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Amazon Says 20,000 Workers Caught the Coronavirus

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Credit…Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times

Almost 20,000 Amazon employees in the United States — less than 1.5 percent of the company’s frontline work force — have had confirmed or presumed cases of the coronavirus, the company said Thursday.

The e-commerce giant said it has employed 1,372,000 frontline workers at Amazon and its Whole Foods grocery stores since the start of March, and by its calculations, the infection rate among employees was on average 42 percent lower than in the surrounding communities, when it adjusted for the age of its work force.

Amazon has seen a surge in demand during the pandemic as people have bought more products online to avoid shopping in physical stores. The company faced criticism from its workers and from lawmakers about its safety protocols, particularly in the spring, as the country locked down but Amazon remained open as an essential business. Amazon said it did its best to introduce safety measures while serving a critical need for customers.

The company also said Thursday that it plans to expand its in-house program to test workers for the virus, from a few thousand a day under its current pilot program to 50,000 a day by November.

Credit…Eric Johnson/Reuters

Boeing plans to consolidate production of its 787 Dreamliner jet at its factory in South Carolina, dealing a blow to workers in the Seattle area where the plane is also manufactured.

The move won’t take place until mid-2021 at the earliest and comes as Boeing contends with a steep decline in air travel that has devastated the aviation business. Over the past year, the company has repeatedly slashed production of the Dreamliner, a twin-aisle jet designed for long flights, and it warned this summer that it was exploring producing the plane in just one place.

“To ensure we can be effective in a market that will be smaller in the near-term, and one that will have different demands from our customers long-term, we made a decision earlier this morning to consolidate 787 production in South Carolina after months of detailed and thorough study,” Stan Deal, president and chief executive of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, said in a message to employees.

The company did not say how many workers in the Seattle area might lose their jobs because of the decision. About 900 people work on the Dreamliner in Washington, Boeing said, and at least some may be reassigned to other planes.

The union representing machinists in Washington State had accused Boeing of using the crisis as a cover to move production to the company’s factory in North Charleston, S.C., where workers are not unionized. Another union, the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace, criticized Boeing for abandoning its members.

“We believe Boeing is making a mistake,” Ray Goforth, the society’s executive director, said in a statement. “SPEEA’s immediate focus is supporting the members who will be laid off. Long term we will partner with community stakeholders to attract new aerospace jobs to the state by marketing the aerospace talent pool Boeing is walking away from.”

Boeing had cut production of the plane from 14 to 10 a month in April. In July, it announced plans to drop production to six per month next year. The company is also working to address quality concerns that have slowed delivery of the jet. Boeing and the Federal Aviation Administration are looking into the issues, which could affect nearly 900 planes.

The company started producing the Dreamliner in Everett, Wash., in 2007 and in South Carolina in 2010, but only the South Carolina factory is equipped to build the larger variant of the plane. Boeing’s Washington work force will continue to work on the 737, 747, 767 and 777.

The troubled 737 Max appears to be moving toward a return to service by early next year after being grounded worldwide last year following two fatal crashes.

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Pelosi ‘Hopeful’ for Another Coronavirus Relief Package

Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters that Republicans and Democrats were still in talks about a coronavirus relief package.

Right now, we’re at the table discussing how we go forward with a possible Covid bill. Again, at that table, it reflected some of the differences that you saw in the debate. For example, we’re hopeful that we can reach agreement because the needs of the American people are so great. But there has to be a recognition that it takes money to do that. And it takes the right language to make sure it is done right. So again, we have concerns about a sufficient amount of money to address unemployment insurance needs of the American people. We have concerns about, for example — how about this as a stark example — of a difference, not just of dollars but of values.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters that Republicans and Democrats were still in talks about a coronavirus relief package.CreditCredit…Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times

House Democrats on Thursday pushed through a $2.2 trillion stimulus plan that would provide aid to families, schools, restaurants, businesses and airline workers, advancing a wish list with little chance of becoming law.

The pandemic relief measure passed the House on a 214-to-207 vote, with at least 17 Democrats joining Republicans in opposing it. The handful of moderate Democrats who bucked their party argued that with negotiations still taking place with the Trump administration, the chamber should vote on a bipartisan deal.

