Join the Global Day of Action to #DefundClimateChaos, for a #FossilFreeFuture on the eve of the Glasgow Climate Summit. Deadline Glasgow: We demand that all financial institutions stop financing and funding the corporations engaged in climate destruction and human rights abuses by the start of the Glasgow Climate Talks on November 1, 2021, If we stop the flow
of money, we stop the
flow of oil.Mural Action: Help paint a block-long street mural using paint made from ashes for CA wildfiresYouth March: Support the #FridayforFuture global student-youth climate strike, led locally by YouthVS ApocalypseStreet Mural Action Initiated by: NDN Collective, Idle No More SF Bay, Climate Justice Street Mural Arts Project, AIM Central Foothills Chapter, CA MMIWP2SCo-Sponsors: Idle No More SF Bay, Youth Versus Apocalypse, Climate Justice Street Mural Project, Butte County 350, 350 Bay Area, 1000 Grandmothers Bay Area, NDN Collective, Climate Health Now, Stop the Money Pipeline, CA Poor Peoples Campaign-Bay Area, and many others to unsubscribe from this list http://lists.riseup.net/www/sigrequest/bayareacodepinkaction
of money, we stop the
flow of oil.
Thursday, November 11, 2021, San Francisco
Timeline of Events:
Meet at The Ferry Building, grab signs and get ready to march.
March along the scenic Embarcadero, the route is two miles, flat and wheelchair accessible
End at Aquatic Park near Hyde St. Pier for a short rally.
COP26 in Glasgow this November has the stated aim of “uniting the world to tackle climate change”.
Yet at the previous 25 COP conferences since 1995, world leaders have repeatedly failed to deliver on this.
We will not accept this failure—governments must act now!
“Stop killing us” is the message from XR Global South groups already suffering the most catastrophic consequences of climate change. We must also provide a voice for the millions of species and future generations who cannot speak for themselves.
XR will continue demanding immediate action to tackle the climate and ecological emergency in the run up to, during and beyond COP26.
Join us. Together we will tell these leaders to listen.
Bring yourself, friends, colleagues, neighbors, schoolmates, children, and community for a demonstration to let the power that be know we are watching them.
We will march with signs, hand crafted puppets, banners, a safety team, and each other to call for our right to safe and healthy planet for future generations by Non-Violent Direct Action.
To: U.S. Senate, U.S. House of Representatives
Sign Petition at:
Rashid just called with the news that he has been moved back to Virginia. His property is already there, and he will get to claim the most important items tomorrow. He is at a "medium security" level and is in general population. Basically, good news.
He asked me to convey his appreciation to everyone who wrote or called in his support during the time he was in Ohio.
His new address is:
Kevin Rashid Johnson #1007485
Nottoway Correctional Center
2892 Schutt Road
Burkeville, VA 23922
Freedom for Major Tillery! End his Life Imprisonment!
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Contact: Governor's Press Office
Friday, May 28, 2021
Governor Newsom Announces Clemency Actions, Signs Executive Order for Independent Investigation of Kevin Cooper Case
SACRAMENTO – Governor Gavin Newsom today announced that he has granted 14 pardons, 13 commutations and 8 medical reprieves. In addition, the Governor signed an executive order to launch an independent investigation of death row inmate Kevin Cooper’s case as part of the evaluation of Cooper’s application for clemency.
The investigation will review trial and appellate records in the case, the facts underlying the conviction and all available evidence, including the results of the recently conducted DNA tests previously ordered by the Governor to examine additional evidence in the case using the latest, most scientifically reliable forensic testing.
The text of the Governor’s executive order can be found here:
The California Constitution gives the Governor the authority to grant executive clemency in the form of a pardon, commutation or reprieve. These clemency grants recognize the applicants’ subsequent efforts in self-development or the existence of a medical exigency. They do not forgive or minimize the harm caused.
The Governor regards clemency as an important part of the criminal justice system that can incentivize accountability and rehabilitation, increase public safety by removing counterproductive barriers to successful reentry, correct unjust results in the legal system and address the health needs of incarcerated people with high medical risks.
A pardon may remove counterproductive barriers to employment and public service, restore civic rights and responsibilities and prevent unjust collateral consequences of conviction, such as deportation and permanent family separation. A pardon does not expunge or erase a conviction.
A commutation modifies a sentence, making an incarcerated person eligible for an earlier release or allowing them to go before the Board of Parole Hearings for a hearing at which Parole Commissioners determine whether the individual is suitable for release.
A reprieve allows individuals classified by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation as high medical risk to serve their sentences in appropriate alternative placements in the community consistent with public health and public safety.
The Governor weighs numerous factors in his review of clemency applications, including an applicant’s self-development and conduct since the offense, whether the grant is consistent with public safety and in the interest of justice, and the impact of a grant on the community, including crime victims and survivors.
While in office, Governor Newsom has granted a total of 86 pardons, 92 commutations and 28 reprieves.
The Governor’s Office encourages victims, survivors, and witnesses to register with CDCR’s Office of Victims and Survivors Rights and Services to receive information about an incarcerated person’s status. For general Information about victim services, to learn about victim-offender dialogues, or to register or update a registration confidentially, please visit:
www.cdcr.ca.gov/Victim_Services/ or call 1-877-256-6877 (toll free).
Copies of the gubernatorial clemency certificates announced today can be found here:
Additional information on executive clemency can be found here:
Questions and comments may be sent to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Resources for Resisting Federal Repression
Since June of 2020, activists have been subjected to an increasingly aggressive crackdown on protests by federal law enforcement. The federal response to the movement for Black Lives has included federal criminal charges for activists, door knocks by federal law enforcement agents, and increased use of federal troops to violently police protests.
The NLG National Office is releasing this resource page for activists who are resisting federal repression. It includes a link to our emergency hotline numbers, as well as our library of Know-Your-Rights materials, our recent federal repression webinar, and a list of some of our recommended resources for activists. We will continue to update this page.
If you are contacted by federal law enforcement you should exercise all of your rights. It is always advisable to speak to an attorney before responding to federal authorities.
State and Local Hotlines
If you have been contacted by the FBI or other federal law enforcement, in one of the following areas, you may be able to get help or information from one of these local NLG hotlines for:
- Portland, Oregon: (833) 680-1312
- San Francisco, California: (415) 285-1041 or email@example.com
- Seattle, Washington: (206) 658-7963
If you are located in an area with no hotline, you can call the following number:
Know Your Rights Materials
The NLG maintains a library of basic Know-Your-Rights guides.
- Know Your Rights During Covid-19
- You Have The Right To Remain Silent: A Know Your Rights Guide for Encounters with Law Enforcement
- Operation Backfire: For Environmental and Animal Rights Activists
WEBINAR: Federal Repression of Activists & Their Lawyers: Legal & Ethical Strategies to Defend Our Movements: presented by NLG-NYC and NLG National Office
We also recommend the following resources:
- Grand Juries: Slideshow
Movement for Black Lives Legal Resources
By Ben Austen and Khalil Gibran Muhammad, Oct. 23, 2021
Mr. Austen is working on a book about crime, punishment and parole. Dr. Muhammad is a professor of history, race and public policy at Harvard.
