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Met Opera Protest: Unions Rally Against Proposed Pay Cuts

Tensions rose even higher when the stagehands learned that the Met had outsourced some of its set construction to nonunion shops elsewhere in this country and overseas. (In a letter to the union last year, Peter Gelb, the Met’s general manager, wrote that the average full-time stagehand cost the Met $260,000 in 2019, including benefits; the union disputes that number, saying that when the steady extra stagehands who work at the Met regularly, and sometimes full-time, are factored in, the average pay is far lower.)

The stagehand lockout has not been absolute. Claffey said that at the Met’s request, he has allowed several Local One members to work at the Met under the terms of the previous contract, particularly to help the union wardrobe staff who are on duty.

But although the Met has now reached a deal with the American Guild of Musical Artists, which represents its chorus, it has yet to reach one with Local 802 of the American Federation of Musicians, which represents the orchestra. Both groups were furloughed without pay for nearly a year after the opera house closed before they were brought back to the bargaining table with the promise of partial pay of up to $1,543 per week.

Adam Krauthamer, the president of Local 802, pointed out that because of the Met’s labor divisions, other performing arts institutions were ahead of the Met in reopening.

“Broadway is selling tickets; the Philharmonic is doing performances; they’re building stages right before our eyes,” Krauthamer said in a speech at the rally. “The Met is the only place that continues to try to destroy its workers’ contracts.”

The rally had the backing of several local politicians who spoke, including Gale Brewer, the Manhattan borough president, and the New York State Senators Jessica Ramos and Brad Hoylman, who had a message for the Met’s general manager: “Mr. Gelb, could you leave the drama on the stage, please?”

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Middle-Class Pay Lost Pace. Is Washington to Blame?

One of the most urgent questions in economics is why pay for middle-income workers has increased only slightly since the 1970s, even as pay for those near the top has escalated.

For years, the rough consensus among economists was that inexorable forces like technology and globalization explained much of the trend. But in a new paper, Lawrence Mishel and Josh Bivens, economists at the liberal Economic Policy Institute, conclude that government is to blame. “Intentional policy decisions (either of commission or omission) have generated wage suppression,” they write.

Included among these decisions are policymakers’ willingness to tolerate high unemployment and to let employers fight unions aggressively; trade deals that force workers to compete with low-paid labor abroad; and the tacit or explicit blessing of new legal arrangements, like employment contracts that make it harder for workers to seek new jobs.

Together, Dr. Mishel and Dr. Bivens argue, these developments deprived workers of bargaining power, which kept their wages low.

decline of unions; a succession of trade deals with low-wage countries; and increasingly common arrangements like “fissuring,” in which companies outsource work to lower-paying firms, and noncompete clauses in employment contracts, which make it hard for workers to leave for a competitor.

also written about unions and other reasons that workers have lost leverage, said the portion of the wage gap that Dr. Mishel and Dr. Bivens attribute to such factors probably overstated their impact.

The reason, he said, is that their effects can’t simply be added up. If excessive unemployment explains 25 percent of the gap and weaker unions explain 20 percent, it is not necessarily the case that they combine to explain 45 percent of the gap, as Dr. Mishel and Dr. Bivens imply. The effects overlap somewhat.

Dr. Katz added that education plays a complementary role to bargaining power in determining wages, citing a historical increase in wages for Black workers as an example. In the first several decades of the 20th century, philanthropists and the N.A.A.C.P. worked to improve educational opportunities for Black students in the South. That helped raise wages once a major policy change — the Civil Rights Act of 1964 — increased workers’ power.

“Education by itself wasn’t enough given the Jim Crow apartheid system,” Dr. Katz said. “But it’s not clear you could have gotten the same increase in wages if there had not been earlier activism to provide education.”

Daron Acemoglu, an M.I.T. economist who has studied the effects of technology on wages and employment, said Dr. Mishel and Dr. Bivens were right to push the field to think more deeply about how institutions like unions affect workers’ bargaining power.

