(CNN) — Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings is suing Florida’s surgeon general over the state’s law that prohibits companies from requiring customers and employees to provide documentation of Covid-19 vaccination status.
According to the complaint filed Tuesday, NCLH says the lawsuit is a “last resort” because Florida had indicated it would prevent the company from “safely and soundly resuming passenger cruise operations” next month. It described the state law as an “anomalous, misguided intrusion.”
CNN has reached out to the Florida Department of Health for comment.
The NCLH complaint names Surgeon General Dr. Scott Rivkees in his capacity as “the responsible state official.”
In April, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed an executive order banning the use of Covid-19 passports in the state. The order prohibited any government entity from issuing vaccine passports and blocks businesses from requiring any such documentation.
Senate Bill 2006 was signed into law on May 3, making that executive order official. “In Florida, your personal choice regarding vaccinations will be protected and no business or government entity will be able to deny you services based on your decision,” DeSantis said.
The cruise line, though, wants documentation that all passengers and crew members have been fully vaccinated.
“The upshot places NCLH in an impossible dilemma as it prepares to set sail from Florida: NCLH will find itself either on the wrong side of health and safety and the operative federal legal framework, or else on the wrong side of Florida law,” the complaint says.
NCLH is set to resume cruises from Florida on August 15 “in a way that will be safe, sound, and consistent with governing law,” the complaint says, citing regulations set by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“The risk of transmission of COVID-19 among the unvaccinated in the close quarters of cruise ships coupled with the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines in preventing the spread of COVID19 and in reducing the deaths caused by COVID-19 makes transmission of information about COVID-19 vaccines a matter of life and death,” the complaint says.
NCLH is asking the court to suspend Florida’s prohibition, according to the lawsuit, filed in US District Court for the Southern District of Florida.
In May, NCLH CEO Frank Del Rio said Florida’s law could cause the company to move its ships elsewhere.
“At the end of the day, cruise ships have motors, propellers and rudders, and God forbid we can’t operate in the state of Florida for whatever reason, then there are other states that we do operate from, and we can operate from the Caribbean for a ship that otherwise would have gone to Florida,” he said during the company’s quarterly earnings call.
The CEO described the issue over the Covid regulations as a “classic state versus federal government issue.” He added, “Lawyers believe that federal law applies.”
Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. operates three cruise lines: Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises.
AUSTIN (KXAN) — On Friday, the extra $ 300 a week in federal unemployment assistance for the COVID-19 pandemic ends in Texas.
According to data from Indeed, in states where they have already ended that extra money, fewer people are searching for jobs compared to the rest of the nation. In states yet to end the benefits, people are searching for jobs at a higher rate.
Despite the concern, the Austin Chamber of Commerce reported Austin regained 97% of the jobs lost due to the pandemic last spring.
Leisure and hospitality industries added 4,800 jobs last month, which is nearly 74% of all jobs lost in that industry in March and April last year.
This data makes it tough for some restaurants who are searching for workers. The Oasis on Lake Travis, a popular Austin-area attraction, is saying “no one wants to work” there.
Outside the Oasis, you’ll find a sign that reads: “Thank you for coming. We are short staffed. Please be patient with the staff that did show up. No one wants to work anymore.”
“The entire public is ready to come back, and enjoy the summer as much as possible,” said Billy Enney, Oasis assistant general manager.
It’s a great, but frustrating struggle for Enney, who does the scheduling for staff at the Oasis.
“I’m more flexible than I’ve ever been before. We’re accepting part-time work, we’re accepting less than part-time work,” said Enney.
As a manager, he’s having to work in the kitchen and wait tables too to fill in those gaps. Enney said staffing is down by 30% for the summer peak hours. Generally the Oasis needs 200 employees to efficiently run during the summer. Right now they’re a little over 100.
“We’ve tried incentive programs, we’ve tried referral bonuses, we’ve raised the pay across the board,” said Enney.
