Powell Downplays Inflation Risks as Yellen Foreshadows Future Spending

The economy is healing, the nation’s top two economic officials told lawmakers on Tuesday, but workers and businesses will need continued government support to rebound from the pandemic — and one of the officials, Jerome H. Powell, the Federal Reserve chair, batted back concerns that vigorous policy help could stoke inflation.

Mr. Powell testified Tuesday before the House Financial Services committee alongside Janet L. Yellen, his predecessor at the Fed and now the Treasury secretary, in their first side-by-side appearance in their current roles. In hopes of fueling a rapid rebound in spending and hiring, the government has been spending aggressively and the Fed is keeping borrowing costs at rock bottom.

That all-in approach has helped to avert the most dire potential economic outcomes, Mr. Powell told lawmakers, and it has not created grave inflation risks in the process.

Asked whether President Biden’s recently passed $1.9 trillion spending package to combat the virus could cause prices to shoot higher — especially as the administration eyes plans to spend as much as $3 trillion more on an infrastructure package — Mr. Powell said the Fed did not fear a jump in inflation.

administration’s plans to propose another big spending package on infrastructure, which could be financed in part by tax increases.

She was pressed by Republican lawmakers about how higher taxes would affect consumers and small businesses. “I think a package that consists of investments in people, investments in infrastructure, will help to create good jobs in the American economy,” Ms. Yellen replied, “and changes in the tax structure will help to pay for those programs.”

And she argued that tax increases would be necessary to back up the package.

“We do need to raise revenues in a fair way to support the spending that this economy needs to be competitive and productive,” she said.

 stimulus payments would be $1,400 for most recipients. Those who are eligible would also receive an identical payment for each of their children. To qualify for the full $1,400, a single person would need an adjusted gross income of $75,000 or below. For heads of household, adjusted gross income would need to be $112,500 or below, and for married couples filing jointly that number would need to be $150,000 or below. To be eligible for a payment, a person must have a Social Security number. Read more.

Buying insurance through the government program known as COBRA would temporarily become a lot cheaper. COBRA, for the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, generally lets someone who loses a job buy coverage via the former employer. But it’s expensive: Under normal circumstances, a person may have to pay at least 102 percent of the cost of the premium. Under the relief bill, the government would pay the entire COBRA premium from April 1 through Sept. 30. A person who qualified for new, employer-based health insurance someplace else before Sept. 30 would lose eligibility for the no-cost coverage. And someone who left a job voluntarily would not be eligible, either. Read more

This credit, which helps working families offset the cost of care for children under 13 and other dependents, would be significantly expanded for a single year. More people would be eligible, and many recipients would get a bigger break. The bill would also make the credit fully refundable, which means you could collect the money as a refund even if your tax bill was zero. “That will be helpful to people at the lower end” of the income scale, said Mark Luscombe, principal federal tax analyst at Wolters Kluwer Tax & Accounting. Read more.

There would be a big one for people who already have debt. You wouldn’t have to pay income taxes on forgiven debt if you qualify for loan forgiveness or cancellation — for example, if you’ve been in an income-driven repayment plan for the requisite number of years, if your school defrauded you or if Congress or the president wipes away $10,000 of debt for large numbers of people. This would be the case for debt forgiven between Jan. 1, 2021, and the end of 2025. Read more.

The bill would provide billions of dollars in rental and utility assistance to people who are struggling and in danger of being evicted from their homes. About $27 billion would go toward emergency rental assistance. The vast majority of it would replenish the so-called Coronavirus Relief Fund, created by the CARES Act and distributed through state, local and tribal governments, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. That’s on top of the $25 billion in assistance provided by the relief package passed in December. To receive financial assistance — which could be used for rent, utilities and other housing expenses — households would have to meet several conditions. Household income could not exceed 80 percent of the area median income, at least one household member must be at risk of homelessness or housing instability, and individuals would have to qualify for unemployment benefits or have experienced financial hardship (directly or indirectly) because of the pandemic. Assistance could be provided for up to 18 months, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. Lower-income families that have been unemployed for three months or more would be given priority for assistance. Read more.

“While the economic fallout has been real and widespread, the worst was avoided by swift and vigorous action,” he said.

