Member Briefing November 22, 2022

Posted By: Harold King Daily Briefing,

Rail Union Rejects Biden Deal, Sets Stage for December Strike

Members of a key rail union voted to reject a tentative contract agreement negotiated by the Biden administration, raising the risk of a strike that would shut down the nation’s railroads. Train and engine workers at the Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers’s transportation division (SMART-TD) narrowly voted down the deal, the union announced Monday. The vote sets the stage for a walkout on Dec. 9, in the middle of the holiday shopping season that demands increased shipping volume. Railroads transport around one-third of U.S. freight, including large amounts of food, packaged goods, fuel and car parts that can’t be shipped by other means.

“This can all be settled through negotiations and without a strike,” SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson said in a statement. “A settlement would be in the best interests of the workers, the railroads, shippers and the American people.” Rail workers are pushing for better pay, more reliable schedules, stronger safety standards and the ability to take time off if they are sick or have a doctor’s appointment.

Read more at The Hill

War in Ukraine Headlines

GOP House Majority Could Shield Industries From New Taxes, Regulations

Republican wins at the ballot box have long translated into gains for the business lobby in Washington. This election is likely to be no exception, despite the party’s increasingly populist slant.  What’s more, with President Biden in the White House and Democrats holding the slimmest of majorities in the Senate, Washington overall isn’t expected to do much for the next two years.

The GOP takeover of the House will give Republicans the power to block efforts by Democrats to approve new regulations or taxes on the fossil-fuel industry, private-equity funds, tobacco makers and drug manufacturers. In particular, the GOP takeover of the House also bodes well for business sectors that have allies among House Republicans, such as Rep. Kevin McCarthy, (R., Calif.), the leading candidate to be elected in January as speaker of the House for the next two-year session of Congress. These businesses include the cryptocurrency industry, big internet platforms and gig-economy companies such as Uber Technologies Inc. and DoorDash Inc.

Read more at The WSJ

Stressed-Out Americans Plan to Buy Fewer Christmas Gifts, Donate Less to Charity

U.S. consumers and businesses have trimmed spending plans for gifts, charitable contributions and holiday events, data show. The penny-pinching threatens to spoil the year-end for many, especially firms and nonprofits that tally their largest share of sales and donations in November and December.

People plan to buy an average of nine gifts this year compared with 16 last year, according to Deloitte consulting’s 37th annual holiday shopping survey of 5,000 respondents in September. Total anticipated spending per household was $1,455, down from $1,463 a year ago, Deloitte said. People in the survey said they also planned to spend less time shopping than they did last year.

Read more at The WSJ

U.S. COVID Will Covid Boosters Prevent Another Wave? Scientists Aren’t So Sure

As winter looms and Americans increasingly gather indoors without masks or social distancing, a medley of new coronavirus variants is seeding a rise in cases and hospitalizations in counties across the nation. The Biden administration’s plan for preventing a national surge depends heavily on persuading Americans to get updated booster shots of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines. Now some scientists are raising doubts about this strategy.

Older adults, immunocompromised people and pregnant women should get the booster shots, because they offer extra protection against severe disease and death, said John Moore, a virologist at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York. But the picture is less clear for healthy Americans who are middle-aged and younger. They are rarely at risk of severe illness or death from Covid, and at this point most have built immunity through multiple vaccine doses, infections or both.

Read more at The NYT

Pfizer/BioNTech's Updated COVID Shot Shows Strong Response Against BQ.1.1

Pfizer Inc and its German partner BioNTech SE said on Friday their Omicron-tailored shot produced higher virus-neutralizing antibodies in older adults against the emerging subvariant BQ.1.1 than its original vaccine. Antibody levels against the subvariant rose nearly nine-fold in older adults, aged 55 and above, who received the Omicron shot compared to a roughly two-fold increase in participants with the original shot, according to data posted on online archive bioRxiv.

The subvariant and related BQ.1 are gaining ground in the United States, and are expected to cause a rise in cases in the winter in Europe. They contain genetic mutations that make it harder for the immune system to recognize and neutralize the virus, making them better at infecting people in spite of immunity from vaccinations and prior infections.