Republicans had already panned the relief bill as too large.

The decision to put it to a vote anyway on Thursday evening reflected mounting anxiety among some rank-and-file Democrats at the prospect of facing voters next month without being able to point to some action to provide relief. There was also a desire among some party members to formalize their latest offer.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi insisted that there was still a chance that the talks would produce a deal, but the vote shined a light on the continued failure of Congress and the White House to come together on a new package, and the dwindling chances that they can do so before lawmakers scatter to campaign for re-election.

Earlier in the day, Ms. Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin spoke with each other for about 50 minutes, with Mr. Mnuchin taking an offer of a $1.6 trillion package to Ms. Pelosi’s Capitol Hill suite.

Ms. Pelosi told reporters that she did not expect a resolution on a stimulus package to emerge Thursday. But she said that she was reviewing documents sent by the Treasury Department and that “we’re going back and forth with our paper and conversation.”

During the stalemate, several industries, notably airlines, are running into severe financial constraints as the virus persists and people continue to shy away from traveling. United Airlines and American Airlines began furloughs of 30,000 workers on Thursday after Congress was unable to come up with a fresh aid package for the industry.

Credit…Bridget Bennett for The New York Times

American employers continue to cut jobs, signaling new anxiety about the course of the coronavirus pandemic and uncertainty about further legislative relief.

Furloughs of more than 30,000 workers by United Airlines and American Airlines began Thursday after Congress was unable to come up with a fresh aid package for the industry. The Walt Disney Company, whose theme parks in Florida and California have been hard hit by a shortage of visitors, said Tuesday that it would lay off 28,000 workers.

Allstate announced Wednesday that it would lay off approximately 3,800 employees, or about 8 percent of the roughly 46,000 employees Allstate had at the end of 2019, and the book publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt said on Thursday it would cut about 22 percent of its work force as part of a restructuring.

Many economists say another effort like the CARES Act, passed in March, could ease the employment outlook, but an agreement has been elusive for months. Last-ditch negotiations between the White House and congressional Democrats were continuing Thursday, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi refused to rule out the chance of reaching an agreement with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

The Labor Department reported Thursday that 787,000 Americans filed for state unemployment benefits for the first time last week. It was a decline from the previous week’s total of 827,000, but the figures — unadjusted for seasonal variations — are roughly four times the weekly tally of claims from before the pandemic.

“Clearly there has been a moderation in the rate of improvement from the early stages,” said Michelle Meyer, head of U.S. economics at Bank of America. “As we get further away from the initial shock, we have less of a natural catch-up, and we face more residual damage.”

With seasonal adjustments, last week’s figure was 837,000.

Applications for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, an emergency federal program aimed at independent contractors, gig workers and part-time employees, totaled 650,000.

The Commerce Department said Thursday that personal income declined 2.7 percent in August, after a slight increase in July, reflecting the cessation of the $600 payments.

On Friday, the Labor Department will report on hiring and unemployment for September, when hiring is expected to continue to slow as it has for the past several months.

  • Stocks on Wall Street managed to hold onto gains on Thursday, though trading was at times unsteady, as investors watched for developments in Washington for a new government spending plan to bolster the U.S. economy.

  • The S&P 500 rose about half a percent. A rally in technology stocks helped, with the Nasdaq composite rising more than 1 percent. Netflix rose more than 5 percent, while Twitter gained more than 4 percent. Also higher Thursday were shares of Bed Bath & Beyond, which rose more than 26 percent, after the home-goods retailer reported an increase in comparable-store sales.

  • But concern about the economy was evident in the energy market. Crude oil prices tumbled nearly 4 percent, and shares of energy companies were also lower. Valero Energy fell nearly 7 percent and Halliburton more than 7 percent, and were the worst performing shares in the S&P 500.

  • Investors have been focused on lawmakers as Democrats and Republicans try to reach an agreement on the appropriate level of financial support for small businesses, workers, state governments and the broader economy.

