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What to know about 'Striketober': Workers seize new power as pandemic wanes

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(NEW YORK) -- A spate of strikes has rocked the private sector, revealing the new power workers wield as the pandemic wanes in the U.S. and sending a message to employers who may have been working from home for the past year that a return to the status quo isn't going to cut it.

A confluence of unique labor market conditions -- including record-high levels of people quitting their jobs and an apparent shortage of workers accepting low-wage jobs -- has contributed to the recent rash of work stoppages, experts say, but they also come after decades of stagnating wages and soaring income inequality in the U.S.

The post-traumatic shock of a deadly pandemic that took an inordinate toll on workers who didn't have the privilege of earning a living remotely, and their families, has also been linked to the recent employee activism.

"I think workers have reached a tipping point," Tim Schlittner, the communications director of the AFL-CIO, told ABC News. "For too long they've been called essential, but treated as expendable, and workers have decided that enough is enough."

"They want a fair return on their work and they're willing to take the courageous act of a strike to win a better deal and a better life," he added. The AFL-CIO is a coalition of labor unions that collectively represents some 12.5 million workers.

Here is what to know about what some lawmakers are dubbing "Striketober," the recent labor movement uprising that has spanned across industries and states.

Who is striking?

There have been 255 strikes this year, with 43 occurring in October, according to the Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations' tracker. The researchers behind the tracker define a strike as a "temporary stoppage of work by a group of workers in order to express a grievance or to enforce a demand," that "may or may not be workplace-related."

Among the most prominent is the ongoing strike of 10,000 John Deere workers across more than a dozen plants who are represented by the United Auto Workers. Some 1,400 workers represented by the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union are also on strike at Kellogg's plants across four states.

The Cornell researchers also collect data on "Labor Protests," defined as a collective action by a group of people as workers but without withdrawing their labor in order to express a grievance or enforce a demand. The group has tracked an additional 19 labor protests this month, and a whopping 554 in 2021.

The group collects information on strikes from Bureau of Labor Statistics data, Federal Mediation and Conciliation Services data, Bloomberg Law's work stoppage database, major media outlets, organizational press releases and social media. The researchers then follow a set of verification protocols to determine which instances constitute a strike or labor protest.

In 2020, as the pandemic raged, the Cornell ILR School recorded 54 strikes and eight labor protests.

Why now?

"I think it's a combination of things, but certainly influenced by the pandemic and the kind of economic situation coming out of that," Alex Colvin, the dean of the Cornell IRL School and a professor of conflict resolution, labor relations and law, told ABC News.

"People feel like they contributed a lot during the depths of the pandemic and now they're looking for some of the returns when the economy's doing better and companies are doing better -- profits are up, stock prices are up," he added. "We're seeing similar effects going on with quit rates going up, people more willing to leave their jobs now and look for something better."

The Bureau of Labor Statistics said in a release earlier this month that the number of people who quit their jobs in August jumped to the highest since its record-keeping began, representing nearly 3% of the entire workforce. The record-high quit rate bested the previous high of 2.7% that was set in April of this year, and then repeated in June and July.

As the number of people quitting their jobs has reached record highs in recent months, so have the number of job openings, the BLS data indicates.

Meanwhile, a dismal 194,000 jobs were added to the economy last month, according to BLS data, as employers struggled to fill positions. This was lower than the already-disappointing figure of 366,000 in August, and the million-plus jobs added in July.

Due to working through a COVID-19 pandemic that has left more than 730,000 Americans dead, and because of the recent labor market trends, workers may be "less willing to take what they've been willing to take in the past," Colvin said, but added that these factors also increase the leverage unions have when executing a strike.

"It makes sense for workers to push to kind of share in the gains of the improving economy," he said. "But also, they have more leverage because it's harder to replace them in a tighter labor market."

The AFL-CIO's Schlittner said the pandemic also exposed some deep "imbalances of power in the economy."

"The pandemic has made clear what's important and what's not, and workers are looking at work in a new way, and demanding more of a return on their labor, and demanding things like basic respect, dignity and safety on the job," Schlittner told ABC News. "The pandemic has put on display for everyone to see how important workers are to this country, and you can't call workers essential for 18 months and then treat them like crap when they all come back on the job."

