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Month: March 2024

New $20 Minimum Wage for California Fast Food Workers Starts Monday 

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LIVERMORE, Calif. — Most fast food workers in California will be paid at least $20 an hour beginning Monday when a new law is scheduled to kick in giving more financial security to an historically low-paying profession while threatening to raise prices in a state already known for its high cost of living.

Democrats in the state Legislature passed the law last year in part as an acknowledgement that many of the more than 500,000 people who work in fast food restaurants are not teenagers earning some spending money, but adults working to support their families.

That includes immigrants like Ingrid Vilorio, who said she started working at a McDonald’s shortly after arriving in the United States in 2019. Fast food was her full-time job until last year. Now, she works about eight hours per week at a Jack in the Box while working other jobs.

“The $20 raise is great. I wish this would have come sooner,” Vilorio said through a translator. “Because I would not have been looking for so many other jobs in different places.”

The law was supported by the trade association representing fast food franchise owners. But since it passed, many franchise owners have bemoaned the impact the law is having on them, especially during California’s slowing economy.

Alex Johnson owns 10 Auntie Anne’s Pretzels and Cinnabon restaurants in the San Francisco Bay Area. He said sales have slowed in 2024, prompting him to lay off his office staff and rely on his parents to help with payroll and human resources.

Increasing his employees’ wages will cost Johnson about $470,000 each year. He will have to raise prices anywhere from 5% to 15% at his stores, and is no longer hiring or seeking to open new locations in California, he said.

“I try to do right by my employees. I pay them as much as I can. But this law is really hitting our operations hard,” Johnson said.

“I have to consider selling and even closing my business,” he said. “The profit margin has become too slim when you factor in all the other expenses that are also going up.”

Over the past decade, California has doubled its minimum wage for most workers to $16 per hour. A big concern over that time was whether the increase would cause some workers to lose their jobs as employers’ expenses increased.

Instead, data showed wages went up and employment did not fall, said Michael Reich, a labor economics professor at the University of California-Berkeley.

“I was surprised at how little, or how difficult it was to find disemployment effects. If anything, we find positive employment effects,” Reich said.

Plus, Reich said while the statewide minimum wage is $16 per hour, many of the state’s larger cities have their own minimum wage laws setting the rate higher than that. For many fast food restaurants, this means the jump to $20 per hour will be smaller.

The law reflected a carefully crafted compromise between the fast food industry and labor unions, which had been fighting over wages, benefits and legal liabilities for close to two years. The law originated during private negotiations between unions and the industry, including the unusual step of signing confidentiality agreements.

The law applies to restaurants offering limited or no table service and which are part of a national chain with at least 60 establishments nationwide. Restaurants operating inside a grocery establishment are exempt, as are restaurants producing and selling bread as a stand-alone menu item.

At first, it appeared the bread exemption applied to Panera Bread restaurants. Bloomberg News reported the change would benefit Greg Flynn, a wealthy campaign donor to Newsom. But the Newsom administration said the wage increase law does apply to Panera Bread because the restaurant does not make dough on-site. Also, Flynn has announced he would pay his workers at least $20 per hour.

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Азербайджан звинуватив Вірменію у «накопиченні військ біля спільного кордону» – Єреван заперечує

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Міноборони Азербайджану заявляє, що у мережі з’являється більше інформації, «спрямованої на загострення ситуації в інформаційному середовищі в рамках підготовки до диверсій»

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Categories: Новини, Світ

IMF Confirms Increasing Egypt’s Bailout Loan To $8 Billion

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CAIRO — The executive board of the International Monetary Fund confirmed a deal with Egypt to increase its bailout loan from $3 billion to $8 billion, in a move that is meant to shore up the Arab country’s economy, which is hit by a staggering shortage of foreign currency and soaring inflation.

In a statement late Friday, the board said its decision would enable Egypt to immediately receive about $820 million as part of the deal, which was announced earlier this month.

The deal was achieved after Egypt agreed with the IMF on a reform plan that is centered on floating the local currency, reducing public investment and allowing the private sector to become the engine of growth, the statement said.

