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NLRB files complaint against Whole Foods over BLM apparel

The Boston Globe logo The Boston Globe 12/7/2021
Community members protested in June outside Cambridge's River Street Whole Foods Market in support of employees who wear face masks printed with the Black Lives Matter slogan. © Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff Community members protested in June outside Cambridge's River Street Whole Foods Market in support of employees who wear face masks printed with the Black Lives Matter slogan.

RETAIL

NLRB files complaint against Whole Foods over BLM apparel

Whole Foods Market violated workers’ rights when it instructed them to remove face masks and other apparel supporting the Black Lives Matter movement, according to a complaint filed Friday by the National Labor Relations Board. The actions involved employees at stores in 10 states, including Massachusetts and New Hampshire, who were sent home without pay and issued warnings. Several were fired. These employees were “engaged in concerted activities for the purposes of mutual aid and protection by raising concerns about working conditions, including by wearing Black Lives Matter messaging at work,” according to the complaint, issued by Jill Coffman, the NLRB regional director in San Francisco. “Issues of racial harassment and discrimination are central to employees’ working conditions, and the National Labor Relations Act protects employees’ right to advocate for change,” she said in a statement. A hearing is scheduled for March 1. A spokeswoman for Whole Foods, which is owned by Amazon.com, said the company’s dress code policy prohibits workers from wearing attire with visible slogans that aren’t company related, although workers have reported being allowed to wear sports caps and other apparel with unrelated messages. “Our dress code policy is designed to ensure we are giving team members a workplace and customers a shopping experience focused entirely on excellent service and high-quality food,” she said in a statement. “We do not believe we should compromise that experience by introducing any messages on uniforms, regardless of the content, that shift the focus away from our mission.” A federal lawsuit claiming the grocery store was discriminating against employees for wearing Black Lives Matter apparel was largely dismissed earlier this year, though the judge allowed a claim by Savannah Kinzer to proceed. Kinzer, who worked at the River Street store in Cambridge, said she was fired for walking off the job instead of removing her Black Lives Matter mask. — KATIE JOHNSTON

PANDEMIC

Thermo Fisher to make COVID pill in Ontario

Merck announced on Monday that Thermo Fisher Scientific will manufacture the company’s experimental COVID-19 pill, molnupiravir, at one of its sites in Whitby, Ontario. Merck said Thermo Fisher’s manufacturing facility is one of three sites in the world that will be making the therapy. The antiviral pill has been found to decrease the risk of hospitalization and death due to COVID-19 by 30 percent among infected adults. Waltham life sciences giant Thermo Fisher has also assisted in several COVID-19 vaccine and testing efforts during the pandemic. The pills made by Thermo Fisher will be distributed in Canada and the United Kingdom, as well as in markets in the European Union, Asia Pacific, and Latin America, pending local approvals, Merck said. Merck developed molnupiravir with Miami-based Ridgeback Biotherapeutics. Last week a panel of US Food and Drug Administrations advisors narrowly recommended the pill, clearing the way for potential authorization of the first COVID-19 treatment Americans could take at home. — ANISSA GARDIZY

ENERGY

New England could face blackouts if supply is disrupted during cold snaps

New England could face blackouts this winter if severe cold snaps and fuel supply disruptions strike at the same time, warns the region’s grid operator. Although power plants and the transmission system in the area are well prepared for a mild winter, colder-than-average weather could threaten electricity supplies — particularly if it happens when supplies of oil and liquefied natural gas have been disrupted, according to ISO New England Inc., which runs the region’s power grid. Blackouts could be triggered if the region experiences temperatures similar to the winter of 2013 and 2014, which brought several severe cold snaps, the operator warned. Still, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is predicting a warmer-than-average winter for the region. — BLOOMBERG NEWS

RIDE HAILING

Uber has to revamp business model after UK court ruling

Uber lost a bid to challenge part of a landmark decision on the working rights of its drivers, meaning the ride-hailing app and its London rivals will have to overhaul their business models. UK judges ruled that the tech firm should enter into a direct contract with passengers when providing car journeys and therefore assume more responsibility for each trip booked on their app. Uber and others “will need to amend the basis on which they provide their services,” after the court concluded that “in order to operate lawfully, an operator must undertake a contractual obligation to passengers,” the judges said Monday. — BLOOMBERG NEWS

ELECTRIC VEHICLES

Toyota to build first battery factory in North Carolina

Toyota will break ground on its first battery factory in the United States at a mega-site in North Carolina, joining an industrywide push as automakers accelerate efforts to electrify their fleets. The Japanese company will invest $1.29 billion in the automotive battery manufacturing facility, which is scheduled to start production in 2025, the company said Monday. It is the latest in a slew of announcements by major automakers in recent months to ramp up capacity to manufacture batteries for a coming wave of electric vehicles. — BLOOMBERG NEWS

AUTOMOTIVE

Ford delays return of office workers again

Ford delayed its salaried workers’ return to the office again, citing continued spread of COVID-19 as its home state of Michigan has become a national hot spot. The return has been moved to March from January, Ford said Monday. The automaker initially planned to bring back the employees in July, which was later moved to January after the virus continued to surge. Ford now says it plans to bring back a limited number of employees to test its “flexible hybrid” system — in which workers only come in for collaborative work — in February, with a full return the following month. The carmaker is one of several companies, including Apple, that are delaying office returns as the virus surges nationwide. — BLOOMBERG NEWS

FAST FOOD

Jack in the Box buys Del Taco

Jack in the Box agreed to buy Del Taco Restaurants, marrying the offbeat chain with a fast-food competitor also popular with late-night diners. The burger restaurant will pay $12.51 a share in cash for Del Taco, a Mexican-food brand concentrated largely in the southwestern United States, representing a 66 percent premium over the closing price on Dec. 3. The total transaction is valued at $575 million, including existing debt, according to a statement Monday. — BLOOMBERG NEWS

MEATPACKING

Tyson to spend $50 million on holiday bonuses

Tyson Foods said Monday that it plans to spend roughly $50 million on year-end bonuses for over 80,000 hourly workers at its meatpacking plants that will give them between $300 and $700 apiece. Those bonuses are on top of wage increases the company has approved at many of its plants as new contracts were negotiated over the past year. Tyson estimated that it has spent more $500 million on wage increases and other bonuses over the past year for the employees who kept its plants running throughout the coronavirus pandemic. That includes the $200 bonuses it paid to workers who got vaccinated against the coronavirus. — ASSOCIATED PRESS

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