TIME Food & Drink

Kraft Recalls American Singles Cheese Slices

Beef to Tomato Send July 4 Food Cost to Record
Packages of Kraft Foods Group Inc. sliced American cheese sit on display for sale in a supermarket in Princeton, Illinois, July 2, 2014. Daniel Acker—Bloomberg/Getty Images

No customer illness has been reported

Kraft Foods Group voluntarily recalled nearly 8,000 cases of its American Singles cheese Friday because a supplier “did not store an ingredient used in this product in accordance with Kraft’s temperature standards,” according to a Kraft Foods press release. At total of 7,691 cases of the pasteurized cheese product have been recalled.

“Consumers who purchased any of these products should not eat them,” says the release, which advises people to return the slices to the store where they bought them. Kraft says it has no reports of sick customers and described the recall as a “precaution” to avoid premature spoiled food and related illness. All affected products have a “Best When Used By” date of either February 20, 2015 or February 21, 2015.

The cheese was produced at the company’s Springfield, MO manufacturing plant.

TIME Business

The $15 Minimum Wage Is a Bellwether of the New Living Wage

Fast-Food Strikes in 50 U.S. Cities Seeking $15 Per Hour
Robert Wideman, a maintenance mechanic at McDonalds Corp., shines the shoes of a Ronald McDonald statue outside of a restaurant while protesting with fast-food workers and supporters organized by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) in Los Angeles, California, U.S., on Thursday, Aug. 29, 2013. Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images

When $13 an hour isn't enough

A little less than two years ago, a group of courageous New York fast food workers went on strike, outlandishly insisting on a $15-an-hour wage and launching an unlikely David-versus-Goliath battle to raise pay for tens of millions of Americans in dead-end jobs.

Goliath is falling.

On Tuesday, word leaked that the mayor of Los Angeles will soon propose raising the city’s minimum wage to more than $13 in the next three years – an increase that would lift pay for hundreds of thousands of struggling Angelenos.

The plan neither meets the now iconic $15 demand of low-wage workers everywhere (though with cost-of-living adjustments built in, it would get there by 2023), nor guarantees the right of workers to freely form a union – a critical step in solidifying wage increases and improving other working conditions.

But pointing out these shortcomings only highlights just how far the nation has come. For who, on that cold November day two years ago, could have envisioned that a proposal to raise the minimum wage in America’s second largest city to more than $13, a nearly 50% increase over three years, would not only be taken seriously but would strike some as being too modest?

Who could have envisioned that under pressure from their left, moderate New York governor Andrew Cuomo would endorse a minimum wage of more than $13 for the nation’s largest city (New York), and Chicago’s dyed-in-the-wool pragmatist mayor Rahm Emanuel would throw his weight behind a $13 wage floor in the nation’s third largest city?

Who could have imagined that in 2014, business leaders in Seattle would actively support and help enact an unprecedented $15 minimum wage law, only to be one-upped by the San Francisco business community, which has agreed to let one of the country’s most liberal electorates vote on an even faster increase to $15 this November?

Who could have foreseen techs and janitors at Baltimore’s Johns Hopkins and teachers’ aides and cafeteria workers at schools in Los Angeles successfully bargaining contracts guaranteeing $15 an hour, or businesses like Michigan’s Moo Cluck Moo deciding to raise employees’ pay to $15 just on principle?

By themselves, any of these victories – along with the passage of more modest but still significant wage increases in cities like San Diego, Berkeley, Santa Fe and Washington and in states including Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Hawaii, Vermont, Connecticut and Massachusetts – could be dismissed as an aberration. Together, they represent the start of an inexorable march toward a new social compact, one in which America’s workers are no longer cast aside as dispensable factors of production whose output is to be maximized at the lowest possible cost.

Looking ahead, we can ask: Which state will be the first to set a $15 minimum wage? Which big fast-food company will be the first to guarantee a minimum hourly wage that is double the industry standard? When can we expect to see a living wage become a core labor standard guaranteed to all workers across the country?

For four decades, wages have flat-lined, even as worker productivity has continued to grow. Low-wage jobs now form the core of America’s economy, comprising seven of the ten occupations with the largest projected growth over the next decade. Now middle and working class people in this country are rightfully insisting on a larger share of the nation’s prosperity.

In years past, right-wing politicians and their corporate backers may have been able to subdue this agitation with references to “job creators” and patronizing warnings against “hurting those you want to help.” But Americans – low-wage workers, middle class families and even many business owners – have had enough.

A powerful movement is afoot to create a decent life and a truly sustainable economy for us all. Giants beware.

Arun Ivatury is a campaign strategist with the National Employment Law Project.