What's causing the so-called 'labor shortage'?

Recent labor market data has sowed confusion for some over where workers have gone. The unemployment rate as of last month remains at an elevated 4.8%, still above the pre-pandemic 3.5% seen in February 2020. The number of job openings, however, has hit record high after record high in recent months -- with the most recent BLS data indicating that there were some 10.4 million job openings in August after a record-high 10.9 million in July.

A report from Moody's Analytics released earlier this week attributed the workforce reduction in large part to child care issues, which have plagued working parents and taken a disproportionate toll on mothers during the pandemic, and was the most-cited reason for why people aren't returning to work. The Wall Street analytics firm also found that millions not working said they were out of work because they were laid off or their employer had gone out of business during the pandemic, and some economists have attributed pandemic-era protections and government support to their slower return to the workforce. Finally, their data indicates fear of getting or spreading the virus was heavily cited among those not working.

Schlittner said he doesn't see it as a labor shortage, but rather "a shortage of good-paying jobs."

"There's a shortage of good-paying, quality jobs; that's the scarcity story in America today," he said. "If employers raise pay, improve working conditions and give every worker the right to form a union, the workers will be there, ready to report to the job."

Some data indicates the power that lack of laborers willing to accept low pay can have on pushing up wages, and the power of collective activism.

The federal minimum wage has remained unchanged for over a decade at $7.25 an hour, despite widespread activism -- especially in the hospitality industry -- to raise that to $15 an hour through organizations such as the Fight for 15. Post-pandemic demand for staffers as restaurants reopen has pushed the average hourly wages of workers at food and drinking establishment to a record-high $17.40 an hour in August, according to preliminary data from the labor department.

Meanwhile, a GoFundMe started in support of the John Deere workers on strike has garnered over $80,000 in just four days from more than 2,000 donors.

"More workers are recognizing the power in each other, that standing together with their co-workers is a powerful act, and can bring about great change," Schlittner said. "And that's what 'Striketober' is all about. It's about changing an economy and a system that isn't working for regular working people. One picket line at a time, we can start to do that."

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Black Friday 2021: The stores closed (and open) on Thanksgiving Day

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(NEW YORK) -- Last year, Thanksgiving and Black Friday looked a little different, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While holiday shopping has increasingly shifted to online in recent years, the pandemic led to an e-commerce boom.

But this year, many retailers will also focus on in-person shoppers, as in seasons past. This holiday season, industry watchers say consumers may opt to shop in stores because of shortages and supply chain issues, and reports of slower mail service.

While you can still get a lot of deals online, if you are ready to hit the stores, you'll want to know what's open on Thanksgiving Day and what time you can score in-person savings on Black Friday. Of course, there are plenty of earlier opportunities to get big savings, such as Amazon's already-released Black Friday-worthy deals, but if you're ready to shop 'til you drop, we'll help you stay on top of what's happening this holiday season with this list of major retailers and their plans for closures and sales.

Stores closed on Thanksgiving

Walmart

Just like last year, one of the country's largest retailers plans to close on Thanksgiving Day. It's the second time in Walmart's history it's closed on Thanksgiving.

Stores will operate with normal hours on Nov. 24 and the retail giant plans to roll out its online Black Friday Deals for Days in early November.

Target

One of Walmart's top competitors, Target, also announced plans to close on Thanksgiving this year.

While shoppers won't be able to shop the aisles during the holiday, Target's Black Friday Now sales will be available through Black Friday.

Bed Bath & Beyond

The home and kitchen giant will close on Thanksgiving Day but reopen on Black Friday. Deals will become available online and in-stores earlier in November.

Best Buy

While customers can still enjoy deals online and via Best Buy's app, physical stores will be closed on Thanksgiving this year.

Beginning Nov. 26, shoppers can enjoy huge savings through a variety of sales events.

Kohl's

Kohl's announced plans to close for the second Thanksgiving Day in a row on June 17. It will reopen for Black Friday.

