On a chilly Tuesday afternoon this month, James Marsh stopped by a Chipotle near his suburban Chicago home to grab something to eat.
It had been a while since Mr. Marsh had been to Chipotle — he estimated he goes five times a year — and he stopped cold when he saw the prices.
“I had been getting my usual, a steak burrito, which had been maybe in the mid-$8 range,” said Mr. Marsh, who trades stock options at his home in Hinsdale, Ill. “Now it was more than $9.”
He walked out.
“I figured I’d find something at home,” he said.
The pandemic has led to price spikes in everything from pizza slices in Manhattan to sides of beef in Colorado. And it has led to more expensive items on the menus at fast-food chains, traditionally establishments where people are used to grabbing a quick bite that doesn’t hurt their wallet.
government data. And, in some cases, portions have shrunk.
“In recent years, most fast-food restaurants had, maybe, raised prices in the low single digits each year,” said Matthew Goodman, an analyst at M Science, an alternative data research and analytics firm. “What we’ve seen over the last six-plus months are restaurants being aggressive in pushing through prices.”
This comes at a time when the hypercompetitive fast-food market is booming.
Chains like McDonald’s, Chipotle and Wingstop were big winners of the pandemic as consumers, stuck at home working and tired of cooking multiple meals for their families, increasingly turned to them for convenient solutions. But in the past year, as the cost of ingredients rose and the average hourly wage increased 16 percent to $16.10 in November from a year earlier, according to government data, restaurants began to quietly bump up prices.
But making customers pay more for a burger or a burrito is a tricky art. For many restaurants, it involves complex algorithms and test markets. They need to walk a fine line between raising prices enough to cover expenses while not scaring away customers. Moreover, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. Chains that are operated by franchisees typically allow individual owners to decide pricing. And national chains, like Chipotle and Shake Shack, charge different prices in various parts of the country.
When Carrols Restaurant Group, which operates more than 1,000 Burger Kings, raised prices in the second half of last year, the number of customers actually improved from the third to the fourth quarter. “Over time, we generally have not seen a whole lot of pushback from consumers” on the higher prices, Carrols’ chief executive, Daniel T. Accordino, told analysts at a conference in early January.
Menu prices are likely to continue to climb this year. Many restaurants say they are still paying higher wages to attract employees and expect food prices to rise.
“We expect unprecedented increases in our food basket costs versus 2021,” Ritch Allison, the chief executive of Domino’s Pizza, told Wall Street analysts at a conference this month. While Domino’s hasn’t raised prices, it is altering its promotions — offering the $7.99 pizza deal only to customers ordering online and shrinking the number of chicken wings in certain promotions to eight from 10 — in an effort to maintain profit margins.
Despite the higher food and labor costs, some restaurants are seeing sales and profits rebound past prepandemic levels.
When McDonald’s reports earnings this month, Wall Street analysts expect that its revenues will have hit a five-year high of more than $23 billion, a $2 billion increase from 2019. Net income is predicted to top $7 billion, up from $6 billion in 2019. Other chains like Cracker Barrel and Darden Restaurants, which owns Olive Garden and Longhorn Steakhouse, have resumed dividend payments or cash buybacks of stock after suspending those activities early in the pandemic to conserve cash.
And next month, when Chipotle reports results for 2021, analysts expect revenues to top $7.5 billion, a 34 percent jump from 2019. Net income is expected to almost double from prepandemic levels. In the third quarter, the company repurchased nearly $100 million of its stock. Chipotle declined to make an executive available for an interview, citing the quiet period ahead of its earnings release.
While Chipotle executives blamed higher labor costs for a 4 percent price increase in menu items this summer, the company has been looking for ways to boost its profitability.
One way was to charge higher prices for delivery. Delivery orders through vendors like DoorDash and Uber Eats exploded for Chipotle and other fast-food chains during the pandemic. But so did the commission fees that Chipotle paid the vendors. So in the fall of 2020, it began running tests to see what would happen if it raised the prices of burritos and guacamole and chips that customers ordered for delivery, executives told Wall Street analysts in an earnings call. It essentially meant the customer covered Chipotle’s side of the delivery costs.
