Member Briefing February 10, 2022
Hochul Lifting Mask Mandate For Businesses; Keeping In Schools For Now
New York State’s indoor mask mandate for businesses is set to expire Thursday, but Gov. Kathy Hochul says it will remain in place for schools. The change marks a promising shift in the fight against the pandemic. While the business mandate may be coming to an end, the governor said she’s not ready to do the same for schools. State health officials will continue to monitor the situation around the world and reassess in early March.
Meanwhile the HERO Act remains in effect through February 15, 2022. Accordingly, all employers must continue to administer and enforce their airborne infectious disease prevention plans.
Negotiators Reach ‘Breakthrough’ in Government Funding Talks
Sen. Richard Shelby (Ala.), the senior Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee, announced Wednesday that negotiators have reached a “breakthrough” agreement on the framework for an omnibus spending package that he predicts will help the two sides agree to the spending top lines very soon. “We have reached an agreement on framework,” Shelby told The Hill shortly before noon.
He said the top-line spending numbers for defense and nondefense discretionary programs, which have been a major sticking point in the talks, “will come from that” framework. Shelby, however, declined to go into more detail or comment specifically if the disagreement between Democratic and Republican negotiators over policy riders had been resolved.
Fauci Declares ‘Full-Blown’ Pandemic Phase Nearly Over in US
The US is heading out of the “full-blown” pandemic phase of COVID-19, Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser said, as he predicted a combination of vaccinations, treatments and prior infection would soon make the virus more manageable.
Anthony Fauci told the Financial Times he hoped there would be an end to all pandemic-related restrictions in the coming months including mandatory wearing of masks. In his most optimistic comments about the trajectory of the pandemic since the emergence of the omicron variant, Dr Fauci outlined a scenario in which local health departments would lead the response to the virus rather than President Biden’s administration.
WHO: Global COVID-19 Case Counts Decline 17% in Latest Week
The head of the World Health Organization insisted Wednesday that “COVID isn’t finished with us,” after his agency reported that case counts and deaths fell worldwide over the past week. WHO’s weekly epidemiological report, released late Tuesday, showed that case counts fell 17% worldwide over the last week, including a 50% decline in the United States, while deaths globally declined 7%.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, launching a new $23 billion campaign to fund WHO’s efforts to lead a fair rollout of COVID-19 tests, treatments and vaccines around the world, cautioned that “diseases know no borders” and the highly-transmissible omicron variant has shown that “any feeling of safety can change in a moment.”
US COVID- Data on Public Health Consequences of Economic Suffering
Government data on COVID-19 fatalities pertains only to those whose deaths have been officially declared as being caused by SARS-CoV-2 infection. This data alone placed COVID-19 as the third largest cause of death for Americans in 2020, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
However, Dr. Dongho Song of the Carey School of Business recently published a working paper that asserts the health and mortality impacts of COVID-19 are far greater than previously understood due to the added damage that the ensuing economic crisis has created for average citizens. “We estimate the size of the COVID-19-related unemployment shock to be between 2 and 5 times larger than the typical unemployment shock, depending on race and gender, resulting in a significant increase in mortality rates and drop in life expectancy,” the paper states. This study opens the door for a lasting conversation about the role of the economy as a driver of public health in a post-pandemic world.
NYS Vaccine and COVID Update –
Vaccine Stats as of February 9:
One Vaccine Dose
- 88.0% of all New Yorkers – 16,268,099 (plus 10,013 from a day earlier).
- In the Hudson Valley 1,690,707 (plus 1,098).
- 74.6% of all New Yorkers – 14,486,842 (plus 12,524).
- In the Hudson Valley – 1,476,646 (plus 1,298).
- All New Yorkers – 6,667,005
- In the Hudson Valley – 799,026
The Governor updated COVID data through February 9. There were 67 COVID related deaths for a total reported of 67,709.
- Patients Currently in Hospital statewide: 4,670.
