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Starbucks union vote is latest test of resurgent US worker power – Al Jazeera English

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On a cloudy December Wednesday in Buffalo — a small city in New York State situated on the Canadian border just 32km (20 miles) from Niagara Falls — six workers from three Starbucks stores in the area convened in a nondescript red brick building. They stood in front of a wall plastered with a constellation of handwritten posters underneath a black banner that contained two images of a raised fist clenching a drink shaker and that read “partners becoming partners” in bold, white type.

The three stores they represent are looking to become the first Starbucks stores to unionise of the over 8,000 corporate-owned locations in the United States. The outcome of their efforts will be determined when employee votes are counted on Thursday, December 9.

The workers announced their intention to unionise in late August, claiming they had not received adequate hazard pay during the coronavirus pandemic and had experienced a steady decline in their working conditions over the last decade.

“We’ve had very little support in terms of what the company was handing down to us to keep us safe [during the pandemic],” said Michelle Eison, a barista and member of the Starbucks Workers United Organizing Committee.

“I’ve been with the company for over a decade, and I make about $1.20 an hour more than someone who was hired yesterday,” she said during a recent press conference. “In spite of all of that, it’s a company that I’m still very proud to be with. I’d like to bring them back to where they were when I started with them 10 years ago.”

For Eisen, that means giving front-line workers like her a say over company policy through the power of collective bargaining.

“The only way to have a say is to have a union negotiate a contract,” she said.

Starbucks workers in three Buffalo, New York stores announced their intention to unionise in late August [File: Lindsay DeDario/Reuters]

Jaz Brisak is also a member of the organising committee. Like Eisen, she is confident that the union will prevail on Thursday, but laments the roadblocks they’ve faced to get to this point.

Starbucks had asked the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to stop Thursday’s ballot count on the grounds that the vote should be extended to all Starbucks locations in Buffalo. The NLRB on Tuesday rejected the appeal, paving the way for the count to go forward.

“We shouldn’t have had to go through all of these obstacles, all of this union-busting that’s continuing up until the last possible second of getting our votes in,” Brisak said of the December 8 voting deadline. “We shouldn’t have to be intimidated in our own stores.”

She claims that Rossann Williams, president of Starbucks North America, and other store managers and executives have been padding eligible union voter lists, conducting anti-union listening sessions, and telling workers that their benefits will disappear should their unionising efforts be successful.

“Rossann Williams was in our stores on Thanksgiving doing all of this union-busting in a turkey hat, like she can fit in by pretending to be festive while really coming in to create a kind of hostile environment,” Brisak said.

Casey Moore, another member of the organising committee, told Al Jazeera that the support they’ve garnered from prominent progressive political figures Senator Bernie Sanders and  Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has been exciting and encouraging.

Starbucks Workers United members meet at their office in Buffalo, New York, on December 7, 2021 [Lindsay DeDario/Reuters]

“He committed to supporting us as we try to get Starbucks to the negotiating table,” Moore said of a call the group had with Sanders.

Starbucks says it has not unlawfully interfered with its workers’ legal right to engage in union-organising efforts.

“We categorically deny these claims,” Starbucks Director of Corporate Communications Reggie Borges said in an email to Al Jazeera.

Borges said allegations that Starbucks failed to give workers adequate hazard pay during the pandemic are “not accurate”, noting that the company “made three different wage investments in the last two years” bringing the average barista’s wage to $17 an hour.

“Compensation for tenured partners has been a consistent part of our company’s history,” Borges added.

A union-friendly climate

Organised labour has fallen far from its heyday in 1954, when nearly 35 percent of workers in the US belonged to a union.

By 2018, the unionisation rate stood at only 10.5 percent. But that number has ticked up slightly during the pandemic, hitting 10.8 percent last year, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

This year, labour market conditions have turned decidedly in favour of workers, as employers scramble to fill a near-record number of job openings by offering better pay and benefits.

The political climate in Washington has also arguably not been this worker-friendly in decades, thanks to President Joe Biden making “good-paying union jobs” a pillar of his Build Back Better economic policies.

The Cornell University Labor Action Tracker has identified more than 340 strikes in the US this year.