“Both of us have visited and studied prisons in other Western countries, where 20-year sentences are considered extreme and are exceptionally rare. In Germany, according to a 2013 Vera Institute of Justice report, fewer than 100 people have prison terms longer than 15 years; in the Netherlands, all but a tiny percentage are sentenced to four years or less. In U.S. prisons, life sentences are routine.”https://www.nytimes.com/2021/10/23/opinion/sunday/illinois-parole-mass-incarceration.html
In 2018, at a maximum-security prison an hour outside of Chicago, a debate team gathered on a stage to argue the merits of reinstating parole in Illinois. Under current law — Illinois abolished discretionary parole in 1978 for all future offenders — none of the 14 members of the Stateville Correctional Center debate team would ever get to appear before a parole board.
Their coach, Katrina Burlet, who also led a team at an evangelical liberal arts college, invited the 177 members of the Illinois General Assembly to attend the debate. Around twenty of the lawmakers showed up in the prison’s theater.
Raul Dorado, who was 20 years into a life sentence, told the politicians that he and the other men on the debate team were imprisoned between the ages of 16 and 26. “There is a reason for this,” he said. “People simply age out of crime.”
The Bureau of Justice Statistics and countless studies show that Mr. Dorado was right about this. Arrest rates for both violent and nonviolent crimes generally peak when people are in their late teens and early 20s, and from there criminal behavior drops steadily. Mr. Dorado said that without parole he and his teammates were likely to die in prison. Half of them had been sentenced to life. Among the others, the shortest sentence was 40 years.
Oscar Parham, whose geniality had earned him the nickname Smiley, said that the most severe punishments should be restricted to the most egregious offenders, to the rare mass murderer or serial killer. Yet in prisons across the country, more than 200,000 people are serving life or virtual life sentences of 50 years or more.
“Was I a monster who threatened the very fabric of society like the natural-life sentence suggests?” he asked. Mr. Parham was a teenager in a gang when a friend killed two people during a drug deal. He was convicted of the double murder under the legal theory of “accountability,” which allows prosecutors to charge accomplices or associates as if they committed the actual offense. “Just as prisoners must change and reform, so must the system,” Mr. Parham said.
Weeks after the public debate, the prison disbanded the Stateville team. The coach was barred from entering any state prison in Illinois. One explanation came from the head of the Illinois Department of Corrections at the time, who said the coach didn’t follow “safety and security practices.”
But the team had already captured the attention of several of the visiting legislators. The debaters drafted a bill that would entitle everyone in prison in Illinois to a parole review. With supporters on the outside, five members of the team went on to form a group called Parole Illinois. They raised money and hired an organizer. Now Illinois lawmakers have an opportunity to pass a parole reform bill that is the result of the Stateville debate team’s years of work.
Senate Bill 2333 would entitle people imprisoned in the state who serve at least 20 years to a parole review. There are 2,500 people who have already spent two decades in prison in Illinois; many thousands more will eventually surpass that mark. Under the proposed law, they wouldn’t be automatically released; a parole board would evaluate them, assessing the risks and benefits of restoring their freedom.
Both of us have visited and studied prisons in other Western countries, where 20-year sentences are considered extreme and are exceptionally rare. In Germany, according to a 2013 Vera Institute of Justice report, fewer than 100 people have prison terms longer than 15 years; in the Netherlands, all but a tiny percentage are sentenced to four years or less. In U.S. prisons, life sentences are routine.
The pending Illinois law, if passed, might lead other states to follow suit, chipping away at one of the many pillars of mass incarceration. The legislation is a hopeful sign of changing sensibilities about people whose transformed lives have meant very little in the machinery of mass punishment.
Parole has a complicated history in this country, one that helps explain how we got into the crisis of mass incarceration and maybe how we might find a way out. When it began in the United States in the 19th century, parole was envisioned as a means of rehabilitating people in prison by encouraging good behavior with the possibility of early release.
By the 1970s, though, parole boards were under attack. Conservatives pointed to rising crime and civil disorder and denounced parole as overly lenient. They said discretionary release invariably sent dangerous people back onto the streets and encouraged more crime, since soft punishments failed as deterrents.
On the other end of the political spectrum, people behind bars were busy protesting prison conditions. They said parole boards lacked transparency and systematically discriminated against petitioners of color. They and their supporters believed that clearly defined fixed prison terms would be less susceptible to a parole board’s bias, racism and indifference, and that as a result these sentences would be shorter. They were wrong.
Sixteen states and the federal government eventually got rid of or severely curtailed their existing parole systems. Other states soon restricted parole eligibility to a small subset of their prison populations. But eliminating and restricting parole turned out to be the first of the sentencing reforms in the country’s punitive turn.
The floodgates opened onto mandatory minimums, truth-in-sentencing, three strikes and you’re out. More people were sentenced to prison, and the fixed terms grew longer and longer. The number of people in state and federal prisons ballooned to a peak of 1.6 million in 2009 from 200,000 in the 1970s. The numbers have fallen moderately since.
A large body of evidence has documented the destruction caused by long prison terms. Not only are people over 50 the fastest-growing segment in U.S. prisons, but they are also exposed to ever-greater mental and physical health risks with each passing year — a crisis made even more apparent during the Covid-19 pandemic.
One of us was a contributor to a 2014 National Research Council report on the creation and consequences of mass incarceration. The report recommends a return to a principle of parsimony, the sensible idea that a punishment should be only as severe as is required to prevent future offending. Too much punishment, the report noted, can have the opposite effect, when “justice institutions lose legitimacy.”
Many legal scholars and criminologists now agree that whatever prisons are supposed to accomplish — whether it’s incapacitation, accountability, rehabilitation or deterrence — it can be achieved within two decades. The nonprofit Sentencing Project argues that the United States should follow the lead of other countries and cap prison terms at 20 years, barring exceptional circumstances. The Model Penal Code of the American Law Institute, a century-old organization led by judges, law professors and legal experts, proposes reviewing long sentences for resentencing or release after 15 years.
In Virginia, there’s also a movement to reinstate parole eligibility. A bill in New York State would grant those 55 and older who have served at least 15 years the right to a hearing. Expanding parole consideration in Illinois and elsewhere won’t be enough to roll back the destructive effects of mass incarceration. But it would be an important step in continuing efforts to reduce prison numbers, and it could usher in other necessary changes.
Discretionary parole can’t succeed if brutal prison conditions aren’t improved, if there aren’t educational and rehabilitative opportunities and if those released from prison on parole are set up to fail. In 2010, a fifth of all people entering the country’s state prisons were there not for committing another crime but for technical violations of the conditions of their parole release.
Attending parole hearings, we’ve also seen that parole consideration offers the potential of achieving on a larger scale what the Stateville team pulled off at its debate: forcing a reckoning with the humanity of people in prison and with the injustice of extreme prison terms.
Senate Bill 2333 has a dozen sponsors and was endorsed by local celebrities like Chance the Rapper and Common. But in the first days of the legislative session in Illinois this month, John Connor, the chairman of the Senate Criminal Law Committee, did not bring the bill up for a vote because he didn’t think it could garner enough support. He also feared the possibility of even a single paroled sex offender going on to commit a grievous crime. Whether or not Illinois lawmakers decide to pass these reforms in the remaining days of the legislative session next week, they should keep trying — and not miss the opportunity to bring parole back.