Mr. Powell and Ms. Yellen faced a volley of questions on how financial regulators should deal with climate change risks. Republicans have expressed concern that the Fed’s growing attention to climate-related issues in its role as a bank overseer could end up making it harder or more expensive for carbon-heavy companies to get loans.

“It’s really very early days in trying to understand what all of this means,” Mr. Powell said, noting that many large banks and large industrial companies were already thinking about and beginning to disclose how climate might affect them over time. “We have a job,” he said, “which is to ensure that the institutions we regulate are resilient to the risks that they’re running.”

Financial Stability Climate Committee “to identify, assess and address” climate-related risks to financial stability.

The new body will approach its task in a way that “considers the potential for complex interactions across the financial system,” Ms. Brainard said, rather than just the risks to individual companies.

That’s the kind of oversight some lawmakers fear.

“Linking hypothetical climate scenarios to risks to the entire financial system seems to me highly speculative,” Representative Andy Barr, a Republican from Kentucky, told Mr. Powell and Ms. Yellen during the Tuesday hearing.

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With Fewer Ads on Streaming, Brands Make More Movies

When the N.B.A. shut down its season last year because of the pandemic, one of the first phone calls Chris Paul made was to the Hollywood producer Brian Grazer. Mr. Paul, then a point guard with the Oklahoma Thunder, knew he wanted to chronicle what was going on, and he wanted Mr. Grazer’s help.

“The idea was, basically, film everything that had taken place in that game that night and what was going to come of it,” Mr. Paul said. “We had no clue what would happen next.”

The result was “The Day Sports Stood Still,” a documentary about the shutdown, the N.B.A.’s pandemic bubble and the impact of the Black Lives Matter movement on the league. (Mr. Paul appears in the film and is an executive producer.) It is a portrait of the ways the pandemic convulsed the sports world, but also an example of how Covid-19 has upended the entertainment industry.

The film, which debuts Wednesday on HBO and HBO Max, comes from Mr. Grazer’s Imagine Entertainment and a newer entrant to Hollywood: Waffle Iron Entertainment, Nike’s production entity.

General Electric Theater” television show from 1954 through 1962.

In the past decade, branded filmmaking has only proliferated.

Patagonia funded a feature-length documentary about dams, called “DamNation,” in 2014. Pepsi backed the 2018 movie “Uncle Drew,” which showcased the basketball star Kyrie Irving recreating his septuagenarian character from a popular series of Pepsi Max commercials. The film made $42 million and marked one of the first branded entertainment campaigns to be adapted into a major motion picture. “Gay Chorus Deep South,” a documentary produced by Airbnb, debuted on the festival circuit in 2019. And Apple’s acclaimed “Ted Lasso” began its life as an NBC Sports promotion for its acquisition of the broadcast rights to the English Premier League.

Imagine Entertainment, the production company founded by Mr. Grazer and Ron Howard in 1985, formed Imagine Brands in 2018 to pair companies with filmmakers, hiring Mr. Wilkes and Marc Gilbar, the creator of the “Uncle Drew” Pepsi campaign and an executive producer on the film, to run the group. The division has produced both feature-length documentaries and narrative films with their partners, which have included Unilever, Walmart and Ford.

Imagine is also working with the consumer goods giant Procter & Gamble. The company, which effectively created soap operas when it began to sponsor serial radio dramas in the 1930s to help promote its soap products, is cofinancing a feature-length film with Imagine called “Mars 2080.” It will be directed by Eliza McNitt and begin production later this year. The film, which is scheduled to be released theatrically by IMAX in 2022 before moving to a streaming service, focuses on a family resettling on Mars.

It grew out of a breakfast in New York in 2019, where Mr. Wilkes, Mr. Howard and Marc Pritchard, Procter & Gamble’s chief brand officer, discussed technology in the pipeline. The Imagine team later toured Procter & Gamble’s research labs in Cincinnati, seeing examples of its “home of the future” products and meeting its scientists.

Kimberly Doebereiner, the vice president of Procter & Gamble’s future of advertising division, said the company hoped to do more long-form storytelling, like “The Cost of Winning,” the four-part sports documentary its shaving brand Gillette produced. It debuted on HBO in November.