But he said they were too dismissive of the role of market forces like the demand for skilled workers, noting that even as the so-called college premium has mostly flattened over the last two decades, the premium for graduate degrees has continued to increase, most likely contributing to inequality.

Still, other economists cautioned that it was important not to lose sight of the overall trend that Dr. Mishel and Dr. Bivens highlight. “There is just an increasing body of work trying to quantify both the direct and indirect effects of declining worker bargaining power,” said Anna Stansbury, the co-author of a well-received paper on the subject with former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers. After receiving her doctorate, she will join the faculty of the M.I.T. Sloan School of Management this fall.

“Whether it explains three-quarters or one-half” of the slowdown in wage growth, she continued, “for me the evidence is very compelling that it’s a nontrivial amount.”

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F.B.I. Asking Questions After a Pension Fund Aimed High and Fell Short

A spokeswoman for the fund, Evelyn Williams, said that it was cooperating with the federal investigation and that the board had also opened its own inquiry. Beyond that, she said, the fund would not comment, because “protecting the integrity of these investigations is necessary.”

The fund’s 15 trustees have hired several law firms to deal with different lines of inquiry, plus an investment firm to assume the duties of the fund’s chief investment officer, James H. Grossman Jr.

The error in calculating returns was a tiny one, just four one-hundredths of a percentage point. But it was enough — just barely — to push the fund’s performance over a critical threshold of 6.36 percent that, by law, determines whether certain teachers have to pay more into the fund. The close call raised questions about whether someone had manipulated the numbers and the error wasn’t really an error at all.

Since the corrected number didn’t clear the benchmark, nearly 100,000 teachers hired after July 1, 2011, will have to contribute more for three years starting on July 1.

The pension fund, Pennsylvania’s biggest, has roughly 256,000 active members and 265,000 retirees. Pennsylvanians have been complaining about teachers’ pension costs since 2001, when state lawmakers sweetened all state workers’ pensions — including their own — on the thinking that the bull market of the 1990s would continue indefinitely. That mistake was laid bare a few months later when Wall Street and the economy dived after the terror attacks of Sept. 11. But lawmakers said the pension boosts couldn’t be reversed.

The pensions of state workers are often funded through the mysterious maze of the state budget, so their rising cost is hard to see. But teachers’ pensions in Pennsylvania are funded through local property taxes, so when the fund needed more money, homeowners felt the bite.

Taxpayer contributions to the teachers’ pension fund nearly quintupled from 2001 to 2008, causing an outcry. Then came the financial crisis of 2008, and seven years’ worth of taxpayer pain came to naught. The fund emerged from the Great Recession with even less money than it had in 2001, the year of the big miscalculation.

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Luring Labor as a Beach Economy Booms

REHOBOTH BEACH, Del. — Dogfish Head Craft Brewery is struggling to hire manufacturing workers for its beer factory and staff members for its restaurants in this coastal area, a shortage that has grown so acute that the company has cut dining room hours and is now offering vintage cases of its 120 Minute India Pale Ale as a signing bonus to new hires.

The company is using its hefty social media presence “to get the bat signal out” and “entice beverage-loving adults” to join the team, Sam Calagione, the company’s founder, said on a steamy afternoon this month at Dogfish’s brewpub, which was already doing brisk business ahead of vacation season.

Economic activity is expected to surge in Delaware and across the country as people who missed 2020 getaways head for vacations and the newly vaccinated spend savings amassed during months at home.

Yet as they race to hire before an expected summertime economic boom, employers are voicing a complaint that is echoing all the way to the White House: They cannot find enough workers to fill their open positions and meet the rising customer demand.

April labor market report underscored those concerns. Economists expected companies to hire one million people, but data released on Friday showed that they had added only 266,000, even as vaccines became widely available and state and local economies began springing back to life. Many analysts thought labor shortages might explain the disappointment.