  • House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin have been trying to reach an agreement for days. They spoke earlier on Thursday and were expected to do so again later in the day. “The two discussed further clarifications on amounts and language, but distance on key areas remain,” a spokesman for Ms. Pelosi, Drew Hammill, said on Twitter.

  • But Wall Street analysts said they did not expect any additional fiscal stimulus before the November election, and major airlines began to furlough workers on Thursday after financial support from Washington ended the day before.

  • “We’re hearing a lot of hope out of Speaker Pelosi and Secretary Mnuchin that a deal will get done, but we wonder if this chatter is merely something to drown out all of the layoff announcements we’ve heard this week out of companies,” Matt Maley, chief market strategist at Miller Tabak, wrote in an email to clients on Thursday.

Credit…Beverly Hills Police Department

The unemployment insurance system — the main artery for delivering financial assistance to laid-off workers — has been besieged during the coronavirus crisis by fraud schemes aimed at bilking the government out of hundreds of millions of dollars.

Most of the fraud is being engineered by criminals, some of them working together, who have stolen or bought other people’s identities.

The U.S. Labor Department recently made fraud detection a priority, dedicating $100 million to combat the problem. But several state officials and security experts say some of the efforts have been misdirected, designed to uncover workers misrepresenting their eligibility.

“The focus continues to be on lying instead of stealing,” said Suzi LeVine, the commissioner of the Employment Security Department in Washington State. Traditional fraud-prevention strategies, she said, “will not help us catch these thieves.”

In California, fraud has been so pervasive that officials have suspended processing jobless claims for two weeks to put new controls in place and reduce a bulging backlog.

Unemployment insurance has generally not been a ripe target because states have been reducing benefits and tightening access. That changed after Congress moved in March to help workers suddenly left jobless when the coronavirus crisis upended the economy.

Handled by the states, pandemic jobless benefits were meant to cover self-employed, part-time and gig workers; independent contractors; and others ordinarily ineligible for unemployment insurance. But the desire to get money quickly to households facing eviction, hunger or financial ruin made the program vulnerable to swindlers. It depends largely on individuals’ certifying that they are unemployed because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“There is a low barrier to entry for potential scammers and criminals who are interested in getting involved with this form of fraud,” Parker Crucq, a senior threat intelligence analyst at the cybersecurity firm Recorded Future.

Credit…Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times

Tens of thousands of airline workers were furloughed starting Thursday after a widely supported effort to renew federal stimulus funding for the industry failed to overcome a congressional stalemate.

American Airlines and United Airlines told employees on Wednesday night that they would proceed with more than 32,000 furloughs, though both companies said they would reverse course if lawmakers provided the funding the industry had sought.

“I am extremely sorry we have reached this outcome,” Doug Parker, American’s chief executive, said in a letter to staff. “It is not what you all deserve.”

Passenger airlines received $25 billion in payroll funding under the March stimulus law known as the CARES Act, on the condition that they refrained from broad job cuts until Oct. 1. Unions representing airline workers had garnered bipartisan support in Congress for another round of aid in recent weeks, but the effort was caught in the deadlock over a broader stimulus package, even after airline executives pleaded their case in Washington.

The pandemic’s toll on air travel and the industry has been so severe that tens of thousands of airline employees have already volunteered to take pay cuts, unpaid leave for an extended period, buyouts or early retirement.

  • The Supreme Court of Ireland ruled that the bread Subway used in its sandwiches was not in fact bread. With a sugar content five times that of the country’s legal limit, the bread served at U.S. sandwich food chain could no longer be considered bread or a “staple product” but a confectionary, the court said. The ruling stems from a case that questioned whether the bread counted as a staple food and was therefore exempt from taxes. Subway has nearly 2,500 stores in England and Ireland.

  • Swedish retailer H&M said online sales were growing strongly and the company had already returned to profit in the third quarter. H&M also announced that it would close 250 stores globally next year as part of its plans to consolidate stores and ramp up digital offerings to meet the needs of customers who are increasingly choosing to shop online. Its shares rose 6 percent on Thursday.

