Day: October 8, 2020

Numerical Diversity Hiring Targets Attract Government Scrutiny

The U.S. Labor Department is investigating companies with federal contracts that have included specific numerical goals in their pledges to hire more diverse staff, arguing that these resemble illegal quotas and could potentially discriminate against white applicants and other groups, according to people familiar with the matter.

The department, which sent letters to

Microsoft Corp.

MSFT 0.36%


Wells Fargo

WFC 1.98%

& Co. last week about their stated goals to hire more Black employees in management roles, is now looking more broadly and may contact other companies soon, those people said. The department has asked for documents relating to these initiatives going back to January 1, 2020, and has given the companies until the end of this month to deliver a report.

A Labor Department spokesman wouldn’t comment on other possible inquiries, but said the agency will send letters to other contractors if it feels an inquiry is needed to confirm that companies aren’t using race- or sex-based hiring preferences or quotas.

“Companies must take affirmative action but must not discriminate in doing so,” the spokesman said.

The scrutiny, along with a recent White House directive to limit racial-sensitivity training, has caused confusion for many businesses that have federal contracts because federal rules not only allow, but encourage, companies to set diverse hiring goals, said David Cohen, co-founder of the Institute for Workplace Equality, a trade association for federal contractors that counts Microsoft and Wells Fargo as members. The rules were put in place to help expand the pools of job candidates considered to more closely mirror the available workforce, he added.

Microsoft said a Labor Department agency is questioning whether its June pledge regarding diversity violates federal laws prohibiting discrimination based on race.


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Rules for federal contractors say they must identify the gaps between their workforces and available labor pools, then establish placement goals and plans for meeting them.

Microsoft said the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, a division of the Labor Department, is questioning whether its June pledge to double the number of Black managers and leaders in its U.S. workforce by 2025 violates federal laws prohibiting discrimination based on race. Wells Fargo also pledged in June to double Black leaders over the next five years and said it would tie certain bonuses to achieving that goal. It too received a letter from the same agency reminding the bank that it may not discriminate on the basis of race to provide additional opportunities and that quotas are prohibited.

Both companies said they are confident their efforts comply with U.S. employment laws.

Some top contractors that announced recent diversity initiatives, including

Boeing Co.

BA 2.06%

, said they haven’t received similar letters from the OFCCP. Boeing pledged to increase its number of Black employees in the U.S. by 20% without giving a time frame.

Enforcing racial or other diversity quotas in hiring is illegal, but spelling out hiring goals is not, several labor law experts said.

Yet hiring goals can cross the line into

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One McCormick Lecture Series Kicks Off with National Society of Black Engineers | News

Leah Payne, president of the Northwestern NSBE chapter, discussed the organization’s goals and accomplishments.

Northwestern Engineering’s One McCormick lecture series kicked off on October 7 with a presentation by Leah Payne (’22), a chemical engineering major and president of the Northwestern chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers.

During her virtual lecture that drew 125 attendees, Payne gave on overview of the goals of NSBE as well as the accomplishments of the Northwestern chapter.

In an effort to build community and enhance connectivity amongst the dynamic network at the McCormick School of Engineering, the One McCormick lecture series provides faculty and students with a venue to present their efforts at Northwestern Engineering. Initially, the series will focus on the student experience, including diversity, health and wellness, and student success. 

Julio M. Ottino

“We cannot afford to have disconnected pieces,” said Julio M. Ottino, dean of Northwestern Engineering, in his introduction. “Why? Because we want ideas, and the best way to have a good idea is to have lots of ideas, but more importantly, we want a wide range of ideas. We want a diversity of ideas. Diverse ideas emerge from a diverse network. We need to educate each other.”

Payne explained how NSBE aims to increase the number of culturally responsible Black engineers who excel academically, succeed professionally, and positively impact the community. As part of the national organization, which has 500 chapters and nearly 16,000 active members in the US and abroad, NSBE’s Northwestern chapter works with students at Evanston Township High School to increase youth involvement in STEM and has held workshops to engage K through 12 minority students. In addition, the group supports its own members with academics, such as study groups, and professional development opportunities, including networking with representatives from Google and Facebook. 

