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Starbucks leader grilled by Senate over anti-union actions

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Starbucks leader grilled by Senate over anti-union actions

Longtime Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz insisted the coffee chain hasn’t broken labor laws and is willing to bargain with unionized workers during an often testy, two-hour appearance before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

But he also was firm in his stance that the Seattle coffee giant already provides good wages and benefits and doesn’t need a union. And he pointed out that only around 1% of Starbucks’ 250,000 U.S. employees have elected to join a union.

“We’ve done everything that we possibly can to respect the right under the law of our partners’ ability to join a union,” Schultz said. “But conversely, we have consistently laid out our preference, without breaking any law, of communicating to our people what we believe is our vision for the company.”

At least 293 of Starbucks’ 9,000 company-owned U.S. Starbucks stores have voted to unionize since late 2021, according to the National Labor Relations Board. Starbucks Workers United, the labor group seeking to unionize stores, has yet to reach a contract agreement with the company at any Starbucks store.

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Vermont Independent who has been a vocal supporter of Starbucks labor organizers, accused the company of stalling. He said multiple federal courts and administrative judges at the NLRB have found Starbucks guilty of hundreds of labor law violations, including firing labor organizers and illegally closing unionized stores.

“The fundamental issue we are confronting today is whether we have a system of justice that applies to all, or whether billionaires and large corporations can break the law with impunity,” Sanders said.

Jaysin Saxton, a disabled U.S. Coast Guard veteran and former Starbucks shift supervisor, testified that the company fired him in July after he led a two-day strike at his Augusta, Georgia, store, which voted to unionize last spring. Saxton has filed unfair labor practice charges with the NLRB.

Prior to the union vote, Saxton said Starbucks flooded the store with managers who disciplined employees for minor violations and held required meetings where they threatened employees with a loss of benefits if they voted to unionize. After the union vote, he said, seven workers were fired and others at the store saw their hours cut.

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“Starbucks and big corporations have a lot of power and money and they are willing to pull out all the stops to deny workers a voice and a seat at the table,” he said.

Schultz denied the company has broken the law and said Starbucks is appealing those charges. He said Starbucks respects workers’ right to unionize but believes the company already provides its workers with industry-leading wages and benefits.

He noted that Starbucks’ average starting wage is $17.50, while the minimum wage in Vermont is $13.18.

“I think unions have served an important role in American business for many years. In the ’50s and ’60s, unions generally were working on behalf of people in a company where people haven’t been treated fairly,” Schultz said. “We do not believe that we are that kind of company. We do nothing nefarious. We put our people first.”

That comment earned a rebuke from Sen. Mike Braun, an Indiana Republican, who said $17 per hour is not a living wage.

“Any large corporation shouldn’t necessarily be bragging about $15 to $20 wages,” Braun said.

But other Republicans defended Starbucks, saying it has created millions of jobs and is being demonized by Democrats to bolster their support from unions.

Sen. Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican, questioned why customers are willing to pay $6 for a Starbucks latte, and said his family is satisfied with Maxwell House. But Starbucks still deserves respect, he said.

“The hearing today is convened to attack a private company for its success,” Paul said.

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Sen. Tina Smith, a Minnesota Democrat, questioned Schultz’s respect for employees, noting that the company has refused to add new benefits — like credit card tipping or wage increases — at stores that have unionized. Schultz countered that those benefits are subject to bargaining.

Smith said labor organizers are seeking to address an imbalance of power within the company. Workers say Starbucks cuts their schedules with little notice, for example, making them ineligible for benefits.

“You’re a billionaire and they are your employees. The imbalance is extreme,” Smith said.

Schultz angrily responded that repeatedly calling him a “billionaire” was unfair.

“I grew up in federally subsidized housing. My parents never owned a home. Yes, I have billions of dollars. I earned it. No one gave it to me,” he said.

Sanders had sought Schultz’s testimony for months. Schultz had tried to sidestep the hearing, suggesting that others in the company were more deeply involved in labor matters.

But Sanders argued that Schultz, who stepped down as interim CEO last week but remains on the company’s board, was instrumental in setting the company’s policies. Schultz, who led Starbucks from 1987 to 2000 and from 2008 to 2017, returned as interim CEO last April.

Sanders asked Schultz to commit to providing the union with contract proposals within 14 days. Schultz would not, but said Starbucks remains prepared to meet in-person for bargaining. The union has tried to hold some bargaining sessions over Zoom, which Starbucks has rejected.

Starbucks’ anti-union stance appears set to continue under the company’s new CEO, Laxman Narasimhan, who took over leadership of the company last week.

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“I continue to believe a direct relationship with our partners is the best way forward,” Narasimhan told The Associated Press last week.

Still, the company could face some internal pressure to improve its labor relations. Late Wednesday, Starbucks said its shareholders had approved a measure calling for an independent assessment of the company’s commitment to workers’ rights. Fifty-two percent of those voting favored the measure.