Bix box retailers

Big box retailers such as Costco, Sam's Club and BJ's have traditionally closed on Thanksgiving and resumed normal hours on Black Friday. This year is no exception as all three retailers plan to close on Thanksgiving 2021.

Top retailers open on Thanksgiving

Some of the most popular retailers that will remain open include CVS, Walgreens, RadioShack, Big Lots and Bass Pro Shops.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Latina Equal Pay Day: Meet organizations fighting to close the income gap

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(NEW YORK) -- More than 50 years after the passage of the Equal Pay Act of 1963, Latinas typically earn only 57 cents for every dollar earned by white, non-Hispanic men and must work nearly 23 months to earn what white men earn in 12 months.

Latina Equal Pay Day -- the day when Latina pay catches up to that of white, non-Hispanic men from the previous year -- is being observed on Oct. 21.

In 2019, the median wealth of a Latino household was about $14,000, which represents only 9% of the median wealth of white households: $160,200, according to the National Bureau Of Economic Research. It's a gap that can affect Latino families for generations.

As Latinas across the country fight for equal pay and equal opportunities, organizations like #WeAllGrow Latina, the Hispanic Alliance for Career Enhancement and Vela are working to support, uplift and fund Latina workers on their path toward breaking glass ceilings.

"If I'm going to grow, if I'm going to understand how to do this, then I'm going to teach it and we're all going to do this together," said Ana Flores, the founder and CEO of the online networking community #WeAllGrow Latina. "Now we're on 11 years later and we really have become a community."

Systemic racial and gender-based discrimination is at the root of this pay gap, according to Patricia Mota, the CEO of Hispanic Alliance for Career Enhancement.

However, these groups are working hard to not only cultivate a strong Latinx network, but also provide professional development trainings, talent acquisition services and grants or fellowships to entrepreneurs, businesses and students. They also offer tools for mental health and self-care.

For example, Hispanic Alliance for Career Enhancement hosts the Women's Leadership Program, which has hosted about 3,000 Latinas over the years with leadership workshops. Within less than 12 months of completing the program, Mota said that 70% of the program's alumni have reported an increase of pay or promotion at their place of employment.

#WeAllGrow has taken on many forms since its conception. What started as a tool for Latina bloggers has become a multimedia environment with forums, breakout sessions and chat rooms that brings the expansive community of Latinas from across the globe to one home base online.

To address Latina Equal Pay Day, #WeAllGrow and Hispanic Alliance for Career Enhancement are teaming up with experts across many industries to provide seminars, panel discussions and conversations to host a cohort of future leaders on different skills to help them on their journey.

The Hispanic Alliance for Career Enhancement, #WeAllGrow and the Vela network, which is an up-and-coming Latinx professionals network for entrepreneurs, reach people of all ages -- from students to early career workers to veteran professionals.

Creating a space for Latinas to talk openly about their experiences can give other Latinas the tools needed to fight against systems of discrimination, Vela founder Vanessa Nevarez said.

Nevarez has been inspired by those who have started similar efforts before her. She has never started her own business and neither has anyone in her family, so navigating this project has been a learning experience. She hopes that this network can be a tool for not only her members, but for herself as well.

Nevarez is just one example of how much the system of support and community has worked and will continue to work.

"[Vela] will extend into a hub, where we believe in community over competition," Nevarez said. "We're not a monolith ... but we do have a commonality, which is that we care about our community and want our community to go forward."

As glass ceilings continue to be smashed by Latinas across the globe, and as organizations fight to change the system that keeps Latinas at the bottom of the pay scale, these professionals offer some words of advice in the meantime.

Mota recommended doing your research when negotiating pay or a promotion -- what others in your industry are being paid for the same work; what your colleagues make; and what opportunities are there for growth?

"It's an employees market, a job-seeker market," Mota said. "Right now is the opportunity to be able to leverage that and to really increase what you're bringing in in terms of income -- whether it's in another industry or another opportunity."

Vanessa Valentin, the director of marketing and communications at Hispanic Alliance for Career Enhancement, recommended talking to others openly about income and pay since transparency helps make the process more equitable. She and Mota also recommended working on maintaining self-confidence, building connections and never settling with the first salary offer without a negotiation.