After her presentation, Payne took questions from attendees, including how faculty can support NSBE. 

“The best thing faculty can do is make sure they have a good enough connection with (students) so if they are having issues within their classes, they’re comfortable talk to them — and to keep having those conversations,” she said.

Conversations with the wider community is important because they are “ensuring that both faculty and staff — and students — are aware of the issues that Black students are being affected by and experience and face within McCormick and Northwestern,” she added.

The next event is Wednesday, October 14, featuring the Northwestern chapter of the Society of Women Engineers. Registration is required to attend.

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Unions bet federal government ‘will bail out New York with massive amounts’ of cash

A third round of delayed pay increases for roughly 80,000 government workers has raised questions about how the state will close its estimated $14 billion budget gap absent further federal relief and without raising taxes.

Pay raises scheduled for April, July, and September will be delayed another 90 days, after which the state will reassess whether they can be implemented, Freeman Klopott of the Division of the Budget told the Times Union in a statement.

COVID-19-related lockdowns have added to steep losses in tax collections and state revenues.

“The governor’s action is the bare minimum,” Ken Girardin, a fellow and director of strategic initiatives at the Empire Center, told The Center Square by email. “The unions have generally bet that the federal government will bail out New York with massive amounts of unrestricted cash.”

The state has not renewed service contracts and instituted a hiring freeze. But it has not been enough to curb the deficit.

“The raises are increasing the deficits faced by the state and its local governments and school districts,” Girardin said. “That increases the likelihood of service cuts and tax increases.”

A legislative proposal to reduce the deficit with retirement buyouts for state and other public sector employees has not progressed, the Times Union reported.

Mass employee layoffs have so far been avoided but may be on the table with no federal bailout.

There are other options to address the deficit, Girardin said.

“The governor and the legislature should work together to enact a statutory pay freeze that will stand up in court and provide savings for both state agencies and municipalities. What’s happening right now is even less than a half-measure because state taxpayers could remain on the hook to pay the raises.”

The Civil Service Employees Association noted in a news release that it has filed a class-action grievance with the Governor’s Office of Employee Relations challenging the delays. According to the Times Union, the raise deferments have not applied to the governor and other high-ranking state officials.

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Amtrak says 2,400 jobs could be cut without government bailout

  • Amtrak said Thursday that it could be forced to cut spending that could result in the loss of another 2,400  jobs in total.
  • Amtrak told Congress last month that it would need $4.9 billion in government funding as the pandemic continues to wreck the nation’s economy.
  • The US passenger railroad service already said in September that it was cutting 2,000 jobs.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

U.S. government-supported passenger railroad Amtrak said on Thursday that without a new government bailout it could be forced to cut more spending and train services which could lead to the loss of another 2,400 jobs.

Amtrak last month told Congress it needs up to $4.9 billion in government funding for the current budget year, up from the around $2 billion in annual support it usually receives.

The railroad, which said last month it was cutting 2,000 jobs, said on Thursday that without more support from Congress, reduced capital spending would result in the loss of 775 jobs and further reductions in train service by state partners would likely result in 1,625 job losses.

Without the new funding, Amtrak chief executive Bill Flynn said, “we will be unable to avoid more drastic impacts that could have long lasting effects on our Northeast Corridor infrastructure and the national rail system.”

U.S. transit and airline demand has been devastated by a massive falloff in travel due to the coronavirus pandemic.

In April, Congress gave Amtrak a $1 billion bailout after daily ridership fell by 96%.

Amtrak said on Thursday demand remains at about 25% of pre-COVID levels. It forecasts ridership and revenue for the 2020-21 budget year that started Oct. 1 will improve to “about 40% of pre-COVID levels, which is weaker than anticipated.”

U.S. passenger airlines are seeking a new $25 billion bailout to keep tens of thousands of workers on the job, while major U.S. public transit systems have sought $32 billion to keep municipal buses and trains running.

That’s on top of a $25 billion bailout public transit received in April.

Last week, the U.S. private motorcoach, school bus and domestic passenger vessel industries said they collectively furloughed or laid off an estimated 308,000 employees over the last eight months.