“We want to be more interesting so consumers are leaning into our experiences and we’re creating content that they want to see as opposed to messages that are annoying to them,” she said. “Finding a way to have content that is in places where ads don’t exist is definitely one of the reasons why we’re leaning into this.”

It’s all part of a deliberate shift by brands to try to integrate themselves more fully into consumers’ lives, the way companies like Apple and Amazon have, said Dipanjan Chatterjee, an analyst with Forrester. And they want to do so without commercials, which, he said, have “zero credibility” with consumers.

“If the right story has the right ingredients and it becomes worthwhile for sharing, it doesn’t come across as an intrusive bit of advertising,” Mr. Chatterjee said. “It feels much more like a natural part of our lives.”

Alessandro Uzielli, the head of Ford Motor Company’s global brand and entertainment division, first met with Imagine Brands in early 2018. He was looking for a way to augment Ford’s advertising campaign for its relaunched Bronco with a piece of entertainment that would reach a younger audience. The result was “John Bronco,” a 37-minute long mockumentary directed by Jake Szymanski (“Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates”) and starring Walton Goggins (“Justified”) as the greatest fictional pitchman of all time.

The short film earned a slot in the Tribeca Film Festival and is now streaming on Hulu. In addition to featuring guest spots from Tim Meadows, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bo Derek, it helped reintroduce the Bronco, a sport utility vehicle that the automaker pulled in the mid-1990s.

“This helped us speak to an audience that we probably weren’t going to speak to on our own,” Mr. Uzielli said.

“It was Imagine’s project, and we didn’t want to cloud their process, to try to make it feel like too much of a sales job,” he added.

Mr. Szymanski, who has directed both feature films and commercials, including ads for the Dodge Durango starring Will Ferrell’s “Anchorman” character Ron Burgundy, said Ford allowed him a great deal of creative freedom. “I think they could have tried to impose a much larger shadow on it than they did,” he said.

Now, Imagine, Mr. Szymanski and Mr. Goggins are trying to turn John Bronco into the next Ted Lasso — an effort in the early stages of development.

“It’s kind of a win-win,” Mr. Szymanski said of a possible television series based on Mr. Goggins’ character. “I don’t think Ford would have any creative control over it but to have a character named John Bronco in the world, that would be a good thing for them.”

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Jessica McClintock, 90, Dies; Dressed Generations in Lace and Satin

Jessica McClintock, a fashion designer whose romantic, lacy confections dressed generations of women for their weddings and proms, died on Feb. 16 at her home in San Francisco. She was 90.

The cause was congestive heart failure, said her sister, Mary Santoro.

In 1969, Ms. McClintock was a newly divorced mother and had been teaching science and music to sixth graders in Cupertino, Calif., when she invested $5,000 in a San Francisco dress business called Gunne Sax. (In creating the name, the founders, Eleanor Bailey and Carol Miller, had riffed on the idea of a “sexy gunny sack,” according to Vogue magazine.)

Soon after, Ms. McClintock became the sole owner, designer and saleswoman. She had no design training, but she could sew.

Inspired by those she called San Francisco’s “flower children,” she began making calico, lace and beribboned pastiches known as granny dresses. It was a style — a little bit Victorian, a little bit prairie — that hippies in the Haight-Ashbury section had popularized by putting together the wares of vintage clothing stores.

Dorothy Rodham, said no way: She had to wear something new for her wedding.

Representative Jackie Speier, who serves California’s 14th District, in the Bay Area. Ms. McClintock designed a wedding dress for her. (Ms. Speier called her “the fashion designer for Democrats” because of her inclusive price points, though Ms. McClintock was a registered Republican.)

Vanna White, who has made a career out of elegantly flipping the letters on the game show “Wheel of Fortune” clad in satiny sheaths, did so for a time in Jessica McClintock gowns.

But Ms. McClintock’s bread and butter was also in gussying up young women for their proms and quinceañeras and even elementary school graduations, particularly in the heyday of the 70s, as they danced to Fleetwood Mac or Peter Frampton, their hair done in Dorothy Hamill-style bobs.