Joseph Dole, the policy director of Parole Illinois, has served 23 years of a life sentence, including a decade in an Illinois supermax prison that was subsequently shuttered after it became known for its abusive forms of isolation and deprivation. In a recent email from Stateville, he explained that the substance of what he and his teammates said at the debate was less significant than what they demonstrated to the lawmakers in attendance: that they were real people with intelligence, ambitions and valid concerns.
“That,” Mr. Dole wrote, “did more than anything else to dispel the societal narrative that ‘prisoners’ are all ‘evil,’ irredeemable monsters that should be incarcerated unto death.”
The Defense Ministry said the groups work for leftist militants. Critics said the charge was aimed at quelling scrutiny of Israeli rights abuses.
By Patrick Kingsley, Published Oct. 22, 2021, Updated Oct. 23, 2021
“An Israeli counterterrorism law mandates jail terms for members of groups designated as terrorist organizations, as well as for people who express support for these groups.”
A rally organized by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, in Gaza City, in June. Credit...Felipe Dana/Associated Press
JERUSALEM — Israel designated six major Palestinian rights watchdogs as terrorist organizations on Friday, a move that critics said would restrict the ability of Palestinian civil society to scrutinize and challenge Israeli government activity in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Benny Gantz, Israel’s defense minister, ruled that the six groups were a front for a small leftist militant group, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, that does not recognize the State of Israel. The group rose to prominence in the 1960s and ’70s for its hijacking of several passenger aircraft, and later claimed responsibility for suicide attacks during a Palestinian uprising in the early 2000s.
The six groups named were: Al Haq; Addameer; Defense For Children International-Palestine; Bisan; the Union of Agricultural Work Committees; and the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees.
The six are variously involved in highlighting rights abuses by Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, as well as in promoting the rights of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, women, farmworkers and children.
Some of the groups were prominent in a campaign to prosecute Israeli leaders for war crimes at the International Criminal Court. They have often worked in partnership with leading global rights groups, such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch; were frequently cited in international news outlets, including The New York Times; and have received funding from foreign countries and institutions, including the European Union.
The Ministry of Defense said in a statement that the groups used rights activism as a cover, “but in practice belong and constitute an arm” of the Popular Front, “the main activity of which is the liberation of Palestine and destruction of Israel.”
The statement said that the groups funneled their foreign funding to the Popular Front, and used it to promote terrorism.
The Popular Front is considered a terrorist organization by the United States and other countries, as well as by the European Union.
An Israeli counterterrorism law mandates jail terms for members of groups designated as terrorist organizations, as well as for people who express support for these groups.
Israel has often targeted rights campaigners in the past: barring them from travel, raiding their offices, or deporting them. But international rights groups said the designations on Friday were a watershed.
In a joint statement, Amnesty and H.R.W. said: “This decision is an alarming escalation that threatens to shut down the work of Palestine’s most prominent civil society organizations.”
The statement added: “They represent the best of global civil society. We stand with them in challenging this outrageous decision.”
A spokesman for the U.S. State Department, Ned Price, said in a statement that the United States had not been given advance notice about the designations and would ask Israel to clarify its reasoning.
Mr. Price said: “The U.S. believes respect for human rights, fundamental freedoms and a strong civil society are critically important to responsible and responsive governance.”
He added: “We would refer you to the Government of Israel for an explanation of their rationale for making these designations.”
The highest-profile target of the designations was Al Haq, sometimes described as the leading Palestinian rights group. Its director, Shawan Jabarin, has frequently been accused by Israelis of being a member of the Popular Front, and he was jailed during the 1980s for his association with the group.
Mr. Jabarin denied the accusations in a telephone interview.
“This is a false claim, completely,” Mr. Jabarin said. “I am not a member, and I wasn’t.”
He added that his group was being targeted because of its efforts to hold the Israeli government to account, for example at the International Criminal Court.
“This is a very political decision,” he said. “This is because of the nature of the work we are doing at the international level.”
A spokesman for Defense for Children International-Palestine said the group rejected the claims and said that its critics in Britain had been forced to recant similar claims after a libel case in 2020.
Some of the groups did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The six groups have two months to appeal the decision. The Israeli Army declined to comment on whether a similar edict had been issued in the occupied territories, where all the groups are based.
Israeli rights activists criticized the designations, with some saying that it undermined the new Israeli government’s stated aim of “shrinking the conflict” with the Palestinians.
B’Tselem, an Israeli rights group, said in a statement: “The current Israeli government is not one of change, but rather of a continuation of the violent apartheid regime.”
The Israeli government denies it runs an apartheid system in the West Bank, and says it is taking steps to improve the lives of Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza. In recent days, it has given identity papers to thousands of West Bank Palestinians who had been living without proper documentation for years, and issued an additional 3,000 work permits to Palestinians in Gaza.
AFL-CIO leadership cited a procedural rule to tell the San Francisco Labor Council it couldn’t even debate a resolution on BDS.
By Isaac Scher, October 21 2021https://theintercept.com/2021/10/21/palestine-bds-san-francisco-labor-afl-cio/?utm_medium=email&utm_source=The%20Intercept%20Newsletter
THE NATIONAL LEADERSHIP of the largest labor federation in the country is trying to stop one of its affiliates from debating and voting on a resolution that condemns Israeli violence against Palestinians, calls for an end to U.S. aid to Israel, and endorses the Palestinian-led boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement known as BDS.
In late September, an AFL-CIO official sent a memo to the San Francisco Labor Council with the subject line “Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Resolution.” The memo, obtained by The Intercept, said the council “may not hold a vote on [the] resolution and thus any debate is not germane at your meeting,” and it cited a procedural stipulation that appears to disallow local affiliates of the AFL-CIO from codifying positions that do not align with the AFL-CIO’s. Copied on the letter are the AFL-CIO’s highest-ranking officials: president, executive vice president, general counsel, and several directors.
“This is direct censorship,” said Monadel Herzallah, a member of the national committee of the U.S. Palestinian Community Network and a teacher with the San Francisco Teachers Union, part of the SFLC. “And it is a slap in the face to every Palestinian.” He said the AFL-CIO’s leadership seeks to stop the resolution from “the top down.” The leadership knows that the SFLC, which represents more than 150 unions and 100,000 workers, “has a rich, progressive history of supporting movements around the world.”
The AFL-CIO did not respond to a detailed list of questions. Fernando Losada, one of the officials copied on the memo, told the Jewish news outlet J. last month that foreign policy issues are determined at the national level. “Expressions of solidarity [are] always good,” said Losada, a national bargaining director and Western regional field director. “But in terms of setting international policy, that is the purview of the national AFL-CIO through our organizational processes. There’s an existing policy in solidarity with working people in the Holy Land. It does not include BDS.”
The resolution was originally introduced on June 14, weeks after Palestinian resistance to Israel’s planned expulsions of Palestinians from Sheikh Jarrah, a neighborhood in occupied East Jerusalem, precipitated Israeli assaults on Gaza, the West Bank, and Israel proper and drew international attention. On May 18, Palestinian unionists held a daylong general strike and called on trade unions around the world to join them in solidarity. Across the U.S., large contingents of organized labor staged actions for the first time. Unionized teachers, roofers, electricians, tech engineers, janitors, and journalists issued resolutions and statements condemning Israeli violence against Palestinians. In the Bay Area, stevedores in Oakland refused to unload Israeli shipping cargo, as they did during the Israeli assault on Gaza in 2014. Many of the union locals are affiliated with the AFL-CIO. Only one of them, the teachers union in San Francisco, which is part of the SFLC, endorsed BDS — the first K-12 union in the nation to do so.
