California Anti-Gig-Worker Regulations Have “Unintended Victims”

(p. B1) SAN FRANCISCO — After months of bickering over who would be covered by a landmark bill meant to protect workers, California legislators passed legislation on Wednesday [Sept. 11, 2019] that could help hundreds of thousands of independent contractors become employees and earn a minimum wage, overtime pay and other benefits.

. . .

In California, religious groups said they feared that small churches and synagogues would not be able to afford making pastors and rabbis employees. Winemakers and franchise owners said they were worried they could be ensnared by the law, too. Even some of the contractors for the app-based businesses that have been at the center of this debate said the change could hurt them if companies like Uber, Lyft and DoorDash decided to restrict how often they could work or cut them off entirely.

. . .

(p. B4) Small vineyard owners are concerned that they could be forced to directly employ the independent truckers they use to haul their harvests and become responsible for providing insurance and workers’ compensation. Currently, truckers operate as contractors, with their own rigs and insurance, and serve several vineyards, said Michael Miiller, director of government relations at the California Association of Winegrape Growers.

“Our members are growers, not trucking companies,” Mr. Miiller said. “The target of legislators is Uber and Lyft, but the unintended victims are small, independent vineyards on the coast of California.”

Saunda Kitchen owns a Mr. Rooter plumbing business in Sonoma County that has 30 employees, for whom she pays payroll taxes and provides the various mandated benefits. But Ms. Kitchen said she believed that she herself would have to become an employee of Mr. Rooter under the new law, which could cause the parent company to pull out of the state.

“I wouldn’t have access to new technology, training, help with marketing,” said Ms. Kitchen, who planned to talk with Mr. Rooter officials on Thursday [Sept. 12, 2019] about how to proceed.

For the full story, see:

Kate Conger and Noam Scheiber. “Gig-Worker Law Sows Confusion and Defiance.” The New York Times (Thursday, September 12, 2019): B1 & B4.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed dates, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Sept. 11, 2019, and has the title “California’s Contractor Law Stirs Confusion Beyond the Gig Economy.”)

Princeton Economist Blinder Wrongly Forecast Huge Offshoring of Jobs

(p. A1) A widely covered 2007 study by Alan S. Blinder, a Princeton economist and former Clinton administration official, estimated that a quarter or more of jobs were vulnerable within the next decade. But many companies discovered that labor savings were offset by other factors: time differences, language barriers, legal hurdles and the simple challenge of coordinating work half a world (p. A14) away. In some cases, companies decided they were better off moving jobs to less expensive parts of the United States rather than out of the country.

“Where in retrospect I missed the boat is in thinking that the gigantic gap in labor costs between here and India would push it to India rather than to South Dakota,” Mr. Blinder said in a recent interview. “There were other aspects of the costs to moving the activities that we weren’t thinking about very much back then when people were worrying about offshoring.”

. . .

In a follow-up paper released Friday [Sept. 27, 2019], another economist, Adam Ozimek, revisited Mr. Blinder’s analysis to see what had happened over the past decade. Some job categories that Mr. Blinder identified as vulnerable, like data-entry workers, have seen a decline in United States employment. But the ranks of others, like actuaries, have continued to grow.

Over all, of the 26 occupations that Mr. Blinder identified as “highly offshorable” and for which Mr. Ozimek had data, 15 have added jobs over the past decade and 11 have cut them. Altogether, those occupations have eliminated fewer than 200,000 jobs over 10 years, hardly the millions that many feared. A second tier of jobs — which Mr. Blinder labeled “offshorable” — has actually added more than 1.5 million jobs.

For the full story, see:

Ben Casselman. “White-Collar Jobs Were Supposed to Go Overseas. They Didn’t.” The New York Times (Monday, September 30, 2019): A1 & A14.

(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed year, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the same date as the print version, and has the title “The White-Collar Job Apocalypse That Didn’t Happen.”)

The Alan Blinder paper mentioned above, is:

Blinder, Alan. “How Many U.S. Jobs Might Be Offshorable?” Princeton University, Department of Economics, Center for Economic Policy Studies, Working Paper # 142, March 2007.

The “follow-up paper” mentioned above, is:

Ozimek, Adam. “Overboard on Offshore Fears.” 2019. https://www.upwork.com/press/economics/report-overboard-on-offshore-fears/

Start-Up Is Building Largest Greenhouse in U.S., Creating 285 Jobs in Kentucky

(p. B6) MOREHEAD, Ky. — Proximity to big markets is crucial for the fresh produce business.

So when AppHarvest, a two-year-old start-up, was looking for a site for a greenhouse, it picked a 366-acre field in Rowan County just outside Morehead, a university town in eastern Kentucky.

The greenhouse, the largest in the United States, will be just a day’s drive from almost 70 percent of American consumers, including those who love fresh tomatoes.

Next summer, when AppHarvest begins production at its $97 million building, 285 employees will start shipping 45 million pounds of fresh produce annually, primarily tomatoes, to grocery stores from Atlanta to New York, and as far west as Chicago and St. Louis.

For the greenhouse to be cost-effective, size was as important as location. The 60-acre, 2.76-million-square-foot building will be big enough to lower costs on materials, production and distribution.

