Business briefing

The daily business briefing: September 10, 2021

Biden announces vaccine mandates affecting tens of millions, Walmart phases out bonuses as it hikes wages, and more

1

Biden announces new vaccine mandates

President Biden on Thursday announced two executive orders to require about 100 million Americans to get coronavirus vaccinations, warning the unvaccinated that "our patience is wearing thin." Biden said his administration would mandate vaccinations for federal workers and 17 million healthcare workers at institutions receiving Medicare and Medicaid funding. He also said he would have the Labor Department draft a rule requiring businesses with 100 or more workers to require employees to get vaccinated or undergo weekly coronavirus testing. "We're going to protect vaccinated workers from unvaccinated co-workers," Biden said. That order would amount to mandating or encouraging 80 million workers to get coronavirus shots. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said there would be religious and disability exceptions.

2

Walmart phases out bonuses as it raises wages

Walmart said Thursday it would phase out quarterly bonuses for store workers as it hikes hourly wages. Walmart said it would eliminate the decades-old "MyShare" benefit on Jan. 31, 2022, the end of its fiscal year, according to a memo to employees. The company said it is "rolling MyShare into associates' base pay going forward." A Walmart spokeswoman said shifting the money into hourly wages provides workers more predictable income. The bonuses originally were calculated based on store performance, but the company later factored in attendance, store-theft levels, and other metrics. Walmart, the country's biggest private employer, is raising hourly wages to attract workers in a tight labor market, but its increase from $11 an hour to $12 an hour for floor workers still lags behind the $15 per hour starting wage offered by rivals Amazon and Target.

3

EPA to restore protections for Alaska's Bristol Bay 

The Environmental Protection Agency said Thursday that it would restore protections for Alaska's Bristol Bay. The policy change will block the construction of a controversial gold mine near the world's largest sockeye salmon run. The mine's opponents, who included Alaska Natives, environmentalists, fishing operators, and recreational anglers, had filed a lawsuit arguing that the mine project unnecessarily threatened a salmon fishery that is both an important food source and a tourism magnet. In a court filing, the EPA said it would protect the bay under its Clean Waters Act powers to prevent contamination from the proposed open-pit mine. Pebble Limited Partnership, the U.S. subsidiary of Canada's Northern Dynasty Minerals, argued the mine would provide huge economic benefits.

4

Stock futures rise after 4-day losing streak

U.S. stock index futures rose early Friday after a fourth straight day of losses for the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the S&P 500. Futures tied to the Dow, the S&P 500, and the Nasdaq were up by about 0.4 percent several hours before the opening bell. The Dow fell by 0.4 percent on Thursday. The S&P 500 and the tech-heavy Nasdaq dropped by 0.5 percent and 0.3 percent, respectively. Stocks are still close to record highs, but trading has been volatile so far in September after summertime gains. Markets have been struggling for footing recently as investors seek clarity on the Federal Reserve's plans for winding down the asset purchases and ultra-low interest rates it has been using to boost the economic recovery from the damage of the coronavirus pandemic.

5

Amazon to pay college fees for U.S. employees

Amazon announced Thursday that it was expanding its education training benefits to make more than 750,000 U.S. employees eligible for free college education. The e-commerce giant also will fund high school completion and other programs. Amazon said all hourly employees on the job for at least 90 days would qualify for free tuition, books, and fees. The company said it expected to invest $1.2 billion in the program by 2025. Rivals Target and Walmart recently announced free college programs for their employees, too, as retailers, restaurants, and other major employers compete for workers in a tight labor market. "We know that investing in free skills training for our teams can have a huge impact for hundreds of thousands of families across the country," Dave Clark, CEO of Worldwide Consumer at Amazon, said in a statement.

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