “This makes that much more difficult.”According to an August report from the Anderson Economic Group, a 10-day strike against all three automakers would result in total economic losses of $5.6 billion. Around $3.5 billion of that would result from lost wages and production, with the remaining $2.1 billion borne by consumers, who wouldn’t be able to get necessary repairs and replacement parts, and by dealers and their employees.Mr. Zandi said a six-week strike would have a “measurable but ultimately modest” effect on overall gross domestic product, perhaps a decline of two- or three-tenths of a percentage point. But he said damage would start to mount, given economic headwinds like rising interest rates, the return of student-loan repayments and a potential government shutdown in October.If the strike lasted through the end of the year, Mr. Zandi said, “that would be enough to push this economy close to the edge of a recession, given everything else that’s going on.”A 40-day strike against General Motors in 2019 had limited economic effects. One key difference this time is inventories. Total domestic car inventories, which includes new and used cars, have increased from a record low in February 2022 but are less than a quarter of what they were in September 2019.“In 2019, General Motors could look at their inventory and say, ‘We can take a 10-day strike, and hardly anybody who wants one of our cars is going to be unable to get it,” said Patrick Anderson, the principal and chief executive of the Anderson Economic Group. “That’s not the case in 2023.”A strike could also have a spillover effect on the automotive supply chain. Gabriel Ehrlich, an economic forecaster at the University of Michigan, said the automakers’ suppliers — the businesses that make brakes, headlights and catalytic converters — would begin to be felt after about two weeks, with employers cutting back on employment and, as a result, those laid-off workers reducing their own spending.In Michigan, the auto industry has slipped in prominence but still contributes meaningfully to the economy. Mr. Ehrlich’s analysis, which assumes a six-week strike against just one automaker, forecasts a slowdown in payroll growth in the fourth quarter.How the individual automakers weather the storm could vary. Stellantis will be able to satisfy consumer demand longer than Ford or General Motors because it has greater inventories, according to Pat Ryan, the chief executive of Co-Pilot, a car-shopping app that tracks the inventories of car dealers. The result will still be higher prices for consumers, Mr. Ryan said, for both used and new vehicles.Ultimately, the automakers will be able to make up for lost production, and selling their vehicles at higher prices — in addition to not paying wages during the strike — will help for a time. But things will become more challenging if automakers are forced to stop making their most profitable and popular cars, which are already in short supply.“If you’re a G.M. dealer or G.M., you’re going to feel a lot of pain if the Tahoe line shuts down,” Mr. Ryan said. More

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    Europe Rushes to Build Defenses But With Little Consensus on How

    At Saab’s sprawling combat production center in Karlskoga, Sweden, the 84-millimeter shells that can take out a battle tank in a single stroke are carefully assembled by hand. One worker stacked tagliatelle-shaped strips of explosive propellant in a tray. Another attached the translucent sheafs around the rotating fins of a guiding system.Outside the squat building, one of hundreds in the guarded industrial park, construction is underway on another factory. Capacity at this plant — a few minutes’ drive from the home of Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite and founder of the peace prize — is scheduled to more than double in the next two years.The enlargement is part of a titanic expansion in military spending that every country in Europe has undertaken since Russia invaded Ukraine 18 months ago. Yet the mad dash by more than 30 allied countries to stockpile arms after years of minimal spending has raised concerns that the massive buildup will be disjointed, resulting in waste, supply shortages, unnecessary delays and duplication.“Europeans have not addressed the deeply fragmented and disorganized manner in which they generate their forces,” a recent report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies said. “Investing more in an uncoordinated manner will only marginally improve a dysfunctional status quo.”The North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which sets overall defense strategy, and the European Union have pushed for greater cooperation and integration, creating several new initiatives, including one to coordinate weapons procurement.Manufacturing shells at a Saab facility in Karlskoga, Sweden.Loulou d’Aki for The New York TimesAnother step in the production at the Karlskoga facility.Loulou d’Aki for The New York TimesCleaning the main charges on the production line.Loulou d’Aki for The New York TimesStill, a growing chorus of weapons manufacturers, political figures and military experts warn the efforts fall far short of what is needed. “There needs to be some clarity since we’re not the United States of Europe,” Micael Johansson, the president and chief executive of Saab, explained from the company’s headquarters in Stockholm. “Every country decides themselves what type of capabilities they need.”Each country has its own strategic culture, procurement practices, specifications, approval processes, training and priorities.Alliance members may sometimes use the same aircraft but with different encryption systems and varying instruments. As Ukrainian soldiers have discovered, 155-millimeter shells produced by one manufacturer do not necessarily fit into a howitzer made by another. Ammunition and parts are not always