In Austin, the Capital Area Workforce Solutions organization helps connect people to jobs. Leslie Puckett, a research director for the group, said unemployment in Austin is trending down.
“Some individuals are still hesitant to move into those face-to-face jobs,” said Puckett.
In May 2021, more than 30,000 new jobs were posted for the Austin metro area. 5,000 of those postings were for the tech industry, with roughly 3,000 being for retail.
The National Restaurant Association blames three things for the shortage of employees: People nervous about working in a close environment, switching from cooking and serving to driving for Door Dash or Uber Eats and unemployment benefits that often exceed the pay for some jobs.
“Everyone is different, and everyone has a different situation in life with their family and health,” said Puckett.
Enney is banking on the worker pool expanding as benefits run out.
“We’re pretty much always at 90% capacity for the first floor,” said Enney.
According to Capital Area Workforce Solutions, the Austin-area unemployment rate is 4.2%, which is about 54,000 jobless residents. That number is 2% higher than pre-pandemic, however, it’s still less than the national unemployment rate at 5.5% and the Texas unemployment rate at 5.9%.
Author: Kaitlyn Karmout
This post originally appeared on KXAN Austin
A plan to overhaul the pension for Texas’ future state employees and shore up billions of dollars in unfunded obligations owed to retirees received initial backing on Wednesday from the Texas Senate.
Republican State Sen. Joan Huffman’s proposal to revamp the Texas Employees Retirement System moved forward by a 20-11 vote, despite fierce opposition from some state workers’ unions. Senate Bill 321 would enroll new state workers hired after Sept. 1, 2022 in a cash balance plan — similar to a common 401(k) retirement account — rather than the traditional defined benefit pension plan.
“This is a good bill,” Huffman said. “It’s good for current workers, it’s good for future workers and it requires a great investment by the state of Texas into their employees.”
Texas’ pension fund faces a $ 14.7 billion shortfall. Huffman amended the bill on Wednesday to authorize annual payments of $ 510 million through 2054 to pay down debt owed to the fund. The measure’s original language included yearly, $ 350 million payments. But Huffman said the increased contributions would save the state $ 34 billion in interest payments over the next three decades.
New workers would be required to contribute 6% of their pay to the retirement account, down from the 9.5% required of current state employees. It would guarantee 4% annual interest with a gainsharing provision that could boost interest as high as 7%. Gainsharing is a method by which employees receive additional compensation if they meet certain, predetermined benchmarks. The current state pension plan has a return target of 7%, but has fallen short of that target in recent years.
Law enforcement employees and custodial workers would contribute an additional 2% of their earnings to a separate fund, as current workers in those roles do. They would also be eligible for the 4% guaranteed interest.
At the time of retirement, Texas would match the value of an employee’s account at 150% of its value. The supplemental fund for law enforcement and custodial workers who have been employed for at least 20 years would be matched at 300%. Both matches are the same as are available under the current pension plan, Huffman said.
Texas employee unions argued that changes to retirement benefits for state workers would further exacerbate staff turnover and harm already “dangerously understaffed” state agencies. Jeff Ormsby, executive director of the Texas corrections chapter of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, in a Tuesday statement called the traditional pension plan the “bedrock of public employee benefits in the state.”
Staffing shortages led the Texas Department of Criminal Justice in December to permanently shutter one state prison and temporarily close two others. TDCJ has long struggled against dangerous, chronic understaffing, but the number of officers has reached critical lows in recent months.
“Any change to a cash balance plan will hurt public service workers and undermine their retirement security by exposing them to more risk and a less reliable retirement benefit,” Ormsby said.
The Texas State Employees Union, which represents nearly 10,000 current and retired state workers, last week blasted “a handful of top Republicans” for crafting the proposal “behind closed doors.” The measure was unveiled and quickly passed out of the Senate Finance Committee last Monday. Huffman said at the time that she did not solicit input directly from state workers prior to the hearing.
Judy Lugo, TSEU’s president, said in a statement last week that lawmakers for years have underfunded Texas’ pension system and repeatedly bucked calls to increase pay for state employees.