“Unlike other modes of transportation, such as airlines, rail and public transit, these transportation industries have not received direct economic relief to date, putting them in peril,” several trade groups said in a joint statement.

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US government appeals injunction barring TikTok download ban

The U.S. Department of Justice on Thursday began the appeals process of a recent federal court ruling that blocked the Trump administration’s attempt to ban downloads of popular social media app TikTok.

Judge Carl Nichols of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia in an order issued on Oct. 28 partially granted a preliminary injunction against a TikTok download prohibition sought by Trump and executed by the Commerce Department. The ruling did not extend to pending restrictions that will prohibit American internet carriers from handling TikTok’s traffic on Nov. 12.

As expected, the government pushed back against Nichols’ judgment on Thursday with a notice of appeal, reports The New York Times. In a statement following the initial ruling, the Commerce Department said it would comply with the injunction, but maintained Trump’s order is “fully consistent with the law and promotes legitimate national security interests.”

TikTok is facing a multifaceted attack from the Trump administration, which views the Chinese-owned company as a threat to national security. In September, the Commerce Department announced plans to pull the app from U.S. app stores including Apple’s App Store on Sept. 20. That deadline was extended by one week following word that TikTok had reached a tentative deal to sell its U.S. assets to Oracle, a requirement for survival mandated by a Trump executive order.

As the app worked to finalize terms of the arrangement, it filed a request for an emergency injunction that resulted in last month’s ruling.

Terms of the deal specify Oracle and its investment partners will receive a 20% stake in an American TikTok entity. The remaining 80% is to be held by current owner ByteDance. Oracle will also be granted access to TikTok’s source code to ensure the software does not include backdoors, an important consideration as the government believes the app leaks sensitive user data to China.

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Climate change not a threat to rare wolverine, government officials say

BILLINGS, Mont. — U.S. wildlife officials are withdrawing proposed protections for the snow-loving wolverine after determining the rare and elusive predator is not as threatened by climate change as once thought.

Details on the decision were obtained by The Associated Press in advance of an announcement Thursday.

A federal judge four years ago had blocked an attempt to withdraw protections that were first proposed in 2010, pointing to evidence from government scientists that wolverines were “squarely in the path of climate change.”

But years of additional research suggest the animals’ prevalence is expanding, not contracting, U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials said. And they predict that enough snow will persist at high elevations for wolverines to den in mountain snowfields each spring despite warming temperatures.

“Wolverines have come back down from Canada and they are repopulating these areas in the Lower 48 that they historically occupied,” said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Justin Shoemaker. “There’s going to be significant areas of snow pack in the spring at the time they would need it and the levels they would need it.”

Wildlife advocates expressed doubts about the rationale for the move and said they are likely to challenge it in court.

“They are putting the wolverine on the path to extinction,” said Andrea Zaccardi with the Center for Biological Diversity.

Wolverines, also known as “mountain devils,” were wiped out across most of the U.S. by the early 1900s following unregulated trapping and poisoning campaigns. They’re slowly clawing their way back in some areas, according to biologists, who no longer consider the relatively few wolverines in the Lower 48 states to be an isolated population. Instead, they are believed to be linked to a much larger population in Canada.

Wildlife officials have previously estimated that 250 to 300 wolverines survive in remote areas of Montana, Wyoming, Idaho and Washington state. The animals in recent years also have been documented in California, Utah, Colorado and Oregon.

A newly released government assessment of the species status does not provide an updated population estimate.

The animals need immense expanses of wild land to survive, with home ranges for adult male wolverines covering as much as 610 square miles, according to a study in central Idaho.

The projection that they’ll have enough snow to den as temperatures warm is based on computer models developed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the University of Colorado.

Wildlife officials had previously relied on a study that said snow cover would decline by roughly a third across the U.S. Rocky Mountains by 2059, and by two-thirds by the end the century.

While snow cover is still expected to decline under the latest analysis, researchers looked more closely at two areas — Montana’s Glacier National Park and Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park — and determined they’ll still have enough snow for wolverines to successfully den and breed. That’s believed to hold true for other areas of the Rockies too, officials said.