interchangeable, complicating maintenance and causing more frequent breakdowns.The European Union does not “have a defense planning process,” said Mr. Johansson. This summer, he was appointed vice chairman of the board at the Aerospace and Defense Industries Association of Europe, a trade association representing 3,000 companies. “NATO has to rethink how do we create resilience in the whole system,” including supply chains that produce the munitions soldiers use on the battlefield.Saab’s president and chief executive, Micael Johansson, at the company’s headquarters in Stockholm.Loulou d’Aki for The New York TimesCrucial raw materials like titanium and lithium, as well as sophisticated electronics and semiconductors, are in great demand.And there is a shortage of explosives, particularly powder, which manufacturers across the entire weapons industry depend on. But there has been little detailed discussion about which systems should get priority or how the supply of powder as a whole could be increased.“I suggested it,” Mr. Johansson said, “but it hasn’t happened yet.”The discussions are taking place at a time when the resilience of far-flung supply chains of all kinds are being re-examined. Memories are still fresh of interruptions in the flow of natural gas and grain resulting from the war in Ukraine, not to mention the severe backlogs in the production and delivery of goods and materials caused by the Covid pandemic.The big trend now, said Michael Hoglund, head of business area ground combat at Saab, is to bring supply chains closer to home and to create reliable backups. “We’re no longer buying the cheapest,” he said. “We’re paying a fee to feel safer.”Workers on the production line.Loulou d’Aki for The New York TimesAssembling a weapon.Loulou d’Aki for The New York TimesCoordinating supplies is just one element. Getting a jumble of varying weapons systems, practices and technologies to smoothly perform in concert has always been a challenge. NATO has set standards so that the different systems are compatible — what is known as interoperability.The practice, though, can be less than harmonious.The European Defense Agency’s annual review last year found that only 18 percent of defense investments are done together, half of the targeted amount. “The degree of cooperation among our armies is very low,” Josep Borrell, the European Union’s top diplomat, said at the time.Sweden is on the cusp of joining NATO, but it has partnered with the military alliance before, and Saab, which produces a range of weapons systems including the Gripen fighter jet, sells to scores of countries around the world.Managers there have seen some of the challenges to coordination up close in large and small ways.A Gripen aircraft at the Saab test center in Linkoping.Loulou d’Aki for The New York TimesJakob Hogberg, a Gripen test pilot, discussing the aircraft.Loulou d’Aki for The New York Times“The whole system in each army is built up in a special way,” said Gorgen Johansson, who oversees the Karlskoga operation. (He is not related to the chief executive.) Behind him sat an empty green tube used to launch Saab’s shoulder-fired NLAW anti-tank missile. It was signed by Ukraine’s former minister of defense and returned to its maker as a token of appreciation.Some customers, he said, want two launchers packed in a single box, another wants four, or six, because they have bought vehicles and equipment that can hold different numbers of launchers.Mr. Johansson said that until very recently, it was impossible to get the players to even talk about standardizing where labels were positioned or what color they should be.Bigger problems remain. After the Cold War ended, there was an enormous consolidation of defense companies as military spending shrank. Still, like varying brands of cereal, there is a wide range of each major weapons system. Europe has 27 different types of howitzers, 20 types of fighter jets and 26 types of destroyers and frigates, according to an analysis by McKinsey & Company.In building a unified fighting force, Europe must balance competition, which can result in improvements and innovation, with the need to eliminate waste and streamline operations, by ordering or even designing weapons in concert.Underlying the once-in-a-generation military expansion is that the continent is still primarily dependent on the United States for its safety. President Trump’s complaints in 2018 of insufficient spending in Europe and veiled threats to withdraw from NATO profoundly shook the region.A staff member collecting equipment from a tank used as a target at a test center.Loulou d’Aki for The New York TimesHolding up shrapnel that hit the target after a firing exercise.Loulou d’Aki for The New York TimesBut the view that Europe has to take more financial responsibility for its own defense is now widespread, urgently ratcheting up the pressure to better unify Europe’s defenses.Coordination, though, faces several built-in hurdles. As the center’s report concluded, integrating European defense “will be a slow laborious process and a generational effort.”Governments are already funneling millions or billions of dollars to defense and, naturally, every one wants to support its own industries and workers.And whatever Europe’s overall defense needs may be, each nation’s first priority is protecting their borders. There is limited trust even among alliance members.“We think we are friends,” said Gorgen Johansson in Karlskoga. But he noted that during the pandemic when there was a shortage of ventilators, Germany, which had a surplus, stopped supplying them to Sweden, Italy and other countries in need.“The talks have started,” Mr. Johansson said of efforts to improve coordination. “Do I think it will go quickly? No.”Working on a plane at Saab’s fighter production facility in Linköping.Loulou d’Aki for The New York TimesWorkers assembling an aircraft in Linköping.Loulou d’Aki for The New York Times More