THE SFLC RESOLUTION endorses BDS “against Apartheid in Israel,” and calls upon President Joe Biden to halt the U.S.’s $3.8 billion in annual military aid to Israel. The BDS movement is a nonviolent challenge to the corporate and governmental operations of a state that administers a “regime of racial discrimination against the Palestinian people,” wrote numerous Palestinian advocacy organizations in a joint report to the United Nations, in 2019. As BDS has gained prominence since its 2006 founding, however, numerous allies of Israel have worked to delegitimize the movement and to conflate it with antisemitism. Thirty-two states in the U.S. have anti-boycott laws on the books, and the German Parliament designated BDS as antisemitic.
In telling the SFLC not to debate a resolution on BDS, the AFL-CIO cited the following rule: “Central labor councils, as chartered organizations of the AFL-CIO, shall conform their activities on national affairs to the policies of the AFL-CIO, on state matters to the policies of their respective state federations, and, if applicable, on regional matters to the policies of their respective area labor councils.”
The letter does not specify what policy an endorsement of BDS would contravene, and the federation did not respond to a question about its policy on boycotting Israel. But AFL-CIO leadership has come out against BDS in the past. In 2007, the AFL-CIO’s leaders signed a statement opposing BDS. “Some of them have retired or died since the statement was first put out,” said the labor historian Jeff Schuhrke, a lecturer at the University of Illinois Chicago. “But there’s been no shift in policy since then.”
In 2009, then-president of the AFL-CIO Richard Trumka explicitly called anti-Zionism antisemitic. The AFL-CIO and its affiliates have purchased millions of dollars in Israeli bonds. “Invest,” said then-secretary Trumka in 1999, “in the bonds that are such a tangible link between our movement and the continuing struggle to nurture and protect the State of Israel.”
Decades ago, when two AFL-CIO affiliates joined a committee opposing bank loans to apartheid South Africa in 1977, national leadership did not get in their way. (Not until 1984 would the national AFL-CIO take its first action against South Africa, banning goods imported from the country.) “When you go back and look” at those affiliates’ boycotts, Schuhrke said, “you won’t find AFL-CIO officials jumping in and waving obscure rules in people’s faces to try to derail things.”
THE LEADERSHIP’S INTERVENTION comes after several months of delays within the SFLC. On June 14, the council voted by a slim margin to table the resolution 42-38, according to a source granted anonymity to speak about internal proceedings. A subcommittee was formed to “try to find common ground” on the resolution, the source said.
Leaders of the SFLC met with national representatives of the AFL-CIO after the resolution was tabled, according to Rudy Gonzalez, a member of the SFLC’s executive committee. Two senior officials — international director Cathy Feingold and Losada, the bargaining director — told SFLC leaders that the resolution was divisive, said Gonzalez, who also co-chairs the subcommittee on the Palestine resolution. They recommended that the SFLC try to change the AFL-CIO’s policy on boycotting Israel at the national convention, scheduled for June 2022. “That change in policy would have to originate within an affiliated council or an affiliated national union,” said the source. “In the case of SFLC, it’s a catch-22.” (Feingold and Losada did not respond to requests for comment.)
The subcommittee has not found a compromise. And the AFL-CIO’s letter levies considerable pressure on the labor council. The council’s pro-Palestinian unionists are pushing for a vote, and one of them intends to bring the resolution at the SFLC’s next meeting, on October 25. “If people want to symbolically do that, they can, but it would be out of order” given the AFL-CIO’s directive, said Gonzalez.
Frank Lara, vice president of the San Francisco Teachers Union and an incoming delegate of the SFLC, said the memo contravenes basic union principles. “I want to believe that unions are one of the most democratic institutions,” he said. “To suddenly see a labor organization trump the membership? That’s problematic to say the least. If you’re the president [of the AFL-CIO] sending daily emails saying ‘Stand up for Black lives,’ and then you say ‘Don’t touch this issue,’ I think any educator would see this as terrible pedagogy and politics.”
A knot of problems with Amazon’s system for handling paid and unpaid leaves has led to devastating consequences for workers.
By Jodi Kantor, Karen Weise and Grace Ashford, Published Oct. 24, 2021, Updated Oct. 25, 2021
Tara Jones sent an email directly to Jeff Bezos after an unresolved mistake in her paycheck. “I’m crying as I write this email because I’m tired of calling people over and over again and no resolution.”Joseph Rushmore for The New York Times
A year ago, Tara Jones, an Amazon warehouse worker in Oklahoma, cradled her newborn, glanced over her pay stub on her phone and noticed that she had been underpaid by a significant chunk: $90 out of $540.
The mistake kept repeating even after she reported the issue. Ms. Jones, who had taken accounting classes at community college, grew so exasperated that she wrote an email to Jeff Bezos, the company’s founder.
“I’m behind on bills, all because the pay team messed up,” she wrote weeks later. “I’m crying as I write this email.”
Unbeknown to Ms. Jones, her message to Mr. Bezos set off an internal investigation, and a discovery: Ms. Jones was far from alone. For at least a year and a half — including during periods of record profit — Amazon had been shortchanging new parents, patients dealing with medical crises and other vulnerable workers on leave, according to a confidential report on the findings. Some of the pay calculations at her facility had been wrong since it opened its doors over a year before. As many as 179 of the company’s other warehouses had potentially been affected, too.
Amazon is still identifying and repaying workers to this day, according to Kelly Nantel, a company spokeswoman.
That error is only one strand in a longstanding knot of problems with Amazon’s system for handling paid and unpaid leaves, according to dozens of interviews and hundreds of pages of internal documents obtained by The New York Times. Together, the records and interviews reveal that the issues have been more widespread — affecting the company’s blue-collar and white-collar workers — and more harmful than previously known, amounting to what several company insiders described as one of its gravest human resources problems.
Workers across the country facing medical problems and other life crises have been fired when the attendance software mistakenly marked them as no-shows, according to former and current human resources staff members, some of whom would speak only anonymously for fear of retribution. Doctors’ notes vanished into black holes in Amazon’s databases. Employees struggled to even reach their case managers, wading through automated phone trees that routed their calls to overwhelmed back-office staff in Costa Rica, India and Las Vegas. And the whole leave system was run on a patchwork of programs that often didn’t speak to one another.
Some workers who were ready to return found that the system was too backed up to process them, resulting in weeks or months of lost income. Higher-paid corporate employees, who had to navigate the same systems, found that arranging a routine leave could turn into a morass.
In internal correspondence, company administrators warned of “inadequate service levels,” “deficient processes” and systems that are “prone to delay and error.”
The extent of the problem puts in stark relief how Amazon’s workers routinely took a back seat to customers during the company’s meteoric rise to retail dominance. Amazon built cutting-edge package processing facilities to cater to shoppers’ appetite for fast delivery, far outpacing competitors. But the business did not devote enough resources and attention to how it served employees, according to many longtime workers.
“A lot of times, because we’ve optimized for the customer experience, we’ve been focused on that,” Bethany Reyes, who was recently put in charge of fixing the leave system, said in an interview. She stressed that the company was working hard to rebalance those priorities.