- Patients Currently in ICU Statewide: 755
7 Day Average Positivity Rate – Cases per 100K population
- Statewide 4.11% – 32.33 positive cases per 100,00 population
- Mid-Hudson: 3.88% – 29.08 positive cases per 100,00 population
U.S. Small Business Sentiment Drops to 11-month Low -NFIB
The National Federation of Independent Business said its Small Business Optimism Index dropped 1.8 points to 97.1 last month, the lowest reading since February 2021. The NFIB survey showed half of the 1,504 small businesses who participated in the poll reporting raising compensation. That was the highest reading in 48 years and was up 2 points from December. That corroborates to a surge in measures of wage growth tracked by the government.
Scarce workers and rising labor costs remain the main areas of worry for businesses. Eleven percent said labor costs were their top business problem, down 2 points from December’s 48-year record high reading. About 23% complained about labor quality.
7 Union-Organizing Workers Fired by Starbucks
Seven Starbucks employees who participated in union organizing in Memphis, Tenn., have been fired. The company cites security violations — including allowing members of the media into the store after hours and a staffer opening a safe without permission. A Starbucks spokesperson, Reggie Borges, explained that similar violations related to opening and closing – that had nothing to do with the media or union organization efforts – have resulted in “serious, serious incidents that impacted the mental health and physical well-being of employees and customers.”
Starbucks Workers United, the union seeking to organize Starbucks employees nationwide, tweeted Tuesday, “Starbucks corporate is currently firing virtually the entire union leadership in Memphis after they spoke to the media.” The union said later in a press release that seven workers were let go and called the incident the company’s “most blatant act of union-busting yet.”
Top European Shippers Warn Freight Costs to Stay High
Two top European shippers warned on Wednesday freight costs were likely to remain high well into this year, offering no relief to customers including the world’s biggest retailers, though they said bottlenecks should ease later in the year. Efforts to speed up the movement of goods have yet to solve the bottlenecks, causing severe delays at major U.S. ports with knock-on effects around the world.
Pandemic-related disruption and a surge in consumer demand drove up prices for shipping goods around the world last year, boosting profits for both container shipping group Maersk and freight forwarder DSV. “Freight rates remain very high, volumes are strong and lots of shipping capacity is still tied up outside ports,” Maersk Chief Executive Soren Skou told a press briefing after the Danish company confirmed record profits for 2021.
Toyota and Honda Upbeat on Profits as Customers Pay More for Scarce Cars
Toyota Motor and Honda Motor were upbeat about their full-year profit prospects on Wednesday as tight vehicle supplies caused by a chip shortage allowed Japan’s two biggest automakers to charge their customers more. The Japanese carmakers are also benefiting from a weaker yen that raised the yen value of their overseas earnings.
Toyota and Honda like other car makers are cutting output because they cannot find enough semiconductors amid COVID-related supply chain disruptions and competition for the key component from other industries, such as electronics. Toyota cut its annual production target by a half a million more to 8.5 million vehicles, while Honda kept its 4.2 million target, though that was below the 4.85 million it was aiming for at the start of the business year.
Europe is Altering Rules to Tackle the Global Semiconductor Chip Shortage
On Tuesday, the European Commission triggered a clause that neutralizes its strict corset of rules governing state aid to lure companies like Intel and Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. (TSMC), the most valuable tech company in Asia, to build more microprocessors in the region.
It’s part of a sweeping package of proposals unveiled under the new EU Chips Act, designed to jump-start the bloc’s moribund semiconductor assembly industry. The aim is to quadruple production over the decade while expanding its footprint into cutting-edge chips it currently imports from abroad.
3 Ways to Turn the Great Resignation Into a Great Retention Moment
While the roar of the “war for talent” has been heard for decades and tightening talent markets have been experiencing it in bits and pieces, today’s labor market, regardless of business type or location, is now faced with more job openings than available workers. These market pressures are creating never-before-seen urgency around talent.