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    Factories May Be Leaving China, but Trade Ties Are Stronger Than They Seem

    The United States is trying to lessen its dependence on Chinese goods, but research is showing how tough it is to truly alter global supply chains.The United States has spent the past five years pushing to reduce its reliance on China for computer chips, solar panels and various consumer imports amid growing concern over Beijing’s security threats, human rights record and dominance of critical industries.But even as policymakers and corporate executives look for ways to cut ties with China, a growing body of evidence suggests that the world’s largest economies remain deeply intertwined as Chinese products make their way to America through other countries. New and forthcoming economic papers call into question whether the United States has actually lessened its reliance on China — and what a recent reshuffling of trade relationships means for the global economy and American consumers.Changes to global manufacturing and supply chains are still unfolding, as both punishing tariffs imposed by the administration of former President Donald J. Trump and tougher restrictions on the sale of technology to China imposed by the Biden administration play out.The key architect of the latest restrictions — Gina Raimondo, the commerce secretary — is meeting with top Chinese officials in Beijing and Shanghai this week, a visit that underscores the challenge facing the United States as it seeks to reduce how much it depends on China when the countries’ economies share so many ties.These reworked trade rules, along with other economic changes, have caused China’s share of imports into the United States to fall as the share of imports from other low-cost countries like Vietnam and Mexico have climbed. The Biden administration has also pumped up incentives for producing semiconductors, electric cars and solar panels domestically, and manufacturing construction in the United States has been rising quickly.Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo met with Chinese officials in Beijing on Monday.Pool photo by Andy Wong, Getty ImagesBut new research discussed at the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City’s annual conference at Jackson Hole in Wyoming on Saturday found that while global trade patterns have reshuffled, American supply chains have remained very reliant on Chinese production — just not as directly.In their paper, the economists Laura Alfaro at Harvard Business School and Davin Chor at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth wrote that China’s share of U.S. imports fell to about 17 percent in 2022 after peaking at about 22 percent in 2017, as the country accounted for a smaller share of America’s imports in categories like machinery, footwear and telephone sets. As that happened, places like Vietnam gained ground — supplying the United States with more apparel and textiles — while neighbors like Mexico began sending more car parts, glass, iron and steel.American Imports Shift Away From ChinaChange in the share of U.S. imports coming from each area between 2017 and 2022

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    Percentage points
    Source: Analysis of Comtrade data by Laura Alfaro and Davin ChorBy The New York TimesThat would seem to be a sign that the United States is lessening its reliance on China. But there’s a hitch: Both Mexico and Vietnam have themselves been importing more products from China, and Chinese direct investment into those countries has surged, indicating that Chinese firms are setting up more factories there.The trends suggest that firms may simply be moving the last steps in their lengthy supply chains out of China, and that some companies are using countries like Vietnam or Mexico as staging areas to send goods that are still partly or largely made in China into the United States.While proponents of decoupling argue that any move away from China may be a good thing, the reshuffling appears to have other consequences. The paper finds that shifting supply chains are also associated with higher prices for goods.A drop of five percentage points in the share of imports coming from China may have pushed prices on Vietnamese imports up 9.8 percent and Mexican imports up 3.2 percent, based on the authors’ calculations. While more research is needed, the effect could be slightly contributing to consumer inflation, they say.“That is our first caution — this is likely to have cost effects — and the second caution is that it is unlikely to diminish dependence” on China, Ms. Alfaro said in an interview.The research echoes findings from a forthcoming paper by Caroline Freund of the University of California, San Diego, and economists at the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, which examined how trade in specific imports from China had changed since Mr. Trump began imposing tariffs on them.That paper found that tariffs had a substantial impact on trade, reducing U.S. imports of the goods that were subject to the levies, even as the absolute value of U.S. trade with China continued to rise.The countries that were able to capture the market share lost by China were those that already specialized in making the products that were subject to tariffs, like electronics or chemicals, as well as countries that were deeply integrated into China’s supply chains and had a lot of trade back and forth with China, Ms. Freund said. They included Vietnam, Mexico and Taiwan.“They’re also increasing imports from China, precisely in those products that they’re exporting to the U.S.,” she said.Higher import tariffs have not deterred the influx of cars from China.Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesPresident Biden added tougher restrictions to electric car manufacturers in China.Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesWhat this all means for efforts to bring manufacturing back to the United States is unclear. The researchers come to different conclusions about how much that trend is occurring.Still, both sets of researchers — as well as other economists at Jackson Hole, the Fed’s most closely watched annual conference — pushed back on the idea that these supply-chain shifts meant that global trade overall was retrenching, or that the world was becoming less interconnected.The pandemic, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and tensions between the United States and China have prompted some analysts to speculate that the world may turning away from globalization, but economists say that trend is not really borne out in the data.“We don’t see de-globalization at a macro level,” Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the director general of the World Trade Organization, said during a panel at the Jackson Hole symposium. But she pointed to what she characterized as a worrying change in expectations.“Rhetoric on de-globalization is taking hold, and that feeds into the political tensions and then into the policymaking,” she said. “My fear is that rhetoric might turn into reality and we might see this shift in investment patterns.”Others at Jackson Hole warned of other consequences, such as product shortages.A move toward production domestically or in only closely allied countries could “imply new supply constraints, especially if trade fragmentation accelerates before the domestic supply base has been rebuilt,” Christine Lagarde, the head of the European Central Bank, said in a speech on Friday.Global supply chains tend to change slowly, because it takes time for companies to plan, invest in and construct new factories. Economists are continuing to track current changes to global sourcing.Given growing geopolitical tensions with China as well as more recent troubles in the country’s economy, further shifts in global supply chains may be unavoidable.One question for economists now, Ms. Alfaro said, is whether the economic benefits from moving factories back to the United States or other friendly countries — like innovation in the U.S. manufacturing sector — will ultimately outweigh the costs of the strategy, for example, the higher prices paid by consumers.And separately, Ms. Freund said she believed the costs of reshoring had been “really under considered” by the government and others.The typical narrative was that “we’re going to bring it all back and we’re going to have all these jobs and it’s all going to be hunky-dory, but, in fact, it’s going to be extremely costly to do that,” she said. “Part of the reason we had such low inflation in the past was because we were bringing in lower-cost goods and improving productivity through globalization.” More

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    Yellow, the Freight-Trucking Company, Declares Bankruptcy

    A pandemic-era lifeline that the Trump administration predicted would turn a profit for the federal government failed to keep Yellow afloat.Three years after receiving a $700 million pandemic-era lifeline from the federal government, the struggling freight trucking company Yellow is filing for bankruptcy.After monthslong negotiations between Yellow’s management and the Teamsters union broke down, the company shut its operations late last month, and said on Sunday that it was seeking bankruptcy protection so it can wind down its business in an “orderly” way.“It is with profound disappointment that Yellow announces that it is closing after nearly 100 years in business,” the company’s chief executive, Darren Hawkins, said in a statement. Yellow filed a so-called Chapter 11 petition in federal bankruptcy court in Delaware.The downfall of the 99-year-old company will lead to the loss of about 30,000 jobs and could have ripple effects across the nation’s supply chains. It also underscores the risks associated with government bailouts that are awarded during moments of economic panic.Yellow, which formerly went by the name YRC Worldwide, received the $700 million loan during the summer of 2020 as the pandemic was paralyzing the U.S. economy. The loan was awarded as part of the $2.2 trillion pandemic-relief legislation that Congress passed that year, and Yellow received it on the grounds that its business was critical to national security because it shipped supplies to military bases.Since then, Yellow changed its name and embarked on a restructuring plan to help revive its flagging business by consolidating its regional networks of trucking services under one brand. As of the end of March, Yellow’s outstanding debt was $1.5 billion, including about $730 million that it owes to the federal government. Yellow has paid approximately $66 million in interest on the loan, but it has repaid just $230 of the principal owed on the loan, which comes due next year.The fate of the loan is not yet clear. The federal government assumed a 30 percent equity stake in Yellow in exchange for the loan. It could end up assuming or trying to sell off much of the company’s fleet of trucks and terminals. Yellow aims to sell “all or substantially all” of its assets, according to court documents. Mr. Hawkins said the company intended to pay back the government loan “in full.”The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment after the filing.Yellow estimated that it has more than 100,000 creditors and more than $1 billion in liabilities, per court documents. Some of its largest unsecured creditors include Amazon, with a claim of more than $2 million, and Home Depot, which is owed nearly $1.7 million.Yellow is the third-largest small-freight-trucking company in a part of the industry known as “less than truckload” shipping. The industry has been under pressure over the last year from rising interest rates and higher fuel costs, which customers have been unwilling to accept.Those forces collided with an ugly labor fight this year between Yellow and the Teamsters union over wages and other benefits. Those talks collapsed last month and union officials soon after warned workers that the company was shutting down.After its bankruptcy filing, company officials placed much of the blame on the union, saying its members caused “irreparable harm” by halting its restructuring plan. Yellow employed about 23,000 union employees.