Starbucks union workers near Buffalo walk out over Covid concerns.

The walkout, involving about half a dozen employees, is planned to last the rest of the week.

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Starbucks employees and supporters gathered last month in Buffalo to learn the results of a union election.Credit…Joshua Bessex/Associated Press

With coronavirus cases surging across New York State, employees at the only company-owned Starbucks store that is unionized staged a walkout on Wednesday to protest what they say are unsafe working conditions.

Kyli Hilaire, a barista at the store, which is in Elmwood in the Buffalo area, said that it was understaffed, that workers were struggling to enforce masking rules and that many of them were anxious about their health as they watched Covid-19 case counts spike in the region.

“One of our requests was to close the store to let the outbreak of Covid run its course so we can return with a full staff rather than burning out the partners who are able to work,” Ms. Hilaire, 20, said. “They’re refusing to take the necessary precautions so our partners are not coming to work sick.”

The walkout, involving about half a dozen employees, will last the rest of the week, she added. The company said it had not determined whether the store would stay open.

Starbucks regional leaders met with union members on Tuesday night to discuss their safety concerns, which had mounted after an employee at the Elmwood store tested positive for the coronavirus. The company said all employees who had been in close contact with the infected person had been notified and given the option to quarantine themselves for five days with pay while monitoring for symptoms or awaiting Covid test results.

“We have met and exceeded all C.D.C. and expert guidelines for safety,” said Reggie Borges, a Starbucks spokesman, adding that the company was giving store and district managers leeway to adjust their operations in response to the fast-spreading Omicron variant of the virus. “All leaders are empowered to make whatever changes make sense for their neighborhood, which includes shortening store hours or moving to 100 percent takeout only, which is the case in Buffalo.”

Starbucks announced on Monday that it would reduce the number of days that vaccinated, asymptomatic workers who tested positive for the virus must isolate themselves to five days from 10, following a shift in guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The company also said this week that all of its U.S. workers had to be vaccinated by Feb. 9 or submit to weekly testing, in compliance with the Biden administration’s vaccine rule for large employers.

When the Starbucks workers in Elmwood voted to form their union last month, in an election recognized by the National Labor Relations Board, the result represented a challenge to the company’s long-running argument that its workers enjoy good wages and do not need a union.

“It was kind of crazy walking out of work,” Ms. Hilaire added. “It was a first for everyone.”

Protestors clashed with security forces as they stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.Credit…Olivier Douliery/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

One year ago, the U.S. Capitol was stormed by a mob encouraged by President Donald Trump and other Republicans objecting to his loss in the 2020 presidential election and seeking to overturn the result.

This shocking event forced a reckoning for businesses, the DealBook newsletter reports. Companies were called to task for their political lobbying and spending, having directly and indirectly supported candidates and groups that opposed certifying the election. Many business leaders committed to changing their policies.

A month after the riot, we asked whether this would prove a turning point or a momentary blip. A year later, here’s what has and hasn’t changed in corporate America.

Companies have continued giving to lawmakers who tried to discredit the election.Promises to stop or pause funding to the 147 members of Congress who opposed certification did not always hold. Companies that made initial commitments have since donated nearly $2.4 million directly to these lawmakers’ political campaigns and leadership PACs, according to Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

Since the riot, more than 700 corporations and trade groups overall have given $18 million to groups that benefit those lawmakers, including the national Republican committees for the Senate and House. A handful of major companies, including American Express and Microsoft, have affirmed that they will not donate any money to the election objectors this year.

At the same time, a push for more information about corporate political activity has gained momentum.Last year, public company shareholders, including major institutional investors, approved more proposals than ever before asking for disclosure of company political spending, the Center for Political Accountability found. Companies also made oversight of donations a priority for directors, where previously middle management often handled such matters.

And corporate leaders have taken a stand on voting rights. In March, more than 70 Black executives called on corporations to oppose legislation that restricts voting in response to the swift passage of a Georgia law limiting ballot access, one of many bills introduced by Republican state lawmakers.

In April, hundreds of companies signed a statement in support of ballot access. (There were notable holdouts who wanted to stay above the political fray.) Some business leaders banded together to ask Washington for help in their states, but a national voting rights law has yet to pass.

On this somber anniversary, some business groups have reaffirmed the commitments they made a year ago to support the legitimacy of elections.