TIME Business

Equal Opportunity Is Over. It’s Time for ‘Racial Realism’

Getty Images

A shift in demographics means that, increasingly, many employers are treating race as a qualification

Californians, like other Americans, like to think that race should never be a qualification for a job, that everyone deserves an equal opportunity and a fair shake. This principle undergirds our Civil Rights Act, which turns 50 this month. And yet increasingly, many employers are treating race as a qualification, especially for people of color. Just look at the Los Angeles Lakers’ acquisition of Jeremy Lin. “We think Jeremy will be warmly embraced by our fans and our community,” said General Manager Mitch Kupchak. Putting Lin on the court is a smart economic move in the country’s largest Asian-American market.

The prevalence of this kind of hiring—particularly in California, America’s most populous and most diverse state—suggests that the Civil Rights Act needs to be updated. California in 2014 certainly looks nothing like Alabama and Mississippi of 1964, which were Congress’s focus when it passed that year’s Civil Rights Act. The main question then was how to provide equal opportunity for African-Americans. The answer at that time was Title VII of the act, which prohibited racial discrimination in employment, and later court decisions allowing for affirmative action.

Twenty-first-century employers have come to value racial differences in ways that were unheard of in 1964, and do not fit with traditional conceptions of affirmative action. Organizations of all kinds today hire and place workers using a practice I have called “racial realism”: seeing color as a real and significant part of workers’ identities, a qualification that is good for business.

As with the Lakers and Lin, employers use racial realism to make customers of different backgrounds feel comfortable. As San Francisco-based Wells Fargo explains on its website: “To know our customers and serve them well, the diversity of team members throughout our ranks should reflect the diversity of the communities we serve.”

Government employers, including police departments and school districts, have also invoked racial realism, seeking to mirror the populations they serve to deliver more effective services. For example, California’s Education Code declares the importance of hiring racially diverse teachers so that “the minority student [has] available to him or her the positive image provided by minority classified and certificated employees.”

In low-skilled jobs, racial realism is often linked to perceived variations in abilities, rather than customer reactions. One study of Los Angeles employers found a common pattern of preference for Latinos due to their perceived diligence.

While racial realism lacks the animus that characterized the racism of the Deep South 50 years ago, it is still problematic. The Civil Rights Act provides no authorization for race to be a job qualification. And the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has denied the legality of motivations like Wells Fargo’s. If employers in Alabama could claim they preferred white workers because their customers preferred white workers, the cause of equal opportunity would never have gotten off the ground. Courts have ruled that firms should have their workforces mirror their job applicant pools, not their customer bases. And California’s rationale for teacher diversity would seem to have been precluded by a 1986 Supreme Court decision, which explicitly stated that hiring teachers to be racial role models was impermissible.

Moreover, the employer preference for Latino workers, often immigrants, is often propelled by stereotypes, and often at the expense of other workers stereotyped differently, especially African-Americans. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has initiated action against employers who use this strategy, grouping the cases under a heading no one would have considered in 1964: “Hispanic Preference.”

For high-skilled nonwhite workers, racial realism can be a double-edged sword. They may have ready access to jobs—then find themselves pigeonholed in positions where they deal with same-race clients or citizens.

Why the shift from equal opportunity to racial realism? Demographics. American birthrates declined as the country became more educated, creating a great demand for low-skilled immigrant labor. Employer demand for labor brought immigrant workers here, but now immigrants themselves, and their descendants, are shaping employment patterns as consumers. Employers are feeling pressure to balance the rights of their workers and the interests of customers and citizens, including those of color, who rightfully expect the best service from businesses and especially from government.

The Civil Rights Act, as written, puts employers and employees alike in a bind. It is time to revisit the law, and make adaptations that fit our new demography—and the law’s original goal of equal opportunity for America’s most disadvantaged.

John D. Skrentny—co-director of the Center for Comparative Immigration Studies and professor of sociology at the University of California, San Diego—is author of After Civil Rights: Racial Realism in the New American Workplace (Princeton University Press).

TIME Fast Food

McDonald’s Objects to Russia Restaurant Closures

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People sit on the terrace of a closed McDonald's restaurant, the first to be opened in the Soviet Union in 1990, in Moscow on Aug. 21, 2014. Alexander Nemenov—AFP/Getty Images

The Russian government says conditions in some of the chain's restaurants are unsanitary

McDonald’s on Friday objected to the Russian government’s decision to close 12 of its restaurants in the country, following weeks of highly publicized investigations into health and safety at the fast food giant’s locations.

“We are closely studying the content of the agency documents to determine what should be done to re-open the restaurants as soon as possible,” the company said in a statement. “We do not agree with the court’s decision and will appeal against it in accordance with the procedures established by the law.”