“As we’ve learned more we’ve have become more

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Jakarta protests: Hundreds arrested at labor law demonstrations

At least 60 demonstrators and six police were injured at the demonstration near the Presidential Palace during the third day of a nationwide strike and demonstrations in the Southeast Asian nation, the news agency reported.

A protester throws a traffic cone onto a fire during Thursday in Jakarta.

Videos showed protesters shouting, throwing stones, breaking into buildings and setting fires near the national palace as police deployed water cannon and tear gas to disperse the crowds.

The Indonesian Red Cross said some protesters were suffering from a shortness of breath after police fired tear gas. They also fired water cannon to disperse the crowd.

Critics say the new legislation, locally known as the “omnibus law,” scraps some labor rights, indigenous community rights and environmental protections. They also complain the legislation was rushed through parliament without consultation with unions.

President Joko Widodo has touted the law as a tool to create new jobs, reform labor regulations, cut red tape and attract foreign investment.

Protests erupted in major cities across Indonesia after the law’s passage in the House of Representatives on Monday.

Protesters gather in Jakarta Thursday to demonstrate against the law.

Jakarta Metropolitan Police spokesman Yusri Yunus told Antara that police officers were injured after a group of people joined the demonstrations, and started rioting and vandalizing public facilities.

Yunus confirmed the 400 arrests and referred to the demonstrators as “an anarchic group.”

Jakarta police have deployed over 9,000 personnel as a precautionary measure against protests, Yunus told Antara.

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Madrid must impose travel restrictions or face state of emergency, Spanish government says

MADRID (Reuters) – Madrid must enforce travel restrictions ordered by the health ministry to limit novel coronavirus outbreaks or the national government will impose a state of emergency that would force it to comply, the government said late on Thursday.

The government will hold an extraordinary cabinet meeting on Friday morning to decree the state of emergency if Madrid does not impose the restrictions or request intervention, the government said.

Following a Health Ministry order, Madrid authorities reluctantly barred all non essential travel to and from the city and nine surrounding towns last Friday to curb the spread of COVID-19 in one of Europe’s worst virus hotspots. [nL8N2GZ2PQ][nL8N2GW30R]

A Madrid regional court on Thursday annulled the measures ordered by the national health ministry, ruling the government had overstepped its mandate and the restrictions interfered with fundamental human rights.

Declaring a state of emergency – the same legal framework that underpinned Spain’s tough lockdown during the first wave of the virus – would grant the national government the powers to restrict movement.

According to a government statement, Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez told Madrid’s conservative regional leader Isabel Diaz Ayuso that she must either enforce the restrictions, request a state of emergency or the central government would unilaterally impose one.

“In any of the three cases the measures would be exactly the same as those already being applied, the only thing that would change would be the legal instrument,” the government said.

Ayuso said regional officials would discuss alternatives on Friday morning.

“We hope to agree on a solution that benefits citizens and provides clarity,” she said in a statement.

(Reporting by Nathan Allen and Belén Carreño; editing by Grant McCool)

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Lockdown backers’ risk aversion is producing a more unequal society | American Enterprise Institute

In between Donald Trump’s exit from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and the vice-presidential debate, let’s turn to an apolitical analyst to understand what’s happening. Vaclav Smil, 76, native of communist Czechoslovakia, University of Manitoba professor for four decades, has written 39 books on energy, technology, and demography. “Nobody,” says Bill Gates, who has read every one, “sees the big picture with as wide an aperture as Vaclav Smil.”

What he sees now, he writes in a characteristically terse IEEE Spectrum essay, he finds puzzling. The COVID-19 death rate per million is about one-fifth that of the 1957-58 Asian flu and one-third of the 1968-70 Hong Kong flu. Yet these earlier pandemics had only “evanescent economic consequences” and did not “leave any deep traumatic traces in memories” of the 350 million people who, like Smil (and me), were 10 or older during both. “Countries did not resort to any mass-scale economic lockdowns, enforce any long-lasting school closures, ban sports events or cut flight schedules deeply.”

Why not? “Was it because we had no fear-reinforcing 24/7 cable news, no Twitter and no incessant and instant case-and-death tickers on all our electronic screens?” asks the non-cellphone-owner Smil. “Or is it we ourselves who have changed, by valuing recurrent but infrequent risks differently?”