The company’s treatment of its huge work force — now more than 1.3 million people and expanding rapidly — faces mounting scrutiny. Labor activists and some lawmakers say that the company does not adequately protect the safety of warehouse employees, and that it unfairly punishes internal critics. This year, workers in Alabama, upset about the company’s minute-by-minute monitoring of their productivity, organized a serious, though ultimately failed, unionization threat against the company.
In June, a Times investigation detailed how badly the leave process jammed during the pandemic, finding that it was one of many employment lapses during the company’s greatest moment of financial success. Since then, Amazon has emphasized a pledge to become “Earth’s best employer.” Andy Jassy, who replaced Mr. Bezos as chief executive in July, recently singled out the leave system as a place where it can demonstrate its commitment to improve. The process “didn’t work the way we wanted it to work,” he said at an event this month.
In response to the more recent findings on the troubles in its leave program, Amazon elaborated on its efforts to fix the system’s “pain points” and “pay issues,” as Ms. Reyes put it in the interview. She called the erroneous terminations “the most dire issue that you could have.” The company is hiring hundreds of employees, streamlining and connecting systems, clarifying its communications and training human resources staff members to be more empathetic.
But many issues persist, causing breakdowns that have proved devastating. This spring, a Tennessee warehouse worker abruptly stopped receiving disability payments, leaving his family struggling to pay for food, transportation or medical care.
“Not a word that there had ever been a problem,” said James Watts, 54, who worked at Amazon in Chattanooga for six years before repeated heart attacks and strokes forced him to go on disability leave. The sudden loss of his benefits caused a cascade of calamities: Because he was without pay for two weeks, his car was repossessed. To afford food and doctors’ bills, Mr. Watts and his wife sold their wedding rings.
“We’re losing everything,” he said.
The benefits restarted without explanation several months later, but the couple are still struggling to regain their footing. Ms. Nantel said that Amazon regretted Mr. Watts’s situation, that the process was too confusing and that it was working to simplify the process of navigating leaves.
As the country’s second largest private employer, Amazon offers a wide array of leaves — paid or unpaid, medical or personal, legally mandated or not. While Amazon used to outsource the management of its leave programs, it brought the effort in-house when providers couldn’t keep up with its growth. It is now one of the largest leave administrators in the country.
Employees apply for leaves online, on an internal app, or wade through automated phone trees. The technology that Amazon uses to manage leaves is a patchwork of software from a variety of companies — including Salesforce, Oracle and Kronos — that do not connect seamlessly.
That complexity forces human resource employees to input many approved leaves, an effort that last fall alone required 67 full-time employees, an internal document shows. Ms. Reyes said a permanent bridge between the programs is scheduled to be completed in March, with incremental improvements in the meantime.
Current and former employees involved in administering leaves say that the company’s answer has often been to push them so hard that some required leaves themselves. Last year, in an email sent out on a Friday about a Sunday deadline, a corporate manager of the leave system scolded his teams to do more.
“You all know what needs to be accomplished and by when,” he wrote. “No exceptions!”
Ms. Reyes said that employee burnout was a huge concern of hers as she was taking on her new role and that she was trying to address it in several ways.
Amazon’s own teams have not always been well-versed in the system, internal documents show. An external assessment last fall found that the back-office staff members who talk with employees “do not understand” the process for taking leaves and regularly gave incorrect information to workers. In one audited call, which dragged on for 29 minutes, the phone agent told a worker that he was too new to be eligible for short-term disability leave, when in fact workers are eligible from their first day.
Ms. Reyes said that with improved training, her teams could now resolve more than nine out of 10 issues on the first call.
In some cases, Amazon has been accused of violating the law. In 2017, Leslie Tullis, who managed a subscription product for children, faced a mounting domestic violence crisis and requested an unpaid leave that employers must offer under Washington State law to protect victims. Once approved, Ms. Tullis would be allowed to work intermittently; she could be absent from work as much as necessary, and with little notice; and she would be protected against retaliation.
Amazon granted the leave, but the company didn’t seem to understand what it had said yes to. It had no policy that corresponded to the law of the company’s home state, court documents show. Ms. Tullis said she spent as many as eight hours a week dealing with the company to manage her leave. At one point, she was moving regularly to keep her children safe. Despite the legal protections, her bosses would become visibly frustrated when she was behind on work, “like I was betraying them every day,” she said.
In June 2019, after she took two days of leave to deal with the latest emergency in a continuing family crisis just before a performance plan was due, she was fired for missing the deadline by two days. The Washington State attorney general’s office took up her case, calling Amazon’s leave reporting system “a failure” and arguing that the company retaliated in violation of the state law.
Amazon is fighting the case. Ms. Nantel said the company gave Ms. Tullis flexibility and support, as well as the equivalent of about seven months of unpaid leave over two years. She said Ms. Tullis was fired not in retaliation but because her performance faltered while she was not on leave.
Just before she was dismissed, she emailed her manager, stunned that the deadline was not pushed back to accommodate the exact type of crisis the leave law was intended to protect. “Domestic violence is a series of emergencies,” Ms. Tullis wrote in an email, “and the victims don’t get to pick when it ends.”
Nearly every ingredient, from the turkey to the after-dinner coffee, is expected to cost more than ever, for a host of reasons.
By Kim Severson, Oct. 25, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/10/25/dining/thanksgiving-inflation-supply-chain-food-costs.html
Thanksgiving 2021 is shaping up to be the most expensive meal in the history of the holiday.
Caroline Hoffman is already stashing canned pumpkin in the kitchen of her Chicago apartment when she finds some for under a dollar. She recently spent almost $2 more for the vanilla she’ll need to bake pumpkin bread and other desserts for the various Friendsgiving celebrations she’s been invited to.
Matthew McClure paid 20 percent more this month than he did last year for the 25 pasture-raised turkeys he plans to roast at the Hive, the Bentonville, Ark., restaurant where he is the executive chef. And Norman Brown, director of sweet-potato sales for Wada Farms in Raleigh, N.C., is paying truckers nearly twice as much as usual to haul the crop to other parts of the country.
“I never seen anything like it, and I’ve been running sweet potatoes for 38 or 39 years,” Mr. Brown said. “I don’t know what the answer is, but in the end it’s all going to get passed on to the consumer.”
Nearly every component of the traditional American Thanksgiving dinner, from the disposable aluminum turkey roasting pan to the coffee and pie, will cost more this year, according to agricultural economists, farmers and grocery executives. Major food companies like Nestlé and Procter & Gamble have already warned consumers to brace for more price increases.
There is no single culprit. The nation’s food supply has been battered by a knotted supply chain, high transportation expenses, labor shortages, trade policies and bad weather. Inflation is at play, too. In September, the Consumer Price Index for food was up 4.6 percent from a year ago. Prices for meat, poultry, fish and eggs jumped drastically, by 10.5 percent.
Weeks before the holiday feast, home cooks have started shopping, hoping to get ahead of shortages and price creep. “I picture a perfect storm of increased demand and lack of supply,” said Matt Lardie, a food writer in Durham, N.C., who has already laid out his Thanksgiving game plan and expects to have some components in the freezer by next week.