The company discovered customers were willing to pay for the convenience of delivery. Now, customers ordering Chipotle for delivery pay about 21 percent more than if they had ordered and picked the food up in the stores, according to an analysis by Jeff Farmer, an analyst at Gordon Haskett Research Advisors.
“I would say that our ultimate goal, so this would be over the long term, maybe the medium term, is to fully protect our margins,” said Jack Hartung, the chief financial officer of Chipotle, on a call with Wall Street analysts last fall. “When you look at our pricing versus other restaurant companies’ for the quality of the food, the quantity of the food, and the quality and convenience of the experience, we offer great value. So we believe we have room to fully protect the margin.”
That doesn’t mean customers are thrilled about the extra costs.
This month, Jacob Herlin, a data scientist in Lakewood, Colo., placed an order: a steak-and-guacamole burrito for $11.95, a Coca-Cola for $3, and chips and guacamole, which were free with a birthday coupon. The total was $14.95, before tax.
But when he clicked to have the food delivered, the price for the burrito jumped to $14.45 and the soda climbed to $3.65, bringing the total to $18.10 before tax, 21 percent more than if he had picked the food up himself.
There was more. Mr. Herlin was charged a delivery fee of $1 and another “service fee” of $2.32, bringing the total for the delivered meal to $23.20. He tipped the driver an additional $3.
Mr. Herlin said he did not mind paying for delivery and wanted drivers to be paid a decent wage. But he felt that Chipotle wasn’t being upfront with customers about the added costs.
“They’re basically hiding the fees two different ways, through that base price increase and through the hidden ‘service fee,’” Mr. Herlin said in an email. “I would very much prefer if they had the same pricing and were just honest about a $5 delivery fee.”
Starbucks allows employees who work at least 20 hours a week to obtain health coverage, more generous than most competitors, and has said it will increase average pay for hourly employees to nearly $17 an hour by this summer, well above the industry norm. The company also offers to pay the tuition of employees admitted to pursue an online bachelor’s degree at Arizona State University, helping it attract workers with college aspirations.
The Status of U.S. Jobs
Such people, in turn, tend to be sympathetic to unions and a variety of social activism. A recent Gallup poll found that people under 35 or who are liberal are substantially more likely than others to support unions.
Several Starbucks workers seeking to organize unions in Buffalo; Boston; Chicago; Seattle; Knoxville, Tenn.; Tallahassee, Fla.; and the Denver area appeared to fit this profile, saying they were either strong supporters of Mr. Sanders and other progressive politicians, had attended college or both. Most were under 30.
“I’ve been involved in political organizing, the Bernie Sanders campaign,” said Brick Zurek, a leader of a union campaign at a Starbucks in Chicago. “That gave me a lot of skill.” Mx. Zurek, who uses gender-neutral courtesy titles and pronouns, also said they had a bachelor’s degree.
Len Harris, who has helped lead a campaign at a Starbucks near Denver, said that “I admire the progressivism, the sense of community” of politicians like Mr. Sanders and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Democrat of New York. She said that she had graduated from college and that she was awaiting admissions decisions for graduate school.
And most union supporters have drawn inspiration from their colleagues in Buffalo. Sydney Durkin and Rachel Ybarra, who are helping to organize a Starbucks in Seattle, said workers at their store discussed the Buffalo campaign almost daily as it unfolded and that one reached out to the union after the National Labor Relations Board announced the initial results of the Buffalo elections in December. (The union’s second victory was announced Monday, after the labor board resolved ballot challenges.)
Ms. Ybarra said the victory showed workers it was possible to unionize despite company opposition. “The Buffalo folks became superheroes,” she said. “A lot of us spent so much time being afraid of retaliation — none of us could afford to lose our jobs, have our hours cut.”
SEATTLE — Amazon, which faces mounting scrutiny over worker rights, agreed to let its warehouse employees more easily organize in the workplace as part of a nationwide settlement with the National Labor Relations Board this month.
Under the settlement, made final on Wednesday, Amazon said it would email past and current warehouse workers — likely more than one million people — with notifications of their rights and give them greater flexibility to organize in its buildings. The agreement also makes it easier and faster for the N.L.R.B., which investigates claims of unfair labor practices, to sue Amazon if it believes the company violated the terms.
Amazon has previously settled individual cases with the labor agency, but the new settlement’s national scope and its concessions to organizing go further than any previous agreement.