The investigations come as the United States and Russia face heightened tensions over the crisis in Ukraine. While Russian authorities maintain that the restaurants have been closed for health reasons, critics say the closures are a response to U.S. sanctions against Russia.

The Russian government is continuing “microbiology tests, sanitary and chemical tests” at other McDonald’s restaurants in Russia, according to reports.

TIME Education

Here Are the Crucial Job Skills Employers Are Really Looking For

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Tom Merton—Gety Images

'Soft skills' like professionalism and oral communication rank among the most valued, regardless of education level

Labor Day offers an opportunity for politicians and economists to offer their two cents on the state of labor. It’s a good bet that some of that commentary will focus on the so-called “skills gap” — the notion that millions of jobs in highly technical fields remain unfilled while millions of Americans without those skills remain unemployed.

The solution according to the pundits? Education and training that focus on technical skills like computer engineering, or on crucial but scarce skills like welding. Match these newly trained employees with open jobs that require those skills and, voila, the skills gap is gone — and the labor market is steadied.

If only it were so simple.

Yes, more American workers need to learn skills that are underrepresented in the labor market. And yes, those technology titans who advocate for more challenging school curricula, for greater funding for science and engineering education and for immigration reforms to bring more skilled workers are responding to a real problem. But that’s not all there is to it. The problem with the skills gap argument is that it accounts for only one set of skills that employers consider important.

I work at Books@Work, a non-profit organization that brings university professors to the workplace to lead literature seminars with employees. The employers with whom we work want to provide professional development opportunities for all members of their organizations, and — we like to think — are more creative in their approach to doing so than most. Yet even this group of employers has few ways of helping their employees to develop skills that aren’t about content or subject matter — skills like communication, critical thinking, creativity, empathy and understanding of diversity.

Such skills cut across sector, hierarchy and function – and are, according to employers, crucial to the success of their companies. According to research conducted by the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AACU), 93 percent of business and non-profit leaders who were surveyed consider critical thinking and communication skills to be more important than a person’s undergraduate major when it comes to hiring.

That’s bad news because, while many public programs try to bridge gaps in the knowledge of future workers, there are few programs to address the gap in skills that are more difficult to measure, like creativity and critical thinking. My colleagues and I often hear from hiring managers who are hungry for programs that will encourage their employees (at all levels of the organization) to think more creatively, communicate more effectively and become more adept at reacting to changing circumstances.

The gap in these “soft” skills is very real. Professionalism/work ethic, teamwork/collaboration, and oral communication rank among the top five skills valued by employers hiring candidates at any educational level, according to one study. Yet employers rank significant portions of those entering the workforce deficient on all these dimensions. The problem is particularly acute among those without a college degree. Employers rate those entering the workforce with a high school degree deficient on professionalism/work ethic, critical thinking/problem solving, and oral communication. Meanwhile, employers do not regard a majority of college graduates deficient in any of these areas.

The introduction at the K-12 level of the Common Core, which is supposed to emphasize critical thinking and problem solving, may produce changes in these figures in the years to come. But for now, those without access to a university education — and even some workers with college degrees — enter the workforce lacking the interpersonal, reasoning and thinking skills necessary for success. Unlike direct knowledge areas — like computer basics — that can be taught through employer training sessions, there is no set curriculum for critical thinking or applied reasoning.

There is no silver bullet for addressing this gap, though our approach at Books@Work, having employees read literature and reflect on it, is one example of an attempt to disseminate some of the benefits of a liberal arts education beyond the confines of the traditional university setting. We need many more such efforts. In discussing Macbeth or Frankenstein, workers explore complex (and timeless) interpersonal dynamics — an opportunity that a training on the latest operating system or review of safety regulations is unlikely to provide.

We’ve found that reading literature with colleagues can offer a new perspective on the practice of work itself, leading to greater professionalism and new ways of doing things. Themes of empathy in a powerful novella by May Sarton, As We Are Now, which is about a woman in a terrible nursing home, led workers in one hospitality company to reconsider their approach toward customers, resulting in a renewed awareness of customer needs and expectations. A conversation about the racial tension in the post-war Northwest in David Guterson’s Snow Falling on Cedars became a platform to discuss personal integration issues in a company growing rapidly through acquisition and organizational acculturation.

Programs like Books@Work are not an adequate substitute for public policy solutions to the gap in thinking and interpersonal skills. We do not address disparities in such skills among job applicants — only among those who are hired. And they place the burden for addressing the problem squarely with employers. But programs that address the significant divide in soft skills are a first step toward realizing that solving the so-called skills gap requires more than teaching kids to code, retraining the unemployed as welders or encouraging college dropouts to complete technical degrees. We all need to continue to improve the most important skill of them all – our thinking.