Egypt has already floated the pound and sharply increased the main interest rate.

Commercial banks are now trading the U.S. currency at more than 47 pounds, up from about 31 pounds. The measures are meant to combat ballooning inflation and attract foreign investment.

The Egyptian economy has been hit hard by years of government austerity, the coronavirus pandemic, the fallout from Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine and, most recently, the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza. The Houthi attacks on shipping routes in the Red Sea have slashed Suez Canal revenues, which is a major source of foreign currency. The attacks forced traffic away from the canal and around the tip of Africa.

“Egypt is facing significant macroeconomic challenges that have become more complex to manage given the spillovers from the recent conflict in Gaza and Israel. The disruptions in the Red Sea are also reducing Suez Canal receipts, which are an important source of foreign exchange inflows and fiscal revenue,” said IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva.

The IMF said such external shocks, combined with delayed reforms, have hurt economic activity. Growth slowed to 3.8% in the fiscal year 2022-23 due to weak confidence and foreign currency shortages and is projected to slow further, to 3%, in the fiscal year 2023-24 before recovering to about 4.5% in 2024-25, the IMF statement said.

The annual inflation rate was 36% in February, but is expected to ease over the medium term, the IMF said.

The currency devaluation and interest rate increase have inflicted further pain on Egyptians already struggling with skyrocketing prices over the past years. Nearly 30% of Egyptians live in poverty, according to official figures.

Finance Minister Mohamed Maait said the confirmation by the IMF executive board “reflects the importance of the correcting measures” taken by the government.

Egypt also this month signed a deal with the European Union that includes a 7.4 billion-euro ($8 billion) aid package for the most populous Arab country over three years.

To quickly inject much-needed funds into Egypt’s staggering economy, the EU intends to fast-track 1 billion euros ($1.1 billion) of the package, using an urgent funding procedure that bypasses parliamentary oversight and other safeguards, according to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

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West African Project Helps Women Farmers Claim Their Rights, Land

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ZIGUINCHOR, Senegal — Mariama Sonko’s voice resounded through the circle of 40 women farmers sitting in the shade of a cashew tree. They scribbled notes, brows furrowed in concentration as her lecture was punctuated by the thud of falling fruit.

This quiet village in Senegal is the headquarters of a 115,000-strong rural women’s rights movement in West Africa, We Are the Solution. Sonko, its president, is training female farmers from cultures where women are often excluded from ownership of the land they work so closely.

Across Senegal, women farmers make up 70% of the agricultural workforce and produce 80% of the crops but have little access to land, education and finance compared to men, the United Nations says.

“We work from dawn until dusk, but with all that we do, what do we get out of it?” Sonko asked.

She believes that when rural women are given land, responsibilities and resources, it has a ripple effect through communities. Her movement is training women farmers who traditionally have no access to education, explaining their rights and financing women-led agricultural projects.

Across West Africa, women usually don’t own land because it is expected that when they marry, they leave the community. But when they move to their husbands’ homes, they are not given land because they are not related by blood.

Sonko grew up watching her mother struggle after her father died, with young children to support.

“If she had land, she could have supported us,” she recalled, her normally booming voice now tender. Instead, Sonko had to marry young, abandon her studies and leave her ancestral home.

After moving to her husband’s town at age 19, Sonko and several other women convinced a landowner to rent to them a small plot of land in return for part of their harvest. They planted fruit trees and started a market garden. Five years later, when the trees were full of papayas and grapefruit, the owner kicked them off.

The experience marked Sonko.

“This made me fight so that women can have the space to thrive and manage their rights,” she said. When she later got a job with a women’s charity funded by Catholic Relief Services, coordinating micro-loans for rural women, that work began.

“Women farmers are invisible,” said Laure Tall, research director at Agricultural and Rural Prospect Initiative, a Senegalese rural think tank. That’s even though women work on farms two to four hours longer than men on an average day.

But when women earn money, they reinvest it in their community, health and children’s education, Tall said. Men spend some on household expenses but can choose to spend the rest how they please. Sonko listed common examples like finding a new wife, drinking and buying fertilizer and pesticides for crops that make money instead of providing food.