They also recommended building connections, your network and taking advantage of groups like theirs to ensure you have a Latinx force to support your goals and needs.

"It's not your fault -- this system has not been created for us -- but we are here, showing up together, to make sure to change it and to make sure that the gatekeepers are listening to us," Flores said.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Donald Trump launching new social media platform, TRUTH Social

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(NEW YORK) -- Silenced by many major platforms, former President Donald Trump is launching his own social media app.

Trump Media and Technology Group and Digital World Acquisition Group, which is already listed on the Nasdaq, have entered into a merger to form a new company, chaired by the former president, according to a press release.

Trump says the group will form "a rival to the liberal media consortium."

Its first step will be launching a new social media platform called TRUTH Social. A beta version will be available to invited guests in November, according to the release.

"We live in a world where the Taliban has a huge presence on Twitter, yet your favorite American President has been silenced," Trump said in the statement.

According to the release, the company was formed using a special purpose acquisition company, or SPAC, which the Securities and Exchange Commission's website says is a "popular vehicle for various transactions, including transitioning a company from a private company to a publicly traded company." The SEC says these companies are often referred to as "blank check companies."

Patrick F. Orlando, who according to the release is the chairman and CEO of the Digital World Acquisition Group that is merging with the former president's new media company, is also CEO of Yunhong International, which itself is an international blank check company incorporated in the Cayman Islands with headquarters in Wuhan, China, according to Bloomberg.

It's currently unclear who else is behind the SPAC that is launching Trump's new platform.

The former president and his advisers have hinted since he left office that he was considering creating a rival platform to Facebook and Twitter, after the social media giants suspended his accounts following the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

Trump, who throughout his presidency used Twitter to attack his enemies and often break his own news, has been emailing out statements almost has frequently as he previously tweeted.

Trump's announcement comes only months after his longtime aide Jason Miller launched his own social media company called GETTR in July. The former president quickly pushed back on rumors that he would be joining Miller's platform shortly after it launched, writing in a statement, "I am not on any social media platform in any way, shape, or form, including Parler, GETTR, Gab, etc. When I decide to choose a platform, or build or complete my own, it will be announced. Thank you!"

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Johnson & Johnson looking to bankruptcy to resolve 40,000 baby powder cancer suits

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(NEW YORK) -- Citing what it calls an “unrelenting assault” by greedy lawyers, Johnson & Johnson is hoping to use the bankruptcy process to dispose of 40,000 lawsuits that claim its baby powder products caused cancer.

A J&J subsidiary created to hold the liabilities from the litigation announced last week it was filing for chapter 11 protection.

During Wednesday’s hearing, the first in the case, the judge is expected to hear from J&J why bankruptcy is the best method to resolve the lawsuits and from critics who called the move “an unconscionable abuse of the legal system.”

“There are countless Americans suffering from cancer, or mourning the death of a loved one, because of the toxic baby powder that Johnson & Johnson put on the market that has made it one of the most profitable pharmaceutical corporations in the world. Their conduct and now bankruptcy gimmick is as despicable as it is brazen,” Linda Lipsen, of the American Association for Justice, an advocacy group pushing for change in bankruptcy laws, said in a statement.

The company has denied its signature Johnson’s Baby Powder and other talc-based products contained asbestos and caused cancer, as alleged by tens of thousands of plaintiffs. J&J has spent nearly $1 billion defending itself, according to a court filing.

“Debtor continues to stand behind the safety of its cosmetic talc and does not believe the claims have merit,” J&J said in a court filing. “The unfortunate reality is that this filing is necessitated by an unrelenting assault by the plaintiff trial bar, premised on the false allegations that the Debtor's 100+ year old talc products contain asbestos and cause cancer.”

The company stopped selling Baby Powder in the United States and Canada in May 2020.

“Johnson's Baby Powder has been a staple for hundreds of millions of people for over 125 years. If claimants' allegations were correct that the product causes disease, there should have been long ago an epidemic clearly attributed to the use of the product. That is not the case,” the filing said.

Johnson & Johnson has put $2 billion into a settlement fund to pay the talc claims even though the company said “$2 billion is substantially in excess of any liability the Debtor should have.”