“We faced nine months of union intransigence, bullying and deliberately destructive tactics,” Mr. Hawkins said. The Teamsters union “was able to halt our business plan, literally driving our company out of business, despite every effort to work with them,” he added.In late June, the company filed a lawsuit against the union, asserting it had caused more than $137 million in damages by blocking the restructuring plan.The Teamsters union said in a statement last week that Yellow “has historically proven that it could not manage itself despite billions of dollars in worker concessions and hundreds of millions in bailout funding from the federal government.” The union did not immediately respond to a request for comment after Yellow’s bankruptcy filing.“I think that Yellow finds itself in a perfect storm, and they have not managed that perfect storm very well,” said David P. Leibowitz, a Chicago bankruptcy lawyer who represents several trucking companies.The bankruptcy could create temporary disruptions for companies that relied on Yellow and might prompt more consolidation in the industry. It could also lead to temporarily higher prices as businesses find new carriers for their freight.“Those inflationary prices will certainly hurt the shippers and hurt the consumer to a certain extent,” said Tom Nightingale, chief executive of AFS Logistics, who suggested that prices would likely normalize within a few months.In late July, Yellow began permanently laying off workers and ceased most of its operations in the United States and Canada, according to court documents. Yellow has retained a “core group” of about 1,650 employees to maintain limited operations and provide administrative work as it winds down. Yellow said it expected to pay about $3.4 million per week in employee wages to operate during bankruptcy, which “may decrease over time.” None of the remaining employees are union members, the company said.The company also sought the authority to pay an estimated $22 million in compensation and benefit costs for current and former employees, including roughly $8.7 million in unpaid wages as of the date of filing. Yellow had readily accessible funds of about $39 million when it filed for bankruptcy, which it said would be insufficient to cover its wind-down efforts, and it expected to receive special financing to help support the sale process and payment of wages.Jack Atkins, a transportation analyst at the financial services firm Stephens, said that Yellow’s troubles had been mounting for years. In the wake of the financial crisis, Yellow engaged in a spree of acquisitions that it failed to successfully integrate, Mr. Atkins said. The demands of repaying that debt made it difficult for Yellow to reinvest in the company, allowing rivals to become more profitable.“Yellow was struggling to keep its head above water and survive,” Mr. Atkins said. “It was harder and harder to be profitable enough to support the wage increases they needed.”The company’s financial problems fueled concerns about the Trump administration’s decision to rescue the firm.It lost more than $100 million in 2019 and was being sued by the Justice Department over claims that it defrauded the federal government during a seven-year period. Last year it agreed to pay $6.85 million to settle the lawsuit.Federal watchdogs and congressional oversight committees have scrutinized the company’s relationships with the Trump administration. President Donald J. Trump tapped Mr. Hawkins to serve on a coronavirus economic task force, and Yellow had financial backing from Apollo Global Management, a private equity firm with close ties to Trump administration officials.Democrats on the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis wrote in a report last year that top Trump administration officials had awarded Yellow the money over the objections of career officials at the Defense Department. The report noted that Yellow had been in close touch with Trump administration officials throughout the loan process and had discussed how the company employed Teamsters as its drivers.In December 2020, Steven T. Mnuchin, then the Treasury secretary, defended the loan, arguing that had the company been shuttered, thousands of jobs would have been at risk and the military’s supply chain could have been disrupted. He predicted that the federal government would eventually turn a profit from the deal.“Yellow had longstanding financial problems before the pandemic, was not essential to national security and should never have received a $700 million taxpayer bailout from the Treasury Department,” Representative French Hill, a Republican from Arkansas and member of the Congressional Oversight Commission, said in a statement last week. “Years of poor financial management at Yellow has resulted in hard-working people losing their jobs.” More

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    Solar Supply Chain Grows More Opaque Amid Human Rights Concerns

