Athletics: Telfer out of U.S. trials due to eligibility rules

Athletics: Telfer out of U.S. trials due to eligibility rules

June 24, 2021

By Gene Cherry

EUGENE, Oregon (Reuters) – Hurdler CeCe Telfer will not be allowed to compete in the U.S. Olympic trials this week because she has not met World Athletics standards for transgender athletes, USA Track and Field said.

    Telfer had hoped to participate in the women’s 400 metres hurdles, the qualifying rounds for which are scheduled for Friday at the trials in Eugene, Oregon.  

    “While CeCe Telfer has met the performance qualification standard, she has not met the conditions established in the World Athletics ‘Eligibility Regulations for Transgender Athletes’ and is therefore ineligible to compete,” USA Track and Field said in a statement.

     The regulations require a transgender athlete to reduce testosterone to below a certain level for 12 months before competing in women’s events.

     Athletes must meet the requirements to participate in the U.S. trials and be a member of the U.S. Olympic team.

Two-time Olympic gold medallist Caster Semenya of South Africa, who is a cisgender woman, has sought unsuccessfully for years to overturn the regulations, which were established in 2019 and have precluded her from competing in any race from 400m to a mile due to her naturally elevated testosterone levels.

    Telfer, who was born in Jamaica, competed in the men’s 400m hurdles in the U.S. collegiate Division II championships in 2016-17 and won the women’s title in 2019.

    USATF said World Athletics had notified it on June 17 that Telfer had not met the conditions and after a subsequent notification from the world governing body, the athlete was given the opportunity to demonstrate her eligibility.

    She was been unable to do so, USATF said.

    “USATF strongly supports inclusivity and providing a clear path to participation in the sport for all, while also maintaining competitive fairness,” the U.S. federation said.

     “If CeCe meets the conditions for transgender athlete participation in the future, we wholeheartedly back her participation in international events as a member of Team USATF.” 

      World Athletics said: “It’s our policy not to comment on individual cases due to medical confidentiality.”

(Reporting by Gene Cherry in Eugene, Oregon, editing by Ed Osmond)

U.S. Labor Board prosecutor hopes to bulk up staffing, budget as gig worker scrutiny grows

June 24, 2021

By Nandita Bose

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The top prosecutor at the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), the U.S. agency that investigates unfair labor practices, is pushing for a bigger budget and more staff, he told Reuters, adding he would not be surprised to see a jump in complaints about employees being misclassified as contractors.

Peter Sung Ohr, the acting general counsel at the labor board, is pushing to increase the agency’s annual budget for fiscal year 2022 by 10% and to add over 150 more employees to its offices, to prosecute U.S. labor law violations.

In a rare interview, Ohr told Reuters he would not be surprised to see a jump in complaints about employees being misclassified as contractors. Misclassification of employees is an issue that “comes up on a regular basis” Ohr said, and as the economy evolves he expects to see the issue becoming “more common.”

“It will not be a surprise if we continue to see more of these issues come in front of the National Labor Relations Board,” said Ohr.

The issue of employee misclassification looms large for rideshare and other “gig economy” companies, including Uber Inc and Lyft, that rely on contract labor instead of paying overtime and benefits. The industry is under pressure from Democratic President Joe Biden’s administration, which has increasingly pushed for more rights for workers and to ease their ability to join unions.

Ohr, a career employee with the NLRB and former regional director for the agency in Chicago, noted that when such cases come up around the country, they can be “consolidated and looked at in a national scope.”

“That certainly happened in the last administration with Uber,” he said, referring to misclassification complaints that came up in Chicago and San Francisco when Republican President Donald Trump was in office.

Biden named Ohr, who may be best known for ruling in 2014 that Northwestern University football players were employees with the legal right to unionize, immediately after taking office in January as he fired his predecessor, Peter Robb, Trump’s appointee to the post. Jennifer Abruzzo, Biden’s nominee for general counsel, awaits confirmation from the U.S. Senate.

Ohr’s comments on employee misclassification came after the U.S. Labor Department blocked a rule in May which would have made it easier to classify gig workers as independent contractors. The NLRB and the Labor Department are separate agencies.