Some of those have involved the nation’s blue-chip firms. From mid-October through mid-November, workers at Deere & Co went on strike before ultimately securing a better contract deal from management.

From mid-October through mid-November, workers at Deere & Co went on strike before ultimately securing a better contract deal from management [File: Scott Morgan/Reuters]

Even the threat of strike action has made headlines. In November, healthcare giant Kaiser Permanente narrowly avoided a strike by agreeing to scrap a proposal for a cost-cutting two-tiered wage system.

But more strikes do not mean there’s been a strong surge in new union formation.

“It would be wrong to say there’s been a resurgence in organising,” explains Kate Bronfenbrenner, director of labour education research at Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations. “But there has definitely been an increase in strike activity.”

This year has also seen some high-profile union defeats.

Workers at an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama voted in April not to form a union. But they were granted a rare second vote last month after the NLRB concluded that Amazon had interfered with organising efforts.

And some efforts have been dragging on for months. Workers at four Kellogg’s plants have been striking since early October. Kellogg’s said it would start hiring permanent replacements after a majority of workers voted against the latest contract offer,

Benefits and drawbacks

Union membership has long been attractive to workers with its promise of better wages and job security.

Union members’ wages are more than 11 percent higher on average than those of their non-unionised peers, according to a study by the progressive think-tank the Economic Policy Institute.

And the benefits extend beyond individual workers, said Bronfenbrenner. “The upsides of stronger unions are a more democratic society,” she said. “When you have stronger unions, you have less inequality in society. You have less discrimination. You have less corporate abuse of power.”

Bronfenbrenner added that the only downsides are “for those who are making money at the expense of working people in this country”.

But some economists strongly disagree, saying that union contracts can feed inflation for US consumers, and even leave workers worse off.

“In the private sector, if you have a union … consumers may end up being the ones footing the bill in the form of higher prices,” said Veronique de Rugy, an economist and senior research fellow at the libertarian think-tank Mercatus Center at George Mason University.

“Often, private-sector unions end up raising the labour cost in ways that may end up being detrimental to workers,” de Rugy told Al Jazeera, noting that payment of union fees can be a condition of employment, while firms may simply decide to outsource jobs overseas or, like Boeing did last year, move jobs from union-friendly states to less union-friendly ones.

“The thing that’s best for employees, especially lower-wage employees, is a vibrant economy,” she said.

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Canada Dec retail sales seen down as COVID restrictions bite

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Canadian retail sales most likely fell by 2.1% in December as authorities imposed restrictions to fight the Omicron variant of the coronavirus and retailers faced challenges, Statistics Canada predicted on Friday.

Statscan also said retail sales rose 0.7% in November, which was less than the 1.2% gain forecast by analysts.

The flash estimate for December was based on responses from 50.6% of companies surveyed. The average response rate is 90.0%.

Statscan also said some shoppers decided to pull forward their purchases to November to avoid shortages caused by endemic supply chain issues.

Andrew Grantham, senior economist at CIBC Capital Markets, said the December dip was a little larger than he had expected.

“Bricks-and-mortar retailers will have likely continued to struggle in January due to Omicron-related restrictions and staff shortages,” he said in a note.

This weakness, he suggested, might “tip the scales slightly” in terms of persuading the Bank of Canada to hold steady when it makes a rate announcement on Jan 26. Money markets see about a 70% chance that the central bank will lift its key overnight rate from the current record low 0.25%. {BOCWATCH]

The bank has previously said it could raise rates as early as soon as April.

Stephen Brown, senior Canada economist at Capital Economics, said the December decrease in sales was likely to be more than 2.1%, given the rapid spread of Omicron that month.

November’s gain was fueled by higher sales at gasoline stations, and at building materials and gardening equipment and supplies dealers.

Sales rose in six of 11 subsectors, representing 63.8% of retail trade. In volume terms, retail sales edged up 0.2%.

The Canadian dollar was trading 0.1% lower at 1.2520 to the greenback, or 79.87 U.S. cents.