For many cooks, the biggest expense will be the turkey. By the end of the year, market analysts say, prices per pound will likely surpass the record Department of Agriculture benchmark price for turkeys — $1.36, set in 2015.
Turkey is more expensive largely because the price of corn, which most commercial turkeys feed on, more than doubled in some parts of the country from July 2020 to July 2021. Whole frozen birds between eight and 16 pounds already cost 25 cents a pound more than they did a year ago, according to the weekly Department of Agriculture turkey report released on Friday.
The price rises are hitting in a year when Covid vaccines and loosened health guidelines point to more and bigger holiday celebrations than in 2020. There will be fewer turkeys on the market, but demand is expected to be higher, particularly for smaller birds and for more carefully raised and processed turkeys.
Kroger executives are anticipating more of what marketers call the “premiumization” of Thanksgiving ingredients, with many cooks shopping for turkeys that are fresh, organic, free-range or processed in ways that elevate them beyond an inexpensive frozen bird.
“Customers aren’t necessarily going out to restaurants, so they are upping their game in terms of products,” said Stuart Aitken, the company’s chief merchant.
Still, plenty of households will be looking for bargain turkeys and trying to stretch their food budget.
“I can buy that this will be the most expensive Thanksgiving ever, but there’s an income-inequality story here that matters a lot,” said Trey Malone, an agricultural economist at Michigan State University. “The rich are going to be spending more on Thanksgiving than they have ever spent before, but not everyone is going to be able to do that.”
Packaged dinner rolls will be pricier because the cost of almost all of the ingredients that commercial bakers use has gone up. Canned cranberry sauce will cost more because domestic steel plants have yet to catch up after pandemic shutdowns, and China is limiting steel production to reduce carbon emissions. As a result, steel prices have remained more than 200 percent higher than they were before the pandemic.
The heftier price tag on that turkey-friendly California pinot noir reflects a 25 percent surge in energy costs, expensive delays related to labor shortages and the cost of glass bottles stuck on cargo ships coming from China. The average end-to-end shipping time from China to the United States was 73 days in September, up from 40 days two years earlier, said Katheryn Russ, a professor of economics at the University of California at Davis. And shipping expenses, she said, have tripled.
“All of these dynamics are not theoretical,” Dr. Russ said. “We can’t lose sight of how these broader issues hit home.”
Extreme weather has made Thanksgiving ingredients cost more, too. A late-spring drought in the Midwest damaged the sugar beet crop, which had already been hurt by freezing weather in 2019. Hurricane Ida shut cane-sugar refineries in the South. Grape, nut and citrus crops in California have suffered under this year’s drought. Brazil, which supplies the world with more coffee than any other country, has endured severe drought and then a surprise July frost, resulting in less coffee and higher prices.
Even the basic materials — like wooden pallets and cardboard containers — that farmers need to get their crops from the field to distributors are either hard to find or much more expensive.
“Everything you go to order, either you can’t get it, or you shake your head and go, ‘How much?’” said Jim Kent, an owner of the 100-acre Locust Grove Fruit Farm in Milton, N.Y.
Although grocery-store executives predict spot shortages on some items, economists like Dr. Russ say there is no indication the panic buying that was a hallmark of pandemic shopping in 2020 will resurface.
That’s not reassuring to some home cooks, who are worried about not being able to find smaller turkeys, canned pumpkin or the particular kind of stuffing mix they like.
Ms. Hoffman, a Chicago resident who works in public relations and blogs about food, recently had a difficult time finding cream of tartar and mini marshmallows. “Even finding cans of pumpkin has been honestly difficult,” she said, “so as I see them, I grab a few.”
As food prices continue to climb, she has to budget more and search out bargains. That’s not always easy when the holidays demand specific ingredients.
“I dread buying vanilla,” she said.
“What really happened on that day?” Gwen Carr, Eric Garner’s mother, asked about her son’s death on Staten Island seven years ago.
By Troy Closson, Oct. 25, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/10/25/nyregion/eric-garner-death-inquiry.html?action=click&module=Well&pgtype=Homepage§ion=New%20York
The anguished pleas of Eric Garner as he struggled in a New York City police officer’s chokehold in 2014 galvanized millions, and his last words — “I can’t breathe,” repeated 11 times and captured on video — became a rallying cry for a protest movement demanding that police officers be held accountable.
In the seven years since Mr. Garner died on a Staten Island sidewalk, the deaths of Black men and women in police custody — including some, like George Floyd, whose words in their final moments powerfully echoed Mr. Garner’s dying pleas — touched off a wave of demands for change.
Now, Mr. Garner’s death will return to public view in what may be the final milestone of the case. On Monday, a judicial inquiry into his death is set to begin, with public testimony from about a dozen witnesses, including the head of the Police Department’s internal affairs unit and several officers involved in the encounter.
The process does not directly hold the potential for new discipline or fresh settlements; the officer who choked Mr. Garner was not charged criminally but was eventually fired from the force, and Mr. Garner’s family reached a settlement with the city.
Rather, the hearing is aimed at offering greater transparency in a case that many feel has been shrouded in secrecy. And to Mr. Garner’s relatives — particularly his mother, Gwen Carr, who has spoken out against police brutality since her son’s death — the proceeding offers the prospect of some long-sought clarity.
“I’ve been waiting seven years, I need answers for this,” Ms. Carr said in an interview. “What really happened on that day?”
She added: “There’s no justice for Eric because he’s dead. For me, there only could be closure.”
The killing of Mr. Garner in July 2014 came at the beginning of a series of deaths at police officers’ hands. Three weeks later, Michael Brown was shot to death in Ferguson, Mo. That November, Tamir Rice was fatally shot in Cleveland.
Mr. Garner, 43, had been confronted by two police officers and accused of selling untaxed cigarettes. Cellphone video showed one officer, Daniel Pantaleo, using a prohibited chokehold to subdue him, but a grand jury did not indict the officer, and federal prosecutors declined to pursue civil rights charges.
The case spurred an executive order in 2015 from Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to move the prosecution of cases of police killings from local district attorneys to a unit in the state attorney general’s office (though it has not since garnered a conviction).
Mr. Garner’s name remains prominent in protests. But for Ms. Carr and other relatives, much remained unclear for years: What was the exact chain of events? To what extent did Mr. Garner receive medical treatment at the scene? How did his prior sealed arrest history become public?
Two years ago, the Garner family sought a judicial inquiry — a rare process under the City Charter — to answer those questions among others. But city officials tried to have the effort dismissed and appealed the initial decision to proceed. This summer, a state appeals court unanimously ruled that the proceeding was warranted, writing that Mr. Garner’s was the “rare case in which allegations of significant violations of duty” were “coupled with a serious lack of substantial investigation and public explanation.”
The inquiry centers on five subjects, including the probable cause for Mr. Garner’s arrest and to what extent the actions of officers other than Mr. Pantaleo were investigated or resulted in discipline.
“One thing that will become clear is it wasn’t just about one day in July 2014,” said Alvin Bragg, one of the lawyers representing Mr. Garner’s family and a heavy favorite to become Manhattan’s next district attorney in November’s election. “Part of the hearing will be expanding the lens and showing what led to what happened — and what did or did not follow it.”
Mr. Bragg — who would work closely with the Police Department should he be elected — has been involved in the judicial inquiry effort since its inception.
