National News

Fast Growth Does Little To Budge Fed's Caution — For Now

NPR News - Wed, 2014-07-30 12:00

Federal Reserve policymakers are announcing that the Fed plans to leave short-term interest rates at a level near zero. This, despite an economy that grew at a surprisingly strong 4 percent annual rate in the most recent quarter.

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Time for 'You've got mail' to get on OKCupid?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-07-30 11:37

These days, box office hits include explosions, aliens and robots - characters most romantic comedies do not contain.

Megan Garber, staff writer for The Atlantic, says the romantic comedy has been dying a slow death, as studios fail to recognize the evolution of romance itself. Rom-coms are not portraying the reality of dating for people in the digital age.

"The world of Tinder, eHarmony and Match.com is not really well reflected in Hollywood at this point," says Garber. "Right now, there isn’t much on the screen that would sort of tell us how to behave in this crazy world of online dating."

Listen to the full conversation in the audio player above.

Foxconn's newest product: a college degree

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-07-30 11:36

There are a lot of lines at a typical Foxconn factory in China. There’s the assembly line, where thousands of young people – typically high school dropouts – put together each and every part of an iPad. It’s tedious, mind-numbing work, and that’s why assembly line workers usually don’t stick around very long. They quit, and that necessitates another line: The hiring line outside a Foxconn factory is, at any given time, hundreds of applicants long, migrants from the countryside who arrive each day to replace workers who’ve quit. When you consider the manufacturer has a million workers – it’s China’s largest private employer – this labor cycle isn’t surprising.

But it is costly.

“The turnover rate is pretty high and it’s impossible to retain all our workers," says Li Yong Zhong, a manager at Foxconn's Chengdu plant, "But we’d like every employee to be able to develop and improve their knowledge, skills and income so that they’ll want to stay here.”

That’s the rationale behind what the company calls Foxconn University, a company-wide accredited university system that offers employees a chance at earning a high school diploma, a bachelor’s, a master’s or a PhD without leaving the factory campus.

Inside the classroom one afternoon, a professor teaches a computer animation class to students at Foxconn’s plant in Chengdu, a factory devoted to making iPads. Instead of assembling Apple products, each one of these workers is using an Apple computer to follow the professor’s instructions. Thirty-six year-old Ai Guo, an assembly line worker who spends his days inspecting iPads for flaws, sits in front of the class.

“I dropped out of school when I was 16," says Ai during a class break. "My family was very poor, and they needed me to help out on the farm.”

It's a typical story for the hundreds of millions of young rural Chinese who drop out of school to farm or find work at factories like Foxconn. Ai hopes to spend the next six years of his time away from work studying toward the equivalent of a high school diploma and then a bacehlor’s degree in Industrial Engineering. “With that, I’d like to get a promotion to start working on industrial automation and, of course, raise my salary," he says.

Foxconn’s university system offers 25 majors – most of them in engineering. The company has an agreement with more than 50 Chinese universities and colleges that send their professors each day to teach classes at its factories across China.

But it's not only Foxconn – in-house university systems are becoming a trend among China’s state-owned companies, says Richard Brubaker, founder of Collective Responsibility, an organization that trains companies in corporate social responsibility. Brubaker says he’s encouraged by Foxconn University – he says it shows the company sees its line workers as more than machines with 5-year shelf lives. “Many of these individuals could, if they were invested into, come into the organization at a much higher level, and much like a UPS driver becomes a CEO, they could become the future management and executives of the company and who know the company so intimately that they’re the ones who can look at risk, look at decisions very differently than an outsider could,” Brubaker says.

The development of an in-house university system comes at a pivotal moment for Foxconn. CEO Terry Gou is 63, and he’s thinking about his legacy. He’s moving the company away from making products for others and toward developing Foxconn’s own products.

“We want our employees to become more innovative and creative, more entrepreneurial,” says Foxconn’s Li Yong Zhong.

But so far, participation in Foxconn University is low: just 3 percent of Foxconn’s one million Chinese workers. Li assures me that will change. "Someday, every one of our employees will study at Foxconn University – we’ll no longer call them workers," he says. "We’ll call them students."

Foxconn's newest product: a college degree

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-07-30 11:36

There are a lot of lines at a typical Foxconn factory in China. There’s the assembly line, where thousands of young people – typically high school dropouts – put together each and every part of an iPad. It’s tedious, mind-numbing work, and that’s why assembly line workers usually don’t stick around very long. They quit, and that necessitates another line: The hiring line outside a Foxconn factory is, at any given time, hundreds of applicants long, migrants from the countryside who arrive each day to replace workers who’ve quit. When you consider the manufacturer has a million workers – it’s China’s largest private employer – this labor cycle isn’t surprising.

But it is costly.

“The turnover rate is pretty high and it’s impossible to retain all our workers," says Li Yong Zhong, a manager at Foxconn's Chengdu plant, "But we’d like every employee to be able to develop and improve their knowledge, skills and income so that they’ll want to stay here.”