“I asked the engineers, ‘How big can we possibly be to operate efficiently and effectively?’” said Jonathan Webb, AppHarvest’s 34-year-old founder and chief executive. “We have to compete with produce coming from 2,000 miles away.” Continue reading “Start-Up Is Building Largest Greenhouse in U.S., Creating 285 Jobs in Kentucky”

Johns Hopkins Fires Professor for Defending Research Computer from Occupying Student Protesters

(p. A10) Shortly after midnight on May 8, [2019] a man slipped into an administration building at Johns Hopkins University with a pair of bolt cutters. In a dark stairwell, he got to work, sweating through his shirt as he struggled to cut through the metal chains attached to a first-floor door.

The man was a professor at the university, and he was trying to wrest the building from student protesters who had occupied it for more than a month. Before long, the students ejected the professor, Daniel Povey, 43, from the building.

This week, Johns Hopkins kicked him off the faculty, too.

. . .

Mr. Povey wrote on his website that the students had scratched him as they took him out of the building. He also wrote that he faced more serious consequences than the students — who he noted had also entered the building without permission — because Johns Hopkins feared being accused of racism. He said he had tried to take the building back from the students in part because a computer server that hosted his research was inside and malfunctioning.

For the full story, see:

Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs. “Professor Tried To Forcibly End Student Sit-In. Now He’s Gone.” The New York Times (Monday, August 12, 2019): A10.

(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed year, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Aug. 11, 2019, and has the title “A Professor Tried to End a Sit-In With Bolt Cutters. Now He’s Been Fired.”)

Consumers May Again Be Free to Choose an Incandescent Bulb

(p. A1) The Trump administration plans to significantly weaken federal rules that would have forced Americans to use much more energy-efficient light bulbs, a move that could contribute to greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming.

The proposed changes would eliminate requirements that effectively meant that most light bulbs sold in the United States — not only the familiar, pear-shaped ones, but several other styles as well — must be either LEDs or fluorescent to meet new efficiency standards.

The rules being weakened, which dated from 2007 and the administration of President George W. Bush and slated to start in the new year, would have all but ended the era of the incandescent bulb invented more than a century ago.

. . .

The Trump administration said the changes would benefit consumers by keeping prices low and eliminating government regulation.

For the full story, see:

John Schwartz. “New Rollback To Ease a Ban On Old Bulbs.” The New York Times (Thursday, September 5, 2019): A1 & A15.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was last updated Sept. 6 [sic], 2019, and has the title “White House to Relax Energy Efficiency Rules for Light Bulbs.”)

U.S. Forest Service Regulations Delay Monitoring Signs of Volcanic Eruptions

(p. D1) On Mount Hood, “any little thing that happens could have a big consequence,” said Dr. Moran, scientist-in-charge at the federal Cascades Volcano Observatory.

And yet the volcano is hardly monitored. If scientists miss early warning signs of an eruption, they might not know the volcano is about to blow until it’s too late.

Determined to avoid such a tragedy, Dr. Moran and his colleagues proposed installing new instruments on the flanks of Mount Hood in 2014. Those include three seismometers to measure earthquakes, three GPS instruments to chart ground deformation and one instrument to monitor gas emissions at four different locations on the mountain.

But they quickly hit a major hiccup: The monitoring sites are in wilderness areas, meaning that the use of the land is tightly restricted. It took five years before the Forest Service granted the team approval in August.

The approval is a promising step forward, but Dr. Moran and his colleagues still face limitations, including potential legal action that may block their work.

Such obstacles are a problem across the United States where most volcanoes lack adequate monitoring. Although federal legislation passed in March could help improve the monitoring of volcanoes like Mount Hood, scientists remain concerned that red tape could continue to leave them blind to future eruptions, with deadly consequences.

For the full story, see:

Shannon Hall. “Eruptions of Red Tape.” The New York Times (Tuesday, September 10, 2019): D1 & D6.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Sept. 9, 2019, and has the title “We’re Barely Listening to the U.S.’s Most Dangerous Volcanoes.”)

If Steve “Jobs Had Lived, Disney and Apple Might Have Merged”

(p. B7) Mr. Iger believes that, if Mr. Jobs had lived, Disney and Apple might have merged.

. . .

He thinks that Mr. Jobs also could have helped steer Silicon Valley in a better direction. “Steve had quite a conscience.” Mr. Iger says. “It didn’t always manifest itself in his interpersonal relationships, but he had quite a conscience. Silicon Valley needs leaders.” The two men became so close that Mr. Jobs pulled Mr. Iger aside right before the announcement of the $7 billion Disney-Pixar deal to confide that his pancreatic cancer had come back and was now in his liver. Only his wife, Laurene, knew. Mr. Iger had to think fast; he rejected Mr. Jobs’s offer to back out of the deal.

For the full interview, see:

Maureen Dowd, interviewer. “The Slow-Burning Success of a Hollywood Nice Guy.” The New York Times (Thursday, Sept. 26, 2019): D1 & D6-D7.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the interview has the same date as the print version, and has the title “The Slow-Burning Success of Disney’s Bob Iger.”)

The book discussed in the interview is:

Iger, Robert. The Ride of a Lifetime: Lessons Learned from 15 Years as CEO of the Walt Disney Company. New York: Random House, 2019.