Over two to three weeks, about a dozen witnesses are expected to testify, including officer Justin D’Amico, who was Mr. Pantaleo’s partner during the arrest; Sgt. Kizzy Adonis, who lost 20 vacation days after being accused of failing to properly supervise officers at the scene; and Lt. Christopher Bannon, a police commander who texted one of his officers that Mr. Garner’s death was “not a big deal” because “we were effecting a lawful arrest.”
The Police Department deferred comment to the city’s Law Department. Nicholas Paolucci, a Law Department spokesman, said in a statement that “we don’t believe there is a need for the summary inquiry to go forward as so much has already been made public about this tragic event,” while adding, “We look forward to the hearing and satisfying the court’s order.”
Erika M. Edwards, a Manhattan Supreme Court justice who is presiding, ruled that several major players from whom Mr. Garner’s family members sought testimony would not have to participate in the inquiry, including Mayor Bill de Blasio; the city’s chief medical examiner; and every police commissioner since 2014: William J. Bratton, James O’Neill and Dermot F. Shea.
The proceeding will be held virtually, to the disappointment of Ms. Carr, who said she strongly hoped to sit across from the officers in court. “I am very, very dissatisfied,” Ms. Carr said. “There’s no way that I can look them in the eye. So I don’t know how this is going to feel or turn out.”
Judge Edwards noted that she had to “balance a lot of things” in coming to the decision. “Everybody’s safety is important to me,” she said at a hearing earlier this month.
Mr. Pantaleo remained on the police force for five more years until he was fired by Mr. O’Neill and stripped of his pension benefits in 2019, after a police administrative judge had found him guilty of violating a department ban on chokeholds. Advocates’ frustrations over the delayed timeline were compounded by the decision not to dismiss any of the other officers involved in the arrest.
Now, those advocates are angered that Mr. de Blasio will not appear.
“It’s tremendously disappointing that we’re not going to hear from him,” said Kesi Foster, a lead organizer for Make the Road New York, one of the groups that filed the initial petition for the inquiry, along with Ms. Carr and the mother of Ramarley Graham, an unarmed 18-year-old killed by an officer in the Bronx in 2012.
The mayor’s office deferred to the Law Department for comment. But Mr. de Blasio has previously said that because the inquiry centers on what happened at the scene of Mr. Garner’s arrest, he did not need to testify. He has emphasized that substantive changes have been made to policing in the years since.
“It’s not about what happened after this tragedy, it’s what happened during it. That’s what the inquiry’s about,” Mr. de Blasio said during an appearance on WNYC in July. “This has been looked at exhaustively, and I feel horrible for the Garner family. I know a number of the family members. I’ve spent time with them. What happened was wrong, but we do need to move on.”
Some see value in the upcoming proceeding regardless of the mayor’s absence.
“A judicial inquiry into this says this is not just a problem of the officers that were present or of the command staff that was supposed to oversee it,” said Phillip Atiba Goff, the co-founder of the Center for Policing Equity. “My hope on the other side of this is that this kind of broader lens to the death of a father and a brother and a son can be a model for how we think about holding systems accountable.”
Inflation is as much a psychological process as an economic one. And a key indicator of inflation expectations has risen in recent days, which could ultimately lead to higher interest rates.
By Matt Phillips, Oct. 26, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/10/26/business/inflation-interest-rates-treasury-bonds.html?action=click&module=Well&pgtype=Homepage§ion=Business
Almost everyone — buyers of used cars, renters, homeowners with big heating bills and stock market investors — has been fretting about rising prices lately. But despite some of the fastest price increases in decades, investors in the Treasury bond market who are keenly attuned to inflation have been steadfast in their belief that it was a temporary phenomenon.
That’s now changing.
A key measure of the bond market’s expectations for inflation over the next five years — known as a break even — rose to a new high, briefly topping 3 percent on Friday. That meant investors expected inflation to average about 3 percent a year for the next five years, far higher than any time in the decade before the pandemic hit. Measures of inflation expectations over longer periods, such as over the next 10 years, also rose to multiyear highs.
The expectations of bond investors matter because, historically, officials at the Federal Reserve — who are responsible for managing inflation — watch the signals from the bond market in deciding when to raise interest rates. Higher rates tend to put the brakes on inflation — but they can also ding stock prices and slow hiring.
“They put great stock in inflation expectations,” said Steven Friedman, a senior macroeconomist at the money management firm MacKay Shields, who was once a market analyst at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. How investors are positioning themselves influences how Fed policymakers think, he said, because, “those who are putting forward their opinions have skin in the game.”
While the Fed chair, Jerome H. Powell, and other central bank officials have spent months saying higher inflation was a “transitory” result of pandemic-driven supply chain problems, there has lately been good reason to believe that price rises could be a more lasting concern. The Consumer Price Index reading for September, released last week, showed prices climbing 5.4 percent from the previous year — and slightly faster than they grew in August.
But analysts say the crucial concern for bond market investors was that prices seemingly unrelated to the pandemic were also beginning to move higher. Foremost among them was monthly rents, which tend to rise for long stretches once they start moving upward. Rents jumped 0.5 percent from August to September, the quickest rise in about 20 years.
“The market saw this as evidence that the pickup in inflation will not be as transitory as the Fed had hoped,” said John Briggs, a bond market strategist at NatWest Markets in Stamford, Conn.
Energy prices also jumped 25 percent last month, driven by sharp increases in gasoline and fuel oil costs. Rising crude oil prices are behind the surge, and there is little sign that those pressures are going away any time soon. Benchmark American crude oil prices continue to push higher, rising 11 percent in October alone and up roughly 70 percent for the year.
And at the same time, Covid-related production snags, such as the stop-and-go recovery of auto manufacturing, continue to keep other prices elevated. Last week, a report on wholesale used car prices, which has become a closely watched indicator of inflation on Wall Street, showed the prices that dealers pay to stock their lots were surging once again. Those prices will filter through to consumers, most likely keeping used car prices high for months.
All those factors have prompted investors to snap up inflation-protected Treasury bonds, whose payments increase to keep pace with inflation, and sell off plain vanilla Treasuries.
The difference between the yields on those two types of bonds is called the break even, and it offers something of a ballpark estimate of what those who invest in the $20-trillion-plus market for Treasury bonds believe will happen to prices.
Their opinion matters a lot. For decades, the Federal Reserve’s decisions about what to do with interest rates and monetary policy have been heavily influenced by the idea that inflation is as much a psychological process as an economic one. Expectations of rising inflation can become a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy, so the Fed has been inclined to raise interest rates or otherwise tighten monetary policy when public opinion anticipates higher prices.
Many analysts expect the Fed to respond similarly this time — although an interest-rate increase wouldn’t be the first step.
Before that could happen, the Fed would end the extraordinary steps it took to cushion the economy from the worst of the pandemic. That process is widely expected to start at the Fed’s meeting next week, when its key monetary policy committee will probably begin reducing bond-buying programs that have been pumping $120 billion into financial markets each month since the pandemic hit. Exactly how quickly the Fed would taper off that program isn’t clear, but investors now seem to be betting it could be eliminated by the middle of next year.
In recent days, the market-based odds of a rate increase at the Fed’s meeting in June 2022 jumped to roughly 60 percent, according to data from CME. It was about 15 percent at the start of the month.