Read more at Reuters

World Cup – Wales and U.S. Tie 1-1

The United States and Wales battled to a hard-fought, physical 1-1 draw in the teams' World Cup Group A opener at the Ahmad bin Ali Stadium in Qatar on Monday night. Timothy Weah scored a classy goal in the 36th minute to give the U.S. the lead at half-time, but Gareth Bale struck from the penalty spot late in the second half to earn Wales an important point.

With the U.S. headed for a massive win to begin the World Cup, Bale drew a foul from Walker Zimmerman in the penalty area and delivered an unstoppable spot kick to beat Turner to level the game for good despite 10 minutes of second-half stoppage time. Next up for the U.S. is a massive test against group leaders England on Friday followed by a match with Iran, which lost its opener 6-2 to the Three Lions, on Nov. 29.

Read more at ESPN

U.S.-Europe Trade Booms as Old Allies Draw Closer

The U.S. has imported more goods from Europe than from China this year, a big shift from the 2010s when China emerged as America’s dominant trade partner. From Swiss watches to German machinery and Italian luxury items, money and products are flooding across the Atlantic as never before. This is helping Europe’s embattled manufacturers, which are wrestling with skyrocketing energy prices. And it is pushing East Coast ports ahead of their West Coast counterparts in container volumes after years of a U.S. pivot to Asia.

The U.S., meanwhile, is turning into one of Europe’s biggest energy and military suppliers, replacing Russia as a natural-gas purveyor and helping Europeans to beef up their defenses. Germany plans to buy 35 U.S. F-35 jet fighters, built by Lockheed Martin Corp. U.S. services exports to the European Union are surging, up 17% in 2021 year-over-year to 305 billion euros, equivalent to $315 billion, according to EU data.

Read more at the WSJ

Finding the 1.5 Million Women Who Vanished from Our Workforce

Pre-pandemic, closing the gender gap in labor force participation could have yielded some $789 billion for the U.S. economy on top of the $2 trillion we’ve already gained since 1970. However, in the last two years, 29 years of progress toward gender equity in the labor market has been obliterated. This regression has cost the U.S. $1.789 trillion in economic potential. In other words, closing the gender equity gap in the labor market could bolster the post-pandemic US economy by $1.789 trillion.

If we include the 1.549 million missing women from the labor market in October’s unemployment figures, women’s real unemployment rate would be 5.42%. Our economy has approximately two open jobs for every person looking for work. An expanded labor base would close the worker-to-open-job gap by nearly 33%. More workers chasing fewer jobs would keep inflation in check by mitigating the harmful effects of the wage-price spiral.

Read more at Fortune

2023 Global Health Care Benefit Costs to Reach Highest Level in 15 Years

A new report from WTW found that widespread inflation and increasing health care usage are combining to drive projected increases in global health care benefit costs to their highest level in nearly 15 years. The leading driver of medical costs, according to insurers, continues to be overuse of care (74%) due to medical professionals recommending too many services or overprescribing. Over half of insurers (52%) also indicate that insured members’ poor health habits are among the top factors. The underuse of preventive services (50%) is also a significant cost driver and increased year over year due to, in part, the avoidance of medical care during the pandemic.

The 2023 Global Medical Trends Survey reveals that the health care benefit cost trend rose from 8.2% in 2021 to a higher-than-anticipated 8.8% in 2022 — and is projected to rise yet further in 2023 to a high global average of 10%. The cost trend increases will hit many regions, including Latin America (where average increases are projected to climb from 18.2% to 18.9%), Asia Pacific (climbing from 6.9% to 10.2%), and the Middle East and Africa (climbing from 10.5% to 11.5%).

Read more at BenefitsPro

China Locks Down Key Transportation Hub; Markets Fear Economic Fallout

China has locked down a major transportation hub in the south, as the country grapples with its largest nationwide Covid outbreak since April. The lockdown also follows rising cases in Beijing, which reported the country’s first Covid deaths in nearly six months. In recent days, China had begun to ease its harsh Covid restrictions, which had crippled local and international businesses for months. But, experts are worried that Beijing’s resolve to reopen the country may weaken now as cases rise once again.

Guangzhou, one of China’s largest cities with nearly 19 million residents, imposed a five-day lockdown in Baiyun district, which is home to one of the country’s busiest airports. Baiyun is also the most populous district in Guangzhou, housing 3.7 million people. Schools will be shut, public transportation services will be suspended, and residents are advised to stay home, according to a statement posted by the Baiyun district government on WeChat on Monday.