As the decades marched along, so did Ms. McClintock’s styles, from pale Victorians and Great Gatsby-esque satins in the 1970s to poofy silk taffeta in the ’80s to more streamlined dresses in iridescent silk in the ’90s and beyond.

In 1999, when her business, a private company, turned 30, sales were at $140 million, according to Women’s Wear Daily. She operated 26 stores around the country, marketed a fragrance, Jessica, and had licensing agreements for handbags, jewelry, china, eyeglasses, bedding and home furnishings.

signed an agreement with Asian Immigrant Women Advocates, a community organization, to promote fair labor practices and establish an education fund for garment workers.

In addition to her sister, Ms. McClintock is survived by her son. Her longtime partner, Ben Golluber, who was chief financial officer of the company, died in 1998.

Ms. McClintock retired from the day to day management of her company in 2013, only to return a year later.

Since the early 1980s, the company headquarters were in a commercial building in San Francisco’s Potrero Hill neighborhood, but Ms. McClintock sold the space in about 2016 and thereafter ran the business from her home office.

She lived in a Queen Anne Victorian house in Pacific Heights, which she bought from the filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola. With a decorator’s help she turned it into a romantic fantasy, with Venetian chandeliers, billowing pink satin curtains, inlaid marble floors and Aubusson carpets — just the right backdrop for the Old World fashions she favored.

“I have a romantic feeling about life,” Ms. McClintock told a reporter in 2007. “I like Merchant-Ivory movies and candlelight and beautiful rooms. I like the patina of age.”

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‘Black Widow’ Release Date Pushed Back Including Six Disney Films

In a blow to cinemas, which have been desperate for Hollywood to release blockbuster films again, Walt Disney Studios on Tuesday pushed back the release dates of six movies, including the hotly anticipated Marvel superhero film “Black Widow.”

When “Black Widow” does arrive — on July 9 instead of May 7 — Disney said the film would roll out simultaneously in theaters and as a premium Disney+ offering, which means that watching it will cost $30 on top of the $8 monthly subscription to the streaming service. “Cruella,” starring Emma Stone as Cruella de Vil, will arrive in theaters on its previously announced date of May 28. Like “Black Widow,” however, it will also be available in homes at the same time, as a premium Disney+ offering.

Disney pulled “Luca,” the next Pixar film, from theatrical release entirely, saying that it would debut exclusively on Disney+ on June 18.

The other movies that were delayed were “Free Guy,” a comedy starring Ryan Reynolds; “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” a Marvel entry; the next “King’s Man” installment; and the dramas “Deep Water” and “Death on the Nile.”

“Today’s announcement reflects our focus on providing consumer choice and serving the evolving preferences of audiences,” Kareem Daniel, chairman of Disney Media & Entertainment Distribution, said in a statement. He added that the company was “leveraging a flexible distribution strategy in a dynamic marketplace that is beginning to recover from the global pandemic.”

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Basquiat Sells for $41.9 Million at Christie’s in Hong Kong

“Warrior,” a 1982 painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat that was said to symbolize the struggles of Black men in a white-dominated world, sold for $41.9 million, with fees, at Christie’s auction house in Hong Kong on Tuesday.

Although Christie’s said it was the highest price paid at auction for a Western artwork in Asia, that may be a technicality: At a Sotheby’s New York sale in 2017, the Japanese billionaire collector Yusaku Maezawa paid $110 million for Basquiat’s “Untitled.” It remains the artist’s auction record.

Estimated at $31 million to $41 million, “Warrior” was offered as an unusual single lot. It leads a week of 20th and 21st century livestreamed auctions at Christie’s and Sotheby’s in London and Paris, which also include an old master and a rediscovered van Gogh. Christie’s was betting on Basquiat’s global appeal to help energize the art market as it tried to emerge from the pandemic-year slump.

Annual art sales fell 22 percent, to $50 billion, in 2020, compared to 2019, with revenues from public auctions declining 30 percent to $17.6 billion, according to a recent report by UBS and Art Basel. Supply of top art works remains tight, with few distress sales or big estates on the horizon near term. Asking prices are astronomical, making it hard to close deals, dealers and auction executives said.