Because of Amazon’s sheer size — more than 750,000 people work in its operations in the United States alone — the agency said the settlement would reach one of the largest groups of workers in its history. The tech giant also agreed to terms that would let the N.L.R.B. bypass an administrative hearing process, a lengthy and cumbersome undertaking, if the agency found that the company had not abided by the settlement.
on a hiring frenzy in the pandemic and is the nation’s second-largest private employer after Walmart, has faced increased labor pressure as its work force has soared to nearly 1.5 million globally. The company has become a leading example of a rising tide of worker organizing as the pandemic reshapes what employees expect from their employers.
This year, Amazon has grappled with organizing efforts at warehouses in Alabama and New York, and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters formally committed to support organizing at the company. Other companies, such as Starbucks, Kellogg and Deere & Company, have faced rising union activity as well.
Compounding the problem, Amazon is struggling to find enough employees to satiate its growth. The company was built on a model of high-turnover employment, which has now crashed into a phenomenon known as the Great Resignation, with workers in many industries quitting their jobs in search of a better deal for themselves.
it would spend $4 billion to deal with labor shortages this quarter alone.
“This settlement agreement provides a crucial commitment from Amazon to millions of its workers across the United States that it will not interfere with their right to act collectively to improve their workplace by forming a union or taking other collective action,” Jennifer Abruzzo, the N.L.R.B.’s new general counsel appointed by President Biden, said in a statement on Thursday.
Amazon declined to comment. The company has said it supports workers’ rights to organize but believes employees are better served without a union.
Amazon and the labor agency have been in growing contact, and at times conflict. More than 75 cases alleging unfair labor practices have been brought against Amazon since the start of the pandemic, according to the N.L.R.B.’s database. Ms. Abruzzo has also issued several memos directing the agency’s staff to enforce labor laws against employers more aggressively.
threw out the results of a failed, prominent union election at an Amazon warehouse in Alabama, saying the company had inappropriately interfered with the voting. The agency ordered another election. Amazon has not appealed the finding, though it can still do so.
Other employers, from beauty salons to retirement communities, have made nationwide settlements with the N.L.R.B. in the past when changing policies.
well established, said Matthew Bodie, a former lawyer for the N.L.R.B. who teaches labor law at Saint Louis University.
“The fact that you can hang around and chat — that is prime, protected concerted activity periods, and the board has always been very protective of that,” he said.
Mr. Miin, who is part of an organizing group called Amazonians United Chicagoland, and other workers in Chicago reached a settlement with Amazon in the spring over the 15-minute rule at a different delivery station where they had worked last year. Two corporate employees also settled privately with Amazon in an agreement that included a nationwide notification of worker rights, but the agency does not police it.
Mr. Goldstein said he was “impressed” that the N.L.R.B. had pressed Amazon to agree to terms that would let the agency bypass its administrative hearing process, which happens before a judge and in which parties prepare arguments and present evidence, if it found the company had broken the agreement’s terms.
“They can get a court order to make Amazon obey federal labor law,” he said.
LONDON — As the still-mysterious Omicron variant reached American shores, the World Health Organization on Wednesday scolded wealthy countries that imposed travel bans and dismissed those that poured resources into vaccine booster campaigns when billions in poor countries had yet to receive their first shots.
The comments by W.H.O. officials reopened fraught questions of equity in how the world has handled the coronavirus pandemic since a stark divide over the availability of vaccines emerged between rich and poor countries earlier this year.
But amid fears of a new wave of Covid-19, that seemed unlikely to sway leaders in Europe, Asia, and the United States, which reported its first confirmed Omicron case, in California, on Wednesday. They are scrambling to shield their populations from the variant — about which much remains unknown — by topping up their protection and tightening restrictions on incoming travel.
Travelers reacted with confusion and dismay to news that the United States plans to toughen testing requirements and the screening of inbound passengers. That decision came after Japan, Israel, and Morocco barred foreign travelers and Australia delayed reopening its borders for two weeks.
revealed to the world — and Dr. Tedros warned that the number would rise.
The W.H.O. also voiced skepticism about ambitious booster plans that it claimed come at the expense of first-time vaccinations in less wealthy nations. Britain this week announced a massive new campaign to deliver booster shots to all adults by the end of January. Other European countries and the Biden administration are also pushing these shots as a first line of defense against the variant, buying time for scientists to unravel its genomic code.