In April, Labor Secretary Marty Walsh told Reuters he supports classifying gig workers as employees who deserve work benefits, pushing down shares of companies like Uber and Lyft.

The Biden administration also recently pushed to boost the budget of a Labor Department unit that investigates whether gig workers are misclassified. Biden’s nominee to run that division has supported government crackdowns on the workforce models of gig-economy companies like Uber.

Biden’s American Jobs Plan legislation also helps to “fund the NLRB’s participation in a multi-year, multi-agency effort to combat misclassification of employees as independent contractors,” according to a budget document filed by the NLRB to Congress. Ohr did not offer more details on what that effort would entail.

Ohr did not comment on a high-profile case involving Amazon.com Inc, which is before the NLRB. The Retail Wholesale and Department Store Union is trying to persuade the labor board to throw out the results of a union election it lost in Alabama in early April by proving Amazon violated U.S. labor law.

There are ongoing legal challenges to Biden firing Robb and picking Ohr to lead the agency. The Department of Justice has recently filed a motion to intervene and argue on the legitimacy of Ohr’s appointment.

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Ohr, whose appointment was seen as a step toward establishing a more union-friendly NLRB, said in some agency offices around the country the number of cases being filed with it have gone up, after a drop during the Trump years.

“In the last four or five months of this year … the drop in case intake has stopped,” Ohr said.

Ohr hopes to raise the budget from $274 million in fiscal year 2021 to over $310 million to boost staffing, raise outreach and awareness for the work the agency does and make improvements in technology. According to a report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office in March, the agency’s budget has declined 26% over the past decade. 

There has been a “significant drop” in staffing at the agency over the past three years, Ohr said. The latest budget requests 1,387 full-time employees, up from 1,223.

In fiscal year 2020, the agency conducted 1,165 elections to certify or decertify a union and investigated 16,519 charges, recovering over $40 million for workers.

Biden on Tuesday said he intends to nominate a senior union lawyer, David Prouty, to the NLRB and fill the seat currently held by Republican William Emanuel, an attorney who has represented employers in labor law cases.

The move follows his decision to nominate veteran union lawyer Gwynne Wilcox for a vacant seat on the NLRB. If both are confirmed, Democrats would take control of the five-member labor board.

Ohr said Democratic control would help get approvals for the budget and spending plans, adding that his goal is to support the mission of the National Labor Relations Act.

“It is a law written to support collective bargaining, to support employees,” Ohr said. “I want to make sure that we continue to do that … and that employers know that when there is a charge filed, the investigation is going to be neutral, unbiased,” he said.

(Reporting by Nandita Bose in Washington; Editing by Heather Timmons and Jonathan Oatis)

EU leaders to commit to finishing banking union … one day

EU leaders to commit to finishing banking union … one day

June 24, 2021

By Jan Strupczewski and Francesco Guarascio

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – European leaders will promise on Friday to complete the EU’s banking union in the future, but will leave it to their finance ministers to work out when, their draft conclusions showed.

Completion of the banking union, which would mean setting up a controversial common deposit insurance scheme, would sharply reduce the possibility of a major banking crisis in the 19 countries sharing the euro and in this way boost market confidence in the euro and demand for the currency.

But the issue is highly sensitive in several euro zone countries and euro zone finance ministers together with their non-euro colleagues from other EU countries have been stuck trying to agree on the deposit guarantee scheme for years.

“We reiterate our full commitment to the completion of the Banking Union and, capitalising on recent discussions, invite (EU finance ministers) to agree, without delay and on a consensual basis, on a stepwise and time-bound work plan on all outstanding elements needed to complete the Banking Union,” the draft said.

The main outstanding element is the EU-wide deposit guarantee, because there already is a single bank supervisor and a single resolution mechanism for banks that fail.

But before the common EU deposit protection, called the European Deposit Insurance Scheme (EDIS), is agreed, Germany and some other countries say other problems have to be cleared up.

First of all, banks need to be less in danger of collapsing in the first place, which means reducing their bad loans and exposure to the debt of a single issuer, like the government of the country they operate in, so that they would not go under if the sovereign they are most exposed to cannot redeem its bonds.

While the ratio of bad loans has been falling steadily in the euro zone, it is still too high in some countries for Berlin’s liking.