Read more at CNN

U.S. Crude Oil Price Touches $80 a Barrel

A darkening outlook for the global economy dragged U.S. oil prices below $80 a barrel last week to their lowest levels since September. The declines extended a recent selloff in crude futures fueled by a surge in Covid-19 cases in China. The outbreak has tested Beijing’s relaxation of pandemic controls, threatening to stymie economic activity along with demand for oil and petroleum products such as diesel.

At the same time, investors expect ongoing interest-rate increases from the Federal Reserve—potentially sending the U.S. into a recession—despite data suggesting that inflation is beginning to weaken from 40-year highs. Those factors have weighed on prices, analysts say, even as the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries Plus has cut production and Washington is set to conclude its release of strategic petroleum reserves—moves Wall Street expects to support oil.

Read more at The WSJ

Saudi denies oil output hike discussion, says OPEC+ may cut if needed

Saudi Arabia on Monday said that OPEC+ was sticking with oil output cuts and could take further measures to balance the market amid falling prices, denying a report it was considering boosting output, according to state news agency SPA. The Wall Street Journal earlier on Monday reported an output increase of 500,000 barrels per day was under discussion for the next meeting of OPEC and its allies, known as OPEC+, on Dec. 4. The report cited unidentified OPEC delegates.

Oil prices, which had slid more than 5% to below $83 a barrel after the Wall Street Journal report , pared losses following the minister's comments. Brent crude was down 1% at $86.70. Last month, OPEC+ unexpectedly decided to reduce output targets sharply. It would be unusual for the group to increase production at a time of declining prices and growing concern about the economic outlook.

Read more at Reuters

Some Rivian Workers Complain About Safety as UAW Attempts to Organize Plant

At least a dozen employees at Rivian Automotive Inc. have accused the electric-vehicle maker of safety violations at its Illinois plant, according to complaints filed with federal regulators. The complaints were filed in conjunction with the UAW, which has been trying to organize the non-union plant for the past year. The complaints allege the company ignored known hazards and deprioritized safety resources, leaving some workers to share respirators needed during the manufacturing process. They also detail a range of injuries, including a crushed hand, a broken foot, a sliced ear and broken ribs.

In statements to Bloomberg News, a Rivian spokesperson disputed workers’ allegations but declined to comment on specific complaints, citing employee privacy. The spokesperson said the dozen complainants represent just 0.2 percent of the 6,700 employees at the plant. “Creating a safe and inspiring environment is a daily practice we expect of every Rivian employee and is part of our operating procedures,” the company said in an emailed statement, adding: “We are not aware of any manager directing employees to share respirators.”

Read more Automotive News

TSMC Planning Advanced Chip Production in Arizona

Taiwanese chipmaker TSMC is planning to produce chips with advanced 3-nanometre technology at its new factory in the U.S. state of Arizona but the plans are not completely finalised yet, the company's founder Morris Chang said on Monday. Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co Ltd (TSMC) a major Apple Inc supplier and the world's largest contract chipmaker, is constructing a $12 billion plant in Arizona.

Last year, Reuters reported TSMC's plans to build more chipmaking factories in Arizona, including discussions about whether its next plant should be more advanced which could make chips with 3-nanometer technology compared to the slower, less-efficient 5-nanometer chips that will be churned out when the facility begins production.

Read more at Reuters

Artemis’ Orion Successfully Completes Lunar Flyby, Re-acquires Signal with Earth

 Orion re-acquired signal with NASA’s Deep Space Network, at 7:59 a.m. EST after successfully performing the outbound powered flyby burn at 7:44 a.m. EST with a firing of the orbital maneuvering system engine for 2 minutes and 30 seconds to accelerate the spacecraft at a rate of more than 580 mph. At the time of the burn, Orion was 328 miles above the Moon, travelling at 5,023 mph. Shortly after the burn, Orion passed 81 miles above the Moon, travelling at 5,102 mph. At the time of the lunar flyby, Orion was more than 230,000 miles from Earth. 

The outbound powered flyby burn is the first of two maneuvers required to enter the distant retrograde orbit around the Moon. The spacecraft will perform the distant retrograde orbit insertion burn Friday, Nov. 25, using the European Service Module. Orion will remain in this orbit for about a week to test spacecraft systems. The distant retrograde will take Orion 40,000 miles past the Moon before it returns to Earth.

Read more at NASA