“We are at an inflection point in our nation’s democratic history, with unprecedented attacks on voting rights and our electoral system,” said Michael Porter, the Harvard Business School professor, adding that “protecting our democracy must become a top priority for business and political leaders.”

At America Knits in Swainsboro, Ga., workers earn up to twice as much per hour as they would in a service job.Credit…Lynsey Weatherspoon for The New York Times

Companies are testing whether the United States can regain some of the manufacturing output it ceded in recent decades to China and other countries.

That question has been contentious among workers whose jobs were lost to globalization. But with the supply-chain snarls resulting from the coronavirus pandemic, it has become intensely tangible from the consumer viewpoint as well, reports Nelson D. Schwartz for The New York Times.

America Knits, founded in 2019, has 65 workers producing premium T-shirts from locally grown cotton. Steve Hawkins, a company co-founder, expects the work force to increase to 100 in the coming months.

As he sees it, bringing manufacturing back from overseas — a move often called onshoring or reshoring — has found its moment. “America Knits shows it can be done and has been done,” he said.

Some corporate giants are keen on testing that premise, if not for finished goods then certainly for essential parts.

General Motors disclosed in December that it was considering spending upward of $4 billion to expand electric vehicle and battery production in Michigan.

Days later, Toyota announced plans for a $1.3 billion battery plant in North Carolina that will employ 1,750 people.

In October, Micron Technology said it planned to invest more than $150 billion in memory chip manufacturing and research and development over the next decade, with a portion of that to be spent in the United States.

And in November, the South Korean giant Samsung said that it would build a $17 billion semiconductor plant in Texas, its largest U.S. investment to date.

Bringing manufacturing back to the United States was a major theme of former President Donald J. Trump, who imposed tariffs on imports from allies and rivals, started a trade war with China and blocked or reworked trade agreements. Still, there was little change in the balance of trade or the inclination of companies operating in China to redirect investment to the United States.

Since the pandemic began, however, efforts to relocate manufacturing have accelerated, said Claudio Knizek, global leader for advanced manufacturing and mobility at EY-Parthenon, a strategy consulting firm.

“It may have reached a tipping point,” he said.

As the moves by auto and tech companies show, the United States can attract more sophisticated manufacturing. READ MORE

The Big Data Expo in Guiyang, China, last May. China’s once vibrant internet industry has been hit by a harsh and capricious regulatory crackdown.Credit…Alex Plavevski/EPA, via Shutterstock

The ranks of the unemployed technology workers are swelling, as China’s once vibrant internet industry is hit by a harsh and capricious regulatory crackdown.

Under the direction of China’s top leader, Xi Jinping, the government’s unbridled hand is meddling in big ways and small, leaving companies second-guessing their strategies and praying to not become the next targets for crackdown, writes Li Yuan for The New York Times.

Like their American counterparts, China’s biggest tech companies are regulated to limit abuses of power and to mitigate systemic risks. But Beijing’s hyper-political approach shows that it’s more about the Communist Party taking control of the industry than about leveling the playing field.

In mid-December, the country’s internet regulator said that it had ordered platforms to shut down more than 20,000 accounts of top influencers in 2021, including people who spoke ill of the country’s martyrs, entertainers involved in scandals and major livestreaming stars.

Alibaba was slapped with a record $2.8 billion antitrust fine last September. That was followed by a $530 million fine of Meituan, the food-delivery giant, a month later.

Weibo, China’s Twitter-like platform, was fined 44 times from January to November. Douban, the popular film- and book-reviewing site, was fined 20 times.

Some internet companies have been forced to shut down, while others are suffering from huge losses or disappointing earnings. Many publicly listed companies have seen their share prices fall by half, if not more.

In the third quarter of last year, China’s biggest internet company, Tencent, posted its slowest revenue growth since its public listing in 2004. The e-commerce giant Alibaba’s profitability declined by 38 percent from a year earlier.

Didi, once the most valuable start-up in the country, reported an operating loss of $6.3 billion for the first nine months of 2021. In July, the authorities stopped Didi from signing up new users and ordered app stores to remove its services pending a cybersecurity investigation.

Fear and gloom now rule as many tech companies lower their growth targets and lay off young, well-educated workers. READ MORE

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