    The global industry is cutting some ties to China, but its exposure to forced labor remains high and companies are less transparent, a new report found.Global supply chains for solar panels have begun shifting away from a heavy reliance on China, in part because of a recent ban on products from Xinjiang, a region where the U.S. government and United Nations accuse the Chinese government of committing human rights violations.But a new report by experts in human rights and the solar industry found that the vast majority of solar panels made globally continue to have significant exposure to China and Xinjiang.The report, released Tuesday, also faulted the solar industry for becoming less transparent about the origin of its products. That has made it more difficult for buyers to determine whether solar panels purchased to power homes and electricity grids were made without forced labor.The analysis was done by Alan Crawford, a solar industry analyst, and Laura T. Murphy, a professor of human rights and contemporary slavery at Sheffield Hallam University in England, along with researchers who chose to remain anonymous for fear of retribution from the Chinese government. The London-based Modern Slavery and Human Rights Policy and Evidence Center provided funding.The solar industry has come under stiff criticism in recent years for its ties to Xinjiang, which is a key provider of polysilicon, the material from which solar panels are made. The region produces roughly a third of both the world’s polysilicon and its metallurgical-grade silicon, the material from which polysilicon is made.As a result, many firms have promised to scrutinize their supply chains, and several have set up factories in the United States or Southeast Asia to supply Western markets.The Solar Energy Industries Association, the industry’s biggest trade association, has been calling on companies to shift their supply chains and cut ties with Xinjiang. More than 340 companies have signed a pledge to keep their supply chains free of forced labor.But the report found that major global companies remain likely to have extensive exposure to Xinjiang, and potentially to forced labor, calling into question the progress. The report rated the world’s five biggest solar manufacturers — all with headquarters in China — as having “high” or “very high” potential exposure to Xinjiang.Some Chinese companies, like LONGi Solar and JA Solar, have clear ties to suppliers operating in Xinjiang, the report said. But even within “clean” supply chains set up to serve the United States or Europe, many companies still appear to be getting raw materials from suppliers that have exposure to Xinjiang, Ms. Murphy said.In many cases, according to the information they issue publicly, companies aren’t buying enough materials from outside Xinjiang to meet their production goals, indicating that they may be using undisclosed suppliers. In other cases, companies sent Ms. Murphy information about their supply chains that was directly contradictory.“At every stage, there’s missing information,” she said.China’s dominance over the solar industry has presented a challenge for the United States and other countries, which are rushing to deploy solar panels to mitigate the impact of climate change. China controls at least 80 percent of global manufacturing for each stage of the supply chain.The Chinese government denies the presence of forced labor in the work programs it runs in Xinjiang, which transfer groups of locals to mines and factories. But human rights experts say those who refuse such programs can face detention or other punishments. A U.S. law that went into effect in June last year, the Uyghur Force Labor Prevention Act, assumes that any product with materials from Xinjiang is made with forced labor until proved otherwise.Since then, U.S. customs officials have detained $1.64 billion of imported products, including an unspecified volume of solar panels, to check them for compliance. Solar companies say the detentions have caused widespread delays in solar installations in the United States, putting the country’s energy transition at risk.As solar projects continue to ramp up for the energy transition, the concern is that materials and equipment with ties to forced labor could grow.Over the next decade or so, the solar industry projects it will regularly install double the amount it has in past years, with annual growth expected to average 11 percent. In the near term, the manufacturing capacity in the United States is sufficient to meet less than a third of national demand, according to Wood McKenzie, an energy research and consulting firm.In June, Walk Free, an international human rights group, released a report estimating that 50 million people globally lived under forced labor conditions in 2021, an increase of 10 million from 2016.The organization attributed part of that growth to the much-needed but rapid increase in renewable energy to address climate change. The organization said it supported the energy transition but wanted to stop forced labor as a source of products.“Find it, fix it and prevent it,” said Grace Forrest, founding director of Walk Free.One example in the new report is JinkoSolar, a Chinese-owned company that has done some of the most extensive work to establish a supply chain outside China, including factories in Vietnam, Malaysia and the United States. But the report found that the company’s apparent use of unidentified raw materials from China kept its potential exposure to Xinjiang high.In May, Homeland Security Investigations, an arm of the Department of Homeland Security, raided JinkoSolar’s factory in Jacksonville, Fla., and an office in San Francisco. The inquiry appears to be linked to multiple concerns, among them that JinkoSolar misrepresented the source of some imports containing materials from Xinjiang and incorrectly classified products, resulting in an incorrect duty rate, a person with knowledge of the investigation said.The solar industry has begun publishing less information about the origins of its supplies, making it more difficult for buyers to determine whether solar panels are made without forced labor.Tony Cenicola/The New York TimesA spokesperson for Homeland Security Investigations declined to comment, citing a continuing investigation.JinkoSolar said in a statement that, based on the information available to the company, any