Rachel Burstein, Ph.D. is Academic Director at Books@Work. This piece originally appeared at Zocalo Public Square.

TIME Business

Labor Day: Raising the Minimum Wage Stiffs the Poor

Demonstrators take part in a protest to demand higher wages for fast-food workers outside McDonald's in Los Angeles on May 15, 2014.
Demonstrators take part in a protest to demand higher wages for fast-food workers outside McDonald's in Los Angeles on May 15, 2014. Lucy Nicholson—Reuters

There are at least three better ways to help low-income workers — and few ways that are worse

Another Labor Day, another bold plan to increase the minimum to help the working men and women of America!

On Monday, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti will announce a proposal to jack his city’s minimum wage from $9.00 all the way up to $13.25 over three years. That puts him ahead of President Obama, who has called for goosing the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10.

Increasing the minimum wage is typically sold as a way of aiding poor people — LA business magnate and philanthropist Eli Broad says Garcetti’s plan “would help lift people out of poverty.” But it’s actually a pretty rotten way to achieve that for a number of reasons.

For starters, minimum-wage workers represent a shrinking share of the U.S. workforce. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the percentage of folks who earn the federal minimum wage or less (which is legal under certain circumstances) comes to just 4.3 percent of hourly employees and just 3 percent of all workers. That’s down from an early 1980s high of 15 percent of hourly workers, which is good news — even as it means minimum wage increases will reach fewer people.

What’s more, contrary to popular belief, minimum-wage workers are not clustered at the low end of the income spectrum. About 50 percent of all people earning the federal minimum wage live in households where total income is $40,000 or more. In fact, about 14 percent of minimum wage earners live in households that bring in six figures or more a year. When you raise the minimum wage, it goes to those folks too.

Also, most minimum-wage earners tend to be younger and are not the primary breadwinner in their households. So it’s not clear they’re the ones needing help. “Although workers under age 25 represented only about one-fifth of hourly paid workers,” says BLS, “they made up about half of those paid the federal minimum wage or less.” Unemployment rates are already substantially higher for younger workers — 20 percent for 16 to 19 year olds and 11.3 percent for 20 to 24 year olds, compared to just 5 percent for workers 25 years and older — and would almost certainly be made worse by raising the cost of their labor by government diktat. While a number of high-profile economists such as Paul Krugman have lately taken to arguing that minimum wage increases have no effect on employment, the matter is far from settled and basic economic logic suggests that increases in prices reduce demand, whether you’re talking about widgets or labor.

Finally, there’s no reason to believe that people making the minimum wage are stuck at the bottom end of the pay scale for very long. According to one study that looked at earning patterns between 1977 and 1997, about two-thirds of workers moved above the minimum wage within their first year on the job. Having a job, even one that pays poorly, starts workers on the road to increased earnings.

If we want to actually raise the standard of living for the working poor via government intervention, the best way to do it is via transfer payments — food stamps, housing subsidies, or even plain cash — that directly target individuals and families at or below the poverty line.

University of California sociologist Lane Kenworthy, a progressive who has called for a more generous social safety net, argues that virtually all increases in income for poor families in the U.S. and other wealthy countries since the late 1970s have been a function of “increases in net government transfers — transfers received minus taxes paid.” That’s partly because workers in poor households often have “psychological, cognitive, or physical conditions that limit their earnings capability” and partly because today’s “companies have more options for replacing workers, whether with machines or with low-cost laborers abroad.”

To be sure, arguing that you want to increase direct aid to poor families doesn’t give a politician the same sort of photo-op as standing with a bunch of union leaders on Labor Day and speechifying about the urgent need to make sure an honest day’s work is rewarded with a living wage.

But making just such a case could have the benefit of actually helping poor people in the here and now. Certainly a savvy politician could sell that to voters who know the value of hard work — and the limits of economic intervention.

 

TIME Business

Watch Johnny Manziel Dancercize in New Snickers Ad

Meet Johnny JamBoogie

+ READ ARTICLE

As the Snickers tagline goes, “You aren’t you when you’re hungry.” So what does Cleveland Browns backup quarterback Johnny Manziel turn in to when his tummy is growling? According to a new commercial, Johnny Football transforms into Johnny JamBoogie, an aerobics instructor jazzercising his way into our hearts.

While the entire point of the commercial is that a bite of a candy bar has the power to get his football helmet-wearing head straight and turn his back on florescent leotard-wearing older women, we must ask — does Manziel have to choose? Dance can be an important part of any pre-game or post-touchdown routine.

Signature steps can get you new endorsement deals, Manziel. Embrace the JamBoogie.

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