With encouragement from her husband, who died in 1997, Sonko chose to invest in other women. Her training center now employs more than 20 people, with support from small philanthropic organizations such as Agroecology Fund and CLIMA Fund.

In a recent week, Sonko and her team trained over 100 women from three countries, Senegal, Guinea-Bissau and Gambia, in agroforestry – growing trees and crops together as a measure of protection from extreme weather – and micro gardening, growing food in tiny spaces when there is little access to land.

One trainee, Binta Diatta, said We Are the Solution bought irrigation equipment, seeds, and fencing — an investment of $4,000 — and helped the women of her town access land for a market garden, one of more than 50 financed by the organization.

When Diatta started to earn money, she said, she spent it on food, clothes and her children’s schooling. Her efforts were noticed.

“Next season, all the men accompanied us to the market garden because they saw it as valuable,” she said, recalling how they came simply to witness it.

Now another challenge has emerged affecting women and men alike: climate change.

In Senegal and the surrounding region, temperatures are rising 50% more than the global average, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and the UN Environment Program says rainfall could drop by 38% in the coming decades.

Where Sonko lives, the rainy season has become shorter and less predictable. Saltwater is invading her rice paddies bordering the tidal estuary and mangroves, caused by rising sea levels. In some cases, yield losses are so acute that farmers abandon their rice fields.

But adapting to a heating planet has proven to be a strength for women since they adopt climate innovations much faster than men, said Ena Derenoncourt, an investment specialist for women-led farming projects at agricultural research agency AICCRA.

“They have no choice because they are the most vulnerable and affected by climate change,” Derenoncourt said. “They are the most motivated to find solutions.”

On a recent day, Sonko gathered 30 prominent women rice growers to document hundreds of local rice varieties. She bellowed out the names of rice – some hundreds of years old, named after prominent women farmers, passed from generation to generation – and the women echoed with what they call it in their villages.

This preservation of indigenous rice varieties is not only key to adapting to climate change but also about emphasizing the status of women as the traditional guardians of seeds.

“Seeds are wholly feminine and give value to women in their communities,” Sonko said. “That’s why we’re working on them, to give them more confidence and responsibility in agriculture.”

The knowledge of hundreds of seeds and how they respond to different growing conditions has been vital in giving women a more influential role in communities.

Sonko claimed to have a seed for every condition including too rainy, too dry and even those more resistant to salt for the mangroves.

Last year, she produced 2 tons of rice on her half-hectare plot with none of the synthetic pesticides or fertilizer that are heavily subsidized in Senegal. The yield was more than double that of plots with full use of chemical products in a 2017 U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization project in the same region.

“Our seeds are resilient,” Sonko said, sifting through rice-filled clay pots designed to preserve seeds for decades. “Conventional seeds do not resist climate change and are very demanding. They need fertilizer and pesticides.”

The cultural intimacy between female farmers, their seeds and the land means they are more likely to shun chemicals harming the soil, said Charles Katy, an expert on indigenous wisdom in Senegal who is helping to document Sonko’s rice varieties.

He noted the organic fertilizer that Sonko made from manure, and the biopesticides made from ginger, garlic and chili.

One of Sonko’s trainees, Sounkarou Kébé, recounted her experiments against parasites in her tomato plot. Instead of using manufactured insecticides, she tried using a tree bark traditionally used in Senegal’s Casamance region to treat intestinal problems in humans caused by parasites.

A week later, all the disease was gone, Kébé said.

As dusk approached at the training center, insects hummed in the background and Sonko prepared for another training session. “There’s too much demand,” she said. She is now trying to set up seven other farming centers across southern Senegal.

Glancing back at the circle of women studying in the fading light, she said: “My great fight in the movement is to make humanity understand the importance of women.”

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Радіо Вільна Азія, яке фінансують США, закриває офіс у Гонконгу з міркувань безпеки

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Представник Державного департаменту США заявив, що рішення мовника «є останнім наслідком тривалого придушення свободи слова з боку влади Гонконгу»

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Categories: Новини, Світ