speculation that the investigation was tied to forced labor was “unfounded,” and that it had a longstanding commitment to transparency and compliance with U.S. law.The company has also called claims that it had high exposure to Xinjiang “baseless.” It said that it was confident in its supply chain traceability, that products for the U.S. market were made only with U.S. and German polysilicon and that U.S. customs officials have reviewed and released JinkoSolar products.The new report also raised questions about the supply chain for Hanwha Qcells, a South Korean company that has become one of the largest producers of solar panels made in the United States. In January, Qcells announced a $2.5 billion expansion of its Georgia operations that would make it the sole company producing all of its components — ingots, wafers, cells and finished panels — in the United States.Despite Qcells’ growing U.S. presence, the report concluded that the company’s potential exposure to Xinjiang was very high, since the company uses undisclosed suppliers in China for the vast majority of its products.The report also said a Chinese company, Meike Solar Technology, which gets raw material from Xinjiang, reported Qcells as one of its largest customers in the first half of 2022, though Qcells said it had cut off the supplier relationship in 2021.“Qcells has adopted a code of conduct that prohibits forced labor made products in our supply chain, and we terminate agreements if suppliers fail to comply,” the company said in a statement. As part of its strategy to guard against products from forced labor, Qcells said, it uses maps to trace product origins and verification audits to ensure its suppliers follow its code of conduct. The company said none of its North America products had been detained by customs officials.In a statement to the researchers, LONGi said that it always complied with the applicable laws and ethics in jurisdictions where it operated, and that polysilicon from Xinjiang was used in modules that were sold in China.JA Solar did not respond to a request for comment from the researchers or from The New York Times. Both LONGi and JA Solar have been planning to set up factories in the United States.Tax credits and other incentives for clean energy offered under the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 have been unleashing new investments in the United States. On Friday, First Solar, a U.S.-based manufacturer, announced plans to invest up to $1.1 billion for a new U.S. factory at a location yet to be determined.But Michael Carr, executive director of Solar Energy Manufacturers for America, which represents U.S.-based solar manufacturers, said the United States had fallen so far behind China in solar manufacturing that an enormous amount of work, capital and technical knowledge would be needed to catch up.“It’s hard to have certainty — and some might say impossible to know — the sourcing of the polysilicon until you have a domestic supply of wafers and an alternative to China,” Mr. Carr said.Zolan Kanno-Youngs More

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    UPS Contract Talks Go Down to the Wire as a Possible Strike Looms

    With the Teamsters contract set to expire Aug. 1, pay for part-time workers is a major hurdle. A walkout could rattle the U.S. economy.Barely a week before the contract for more than 325,000 United Parcel Service workers expires, union and company negotiators have yet to reach an agreement to avert a strike that could knock the American economy off stride.UPS and the union, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, have resolved a variety of thorny issues, including heat safety and forced overtime. But they remain stalemated on pay for part-time workers, who account for more than half the union’s workers at UPS.A strike, which could come as soon as Aug. 1, could have significant consequences for the company, the e-commerce industry and the supply chain.UPS handles about one-quarter of the tens of millions of packages that are shipped daily in the United States, according to the Pitney Bowes Parcel Shipping Index. Experts have said competitors lack the scale to seamlessly replace that lost capacity.The Teamsters have cited the risks its members took to help generate the company’s strong pandemic-era performance as a reason that they deserve large raises. UPS’s adjusted net income rose more than 70 percent between 2019 and last year, to over $11 billion.The contract talks broke down on July 5 in vituperation. The two sides are to resume negotiations in the coming days, but the window for an agreement before the current five-year contract expires is tight.In a Facebook post this month, the union said the company’s latest offer would have “left behind” many part-timers, whose jobs include sorting packages and loading trucks. The post said part-timers earned “near-minimum wage in many parts of the country.”UPS, which says it relies heavily on part-timers to navigate bursts of activity over the course of a day and to ramp up its work force during busier months, said it had proposed significant wage increases before the talks broke down. According to the company, part-timers currently earn about $20 an hour on average after 30 days as well as paid time off, health care and pension benefits. The company noted that many part-timers graduated to jobs as full-time drivers, which pay $42 an hour on average after four years.The union has gone out of its way to highlight the challenges facing part-time workers. In television interviews and at rallies, the Teamsters president, Sean O’Brien, has emphasized what the union calls “part-time poverty” jobs. He has frequently been joined by leaders of other unions and politicians, including Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the New York Democrat.UPS said Wednesday that it was “prepared to increase our industry-leading pay and benefits.” But it is unclear if the company will satisfy the union’s demands.