Crucially, limits on the amount of bonds of a single sovereign that a bank is to hold, are hard to swallow for Italy, which finances a lot of its borrowing in local banks. Some other southern countries share Italy’s objections.

Euro zone officials said no progress on any of the topics is likely before German parliamentary elections in late September.

But even with a new German government in place, progress will be hard to achieve before France holds its election in May 2022, which is when serious talks might begin.

(Reporting by Jan Strupczewski and Francesco Guarascio; Editing by Giles Elgood)

Berkshire Hathaway appears to buy back more stock

Berkshire Hathaway appears to buy back more stock

June 24, 2021

By Jonathan Stempel

(Reuters) – Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc appears to have extended its drive to repurchase its own stock, even with its share price near a record high, according to regulatory filings and an analyst.

Edward Jones & Co analyst James Shanahan estimated that buybacks have totaled about $5.15 billion between April 22 and June 22, and about $6.46 billion in the second quarter, based on Berkshire’s average share price during the applicable periods.

Berkshire did not immediately respond on Thursday to a request for comment.

Buffett has aggressively repurchased Berkshire shares as high stock market valuations and the growth of special purpose acquisition companies, which take private companies public, made buying whole companies appear expensive.

“It’s a killer,” Buffett said at Berkshire’s May 1 annual meeting, referring to SPACs.

Berkshire repurchased $6.6 billion of stock in the first quarter, and a record $24.7 billion in 2020.

Its last major acquisition was a $32.1 billion takeover of aircraft parts maker Precision Castparts in 2016. Berkshire ended March with $145.4 billion of cash and equivalents.

“There could be deal frustration,” said Cathy Seifert, a CFRA Research analyst with a “hold” rating on Berkshire. “Share buybacks also reflect confidence in one’s stock.”

Berkshire may discuss buybacks in its financial report for the second quarter, likely in early August.

On Wednesday, Buffett donated more than $4.1 billion of his Berkshire stock to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and four family charities.

The donations left him with a 15.8% stake in his Omaha, Nebraska-based conglomerate, regulatory filings show.

That stake suggests Berkshire’s share count has been dropping, based on reported shares outstanding as of March 31 and April 22, according to another regulatory filing.

The dollar amount of any buybacks depends on what price Berkshire paid. Through Wednesday, Berkshire’s share price was down 7% from its early May record high.

Repurchasing stock “offers a simple way for investors to own an ever-expanding portion of exceptional businesses,” Buffett wrote on Feb. 27 in his annual shareholder letter.

Berkshire owns several dozen businesses including the BNSF railroad and Geico car insurance, and stocks such as Apple Inc and Bank of America Corp.

Shanahan said Berkshire’s cash hoard may have declined since March, based on the company’s investment activity and ability to generate free cash flow. He rates Berkshire a “buy.”

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Nick Zieminski)

U.S. infrastructure deal would fund electric buses, charging stations

U.S. infrastructure deal would fund electric buses, charging stations

June 24, 2021

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A bipartisan $1.2 trillion infrastructure framework does not contain new money for electric vehicle rebates but would spend $15 billion to boost EV charging stations and buy electric school and transit buses, the White House said in a fact sheet.

President Joe Biden proposed $174 billion on electric vehicles, including $100 billion on electric vehicle consumer rebates. Democrats in Congress still plan to seek funding for EV rebates in other legislation this year. The funding would “accomplish the president’s goal of building 500,000 EV chargers” and “electrify thousands of school and transit buses across the country,” the White House said.

Both General Motors Co and Tesla Inc have hit the manufacturer cap and no longer qualify for consumer $7,500 EV tax credits.

Previously, Biden had sought $15 billion for EV charging stations, The plan also calls for $20 billion for electric school buses and $25 billion for EV transit vehicles.

The fact sheet says the measure could be funded by various ways including sale of crude from the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve, but it does not offer a precise figure. Another funding method would be to reinstate Superfund fees for chemicals.

The deal dropped two funding ideas that had been considered: a per mile fee on electric vehicles and indexing gasoline taxes to adjust for inflation.

Congress has not boosted the 18.4-cents-per-gallon federal gasoline tax since 1993. That tax is now worth just 10.2 cents after adjusting for inflation.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by David Gregorio)