Some blame expanded unemployment benefits, which are giving an extra $300 per week through September, for keeping workers at home and hiring at bay. Republican governors in Arkansas, Montana and South Carolina moved last week to end the additional benefits for unemployed workers in their states, citing companies’ labor struggles.

President Biden said on Monday that there was no evidence that the benefit was chilling hiring. In remarks at the White House, he said his administration would make clear that any worker who turned down a suitable job offer, with rare exceptions for health concerns related to the coronavirus, would lose access to unemployment benefits. But school closings, child care constraints and incomplete vaccine coverage were playing a larger role in constraining hiring, the president said.

He called on companies to step up by helping workers gain access to vaccines and increasing pay. “We also need to recognize that people will come back to work if they’re paid a decent wage,” Mr. Biden said.

In tourist spots like Rehoboth Beach, companies face a shortage of seasonal immigrants, a holdover from a ban enacted last year that has since expired. But the behavior of the area’s businesses, from breweries to the boardwalk, suggests that much of the labor shortage also owes to the simple reality that it is not easy for many businesses simultaneously to go from a standstill to an economic sprint — especially when employers are not sure the new boom will last.

The New York Times visited last year to take the temperature of the labor market, think workers will come flooding back in September, when the more generous unemployment benefits expire.

At least 10 people in and around Rehoboth, managers and workers alike, cited expanded payments as a key driver of the labor shortage, though only two of them personally knew someone who was declining to work to claim the benefit.

“Some of them are scared of the coronavirus,” said Alan Bergmann, a resident who said he knew six or seven people who were forgoing work. Mr. Bergmann, 37, was unable to successfully claim benefits because the state authorities said he had earned too little in either Delaware or Pennsylvania — where he was living in the months before the pandemic — to qualify.

Whether it is unemployment insurance, lack of child care or fear of infection that is keeping people home, the perception that the job market is hot is at odds with overall labor numbers. Nationally, payroll employment was down 8.2 million compared with its prepandemic level, and unemployment remained elevated at 6.1 percent in April.

shorti” hoagies each shift for new associates. A local country club is offering referral bonuses and opening up jobs to members’ children and grandchildren. A regional home builder has instituted a cap on the number of houses it can sell each month as everything — open lots, available materials, building crews — comes up short.

Openings have been swiftly increasing — a record share of small business owners report having an opening they are trying to fill — and quit rates have rebounded since last year, suggesting that workers have more options.

Mr. Bergmann is among those who are benefiting. He said he had a felony on his record, and between that and the coronavirus, he was unable to find work last year. He struggled to survive with no income, cycling in and out of homelessness. Now he works a $16-an-hour job selling shirts on the boardwalk and has been making good money as a handyman for the past three months, enough to rent a room.

Brittany Resendes, 18, a server at the Thompson Island Brewing Company in Rehoboth Beach, took unemployment insurance temporarily after being furloughed in March 2020. But she came back to work in June, even though it meant earning less than she would have with the extra $600 top-up available last year.

“I was just ready to get back to work,” she said. “I missed it.”

She has since been promoted to waitress and is now earning more than she would if she were still at home claiming the $300 expanded benefit. She plans to serve until she leaves for the University of Delaware in August, and then return during school breaks.

Scott Kammerer oversees a local hospitality company that includes the brewery where Ms. Resendes works, along with restaurants like Matt’s Fish Camp, Bluecoast and Catch 54. He has been able to staff adequately by offering benefits and taking advantage of the fact that he retained some workers since his restaurants did not close fully or for very long during the pandemic.

optimism and trillions in government spending fuel an economic rebound. If many businesses treat the summer bounce as likely to be short lived, it may keep price gains in check.

At Dogfish Head, the solution has been to also temporarily limit what is on offer. The Rehoboth brewpub has cut its lunches, and its sister restaurant next door is closed on Mondays. Mr. Calagione said he did not want to think about the business they would forgo if they cannot hire the dozens of employees needed by the peak summer season.