Japan joined Israel and Morocco in barring all foreign travelers, and Australia delayed reopening its borders for two weeks. The C.D.C plans to increase testing and screening of international fliers to the U.S.
A patchwork of regulations. As the new Omicron variant spread around the world, two KLM flights from South Africa became emblematic of the scattershot and lax global approach to coronavirus containment. Of the more than 60 people who tested positive for the virus, at least 14 had Omicron.
A new type of treatment. An expert panel voted to recommend that the F.D.A. authorize a Covid pill from Merck for high-risk adults, the first in a new class of antiviral drugs that could work against a wide range of variants, including Omicron. The pill could be authorized within days, and available by year’s end.
Vaccine hesitancy in Africa. The detection of the Omicron variant in Africa signals the next stage of the battle against Covid-19: getting more people inoculated in poorer nations. But though vaccine supplies are becoming sufficient, the new hurdle is overcoming local skepticism or outright hostility.
The borderless nature of the virus, Mr. Guterres said, means that “travel restrictions that isolate any one country or region are not only deeply unfair and punitive — they are ineffective.”
Although the United States is not weighing the kind of blanket travel ban on foreign visitors imposed by Japan, the restrictions being weighed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States are stirring widespread concern. The agency is considering requiring travelers to provide a negative result from a test taken within 24 hours before departure, a spokesman said on Tuesday night.
Though the C.D.C. has yet to officially announce the changes, the prospect sent travelers searching for updates, booking pre-emptive tests where they could, and scouring airline websites for reservation changes, as the pandemic threatened to upend another December travel season.
Carlos Valencia, a dual Spanish-American citizen whose Seville-based company operates a study abroad program for American students, had planned to return to the United States in January. But he said that he would put the trip on hold until “there is at least some clarity about whether the new rules make a trip feasible.”
Whatever shape the restrictions take, he said, they are “way overdone — especially when you consider how lax the U.S.A. has been with getting people to wear face masks and its own health safety measures.”
Emanuela Giorgetti, a teacher in northern Italy, was hoping to join her fiancé, whom she has not seen for almost two years, for Christmas in Chicago. “When I heard the news,” she said, “I thought, ‘Here we go again.’”
Given the potential threat posed by Omicron, she said she understood the impulse to tighten the rules. But it still seemed unfair.
“We have more vaccinated people in Italy than in the U.S., we wear masks indoors and try to go by the rules,” Ms. Giorgetti said.
Reporting was contributed by Nick Cumming-Bruce, Rick Gladstone, Raphael Minder, Gaia Pianigiani, Michael D. Shear and John Yoon.
Widespread flight cancellations. Excruciating waits for customer service. Unruly passengers.
And that was all before the holiday travel season.
Even in normal times, the days around Thanksgiving are a delicate period for the airlines. But this week is the industry’s biggest test since the pandemic began, as millions more Americans — emboldened by vaccinations and reluctant to spend another holiday alone — are expected to take to the skies than during last year’s holidays.
A lot is riding on the carriers’ ability to pull it off smoothly.
“For many people, this will be the first time they’ve gotten together with family, maybe in a year, year and a half, maybe longer, so it’s very significant,” said Kathleen Bangs, a former commercial pilot who is a spokeswoman for FlightAware, an aviation data provider. “If it goes poorly, that’s when people might rethink travel plans for Christmas. And that’s what the airlines don’t want.”
The Transportation Security Administration said it expected to screen about 20 million passengers at airports in the 10 days that began Friday, a figure approaching prepandemic levels. Two million passed through checkpoints on Saturday alone, about twice as many as on the Saturday before last Thanksgiving.
lengthy note to customers last month.
His apology came after Southwest canceled nearly 2,500 flights over a four-day stretch — nearly 18 percent of its scheduled flights, according to FlightAware — as a brief bout of bad weather and an equally short-lived air traffic control staffing shortage snowballed.
Weeks later, American Airlines suffered a similar collapse, canceling more than 2,300 flights in four days — nearly 23 percent of its schedule — after heavy winds slowed operations at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, its largest hub.
American and Southwest have said they are working to address the problems, offering bonuses to encourage employees to work throughout the holiday period, stepping up hiring and pruning ambitious flight plans.
Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants, a union representing roughly 50,000 flight attendants at 17 airlines, gave the carriers good marks for their preparations.
“First and foremost, we are getting demand back after the biggest crisis aviation has ever faced,” she said.
“I think there has been a lot of good planning,” she added. “And barring a major weather event, I think that the airlines are going to be able to handle the demand.”
Flight crews have had to contend with overwork and disruptive and belligerent passengers, leaving them drained and afraid for their safety.
Helene Albert, 54, a longtime flight attendant for American Airlines, said she took an 18-month leave by choice that was offered because of the pandemic. When she returned to work on Nov. 1 on domestic routes, she said, she saw a difference in passengers from when she began her leave.
“People are hostile,” she said. “They don’t know how to wear masks and they act shocked when I tell them we don’t have alcohol on our flights anymore.”
begun investigations into 991 episodes involving passenger misbehavior in 2021, more than in the last seven years combined. In some cases, the disruptions have forced flights to be delayed or even diverted — an additional strain on air traffic.
gathering storm systems were threatening to deliver gusty winds and rain that could interfere with flights, but for the most part, the weather is not expected to cause major disruptions.
“Overall, the news is pretty good in terms of the weather in general across the country cooperating with travel,” said Jon Porter, the chief meteorologist for AccuWeather. “We’re not dealing with any big storms across the country, and in many places the weather will be quite favorable for travel.”
Even so, AAA, the travel services organization, recommended that airline passengers arrive two hours ahead of departure for domestic flights and three hours ahead for international destinations during the Thanksgiving travel wave.
Some lawmakers warned that a Monday vaccination deadline for all federal employees could disrupt T.S.A. staffing at airports, resulting in long lines at security checkpoints, but the agency said those concerns were unfounded.
“The compliance rate is very high, and we do not anticipate any disruptions because of the vaccination requirements,” R. Carter Langston, a T.S.A. spokesman, said in a statement on Friday.
With many people able to do their jobs or classes remotely, some travelers left town early, front-running what are typically the busiest travel days before the holiday.
TripIt, a travel app that organizes itineraries, said 33 percent of holiday travelers booked Thanksgiving flights for last Friday and Saturday, according to its reservation data. (That number was slightly down from last year, when 35 percent of travelers left on the Friday and Saturday before Thanksgiving, and marginally higher than in 2019, when 30 percent of travelers did so, TripIt said.)
Among those taking advantage of the flexibility was Emilia Lam, 18, a student at New York University who traveled home to Houston on Saturday. She is doing her classes this week remotely, she said, and planned her early getaway to get ahead of the crush. “The flights are going to be way more crowded,” she said, as Thursday approaches.
Robert Chiarito and Maria Jimenez Moya contributed reporting.
Scott Kirby, the chief executive of United Airlines, reached a breaking point while vacationing in Croatia this summer: After receiving word that a 57-year-old United pilot had died after contracting the coronavirus, he felt it was time to require all employees to get vaccinated.
He paced for about half an hour and then called two of his top executives. “We concluded enough is enough,” Mr. Kirby said in an interview on Thursday. “People are dying, and we can do something to stop that with United Airlines.”
The company announced its vaccine mandate days later, kicking off a two-month process that ended last Monday. Mr. Kirby’s team had guessed that no more than 70 percent of the airline’s workers were already vaccinated, and the requirement helped convince most of the rest: Nearly all of United’s 67,000 U.S. employees have been vaccinated, in one of the largest and most successful corporate efforts of the kind during the pandemic.
The key to United’s success, even in states where vaccination rates are at or below the national average, like Texas and Florida, was a gradual effort that started with providing incentives and getting buy-in from employee groups, especially unions, which represent a majority of its workers.
praise from President Biden, who weeks later announced that regulators would require all businesses with 100 or more workers to require vaccinations or conduct weekly virus testing. And the company drew scorn from conservatives.
Other mandates are producing results, too. Tyson Foods, which announced its vaccine requirement just days before United but has provided workers more time to comply, said on Thursday that 91 percent of its 120,000 U.S. employees had been vaccinated. Similar policies for health care workers by California and hospitals have also been effective.
charge its unvaccinated employees an additional $200 per month for health insurance.