Some of both is my tentative answer. As I’ve written about previously, Americans’ child-rearing practices are increasingly risk-averse. But this is not entirely consistent. Kids are kept in car seats till age 9, then encouraged to ride bicycles in heavy traffic a few years later. And some Americans are more risk-averse than others. Polls show that political liberals are more likely than political conservatives to wear masks and support extended lockdowns (except for “mostly peaceful” demonstrations against police).

Partisan politics and personal distaste for Donald Trump plays a role. As ProPublica’s Alec MacGillis documented in a searing New Yorker article, teacher union members didn’t adamantly oppose reopening schools until Donald Trump called for it. A Trump tweet that the sun rises in the east would, it seems, move many Americans to head out to the Pacific coast and wait for it to rise there.

But one-dimensional risk-aversion has produced extended lockdowns with significant public health costs: reduced cancer and cardiac screening, fewer childhood vaccinations, undue skepticism toward any COVID vaccine. And it’s plainly damaging liberals’ own causes.

Thus Democrats, unlike Republicans, have been refraining from door-to-door campaigning — until Oct. 1, when Democrats decided they needed the personal touch. Similarly, Democratic pols encouraged their voters’ aversion to voting in person, until they realized that there would be many spoiled or undelivered ballots in states with voters and officials unfamiliar with postal voting.

Lockdowns, more stringent in Democratic than Republican states, have produced higher unemployment and greater drops in state revenues. Keeping unionized public schools closed is driving parents to private schools, homeschooling, and improvised pods.

As New York Times columnist Ross Douthat notes, public schools are now open for half of white pupils but only one-quarter of blacks and

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What you need to know about HIPAA, from the law’s author

Washington — For the American people and members of the press hoping to glean a comprehensive run-down of President Trump’s condition following his diagnosis with COVID-19, a five-letter acronym has been invoked by White House physician Dr. Sean Conley as a barrier to offering the full view that many crave.

HIPAA, shorthand for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, has been mentioned repeatedly by Conley as he fields questions from the press about the president’s health status, namely in response to questions about what scans of Mr. Trump’s lungs revealed and when he last tested negative for the coronavirus.

“There are HIPAA rules and regulations that restrict me in sharing certain things for his safety and his own health and reasons,” Conley told reporters at Walter Reed on Monday when pressed about findings from the president’s lung imaging.

Asked about when Mr. Trump last tested negative and whether any of his lab tests were abnormal, Conley again leaned on the law. 

“HIPAA kind of precludes me from going into too much depth,” he said.

While Conley cited the measure as justification for why he could not disclose information about Mr. Trump’s scans or tests, he did discuss what treatments the president received and said Mr. Trump was “doing very well,” raising questions as to whether the American people were getting a complete picture of Mr. Trump’s condition.

One person in Washington who is intimately familiar with HIPAA and how the law works is Congresswoman Donna Shalala, a Florida Democrat who helped write the law as secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services under President Bill Clinton. 

Shalala recently corrected former White House press secretary Sean Spicer’s characterization of the law, in a tweet that’s been shared more than 90,000 times. CBS News got in touch with her for a rundown about the health care law and how it applies to the president, who continues to recover from COVID-19.

CBS News: When was HIPAA enacted and what is the purpose of the law?

Congresswoman Donna Shalala: HIPAA was enacted in 1996 with its primary goal being to protect people’s medical information — sometimes called PHI or protected health information — and allow patient’s access to their own health information.

Who does HIPAA apply to? Is a White House physician covered?

Generally, HIPAA only applies to medical systems, so health insurance companies and health care providers like doctors, hospitals, nursing homes and all the people that work in those places.

Yes, a White House physician would be covered. There is a misconception that everyone falls under HIPAA privacy laws. But employers do not, as well as many schools, law enforcement and of course just your average person on the street. If I tell my friend some private health information and then they put that on Facebook, they did not violate HIPAA.

What health information is protected under HIPAA and therefore kept private?

Information your doctors, nurses and other health care providers put in your medical records would be

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