But as it offers cases of its cult-favorite beer and signing bonuses to draw new hires, the company seems less focused on another lever: lasting pay bumps. Steve Cannon, a server at Dogfish Head, can walk to what he regards as his retirement job. He said he was not thinking of switching employers, but several co-workers had left recently for better wages elsewhere.

“There’s nobody,” said Mr. Cannon, 57. “So people are going to start throwing money at them.”

When asked if it was raising pay, Dogfish Head said it offered competitive wages for the area.

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Chipotle Will Raise Average Wage to $15 an Hour

Hoping to attract more employees, Chipotle said on Monday that it was increasing its wages to an average of $15 an hour by the end of June.

The fast-food chain, which is looking to hire 20,000 employees for its peak season and to staff the more than 200 restaurants it plans to open this year, said the wage increase would result in hourly workers making between $11 and $18 an hour.

Chipotle is the latest restaurant chain to raise wages or offer incentives as it struggles to staff its restaurants. As coronavirus vaccinations have increased and government restrictions eased, the restaurant industry, which laid off or furloughed millions of employees during the pandemic, suddenly went on a hiring spree, as did several other service-related industries.

That sudden high demand for restaurant workers has been tough to meet. Some potential employees, whether concerned about the safety of serving customers dining indoors or buoyed by government stimulus checks, are wary of returning to work.

report released last week showed a significant jump in the number of workers hired in the restaurant and bar sector, but employment levels at full-service restaurants in February remain 20 percent lower than a year ago, according to the National Restaurant Association. That’s the equivalent of 1.1 million jobs. Employment at fast-food and fast-casual restaurants was down 6 percent over the same period.

Raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour has been one of the items on the agenda of President Biden. An attempt to add the provision to the pandemic relief bill signed in March failed after Congress removed it from the package.

At the time, the restaurant industry had argued that a wage increase would imperil the recovery for the industry because it would result in higher prices and mean not as many workers could be hired.

Now, struggling to attract candidates, Chipotle is not only raising its hourly wages, it is offering referral bonuses for crew members and managers.

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Seeing the Real Faces of Silicon Valley

Mary Beth Meehan and

Mary Beth Meehan is an independent photographer and writer. Fred Turner is a professor of communication at Stanford University.


The workers of Silicon Valley rarely look like the men idealized in its lore. They are sometimes heavier, sometimes older, often female, often darker skinned. Many migrated from elsewhere. And most earn far less than Mark Zuckerberg or Tim Cook.

This is a place of divides.

As the valley’s tech companies have driven the American economy since the Great Recession, the region has remained one of the most unequal in the United States.

During the depths of the pandemic, four in 10 families in the area with children could not be sure that they would have enough to eat on any given day, according to an analysis by the Silicon Valley Institute for Regional Studies. Just months later, Elon Musk, the chief executive of Tesla, who recently added “Technoking” to his title, briefly became the world’s richest man. The median home price in Santa Clara County — home to Apple and Alphabet — is now $1.4 million, according to the California Association of Realtors.

For those who have not been fortunate enough to make billionaire lists, for midlevel engineers and food truck workers and longtime residents, the valley has become increasingly inhospitable, testing their resilience and resolve.

Seeing Silicon Valley,” from which this photo essay is excerpted.

it would give $1 billion in loans, grants and land toward creating more affordable housing in the area. Of that pledge, $25 million would go toward building housing for educators: 120 apartments, including for Konstance and the other teachers in the original pilot as long as they were working in nearby schools.

At the time of the announcement, Facebook said the money would be used over the next decade. Construction on the teacher housing has yet to be completed.

One day Geraldine received a phone call from a friend: “They’re taking our churches!” her friend said. It was 2015, when Facebook was expanding in the Menlo Park neighborhood where she lived. Her father-in-law had established a tiny church here 55 years before, and Geraldine, a church leader, couldn’t let it be torn down. The City Council was holding a meeting for the community that night. “So I went to the meeting,” she said. “You had to write your name on a paper to be heard, so I did that. They called my name and I went up there bravely, and I talked.”