That’s the rationale behind what the company calls Foxconn University, a company-wide accredited university system that offers employees a chance at earning a high school diploma, a bachelor’s, a master’s or a PhD without leaving the factory campus.

Inside the classroom one afternoon, a professor teaches a computer animation class to students at Foxconn’s plant in Chengdu, a factory devoted to making iPads. Instead of assembling Apple products, each one of these workers is using an Apple computer to follow the professor’s instructions. Thirty-six year-old Ai Guo, an assembly line worker who spends his days inspecting iPads for flaws, sits in front of the class.

“I dropped out of school when I was 16," says Ai during a class break. "My family was very poor, and they needed me to help out on the farm.”

It's a typical story for the hundreds of millions of young rural Chinese who drop out of school to farm or find work at factories like Foxconn. Ai hopes to spend the next six years of his time away from work studying toward the equivalent of a high school diploma and then a bacehlor’s degree in Industrial Engineering. “With that, I’d like to get a promotion to start working on industrial automation and, of course, raise my salary," he says.

Foxconn’s university system offers 25 majors – most of them in engineering. The company has an agreement with more than 50 Chinese universities and colleges that send their professors each day to teach classes at its factories across China.

But it's not only Foxconn – in-house university systems are becoming a trend among China’s state-owned companies, says Richard Brubaker, founder of Collective Responsibility, an organization that trains companies in corporate social responsibility. Brubaker says he’s encouraged by Foxconn University – he says it shows the company sees its line workers as more than machines with 5-year shelf lives. “Many of these individuals could, if they were invested into, come into the organization at a much higher level, and much like a UPS driver becomes a CEO, they could become the future management and executives of the company and who know the company so intimately that they’re the ones who can look at risk, look at decisions very differently than an outsider could,” Brubaker says.

The development of an in-house university system comes at a pivotal moment for Foxconn. CEO Terry Gou is 63, and he’s thinking about his legacy. He’s moving the company away from making products for others and toward developing Foxconn’s own products.

“We want our employees to become more innovative and creative, more entrepreneurial,” says Foxconn’s Li Yong Zhong.

But so far, participation in Foxconn University is low: just 3 percent of Foxconn’s one million Chinese workers. Li assures me that will change. "Someday, every one of our employees will study at Foxconn University – we’ll no longer call them workers," he says. "We’ll call them students."

Fed Continues To Scale Back Economic Stimulus

NPR News - Wed, 2014-07-30 10:38

The Fed announced modest cuts in its bond-buying program and noted that inflation is becoming an issue. But with room to grow in the labor market, the bank is not ready to raise interest rates.

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Women Defy Turkey's Deputy PM, Who Said Women Shouldn't Laugh In Public

NPR News - Wed, 2014-07-30 09:57

Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç was expounding on what an ideal chaste woman should be. Women around the world reacted by taking pictures of themselves laughing.

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Problem Drinking In Midlife Linked To Memory Trouble Later

NPR News - Wed, 2014-07-30 09:54

One study suggests middle-aged adults with a history of problem drinking may be twice as likely to develop serious memory issues as the years wear on.

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Back-to-school sticker shock

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-07-30 09:52

The annual back-to-school spendathon is almost here. And for public-school parents, it’s going to be pricey.

Huntington Bank is out with its annual "backpack index," which tracks the cost of school supplies. The bad news: elementary school kids will need $642 in extras this year, middle-school kids will spend an additional $918, and high school students will get hit up for an additional $1,284.

Those estimates translate to an 11 percent jump, 20 percent jump, and 5 percent jump, respectively.

The biggest bumps are expected to come from higher standardized-testing fees, and fees for things like school trips, music classes and sports, according to Huntington. Many middle-school kids will also need a graphing calculator, which can run nearly $130.

Huntington didn’t include laptops or tablets in its index. But many parents will be facing extra costs for those, as well.

Since Huntington started tracking the cost of school supplies in 2007, the bank estimates they have increased 83 percent for elementary school students, 73 percent for middle school students and 44 percent for high school students.

Here’s a guide, from the group, on what you can expect this year.

Sierra Leone Doctor Who Led The Fight Against Ebola Dies

NPR News - Wed, 2014-07-30 09:46

Hailed as a "national hero," Dr. Sheik Umar Khan had treated more than 100 Ebola patients before catching the virus himself last week.

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Some Loyal Foursquare Users Are Checking Out After Swarm Spinoff

NPR News - Wed, 2014-07-30 09:12

The company's move to break its app in two is costing it the users who loved Foursquare the most. "Why do I need two apps when I had one that provided both services?" asked one user.

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U.S. Issues Travel Restrictions On Venezuelan Officials

NPR News - Wed, 2014-07-30 08:06

The U.S. did not name the officials but said they have been responsible or complicit in perpetrating human rights abuses against the Venezuelan people.

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Desk Desk Evolution

NPR News - Wed, 2014-07-30 07:13

The changing workspace in the Age of Deskovery.