A Year in the Making
United had been laying the groundwork for a vaccine mandate for at least a year. The airline already had experience requiring vaccines. It has mandated a yellow fever vaccination for flight crews based at Dulles International Airport, near Washington, because of a route to Ghana, whose government requires it.
In January, at a virtual meeting, Mr. Kirby told employees that he favored a coronavirus vaccine mandate.
Writing letters to families of the employees who had died from the virus was “the worst thing that I believe I will ever do in my career,” he said at the time, according to a transcript. But while requiring vaccination was “the right thing to do,” United would not be able to act alone, he said.
The union representing flight attendants pushed the company to focus first on access and incentives. It argued that many flight attendants couldn’t get vaccinated because they were not yet eligible in certain states.
Mr. Kirby acknowledged that widespread access would be a precondition. The airline and unions worked together to set up clinics for staff in cities where it has hubs like Houston, Chicago and Newark.
was calling on all employers to do so. A mandate would strike workers as unfair and create unnecessary conflict, the flight attendants’ union argued.
“The more people you get to take action on their own, the more you can focus on reaching the remaining people before any knock-down, drag-out scenario,” said Sara Nelson, the president of the Association of Flight Attendants, which represents more than 23,000 active workers at United.
In May, the pilots reached an agreement that would give them extra pay for getting vaccinated and the flight attendants worked toward an agreement that would give them extra vacation days. Both incentives declined in value over time and typically expired by early July.
vaccinated by Oct. 25 or within five weeks of a vaccine’s formal approval by the Food and Drug Administration, whichever came first. The timing was intended to ensure that the airline had adequate staffing for holiday travel, said Kate Gebo, who heads human resources.
This time, the unions were more resigned.
“For those 92 percent of pilots who wanted to be vaccinated, we captured $45 million in cash incentives,” said Captain Insler, whose union is challenging the decision to fire employees who don’t comply. “For those who did not want to be vaccinated, we were able to hold off a mandate for several months.”
Getting Over the Finish Line
The success of the incentives — about 80 percent of United’s flight attendants were also vaccinated by the time the airline announced its mandate in August — inspired the company to expand them to all employees, offering a full day’s pay to anyone who provided proof of vaccination by Sept. 20.
The company hadn’t surveyed its workers, but estimated that 60 to 70 percent were already vaccinated. Getting the rest there wouldn’t be easy.
The State of Vaccine Mandates in the U.S.
Vaccine rules.On Aug. 23, the F.D.A. granted full approval to Pfizer-BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine for people 16 and up, paving the way for mandates in both the public and private sectors. Such mandates are legally allowed and have been upheld in court challenges.
College and universities. More than 400 colleges and universities are requiring students to be vaccinated against Covid-19. Almost all are in states that voted for President Biden.
Schools. California became the first state to issue a vaccine mandate for all educators and has announced plans to add the Covid-19 vaccine as a requirement to attend school as early as next fall. Los Angeles already has a vaccine mandate for public school students 12 and older who are attending class in person starting Nov. 21. New York City has introduced a vaccine mandate for teachers and staff, but it has yet to take effect because of legal challenges. On Sept. 27, a federal appeals panel reversed a decision that temporarily paused that mandate.
Hospitals and medical centers. Many hospitals and major health systems are requiring employees to get vaccinated. Mandates for health care workers in California and New York State appear to have compelled thousands of holdouts to receive shots.
New York City. Proof of vaccination is required of workers and customers for indoor dining, gyms, performances and other indoor situations. City education staff and hospital workers must also get a vaccine.
At the federal level. On Sept. 9,President Biden announced a vaccine mandate for the vast majority of federal workers. This mandate will apply to employees of the executive branch, including the White House and all federal agencies and members of the armed services.
In the private sector. Mr. Biden has mandated that all companies with more than 100 workers require vaccination or weekly testing, helping propel new corporate vaccination policies. Some companies, like United Airlines and Tyson Foods, had mandates in place before Mr. Biden’s announcement.
Margaret Applegate, 57, a 29-year United employee who works as a services representative in the United Club at San Francisco International Airport, helps illustrate why.
Ms. Applegate normally does not hesitate to get vaccines, noting that her late father was a doctor and that her daughter does research in nutritional science.