 

(Reporting by David Ljunggren in Ottawa and Fergal Smith in Toronto; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

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Canada's energy patch sees 'significant' boost in investment – BNN

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Investment in Canada’s oil and natural gas industry will rise 22 per cent this year to $32.8 billion (US$26.3 billion) amid higher prices for hydrocarbons, according to the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.

The $6 billion gain in investment marks the second straight year of “significant” increases, the oil and gas industry association said Thursday in a report. Spending on Canadian energy is rising as U.S. oil prices surge to their highest in seven years. West Texas Intermediate futures are trading at more than US$85 a barrel and natural gas up about 60 per cent in the last year amid an energy demand recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Investment in Canadian oil sands, the world’s third largest oil reserves, will jump by a third to $11.6 billion while investment in conventional oil and gas will climb 17 per cent to $21.2 billion from last year.

Still, CAPP warned that Canada is losing out to other energy-producing regions. Canada was viewed as a “top tier” jurisdiction for international investment in 2014, when it attracted $81 billion or more than 10 per cent of global upstream gas and oil investment. Forecasts suggest Canada’s market share has fallen to 6 per cent — a drop that represents more than US$21 billion in potential investment. 

This year’s investment growth will leave the industry about where it was in 2018, before the pandemic slashed demand, Tim McMillan, CAPP’s president and chief executive officer, said by phone.

Many Canadian energy companies, similar to their U.S. peers, are paying down debt and returning cash windfalls from oil price gains to shareholders through stock buybacks and higher dividends as investors seek higher returns over growth. Meanwhile, concern about the impact of higher-than-average carbon emissions from Canada’s oil sands prompted some banks and funds to pull investment from the industry in recent years.

“There has been pressure put on the banking industry and through other mechanisms, which is pushing investment to other jurisdictions,” McMillan said.

Investment in Newfoundland and Labrador’s offshore oil industry will rise about 6.7 per cent to $1.6 billion this year, according to CAPP. In comparison, the Gulf of Mexico’s offshore investment is expected to jump 21 per cent to $13.1 billion this year.

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Peloton stock is crashing on reports it's halting production of bikes and treadmills – Yahoo Canada Finance

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The bad news flywheel continues to be spinning in warp speed at Peloton (PTON). 

Shares of Peloton crashed 24% to $24.22 on Thursday after a CNBC report that the struggling fitness company would temporarily halt production of its bikes and treadmills due to sluggish consumer demand. Shares fell below the company’s September 2019 IPO price of $29. 

The company will reportedly stop producing its bikes for two months and treadmills for six weeks. 

A Peloton spokeswoman didn’t return Yahoo Finance’s request for comment. 

“Peloton’s inventory build at the end of last quarter made it clear that they were still operating a supply demand mismatch. Unfortunately, unlike the pandemic, this time supply meaningfully outpaced demand,” BMO Capital Markets analyst Simeon Siegel told Yahoo Finance. 

Siegel has been a long-time bear on Peloton with an Underperform rating on its stock. 

Shares are now down 30% in December amid bad headlines from a product placement in the new “Sex and the City” reboot. One of the show’s lead characters, Mr. Big, suffers a heart attack after a Peloton bike ride at the end of its premiere episode. 

Earlier, Peloton’s stock crashed more than 30% on Nov. 5 after the company said that connected fitness subscribers of 2.49 million was roughly in-line with analyst estimates. The number of workouts on the platform trended lower for the second consecutive quarter. Sales fell well short of analyst estimates, and the company posted a wider loss than expected.

Peloton also slashed its full-fiscal year outlook.

The company sees full-year sales of $4.4 billion to $4.8 billion, down sharply from $5.4 billion previously. Peloton expected a full-year adjusted operating loss of $425 million to $475 million. The company had expected an operating loss of $325 million.

Shares are down 83% in the past year.

More bad news could be right around the corner: Peloton’s earnings release on Feb. 8. 

“We expect that guidance, if given, will be kitchen-sinked at this point and await more color on these various news items on the call,” Macquarie analyst Paul Golding said. Golding rates Peloton at outperform with an $85 price target, which assumes 254% upside from current price levels.

Brian Sozzi is an editor-at-large and anchor at Yahoo Finance. Follow Sozzi on Twitter @BrianSozzi and on LinkedIn.

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