“UPS certainly wants to reach an agreement, but not at the expense of its ability to compete long-term,” said Alan Amling, a former UPS executive and a fellow at the University of Tennessee’s Global Supply Chain Institute.Professor Amling estimated that it would cost the company $850 million per year to increase wages $5 an hour for all part-time employees represented by the Teamsters.The company, which normally reports its second-quarter earnings in late July, has delayed the report this year until after the strike deadline. UPS said that the timing was within the required window for reporting its earnings and that it had never published a date other than Aug. 8 for the coming release.The sometimes-volatile negotiations began in April, and the Teamsters announced in mid-June that their UPS members had voted, with a 97 percent majority, to authorize a strike.Less than two weeks later, the union said that it was walking away from the table over an “appalling counterproposal” from the company on raises and cost-of-living adjustments and that a strike “now appears inevitable.”The two sides resumed their discussions the week before the Fourth of July and soon resolved what was arguably their most contentious issue: a class of worker created under the existing contract.UPS said the arrangement was intended to allow workers to take on dual roles, like sorting packages some days and driving on other days — especially Saturdays — to keep up with growing demand for weekend delivery.UPS handles about one-quarter of the tens of millions of packages that are shipped daily in the United States.Maansi Srivastava/The New York TimesBut the Teamsters said that the hybrid idea hadn’t come to pass, and that in practice the new category of workers drove full time Tuesday through Saturday, only for less pay than other drivers. (The company said some employees did work under the hybrid arrangement.)Under the agreement reached this month, the lower-paid category would be eliminated and workers who drove Tuesday through Saturday would be converted to regular full-time drivers.That agreement also stipulated that no driver would be required to work an unscheduled sixth day in a week, which drivers had at times been forced to do to keep up with Saturday demand.Despite progress on these issues, Mr. O’Brien could face a delicate test persuading members to approve a deal if it falls short of the lofty expectations he helped set. He won the union’s top position in 2021 while regularly criticizing his immediate predecessor, James P. Hoffa, for being too accommodating toward employers.Mr. O’Brien argued that Mr. Hoffa had effectively forced UPS workers to accept a deeply flawed contract in 2018, even after they voted it down, and accused his rival in the race to succeed Mr. Hoffa of being reluctant to strike against the company.He began focusing members’ attention on the contract and a possible strike even before formally taking over as president in March last year, and has spoken in superlative terms about the union’s goals for a new contract.“This UPS agreement is going to be the defining moment in organized labor,” he told activists with Teamsters for a Democratic Union, a group that backed his candidacy, in a speech last fall.The union under Mr. O’Brien has held training sessions in recent months for strike captains and contract action team members, who rally co-workers to help pressure the company.And he has strongly urged the White House not to wade into the contract negotiation. In his Boston youth, “if two people had a disagreement, and you had nothing to do with it, you just kept walking,” he said during a recent webinar with members. “We echoed that to the White House on numerous occasions.” (Administration officials have said they are in touch with both sides.)In some ways the context for this year’s negotiations resembles the circumstances of the nationwide Teamsters strike at UPS in 1997. UPS was also in the midst of several profitable years, and the rapid growth in its part-time work force loomed large.Sean O’Brien, the Teamsters president, right, at the Los Angeles rally. He was elected in 2021 after criticizing his predecessor as having been too accommodating toward employers.Jenna Schoenefeld for The New York TimesBut while a reformist president, Ron Carey, had mobilized the union for a fight, its ranks appeared divided between his supporters and those of Mr. Hoffa, who had narrowly lost an election for the union’s presidency the year before. The union may have more leverage this time because its members appear far more unified under Mr. O’Brien.Barry Eidlin, a sociologist at McGill University in Montreal who studies labor and follows the Teamsters closely, said that while the ramp-up to the current contract fight had lagged in some parts of the country, where more conservative local officials are less enthusiastic, Mr. O’Brien had no serious opposition within the union.“Not everybody is a fan of O’Brien, but they’re not actively organizing to undermine him the way people were with Ron Carey in the ’90s,” Dr. Eidlin said. “It’s a huge, huge difference.”Still, for all his pugilistic statements, Mr. O’Brien remains an establishment figure who appears to prefer reaching a deal to going on strike, and he has subtly acted to make one less likely.Earlier in the negotiations, Mr. O’Brien had said that UPS employees wouldn’t work beyond Aug. 1 without a ratified contract, and that the two sides needed to reach a deal by July 5 to give members a chance to approve it in time. But last weekend he said UPS employees would continue working on Aug. 1 as long as the two sides had reached a tentative deal.“This isn’t a shift,” a Teamsters spokeswoman said Friday by email. “This is how you get a contract. Our pressure and deadline on UPS forced them to move in ways they hadn’t before.”Niraj Chokshi More