Geraldine doesn’t remember exactly what she said, but she stood up and prayed — and, ultimately, the congregation was able to keep the church. “God really did it,” she said. “I didn’t have nothing to do with that. It was God.”

In 2016, Gee and Virginia bought a five-bedroom house in Los Gatos, a pricey town nestled beside coastal foothills. Houses on their street cost just under $2 million at the time, and theirs was big enough for each of their two children to have a bedroom and for their parents to visit them from Taiwan.

Together, the couple earn about $350,000 a year — more than six times the national household average. Virginia works in the finance department of Hewlett-Packard in Palo Alto, and Gee was an early employee of a start-up that developed an online auctioning app.

They have wanted to buy nice furniture for the house, but between their mortgage and child care expenses, they don’t think they can afford to buy it all at once. Some of their rooms now sit empty. Gee said that Silicon Valley salaries like theirs sounded like real wealth to the rest of the country, but that here it didn’t always feel that way.

Jon lives in East Palo Alto, a traditionally lower-income area separated from the rest of Silicon Valley by Highway 101.

By the time Jon was in the eighth grade he knew he wanted to go to college, and he was accepted by a rigorous private high school for low-income children. He discovered an aptitude for computers, and excelled in school and professional internships. Yet as he advanced in his career, he realized that wherever he went there were very few people who looked like him.

“I got really troubled,” he said. “I didn’t know who to talk to, and I saw that it wasn’t a problem for them. I was just like ‘I need to do something about this.’”

Jon, now in his 30s, has come back to East Palo Alto, where he has developed maker spaces and brought tech-related education projects to members of the community.

“It is amazing living here,” said Erfan, who moved to Mountain View when her husband got a job as an engineer at Google. “But it’s not a place I want to spend my whole life. There are lots of opportunities for work, but it’s all about the technology, the speed for new technology, new ideas, new everything.” The couple had previously lived in Canada after emigrating from Iran.

“We never had these opportunities back home, in Iran. I know that — I don’t want to complain,” she added. “When I tell people I’m living in the Bay Area, they say: ‘You’re so lucky — it must be like heaven! You must be so rich.’”

But the emotional toll can be weighty. “We are sometimes happy, but also very anxious, very stressed. You have to be worried if you lose your job, because the cost of living is very high, and it’s very competitive. It’s not that easy — come here, live in California, become a millionaire. It’s not that simple. ”

Elizabeth studied at Stanford and works as a security guard for a major tech firm in the area. She is also homeless.

Sitting on a panel about the issue at San Jose State University in 2017, she said, “Please remember that many of the homeless — and there are many more of us than are captured in the census — work in the same companies that you do.” (She declined to disclose which company she worked for out of fear of reprisal.)

While sometimes homeless co-workers may often serve food in cafeterias or clean buildings, she added, many times they’re white-collar professionals.

“Sometimes it takes only one mistake, one financial mistake, sometimes it takes just one medical catastrophe. Sometimes it takes one tiny little lapse in insurance — it can be a number of things. But the fact is that there’s lots of middle-class people that fell into poverty very recently,” she said. “Their homelessness that was just supposed to be a month or two months until they recovered, or three months, turns out to stretch into years. Please remember, there are a lot of us.”

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Jobs Report April 2021: U.S. Added 266,000 Positions as Hiring Slowed

Despite the falloff in applicants, he is confident the company will get the workers it needs. “Our funnel hasn’t been filling as fast but there’s been no major service disruptions,” he said.

Gail Myer, whose family owns six hotels in Branson, Mo., has been having more trouble. “I talk to people all over the country on a regular basis in the hospitality industry, and the No. 1 topic of discussion is shortage of labor,” he said.

Before the pandemic, Mr. Myer said, there were about 150 full-time employees at his six hotels, but now staffing is down about 15 percent. Jobs at Myer Hospitality for housekeepers, breakfast attendants and receptionists are advertised as paying $12.75 to $14 an hour, plus benefits and a $500 signing bonus.

