News & Commentary

May 16, 2022

Fred Wang

Fred Wang is a student at Harvard Law School.

In today’s News & Commentary, Starbucks union-busting tactics could backfire, workers across the country grapple with long Covid, and concentrated corporate ownership poses threat to worker welfare.

Starbucks’ anti-union crusade could end up backfiring, Steven Greenhouse explains in Slate. In recent months, as union-organizing activity has increased across Starbucks locations nationwide, the company has “been engaged in a crude union-busting campaign” — sending out-of-town managers to shadow local employees, warning employees that their wages and benefits would be worse if they unionized, and giving raises only to non-union workers. But, as Greenhouse writes, more corporate foul play could trigger “a widespread customer boycott.” It remains to be seen whether calls for a Starbucks boycott will be successful, though there is reason to suspect that they might: The company’s “progressive” brand has enabled it to cultivate a fairly left-leaning customer base — the kind of customers who might readily think, if Starbucks’ anti-union campaign persists: well, “there are plenty of other places to get coffee.”

Lingering Covid symptoms continue to afflict the U.S. workforce. Although public health experts remain divided on how many people are getting long Covid (varying estimates suggest that between 5 and 25 million Americans are affected), its presence in the American workforce is unmistakable. Many workers with long Covid have returned to their jobs too soon, delaying recovery and risking relapse, according to a recent New York Times newsletter. Others — such as chefs losing their sense of smell or software developers forgetting codes they wrote before catching Covid — have had symptoms substantially interfere with their work. Domestic policy has also shaped how long Covid has played out in the United States, the newsletter explains. Variation in vaccination policies mean that companies in regions with lower vaccination rates will suffer more worker shortages. Practical difficulties with diagnosing long Covid have made it harder for workers seeking unemployment and disability benefits.

Three mammoth U.S. investment firms control a large share of the world’s wealth. That level of concentration in corporate ownership poses a real anticompetitive threat to the economy, a recent opinion piece in the New York Times explains. As the essay details, concentrated ownership is linked with “lower wages and employment,” as well as elevated prices. And the problem is getting only worse: one expert has predicted that “in the near future,” about a dozen individuals will wield “practical power over the majority of U.S. public companies.” This growth in concentrated corporate ownership has prompted criticisms from both ends of the political spectrum.Those on the right worry that these investment firms will strongarm companies into adopting liberal political positions. Those on the left fear that consumers and workers will suffer most from such market concentration. Worse yet, the piece concludes, many policymakers have failed to even recognize that a problem exists in the first place. As one scholar explained, concentrated ownership “poses the greatest anticompetitive threat of our time, mainly because it is the one anticompetitive problem we are doing nothing about.”

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