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Remember last year’s Memorial Day travel jams? Chances are they will be much worse this year

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Remember last year’s Memorial Day travel jams? Chances are they will be much worse this year

The patience of Memorial Day weekend travelers was tested Thursday by widespread delays across the country, but there were relatively few canceled flights, raising hopes that airlines can handle bigger crowds expected Friday.

By early evening on the East Coast, more than 6,000 flights had been delayed Thursday, with the biggest backups at the three major airports in the New York City area and Dallas-Fort Worth International.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pasha Pidlubniak waits for a domestic flight at Miami International Airport, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Miami. A record number of Americans are expected to travel over the 2024 Memorial Day holiday. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

 

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Pasha Pidlubniak waits for a domestic flight at Miami International Airport, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Miami. A record number of Americans are expected to travel over the 2024 Memorial Day holiday. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

 

The Transportation Security Administration predicted that Friday will be the busiest day for air travel over the holiday weekend, with nearly 3 million people expected to pass through airport checkpoints. It could rival the record of 2.9 million, set on the Sunday after Thanksgiving last year.

“Airports are going to be more packed than we have seen in 20 years,” said Aixa Diaz, a spokesperson for AAA.

When they aren’t waiting out flight delays, travelers are reporting sticker shock at the prices.

At Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, Larisa Latimer of New Lenox, Illinois, said her airfare was reasonable but other expenses for a getaway to New Orleans were not.

 

 

 

 

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Motorists travel along Interstate 24 near the Interstate 40 interchange Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Nashville, Tenn. A record number of Americans are expected to hit the pavement over the 2024 Memorial Day holiday. (AP Photo/George Walker IV)

 

Motorists travel along Interstate 24 near the Interstate 40 interchange Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Nashville, Tenn. A record number of Americans are expected to hit the pavement over the 2024 Memorial Day holiday. (AP Photo/George Walker IV)

 

“I just have to make the accommodation,” she said. “The rental car is up … this year, the hotel accommodations were very unusually expensive.”

Kathy Larko of Fort Meyers, Florida, used frequent-flyer miles — and some flexible scheduling — to pay for her trip to Chicago.

“I’m really conscious of looking at the cost of the entire trip. We’re staying a little farther out than we normally would” to get a lower hotel rate, she said. “We’re also flying back a day later, because we could get cheaper miles.”

More travelers will be on the road. AAA estimates that 43.8 million people will venture at least 50 miles (80 kilometers) from home between Thursday and Monday, with 38 million of them taking vehicles.

 
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Travelers wait at a TSA checkpoint at the Los Angeles International Airport, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Los Angeles. A record number of Americans are expected to travel over the 2024 Memorial Day holiday. (AP Photo/Ryan Sun)

 

Travelers wait at a TSA checkpoint at the Los Angeles International Airport, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Los Angeles. A record number of Americans are expected to travel over the 2024 Memorial Day holiday. (AP Photo/Ryan Sun)

 

Airport unions are using the holiday weekend to highlight their demands.

About 100 workers who clean airplane cabins and drive trash trucks at the airport in Charlotte, North Carolina, started a 24-hour strike Thursday, demanding better pay and healthcare, according to the Service Employees International Union. About 15% of flights were delayed, but it was unclear whether the strike played any role.

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A planned strike at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York was averted, however. Teamsters Local 553, which represents about 300 workers who refuel passenger and cargo jets at JFK, said that it reached a settlement with Allied Aviation Services and called off a walkout planned for Friday.

 

 

 

 

 

 

George Ridley, 4, left, rides on a suitcase as he and his father Chris Ridley make their way through the Nashville international Airport, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Nashville, Tenn. A record number of Americans are expected to travel over the 2024 Memorial Day holiday. (AP Photo/George Walker IV)

 

George Ridley, 4, left, rides on a suitcase as he and his father Chris Ridley make their way through the Nashville international Airport, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Nashville, Tenn. A record number of Americans are expected to travel over the 2024 Memorial Day holiday. (AP Photo/George Walker IV)

 

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“We are happy an agreement has been reached, a need for a strike averted, and we are hopeful that the deal will be ratified by our members,” said Demos Demopoulos, the secretary-treasurer of the local.

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Associated Press video journalist Melissa Perez Winder in Chicago and Associated Press radio reporter Shelley Adler in Washington contributed to this report.

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Texas health department appoints anti-abortion OB-GYN to maternal mortality committee

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Texas health department appoints anti-abortion OB-GYN to maternal mortality committee

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas’ health department has appointed an outspoken anti-abortion OB-GYN to a committee that reviews pregnancy-related deaths as doctors have been warning that the state’s restrictive abortion ban puts women’s lives at risk.

Dr. Ingrid Skop was among the new appointees to the Texas Maternal Morality and Morbidity Review Committee announced last week by the Texas Department of State Health Services. Her term starts June 1.