$69.3 million sale of a work by the digital artist Beeple at Christie’s earlier this month.

Credit…The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat, via Sotheby’s

Both Beeple and Basquiat “have a place,” said Alberto Mugrabi, the collector and dealer, whose father paid $250,000 for “Warrior” in the mid-1990s. “They are both in a category of very few artists. Beeple will bring a new audience to the art world and it’s an encouraging thing to see.”

While the outcome for Beeple’s work was unpredictable — bidding started at $100 — the Basquiat was a relatively safe bet for Christie’s, which was hoping to draw new people to the market from Asia. (The winning bid came from Christie’s Hong Kong representative.) The company guaranteed the seller an undisclosed minimum price and got an irrevocable bid from a third-party backer, ensuring the work would sell.

“Basquiat is one of the strongest markets coming out of the pandemic,” said Christophe van de Weghe, a dealer who specializes in Basquiats. “It’s worldwide. You can sell Basquiat, like Picasso, to someone in India or Kazakhstan or Mexico. You can have a 28-year-old spending millions on Basquiat and you can have a guy who is 85. He appeals to all kinds of people, from rappers to hedge-fund guys.’’

Basquiat explored issues of race and inequality with graffiti-inspired style, rising to the pinnacle of the contemporary art world from modest beginnings in street art. He dated Madonna, collaborated with Warhol and became a legend after dying at age 27 in 1988.

“Warrior” depicts a figure with fiery eyes and a raised sword against patches of blue and yellow. It was painted on a six-foot-tall wooden panel with oilstick, acrylic and spray paint in 1982. It has come up for auction four times, including Tuesday’s sale. It last appeared Sotheby’s in 2012, fetching $8.7 million. At the time it was bought by the real estate mogul Aby Rosen.

Christie’s declined to confirm that Rosen was the seller of “Warrior,” but its provenance indicates that the current owner bought the work in 2012. Rosen offered the work for sale privately last year, according to a dealer with firsthand knowledge of the sale. Rosen didn’t return emails seeking comment.

Basquiat’s 1982 painting “Boy and Dog in a Johnnypump” was among the highest known transactions of 2020. Bought by the billionaire hedge fund manager Ken Griffin for more than $100 million, it has been hanging at the Art Institute of Chicago.

Although Basquiat was very prolific, there’s a limited supply of work: about 900 paintings and 3,400 works on paper. By contrast, Beeple’s record-setting “Everydays — the First 5000 Days,” comprised the 5,000 works the artist created over 13 and a half years.

Alex Rotter, Christie’s chairman of 20th and 21st century art, recently had a chance to realize the scope of Basquiat’s appeal while attending the Brooklyn Nets’s victorious game at the team’s arena on Feb. 25. Basquiat’s signature crown was on the court’s floor.

“I thought, ‘Wow! How cool is that!’” Rotter said this week, recalling the game when the Nets defeated the Orlando Magic. “Basquiat is everywhere.”

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Free Krispy Kreme doughnuts, cash and even marijuana — businesses pile on the perks for getting vaccinated

Getting America vaccinated will go a long way toward helping the country return to some sort of normal.

Already, employers such as Instacart, Target, Trader Joe’s, Chobani, Petco, Darden Restaurants, McDonald’s and Dollar General are among a growing list of companies giving workers time off and extra money to get vaccinated for Covid-19.

Kroger is awarding employees $100 in store credit in addition to a one-time $100 payment for taking the vaccine. Publix said it will give associates a $125 gift card to use in the store after they get both doses. 

For its part, Krispy Kreme Doughnuts is offering anyone — employed or not — with proof of a Covid vaccination a free doughnut.

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And, The Greenhouse of Walled Lake, a marijuana dispensary in Walled Lake, Michigan, is giving anyone over the age of 21 with proof of vaccination a free pre-rolled joint. The “Pot for Shots” promotion is a “way of saying thank you for helping to end this pandemic and getting us back to normal,” the dispensary said.

Nearly one-quarter of employed Americans who probably or definitely won’t get vaccinated would consider getting their shot if offered a cash bonus or stipend, according to a report by the Society for Human Resource Management.