For now, most businesses are reacting with the one tool that they can easily access: money. While wages in general haven’t skyrocketed as much as they have in hospitality and retail, it seems like every business has a story to tell about how they’ve used money to entice key employees to stay and to lure employees to their organization, such as increasing starting wages. And once you change that, there’s no going back. Unfortunately, the money bucket is not bottomless. It’s the definition of a finite resource, creating a reactionary cycle in the market that can only go on for so long. Here are three other strategies:
500 Jobs Heading to Tennessee at New EV Manufacturing Plant
Governor Bill Lee announced Tuesday that 500 new jobs would be coming to Lebanon when a new manufacturing operation opens. The Australian company Tritium announced its first U.S.-based manufacturing facility in Lebanon. The company produces technology to build fast chargers for electric vehicles. The new facility will have up to six production lines, which is expected to produce around 10,000 DC fast charger units per year. The facility could produce up to 30,000 units per year at peak capacity.
Tritium DCFC Limited is a global leader in the electric vehicle charging industry. Company officials said they are expecting to double existing operations in Australia, Europe, Asia, and the U.S. by creating 500 new jobs over the next five years.
State Senate districts will also face legal challenge in New York
A lawsuit challenging the U.S. House district maps in New York is be expanded to include the lines for state Senate seats, according to a filing submitted Tuesday. The legal challenge to the redistricting process, controlled this year by majority Democrats in both chambers of the state Legislature, comes amid a heightened national battle for control of statehouses and the House of Representatives in Washington.
Republican opponents of the maps approved last week by Gov. Kathy Hochul have argued the district lines unfairly favor Democratic candidates, an assertion supported by good-government organizations and redistricting experts. The challenge in large part is based on an amendment to the state constitution meant to ban partisan redistricting, known as gerrymandering. The constitution forbids district lines drawn to favor a specific candidate or political party.
Shocked, Shocked…New Yorkers and Lawmakers Howl Over Utility Hikes; Con Ed Says They’re Not to Blame
City and state lawmakers are amped up over a sudden rate spike that many New Yorkers are now seeing on their Con Ed energy bills — charges that could make it impossible for some to afford rent and their utilities. Tiffany Chu, a landlord who owns a building in Brooklyn, said her Con Ed electricity bill jumped from about $73 in December to more than $350 last month, with her kilowatt-hour rate climbing from 6 cents to 18 cents over the same period.
“Con Edison does not generate electricity, nor can we manage the financial practices of the private power generators or the suppliers of the natural gas,” Con Ed spokesman Jamie McShane said. “Con Edison is seeking the ability to generate renewable energy in New York State for our customers, which would shift our dependence away from natural gas and this volatility.” James Denn, a spokesman for the Public Service Commission, said that the commission “does not regulate commodity or supply prices” and that utilities “do not set supply costs and do not make a profit on the supply.”
The Economist: Shortages and Greenflation Will End the Age of Idealism on Energy Policy
Politicians, consumers and companies are on a journey of discovery about climate change and the energy business. In 2021 the world was awash in easy promises. Some 70 countries, accounting for two-thirds of global carbon emissions, had net-zero targets, to be met by mid-century. A majority of people in the rich world, including America, expressed concern about climate change. Companies were making ambitious carbon-neutral pledges, too—especially those that didn’t emit much in the first place. A boom in green-tech venture capital suggested that funds were being reallocated at scale. And sustainable investing became one of the biggest trends in finance since subprime debt.
When it came, the reality check was brutal. A surging economy in mid-2021 pushed up energy demand. By October the price of a basket of fossil fuels was up by 95% year on year. China and India faced blackouts and Europe a lack of gas (often piped from autocratic Russia). A shortage of fossil fuels, which account for 83% of primary energy use, threatened to push global inflation above 5%, hurt growth and spook the public. In response, politicians turned back the clock. China and India raised coal output, Britain turned its dirtiest power plants back on, and as the oil price hit $80 a barrel, the White House urged opec to boost exports.