  • Google said on Thursday that it would spend more than $1 billion to license content from international news organizations, after years of criticism that it was not providing fair compensation for articles and other content linked to by its internet search products. The program is part of a new Google product called News Showcase. The company will pay publishers to curate the material that will be presented.

  • Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, one of the largest book publishers in the United States, said on Thursday that it was cutting 22 percent of its work force, including 525 employees who were laid off plus 166 who opted for a voluntary retirement program. Publishers like HMH that supply a lot of educational books and materials have been hit hard by school closures. The company said it anticipated saving about $95 to $100 million per year through staff reductions and other cost-saving measures, including shifting away from “print-centric processes” to digital ones, a response to many schools’ focus on remote learning this year.

  • Carnival Cruise Line has canceled cruises from all of its U.S. home ports except Miami and Port Canaveral for November and December, following a decision from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to extend its no-sail order for cruise operations. “As we have said throughout this pause, our return to operations will be gradual and phased in,” Christine Duffy, president of Carnival Cruise Line, said in a statement. “And while we are not making any presumptions, once cruising is allowed, we will center our initial start-up from the home ports of Miami and Port Canaveral.”

Credit…Victoria Jones/Agence France-Presse, via Pool/Afp Via Getty Images

London’s transport system will need another 5.7 billion pounds, or $7.3 billion, to get through the next 18 months, the city’s mayor, Sadiq Khan, said on Thursday, in a sign of how decimated the system has been by the pandemic, travel restrictions and orders to work from home.

Transport for London, the local government agency that oversees the city’s transportation system, already received a £1.6 billion bailout in May to keep running services through the pandemic. That deal is set to end later this month.

The additional money is needed because of a drop in passenger numbers and the increased cost of completing a delayed rail line, Mr. Khan said. The number of journeys on the London Underground was down more than 60 percent at the end of September compared with the end of February, before the pandemic. Income from passenger fares fell by 90 percent because of the lockdown, the mayor added.

In a submission to the government’s Comprehensive Spending Review, a process used to set budget priorities for the next few years, Mr. Khan called for £100 million for London’s creative industries, which have been hit particularly hard by the pandemic. He also accused the British government of leaving the capital out of investment plans for the country’s economic recovery.

London has been affected by travel restrictions and quarantine requirements that have reduced tourism as well as social distancing requirements that have kept theaters, museums and other attractions closed or at severely reduced capacity.

Credit…Pool photo by Nicholas Kamm/EPA, via Shutterstock

A Senate committee voted on Thursday to authorize subpoenas for the testimony of the chief executives of Facebook, Google and Twitter as it examines a law that shields the companies from legal liability over content they host.

The move could allow lawmakers to grill the executives — Mark Zuckerberg, Sundar Pichai and Jack Dorsey — about how they handle content on their platforms, manage their users’ data and fend off competition.

Their testimony would fuel a growing debate over the liability shield, known as Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which makes it impossible to sue online platforms over their users’ content in some cases.

Facebook and Twitter declined to comment. Google did not respond to a request for comment.

Republicans on the Senate Commerce Committee are particularly interested in charges that the platforms are slanted against conservative views. Senator Roger Wicker, Republican of Mississippi and chairman of the committee, said Thursday that the companies’ participation was “required to reveal the extent of influence their companies have over American speech during a critical time in our democratic process.”

Despite their claims, conservatives outlets and pundits are among the most successful pages on Facebook and have built devoted followings on YouTube, which is owned by Google.

Democrats initially balked at the prospect of subpoenaing the executives because they said it was an attempt to put pressure on social media companies ahead of a hotly contested national election.

“What I don’t want to see is a chilling effect on individuals who are in a process of trying to crack down on hate speech or misinformation about Covid during a pandemic,” Senator Maria Cantwell of Washington, the top Democrat on the committee, said on Thursday. But she agreed to support the subpoenas if they also included language about concerns over user privacy and the impact that online platforms have on local news.

Some Democratic leaders, including Joseph R. Biden Jr., have indicated that they are open to revising Section 230, which critics say has allowed Silicon Valley to take a hands-off approach to speech. (The industry says that the law has allowed tech companies to grow quickly without impinging on free expression.)

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