And yet, as of the most recent tally, 88% of organizations are unsure or have no plans to offer any incentives to encourage vaccinations.

More than 9 in 10 workers said their employer is not providing incentives, or don’t know whether they might be, the report also found.

But that’s likely to change, according to Amber Clayton, director of the Society for Human Resource Management’s Knowledge Center.

As vaccines become more available, and employers try to get back to business, we will see more businesses offering incentives, she said.

While a glazed doughnut is unlikely to tip the scales, “they are making a statement and supporting vaccinations,” Clayton said.  

A separate survey by Blackhawk Network found that this strategy could be effective. More than two-thirds of workers said they would accept a monetary incentive ranging from as little as $10 to as much as $1,000. One-third said they would get vaccinated for a $100 or less.

Most said money was the best motivator, with paid time off a distant second choice. Blackhawk Network polled more than 2,000 adults in January.

If your business is offering a freebie or perk for proof of vaccination, please email me about it at Jessica.Dickler@nbcuni.com

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Discord and Microsoft Said to Discuss Deal That Could Top $10 Billion

SAN FRANCISCO — Discord, a social media company popular with gamers, has held deal talks with Microsoft for a transaction that could top $10 billion, according to people briefed on the situation.

The talks were preliminary and no deal is imminent, said one of the people, who declined to be identified because the discussions are confidential. The talks have taken place as video gaming has boomed in the pandemic and as Microsoft, one of the world’s most valuable tech companies, has bolstered its gaming business with deal making.

Many of Microsoft’s acquisitions in recent years have focused on online communities, such as its purchases of LinkedIn, GitHub, and the gaming developer that created Minecraft. Last summer, Microsoft was in talks to buy the video app TikTok in what would have been a blockbuster acquisition; the discussions later fell apart. In September, Microsoft also bought ZeniMax Media, the parent company of several large gaming studios, for $7.5 billion.

Discord, which counts more than 100 million monthly active users, has been highly popular in the pandemic, as people have used the service to chat with one another while playing games. The San Francisco-based company, which has raised nearly $600 million in funding since 2014, has had preliminary deal talks with various suitors over the years, said another person with knowledge of the matter.

previously reported that Discord was holding deal discussions, and Bloomberg reported Microsoft’s involvement.

Joost van Dreunen, a New York University professor who studies the business of video games, said that if a deal were to happen, Discord “would be a natural fit” with Microsoft’s Xbox video gaming business. He said Microsoft has been “building hardware, buying software, and is now stitching it all together with the connective tissue of a community layer.”

Microsoft has said it wants to make it easier for people to play games at home on its Xbox consoles, or on-the-go on their phones. In the last three months of 2020, its gaming business generated $5 billion in revenue for the first time, following the release of new Xbox consoles.

Discord was founded in 2015 by Jason Citron and Stan Vishnevskiy, programmers and entrepreneurs, as a platform for video game players to chat and hang out while gaming. It gained mainstream attention as a gathering ground for the far right, who used Discord to organize the white nationalist Charlottesville, Va., rally in 2017.

Discord has since implemented stricter content moderation rules and banned alt-right communities. The app, which allows people to create private servers — in essence, small communities — features audio, text and video chat options.

Last year, Discord announced plans to expand beyond gaming into everyday usage among online groups of all kinds. It has been used for activities like college classes and organizing events like the Black Lives Matter protests.

The company crossed $100 million in revenue last year, one of the people said. Discord makes money by selling subscriptions to a premium version of the service.

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Organizing Gravediggers, Cereal Makers and, Maybe, Amazon Employees

A group of gravediggers in Columbus, Ohio, who just negotiated a 3 percent raise. The poultry plant that processes chicken nuggets for McDonald’s. The workers who make Cap’n Crunch in Iowa. The women’s shoe department at Saks Fifth Avenue in Manhattan.

The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union is not the largest labor union in the United States, but it may be one of the most eclectic. Its membership, totaling about 100,000 workers, seems to reach into every conceivable corner of the American economy, stretching from the cradle (they make Gerber baby food) to the grave (those cemetery workers in Columbus).