Returning to work is not yet an option for Lauren Fine, an education consultant in Denver. Ms. Fine, who is single and has a toddler, lost her job early in the pandemic. She initially collected unemployment benefits, but for the last nine months she has cobbled together jobs like tutoring and contract work.

She said she has been making less than half of her previous salary, creating something of an inescapable cycle: She cannot afford to send her son to day care for more than two days a week, and her child-care responsibilities are preventing her from taking a full-time job. In addition, she said, she has an autoimmune illness, making the possibility of contracting Covid-19 in the workplace especially harrowing.

“I like to say it’s just like spinning plates,” she said. Ms. Fine is considering giving up looking for a full-time job for the next year, until her son is old enough to attend school five days a week.

Jillian Melton worked for six years at a restaurant in Memphis before the pandemic, but she said the danger of infection coupled with low pay and babysitter costs make working not worth the risk right now. She is at home caring for her five children, including one with asthma, and her 93-year-old grandmother.

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Biden’s Proposals Aim to Give Sturdier Support to the Middle Class

Skeptics have warned of government overreach and the risk that deficit spending could ignite inflation, but Mr. Biden and his team of economic advisers have, nonetheless, embraced the approach.

“It’s time to grow the economy from the bottom and middle out,” Mr. Biden said in his speech to a joint session of Congress last week, a reference to the idea that prosperity doesn’t trickle down from the wealthy, but flows out of a well-educated and well-paid middle class.

He underscored the point by singling out workers as the dynamo powering the middle class.

“Wall Street didn’t build this country,” he said. “The middle class built the country. And unions built the middle class.”

Of course, the economy that lifted millions of postwar families into the middle class differed sharply from the current one. Manufacturing, construction and mining jobs, previously viewed as the backbone of the labor force, dwindled — as did the labor unions that aggressively fought for better wages and benefits. Now, only one out of every 10 workers is a union member, while roughly 80 percent of jobs in the United States are in the service sector.

And it is these types of jobs, in health care, education, child care, disabled and senior care, that are expected to continue expanding at the quickest pace.

Most of them, though, fall short of paying middle-income wages. That does not necessarily reflect their value in an open market. Salaries for teachers, hospital workers, lab technicians, child care providers and nursing home attendants are determined largely by the government, which collects tax dollars to pay their salaries and sets reimbursements rates for Medicare and other programs.

They are also jobs that are filled by significant numbers of women, African-Americans, Latinos and Asians.

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Amazon’s profits soar 220 percent as pandemic drives shopping online.

With the pandemic shifting sales online and consumers flush with stimulus checks, Amazon on Thursday reported $108.5 billion in sales in the first three months of the year, up 44 percent from a year earlier. It also posted $8.1 billion in profit, an increase of 220 percent from the same period last year.

The first-quarter results surpassed Wall Street’s expectations. Shares were up as much as 5 percent in aftermarket trading.

The most profitable parts of Amazon’s retail business boomed. Revenue from merchants listing items on its website and using its warehouses was up 64 percent, to $23.7 billion. Its “other” business segment, which is largely its lucrative advertising business, increased 77 percent, to almost $7 billion.

Amazon previously disclosed that 200 million people pay for Prime memberships, and subscription revenue for that service and others reached almost $7.6 billion in the quarter. In addition to paying Amazon $119 a year or $12.99 a month for free shipping and other perks, households with Prime memberships typically spend $3,000 a year on Amazon, more than twice what households without the membership spend, according to Morgan Stanley.

step down as chief executive later this year and transition into the role of executive chairman.

Amazon’s total work force dipped slightly between December and the end of March, falling by 27,000 to 1,271,000 employees globally. That was still 51 percent more workers than the same period last year. On Wednesday, Amazon announced it would increase pay for half a million workers and was hiring “tens of thousands” more.

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