Her daughter urged her to get vaccinated, but she remained deeply ambivalent. Friends and co-workers “were feeding me stories about horrible things happening to people with the vaccine,” she said. She worried about the relatively new technology behind the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, and whether her heart condition could pose complications, though her cardiologist assured her it wouldn’t.
six employees sued United, arguing that its plans to put exempt employees on temporary leave — unpaid in many circumstances — are discriminatory. United has delayed that plan for at least a few weeks as it fights the suit.
Still, United’s vaccination rate has continued to improve. There was another rush before the deadline to receive the pay incentive and one more before the final Sept. 27 deadline. Toward the end of September, the company said 593 people had failed to comply. By Friday, the number had dropped below 240.
“I did not appreciate the intensity of support for a vaccine mandate that existed, because you hear that loud anti-vax voice a lot more than you hear the people that want it,” Mr. Kirby said. “But there are more of them. And they’re just as intense.”
Some groups have found being productive particularly challenging during the pandemic. Half of parents working from home with children under 18, and nearly 40 percent of all remote workers ages 18 to 49, said it had been difficult for them to be able to get their work done without interruptions, according to the Pew Research Center. Parents were also more likely than those without children to say they had difficulty meeting deadlines and completing projects on time while working at home.
It is possible that people who are working from home — a relatively small percentage of workers compared to those who cannot do their jobs remotely — also have a false sense of how much they are working. In effect, people who are working at home may be using the wrong denominator when calculating the portion of their time they spend doing work, Mr. Syverson, the University of Chicago economist, said. That could make them feel as if they are working less when they are really working the same amount. (This may not be the case for those working remotely in jobs where their output can be more quantified easily, such as sales representatives.)
“I think there is something to the fact that a lot of workers who work at home are never sort of on the clock versus off the clock,” he said. “Rather than dividing a day’s work by eight hours in the office, they divide the day’s work by the 16 hours they are awake.”
As employers continue trying to figure out how to engage their employees and entice them back to empty offices, how to get the most from their work force has become a management puzzle with wide-ranging economic implications. Already, some have announced plans to give employees more flexibility — a nod to the idea that total output and how people feel are intertwined. Twitter said that employees who are able to do their jobs remotely could work from home forever.
Brigid Schulte, the director of the Better Life Lab at New America and the author of “Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time,” said American culture has long believed that working longer means working harder and being more productive, despite the flaws in that way of thinking. She noted the idea that there is a “productivity cliff” — workers are only productive for a certain number of hours, after which their productivity declines and they may begin making mistakes.
“We’ve long had this really erroneous connection between long work must mean hard work and productivity, and it never has,” she said.
Productivity may also no longer be the be-all end-all it once was.
The pandemic has prompted a collective awakening, borne from a constant and immediate fear of contagion and death, over cultural priorities. For many people, especially the percentage of workers who remained employed and are able to work remotely, personal productivity — at least in the sense that it means producing the most at work, in the most number of hours — is no longer necessarily even the goal.
When Facebook this week released its first quarterly report about the most viewed posts in the United States, Guy Rosen, its vice president of integrity, said the social network had undertaken “a long journey” to be “by far the most transparent platform on the internet.” The list showed that the posts with the most reach tended to be innocuous content like recipes and cute animals.
Facebook had prepared a similar report for the first three months of the year, but executives never shared it with the public because of concerns that it would look bad for the company, according to internal emails sent by executives and shared with The New York Times.
In that report, a copy of which was provided to The Times, the most-viewed link was a news article with a headline suggesting that the coronavirus vaccine was at fault for the death of a Florida doctor. The report also showed that a Facebook page for The Epoch Times, an anti-China newspaper that spreads right-wing conspiracy theories, was the 19th-most-popular page on the platform for the first three months of 2021.
The report was nearing public release when some executives, including Alex Schultz, Facebook’s vice president of analytics and chief marketing officer, debated whether it would cause a public relations problem, according to the internal emails. The company decided to shelve it.
called on the company to share more information about false and misleading information on the site, and to do a better job of stopping its spread. Last month, President Biden accused the company of “killing people” by allowing false information to circulate widely, a statement the White House later softened. Other federal agencies have accused Facebook of withholding key data.