And now it is potentially on the cusp of breaking into Amazon, one of the world’s most dominant companies, which since its founding has beaten back every attempt to organize any part of its massive work force in the United States.

This month, a group of 5,800 workers at an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Ala., are voting whether to join the R.W.D.S.U. It is the first large-scale union vote in Amazon’s history, and a decision by the workers to organize would have implications for the labor movement across the country, especially as retail giants like Amazon and Walmart have gained power — and added workers — during the pandemic.

TikTok video of support from the rapper Killer Mike and tweeting an endorsement from the National Football League Players Association during the Super Bowl.

“It’s a bit of an odd-duck union,” said Joshua Freeman, a professor emeritus of labor history at Queens College at the City University of New York. “They keep morphing over the years and have been very inventive in their tactics.”

The union is also racially, geographically and politically diverse. Founded during a heyday of organized labor in New York City in 1937 — and perhaps best known for representing workers at Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s — most of its members are now employed in right-to-work states, across the South and rural Midwest.

written about his identity as a gay, Jewish labor leader.

Since becoming union president in 1998, Mr. Appelbaum has created a niche by organizing workers from a wide variety of professions: airline caterers, employees in fast fashion stores and gardeners at a cannabis grow house. “When you buy a joint, look for the union label,” Mr. Appelbaum said jokingly.

Ratified in 2008, the Muslim holiday took the place of Labor Day as one of the paid holidays that workers were allowed at the facility, and was criticized by some as being un-American.

Over the years, the union has faced some powerful enemies. In the 1960s, its Black organizers were threatened — one was even shot at — while trying to sign up food industry workers across the South.

Johnny Whitaker, a former dairy worker who started as a union organizer in the 1970s, said he had grown up in a white family in Hanceville, Ala., without much money. Still, he was shocked by the working conditions and racism he witnessed when he started organizing in the poultry plants years ago.

Black workers were classified differently from their white counterparts and paid much less. Women were expected to engage in sexual acts with managers in exchange for more hours, he said. Many workers could not read or write.

Despite threats that they would lose their jobs if they organized, thousands of poultry workers have joined the R.W.D.S.U. over the past three decades, though the industry still is predominantly nonunion.

At the time, Amazon said it canceled its plans after “a number of state and local politicians have made it clear that they oppose our presence and will not work with us to build the type of relationships that are required to go forward with the project.”

But the more the workers in Alabama kept talking to the union about their working conditions, the more Mr. Appelbaum and others believed the warehouse was fertile ground for organizing.

The workers described the control that Amazon exerts over their work lives, including tracking their time in the restroom or other time spent away from their primary task in the warehouse. Some workers have said they can be penalized for taking too much time away from their specific assignments.

“We are talking about bathroom breaks,” said Mr. Whitaker, an executive vice president at the union. “It’s the year 2021 and workers are being penalized for taking a pee.”

In an email, an Amazon spokeswoman said the company does not penalize workers for taking bathroom breaks. “Those are not our policies,” she said. “People can take bathroom breaks.”

The campaign in Bessemer has created some strange political bedfellows. Mr. Biden expressed his support for the Alabama workers to vote freely in the mail-in election, which ends later this month. Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida went even further, encouraging the Bessemer workers to unionize in order to protect themselves against the “woke culture” at Amazon.

If the union wins the election in Bessemer, the effort to court workers will continue. In a right-to-work state, workers are not required to pay union dues even if they are represented by a union.

At a Quaker Oats plant in Iowa, which is also a right-to-work state, the R.W.D.S.U. finds ways to motivate workers to join the union by posting the names of workers who have not yet joined on a bulletin board.

“In a right-to-work state, you are always organizing,” Mr. Hadley said.

Early in the afternoon of Oct. 20, Mr. Hadley met with about 20 organizers before they headed out to the Bessemer warehouse to begin their campaign to sign up workers. The plan was for the organizers to stand at the warehouse gates talking to workers early in the morning and in the evening when their shift changes. In a pep talk with the group, Mr. Hadley invoked the story of David and Goliath.

“We are going to hit David in the nose every day, twice a day,” he told the group, referring to Amazon. “He’s going to see our union every morning when he comes to work, and I want him thinking about us when he closes his eyes at night.”

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