“The State of Texas is already struggling to compete for a competent workforce,” Lugo said. “Stripping benefits and punishing frontline workers in this way doesn’t help anyone — it doesn’t even help the budget.”
Despite this, the Japanese studio has continued to increase its number of employees. In the latest update (via the official company website), it’s been revealed its headcount has gone from 261 employees in December last year to 272, as of this month. Nintendo Enthusiast shared a detailed breakdown of the company’s expansion:
(Released Xenoblade Chronicles 2 in December 2017)
December 2017 – 150 employees
April 2018 – 163 employees
August 2018 – 171 employees
(Released Xenoblade Chronicles 2: Torna – The Golden Country in September 2018)
November 2018 – 184 employees
January 2019 – 193 employees
April 2019 – 209 employees
June 2019 – 215 employees
September 2019 – 224 employees
December 2019 – 236 employees
April 2020 – 248 employees
(Released Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition in May 2020)
August 2020 – 254 employees
December 2020 – 261 employees
April 2021 – 272 employees
Whatever it is Monolith Soft is working on – it’s likely to be just as big as its past projects. They might even be assisting with the upcoming sequel to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Within this latest studio update, some additional data was shared – revealing 27.6% of company employees are female, 72.4% are men, while the average age is 36 years old.
What do you think we might see next from Monolith Soft? What would you like to see it work on? Leave your thoughts below.
STORY OF THE DAY: Amazon came out victorious at the end of a two day vote counting session in the election to unionize the e-commerce giant’s facility in Bessemer, Ala. The closely watched election ended up breaking fairly heavily in Amazon’s favor:
1,798 of the 3,215 employees who sent in ballots to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) voted against unionization.
738 workers voted to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU).
The rest of the ballots were either contested or void.
CHALLENGES ARE EXPECTED: RWDSU President Stuart Applebaum said during a press conference after voting wrapped that it “was not a fair fight in any way.”
Michael Foster, a RWDSU member who was key in the Bessemer unionization drive, said that Amazon had succeeded in misleading workers at the plants but that the fight was not over.
“I don’t know how to do nothing but fight,” he told reporters.
NEXT STEPS: The union has said it will file unfair labor practice charges and request that the NLRB set aside the result of the vote.
Expected challenges will focus on Amazon’s relentless anti-union messaging and the installation of a mailbox on warehouse property despite rules against onsite voting.
ANOTHER TRY: Applebaum said Friday that he believes a second election is “likely.” Emmit Ashford, a worker at the plant who voted “yes,” expressed confidence that the union would be able to pull out a win if that were the case.
“This is just the spark that has started a fire across the United States,” Ashford said. “Our time will come around again, and next time we will win.”
WHAT IS AMAZON SAYING: Amazon is already pushing back on the expected challenge to the vote, maintaining that the company did not intimidate employees.
“It’s easy to predict the union will say that Amazon won this election because we intimidated employees, but that’s not true. Our employees heard far more anti-Amazon messages from the union, policymakers, and media outlets than they heard from us. And Amazon didn’t win—our employees made the choice to vote against joining a union,” the company said in a statement.
Will Stokes, an Amazon associate who voted against unionizing, said during a press conference organized by Amazon that workers are planning to discuss changes with management but he doesn’t think the union is necessary to accomplish those goals.
THE ANTI-UNION VIEW: “We just feel like we can do it without the union. Why pay the union to do what we can do ourselves,” he said.
The Amazon associates at the press conference also pushed back on criticism over Amazon adding the on-site mailbox during the election period.
“We feel like the mailbox was more of a convenience than anything. To my knowledge, and talking with other employees, no manager or anyone in senior management has tried to influence our vote. Our votes were our vote,” Stokes said.
J.C. Thompson, another associate speaking at the conference, said there were already conversations about installing the mailbox when the building first opened.