Facebook has pushed back, publicly accusing the White House of scapegoating the company for the administration’s failure to reach its vaccination goals. Executives at Facebook, including Mark Zuckerberg, its chief executive, have said the platform has been aggressively removing Covid-19 misinformation since the start of the pandemic. The company said it had removed over 18 million pieces of misinformation in that period.
But Brian Boland, a former vice president of product marketing at Facebook, said there was plenty of reason to be skeptical about data collected and released by a company that has had a history of protecting its own interests.
barred from advertising on Facebook because of its repeated violations of the platform’s political advertising policy.
Trending World, according to the report, was viewed by 81.4 million accounts, slightly fewer than the 18th-most-popular page, Fox News, which had 81.7 million content viewers for the first three months of 2021.
Facebook’s transparency report released on Wednesday also showed that an Epoch Times subscription link was among the most viewed in the United States. With some 44.2 million accounts seeing the link in April, May and June, it was about half as popular as Trending World in the shelved report.
Sheera Frenkel and Mike Isaac contributed reporting. Jacob Silver and Ben Decker contributed research.
“We’ve taken the stance that we’re not going to ask employees to get vaccinated because of the sheer multiple who don’t want to get vaccinated,” said Mr. Lucanera, who is vaccinated. “If we demand for a lot of them to get vaccinated to come back to work, we are afraid they’re not going to come back.”
But as Covid cases have escalated, some of his unvaccinated workers have gotten sick. To cover their shifts, he has had to pay others overtime, which has been a drain on the company’s bottom line. Recently, he turned down a contract with a school district because he didn’t have enough officers to fulfill the request.
“It almost seems that whoever already doesn’t have it by this time has made up their minds,” Mr. Lucanera said. “If I put my foot down, will it hurt the company in terms of creating a bigger problem than we have?”
Still, for many unvaccinated workers, finding a new job is often not a desirable, or feasible, option.
Benjamin Rose, 28, who works at a global bank in the Chicago area, said his decision not to get the shot was “really just a cost-benefit analysis.” He contracted Covid-19 six months ago, he said, and a recent blood test showed he still had antibodies.
But because he is not vaccinated, his company requires that he work remotely even as it has begun to allow vaccinated employees back in the office. While he said he enjoyed the flexibility of remote work and was not opposed to vaccine mandates, he also did not want to feel like he was being coerced.
“I find it a little irksome how big corporations, the media and the government are all sort of this united front in pushing the vaccine so hard,” Mr. Rose said.
At the same time, he said, if his company instituted a vaccine mandate, he would likely comply.
“It’s not the hill I’m going to die on,” he said. “If it really became something that was going to strongly affect my career, I would probably just get it.”
Over the last decade, Dr. Mercola has built a vast operation to push natural health cures, disseminate anti-vaccination content and profit from all of it, said researchers who have studied his network. In 2017, he filed an affidavit claiming his net worth was “in excess of $100 million.”
And rather than directly stating online that vaccines don’t work, Dr. Mercola’s posts often ask pointed questions about their safety and discuss studies that other doctors have refuted. Facebook and Twitter have allowed some of his posts to remain up with caution labels, and the companies have struggled to create rules to pull down posts that have nuance.
“He has been given new life by social media, which he exploits skillfully and ruthlessly to bring people into his thrall,” said Imran Ahmed, director of the Center for Countering Digital Hate, which studies misinformation and hate speech. Its “Disinformation Dozen” report has been cited in congressional hearings and by the White House.
In an email, Dr. Mercola said it was “quite peculiar to me that I am named as the #1 superspreader of misinformation.” Some of his Facebook posts were only liked by hundreds of people, he said, so he didn’t understand “how the relatively small number of shares could possibly cause such calamity to Biden’s multibillion dollar vaccination campaign.”
The efforts against him are political, Dr. Mercola added, and he accused the White House of “illegal censorship by colluding with social media companies.”
He did not address whether his coronavirus claims were factual. “I am the lead author of a peer reviewed publication regarding vitamin D and the risk of Covid-19 and I have every right to inform the public by sharing my medical research,” he said. He did not identify the publication, and The Times was unable to verify his claim.
A native of Chicago, Dr. Mercola started a small private practicein 1985 in Schaumburg, Ill. In the 1990s, he began shifting to natural health medicine and opened his main website, Mercola.com, to share his treatments, cures and advice. The site urges people to “take control of your health.”