The committee, which compiles data on pregnancy-related deaths, makes recommendations to the Legislature on best practices and policy changes and is expected to assess the impact of abortion laws on maternal mortality.

Skop, who has worked as an OB-GYN for over three decades, is vice president and director of medical affairs for the Charlotte Lozier Institute, an anti-abortion research group. Skop will be the committee’s rural representative.

Skop, who has worked in San Antonio for most of her career, told the Houston Chronicle that she has “often cared for women traveling long distances from rural Texas maternity deserts, including women suffering complications from abortions.”

Texas has one of the most restrictive abortion bans in the U.S., and doctors have sought clarity on the state’s medical exemption, which allows an abortion to save a woman’s life or prevent the impairment of a major bodily function. Doctors have said the exemption is too vague, making it difficult to offer life-saving care for fear of repercussions. A doctor convicted of providing an illegal abortion in Texas can face up to 99 years in prison and a $100,000 fine and lose their medical license.

Skop has said medical associations are not giving doctors the proper guidance on the matter. She has also shared more controversial views, saying during a congressional hearing in 2021 that rape or incest victims as young as 9 or 10 could carry pregnancies to term.

Texas’ abortion ban has no exemption for cases of rape or incest.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, which says abortion is “inherently tied to maternal health,” said in a statement that members of the Texas committee should be “unbiased, free of conflicts of interest and focused on the appropriate standards of care.” The organization noted that bias against abortion has already led to “compromised” analyses, citing a research articles co-authored by Skop and others affiliated with the Charlotte Lozier Institute.

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Earlier this year a medical journal retracted studies supported by the Charlotte Lozier Institute claiming to show harms of the abortion pill mifepristone, citing conflicts of interests by the authors and flaws in their research. Two of the studies were cited in a pivotal Texas court ruling that has threatened access to the drug.

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Michigan farmworker diagnosed with bird flu, becoming 2nd US case tied to dairy cows

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Michigan farmworker diagnosed with bird flu, becoming 2nd US case tied to dairy cows

A Michigan dairy worker has been diagnosed with bird flu — the second human case associated with an outbreak in U.S. dairy cows.

The male worker had been in contact with cows at a farm with infected animals. He experienced mild eye symptoms and has recovered, U.S. and Michigan health officials said in announcing the case Wednesday.

A nasal swab from the person tested negative for the virus, but an eye swab tested Tuesday was positive for bird flu, “indicating an eye infection,” U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials said.

The worker developed a “gritty feeling” in his eye earlier this month but it was a “very mild case,” said Dr. Natasha Bagdasarian, Michigan’s chief medical executive. He was not treated with oseltamivir, a medication advised for treating bird flu, she said.

The risk to the public remains low, but farmworkers exposed to infected animals are at higher risk, health officials said. They said those workers should be offered protective equipment, especially for their eyes.

Health officials say they do not know if the Michigan farmworker was wearing protective eyewear, but an investigation is continuing.

In late March, a farmworker in Texas was diagnosed in what officials called the first known instance globally of a person catching this version of bird flu from a mammal. That patient reported only eye inflammation and recovered.

Since 2020, a bird flu virus has been spreading among more animal species — including dogs, cats, skunks, bears and even seals and porpoises — in scores of countries.

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The detection in U.S. livestock earlier this year was an unexpected twist that sparked questions about food safety and whether it would start spreading among humans.

That hasn’t happened, although there’s been a steady increase of reported infections in cows. As of Wednesday, the virus had been confirmed in 51 dairy herds in nine states, according to the U.S. Agriculture Department. Fifteen of the herds were in Michigan.

The CDC’s Dr. Nirav Shah said the case was “not unexpected” and it’s possible more infections could be diagnosed in people who work around infected cows.

U.S. officials said they had tested 40 people since the first cow cases were discovered in late March. Michigan has tested 35 of them, Bagdasarian told The Associated Press in an interview.

Shah praised Michigan officials for actively monitoring farmworkers. He said health officials there have been sending daily text messages to workers exposed to infected cows asking about possible symptoms, and that the effort helped officials catch this infection. He said no other workers had reported symptoms.

That’s encouraging news, said Michael Osterholm, a University of Minnesota epidemiologist who has studied bird flu for decades. There’s no sign to date that the virus is causing flu-like illness or that it is spreading among people.

“If we had four or five people seriously ill with respiratory illness, we would be picking that up,” he said.

The virus has been found in high levels in the raw milk of infected cows, but government officials say pasteurized products sold in grocery stores are safe because heat treatment has been confirmed to kill the virus.

The new case marks the third time a person in the United States has been diagnosed with what’s known as Type A H5N1 virus. In 2022, a prison inmate in a work program picked it up while killing infected birds at a poultry farm in Montrose County, Colorado. His only symptom was fatigue, and he recovered. That predated the virus’s appearance in cows.

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The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Science and Educational Media Group. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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