The willingness of Amazon workers in Bessemer to take on the wealthiest man in the world and a powerful company in an anti-union state is an inspiration. It takes an enormous amount of courage to stand up and fight back, and they should be applauded. https://t.co/vWHyEjnz8P
NOW WHAT? Amazon’s success in beating back the unionization effort will likely only serve to heighten the scrutiny the company faces from Congress – both over its workplace policies and alleged monopoly power.
Expect the PRO Act, a piece of legislation passed by the House last month aimed at protecting workers seeking to unionize, to gain more attention in the light of allegations about Amazon’s response to the union vote.
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said that the result showed why the PRO Act is needed.
“Working people should not have to walk the gauntlet to form a union,” he said at the RWDSU event. “The Senate needs to step up and level the playing field, because it’s past time to return power to workers.”
Passing the #PROAct is not a spectator sport. All of us must act—and act today by driving calls into the Senate. From Alabama to Alaska, we are going to make our case for an economic and political system that works for working people.
SHOW CONGRESS THE MONEY: President Biden called for over $ 1.3 billion in cybersecurity funds as part of his proposed budget request sent to Congress on Friday, along with major investments in emerging technologies such as quantum computing and artificial intelligence.
The budget proposal was submitted in the wake of two of the largest cyber espionage attacks in U.S. history, including what has become known as the SolarWinds hack, which likely involved Russian hackers and compromised at least nine federal agencies and 100 private-sector groups.
In an effort to combat these rising threats, Biden requested a budget increase of $ 110 million for the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), along with $ 20 million to establish a “cyber response and recovery fund” at the Department of Homeland Security.
“This funding would allow CISA to enhance its cybersecurity tools, hire highly qualified experts, and obtain support services to protect and defend Federal information technology systems,” reads Biden’s budget proposal, as submitted Friday to Congress by the Office of Management and Budget.
Additionally, the budget proposal recommends $ 500 million for the Technology Modernization Fund (TMF) at the General Services Administration in order to strengthen federal cybersecurity and replace aging systems, and allocates $ 750 million for reserve funds to strengthen agency information security.
GOOGLE EMPLOYEES PETITION COMPANY: Google workers launched a petition Friday calling for the company to bar employees who have harassment claims against them from managing others. 
“No harasser should manage or lead a team — whether directly or indirectly — including dotted line reports or managing temps, vendors, or contractors,” the petition states.
The document, signed by more than 500 employees as of Friday afternoon, also calls for Google to force any employees with verified claims of harassment to change teams so that workers are not forced to work with their alleged harassers.
In response to the petition, a spokesperson for Google said the company is “deeply aware of the importance of this issue” and noted the company’s “significant improvements” on its process to investigate claims. The spokesperson’s statement, however, did not directly respond to the petition’s demands.
Volvo Cars announced on Tuesday that it would be expanding paid parental leave for its employees to 24 weeks regardless of gender.
CNBC reported that Volvo employees, both salaried and hourly, who have worked for the company for at least one year will be eligible to be a part of the “Family Bond” program, which significantly expands on the prior parental leave plan that granted six weeks of pay in the first year of parenthood.
The plan covers those who become parents through birth, adoption, surrogacy and permanent foster care. During their leave, employees will be paid 80 percent of their base pay.
Employees in the U.S. will have the option of taking 19 weeks of fully paid parental leave in the first three years of becoming a parent.
According to Volvo Group North America, Volvo currently employs more than 17,000 people in North America.
“It’s something we believe is setting a new standard in the business,” Volvo CEO Hakan Samuelsson told CNBC. “We do this, not to introduce some kind of new favorable benefit to our employees, we do it more because we think it’s good for our company. We will be more attractive as an employer. There’s a competition going on for talent.”
He said the company decided to launch the program after observing positive results from a pilot program for its European sales employees.
Samuelsson said the new program will likely cost the company the “considerable sum” of somewhere in the low millions but added that because “it gives us better, diverse management and a stronger brand, it will definitely be worth it.”
“What we do as a company is living our values,” he said. “It will be good for our reputation everywhere.”