Investors are watching the Fed’s moves closely. The bond-buying programs and low interest rates have been a huge boon to the stock market; the S&P 500 is up more than 100 percent since they began, including about a 22 percent gain this year.
But some on Wall Street think the markets could accept a methodical shift from the Fed on interest rates, especially if it means keeping inflation in check.
“I have a view that as long as you move away from emergency conditions in a deliberate manner, the markets actually will like that and growth can continue,” said Rick Rieder, head of the global allocation investment team at the money management firm BlackRock.
Video Commentary Featuring Greta Thunberg, October 27, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/video/opinion/100000008010161/greta-thunberg-climate-crisis.html
Many households are being forced to adjust their shopping lists or seek assistance. But food banks, too, are feeling the pinch.
By Nelson D. Schwartz and Coral Murphy Marcos, Oct. 27, 2021
Lining up outside the Gleaners Food Bank in Indianapolis last week. As prices rise, less food is being donated. Credit...Kaiti Sullivan for The New York Times
With food prices surging, many Americans have found their household budgets upended, forcing difficult choices at the supermarket and putting new demands on programs intended to help.
Food banks and pantries, too, are struggling with the increase in costs, substituting or pulling the most expensive products, like beef, from offerings. What’s more, donations of food are down, even as the number of people seeking help remains elevated.
Even well-off Americans have noticed that many items are commanding higher prices, but they can still manage. It’s different for people with limited means.
“Any time someone is low income, that means they’re spending a higher percentage on needs like food and housing,” said Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach, director of the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University. “When prices go up, they have less slack in their budgets to offset and they are quick to fall into hardship.”
Before the run-up in prices — driven by supply-chain knots and rising labor costs — Robin Mueller would buy ground beef for meatloaf or hamburgers to serve once or twice a week for her family in Indianapolis. Now she can afford to cook it only once or twice a month.
“You have to pick and choose,” said Ms. Mueller, who is 52 and disabled and lives with her daughter and her husband. “Before, you didn’t have to do that. You could just go in and buy a week or two’s worth of food. Now I can barely buy a week’s worth.”
She has turned to food banks in Indianapolis for help, but they, too, are feeling the pinch.
A case of peanut butter that was $13 to $14 before the pandemic now costs $16 to $19, according to Alexandra McMahon, director of food strategy for the Gleaners Food Bank of Indianapolis. Green beans that used to retail for $9 a case now sell for $14.
“It has a big impact,” said Joseph Slater, chief operating officer of Gleaners. “It's on our minds and it’s on the minds of our hungry neighbors as well.”
In New York, Tynicole Lewis and her daughter, Lanese, depend on food stamps, but Ms. Lewis said that the aid runs out well before the end of the month now. Lanese is diabetic and Ms. Lewis serves as much protein and vegetables as possible — foodstuffs that have become especially pricey.
“Food is expensive, and when the food stamps are gone, they’re gone,” said Ms. Lewis, who lives on the Lower East Side of Manhattan and earns $12,000 a year as a grocery store worker. “I have to wait.”
She, too, depends on food pantries and has given up buying meat for the most part. “I eat a lot from the pantry, whatever they get,” Ms. Lewis said. “I like fish and I’ll treat myself when I get the food stamps.”
While overall consumer prices in September were up 5.4 percent from a year ago, the cost of meat is up slightly more than that. Prices of staples like dairy products, fruits, grains and oils are also rising.
Prices of meat, poultry, fish and eggs in U.S. cities are up 15 percent since the start of 2020, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The run-up in costs at the supermarket comes even as gasoline prices have risen and natural gas and heating oil prices are predicted to be higher this winter, putting further pressure on those with low incomes.
In addition, the mammoth assistance programs rolled out by the federal government in response to the pandemic in 2020 have largely lapsed. While some households built up savings from government payments, others have little room for extra expenses.
The forces behind higher food prices have been building for some time and aren’t going away anytime soon, said Michael Swanson, chief agricultural economist at Wells Fargo.
“People are shocked, but this is a slow-motion train wreck,” he said. “The scary thing is that food companies haven’t passed along all of their costs yet.”
Higher transportation and warehousing expenses lead the list of causes, along with rising labor costs at meat processing centers and other nodes in the food supply chain.
To be sure, there are some winners as a result of the cost squeeze. While meat prices are up sharply for consumers, prices for cattle and other livestock haven’t moved as much. The result is buoyant profits for beef processors, Mr. Swanson said.
“This is not going to go backwards anytime soon,” he added. “As soon as producers and retailers get these price increases, they are very sticky.”
Behind the scenes, logistics expenses have jumped even more sharply than prices for foodstuffs, along with the costs of unglamorous items that few gave much thought to a few years ago.
A refrigerated truck shipment from California to New York that cost $2,500 to $3,000 before the pandemic now goes for $10,000, according to Mr. Swanson. Big wooden pallets used to move meat or vegetables that sold for $7 to $9 are now priced at $25 to $30 apiece.
The recent trend reverses a decade of relatively low food price inflation, Mr. Swanson added, a period in which many Americans got used to buying ample supplies of beef, chicken, turkey and fish. Now that is more of a challenge.
“We do a lot of pasta and beans,” Ms. Mueller said. “It’s a lot cheaper. I miss making big meals, but it’s too hard price-wise.”
For food banks, more expensive meat and produce has stretched budgets even as the number of people seeking help has increased. At the Oregon Food Bank, which distributes food to partners across Oregon and southwest Washington, 1.7 million people sought assistance in 2020, compared with 860,000 in 2019, said Susannah Morgan, the group’s chief executive.
Demand has abated somewhat more recently, but things are nowhere near pre-Covid conditions. While the number of people coming for help in Oregon will probably be closer to 1.3 million this year, “the need is still ridiculously high,” Ms. Morgan said. “Your dollar goes less far in a grocery store.”
The number of people the Maui Food Bank in Wailuku, Hawaii, served more than quadrupled in the early months of the pandemic, jumping from 13,000 people a month to 60,000. The food bank now helps over 20,000 each month in institutions serving mostly low-income communities, such as faith-based organizations, youth centers and senior housing sites.
“We already have the highest food prices in the country,” said Richard Yust, executive director at the Maui Food Bank. “To have food prices continue to escalate creates a great deal of pressure for families who have to feed their kids.”
Like Ms. Mueller in Indianapolis, the Oregon Food Bank has stopped buying ground beef. “There are certain items that are outside our reach because of the price,” Ms. Morgan said. Sweet potatoes, too, are, gone — the cost of transporting them from the southeastern states is now prohibitive.
To make matters worse, less food is being donated. With prices so high, retailers are no longer as willing to give away meat, said Mr. Slater of Gleaners. “We’re really struggling to get meat donated at no cost,” he said. “It’s gone to almost zero.”
Instead of cutting back, some people are working longer hours to maintain their dining habits. Dominic Kapustka of Aurora, Colo., is turning to overtime to make up for the extra spending on food.
He is paying $100 more on his trips to the grocery store every other week, so he now spends 65 hours a week at his job as a quality control technician at a mine instead of 55 hours earlier this year.
“I haven’t seen anything this bad cost-wise since the financial crisis in 2008,” Mr. Kapustka said. “It seems like no matter how much I fill the cart with, the costs go up, and what I’m getting out of it is not what it used to be.”