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WATCH: Video Shows Women Narrowly Escape Death On Railroad Tracks

NPR News - Wed, 2014-07-30 06:06

The 14,000-ton freight train could not come to a stop. But the women laid down between the rails and survived.

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NLRB says McDonald's can be considered joint-employer

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-07-30 06:00

McDonald’s could be held liable for wage-and-hour violations, and for obstructing union organizing, at its thousands of franchise restaurants across the country.

The National Labor Relations Board’s general counsel has ruled that McDonald’s can be considered a "joint-employer" along with its franchise owners in labor-law complaints, because the parent company plays a significant role in employment practices for fast-food workers at the franchisee-operated stores, which constitute 90 percent of the chain’s restaurants.

If upheld in subsequent NLRB proceedings (and further legal appeals, should there be any, by McDonald’s and its franchisees), the ruling could mean McDonald’s is legally responsible when franchise owners shortchange workers or lay them off after they protest for higher wages. The theory is that McDonald’s in part determines wage levels, work rules and scheduling patterns via the contracts it sets with franchisees, as well as the labor-management software and guidance it provides to maximize store-profitability.

Complaints about worker treatment in the ongoing campaign for $15-an-hour pay at fast-food restaurants, and for union representation, have been brought by the advocacy group Fast Food Forward, which is supported by the Service Employees International Union.

There are also class-action lawsuits being pursued in three states (California, New York and Michigan) over alleged violations by McDonald’s and its franchise owners. A lawyer for the class-action plaintiffs in California, Michael Rubin at Altshuler Berzon in San Francisco, said the NLRB ruling would strengthen those cases, which are also based on ‘joint-employer’ claims.

Meanwhile, a federal court in California has held Wal-Mart to be a joint-employer of temporary warehouse workers in a class-action lawsuit based on a similar argument — that Wal-Mart controls the employment conditions in the supply chain in which subcontractors and temporary staffing agencies operate.

Christine Owens of the National Employment Law Project says the NLRB and some courts are acknowledging the increasing use of contingent and temporary workers in the corporate ecosystem that many large corporations create around them.

These recent interpretations of U.S. labor law, says Owens, may be “catching up with how the economy is changing. So many working people are no longer employed by the company that appears to be the main employer. There’s more than one employer really calling the shots.”

McDonald’s has vowed to fight the NLRB ruling, saying its franchisees set wages and working conditions. A statement from the company says the decision "goes against decades of established law regarding the franchise model in the United States."

Groups representing restaurant owners and franchisees have also blasted the decision, saying it jeopardizes the franchising system.

But former Penn State labor-law professor Ellen Dannin, author of "Taking Back the Workers’ Law," isn’t so sure.

“People seemed a little over the top” in their reactions to the NLRB general counsel’s determination, she said. “Just because the general counsel has issued a complaint doesn’t necessarily lead to the kinds of problems that they’re worried about.”

Dannin also expressed skepticism that the ruling, linking McDonald’s more directly to labor relationships and conditions at its franchises, will necessarily make union organizing against chains like McDonald’s any easier. 

We have a tag for "Sharknado" stories

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-07-30 06:00

It's hard to imagine where the two circles of "Marketplace coverage" and "Sharknado" intersect on a venn diagram. But overlap they do, and in suprisingly relevant ways.

That's because the SyFy network's made-for-tv movie is something of a phenomenon from a financial perspective. With a relatively small budget — around $1-2 million — it grew from a disappointing first airing to internet sensation to big screen flick

"Everybody asks, you know, why did this happen?" says director Anthony C. Ferrante. "You can't ask why; it's 'Sharknado.' It's a movie about sharks and a tornado, and it just hit everybody's sweet spot for whatever reason this summer."

It didn't hit a sweet spot for actor Ian Ziering initially. That is, until health insurance came into play.

Ziering was reluctant to star in the original film, but when his wife urged him to consider the union health insurance he would be eligible for by doing the movie, he reconsidered.

With a pregnant wife, Ziering put down his reservations about the cheesy script, and picked up a shark chainsaw.

So it turns out Sharknado isn't just a story about a tornado dropping sharks from the sky.

It's about financial success, crowdsourced marketing and health care. Go figure.

By the way, Sharknado 2 premieres Wednesday.

U.S. Economy Rebounds In Spring With GDP Expanding At 4 Percent Rate

NPR News - Wed, 2014-07-30 05:03

The news from the Commerce Department comes after the economy shrank at a 2.1 percent rate in the first quarter of the year. The numbers raise hope for continued growth in the second half of 2014.

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Gaza Conflict: Shell Strikes U.N. School, Killing Up To 19 Who Sought Shelter

NPR News - Wed, 2014-07-30 04:04

One U.N. official said this was a "breaking point." The conflict, now going into its 23rd day, shows no sign of abating. The death toll in Gaza has now surpassed 1,200.

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Q&A: Michelle Rhee On Teacher Tenure Challenges

NPR News - Wed, 2014-07-30 04:03

Vergara v. California dealt a serious blow to teacher tenure and seniority laws in that state. And anti-tenure groups say their movement is spreading.

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