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Supply chain questions answered, plus tips and solutions for smart shopping

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(NEW YORK) -- The strained supply chain and worldwide shipping crunch has had an impact on everything from holiday shopping to every day goods and services.

Good Morning America assembled an expert panel to explain what's happening and shopping strategies to know.

ABC News' chief business correspondent Rebecca Jarvis, ABC News' consumer correspondent Becky Worley and GMA e-commerce editor Tory Johnson answer questions related to the supply issue and offer shopping tips for the holiday season.

What's causing the issue?

"This goes back a long time -- back to the beginning of the pandemic when everything shut down," Jarvis said. "Factories all over the world weren't working, but Americans were sitting on their couches and started shopping and they started buying so much stuff. Suddenly there was this giant backlog because factories hadn't created items, people weren't working, there weren't enough people to bring the items to our homes."

"Now we find ourselves in the most important season of all -- holiday shopping season when we buy more ever and not enough stuff has been created. It's sitting in those backlogs and you see those cargo ships -- it's waiting to get into stores and there isn't enough of it as it stands," she continued.

What should consumers expect moving forward?

Some retailers like Costco and Home Depot have comissioned their own cargo ships, but Jarvis explained that medium and smaller comanies don't have that same level of control.

"They're getting cancellations for orders that were supposed to come in November. They're being told it's not coming until February," she said of many orders that consumers hoped to have in time for Christmas.

What can shoppers do as we head into the holidays?

Worley said to "start with how you find it."

"Many big chains like Best Buy, Target, they may be sold out of an item online, but remember that's the stock they have in their online warehouse," she said. "Every store is a mini- warehouse. So the item you want could be sitting on a shelf."

Worley suggested using website tools like "pickup in store" and change the location to see if it's available anywhere around you. "But one big caveat before you drive a long distance, call to make sure the item is actually there -- trust but verify."

Any items easier to get than others?

"This time of year it's all about tech," she said, and that anything with a computer chip,"has been harder to find."

Worley also advises using apps that check stock from big stores such as the HotStock app, which is advertised as able to seek out prouct availability in real-time.

Shop small and local

Johnson offered a handful of tips for small business operators to be ready for more business and also protect themselves from the same supply issues.

  • Communicate with all partners with up to date information
  • Share up-to-date status reports
  • Make contingency plans
  • Try local pop-ups, trunk shows and holiday markets to move merchandise
  • Partner with complementary brands for cross-promotion and marketing opportunities
  • Leverage social media and e-commerce tools to sell direct to consumers

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Pete Buttigieg responds to paternity leave criticism as Congress weighs national paid leave

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(WASHINGTON) -- U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg has spoken out about his decision to take paternity leave after the birth of his twins, calling it "important work."

The comments from Buttigieg come after Fox News' Tucker Carlson and other prominent conservatives mocked Buttigieg's decision to take time off to care for his newborn twins.

"Pete Buttigieg has been on leave from his job since August after adopting a child," Carlson said in a segment last week on Tucker Carlson Tonight. "Paternity leave, they call it, trying to figure out how to breastfeed. No word on how that went."

Buttigieg, who welcomed twins Joseph and Penelope with his husband Chasten in August, said Sunday he is "not going to apologize" for taking time away from his job for his family.

"As you might imagine, we're bottle feeding and doing it at all hours of the day and night," Buttigieg said on CNN when asked about Carlson's comments. "I'm not going to apologize to Tucker Carlson or anyone else for taking care of my premature newborn infant twins. The work that we are doing is joyful, fulfilling, wonderful work. It's important work."

Buttigieg's paid leave after the birth of his twins came at the same time as the Biden administration's infrastructure package was being debated in Congress, an absence that sparked Carlson's criticism.

A Department of Transportation spokesperson told ABC News that for the first four weeks after the birth of his children, Buttigieg was "mostly offline except for major agency decisions and matters that could not be delegated."

"He has been ramping up activities since then," said the spokesperson, adding the secretary will "continue to take some time over the coming weeks to support his husband and take care of his new children."

"The Secretary feels fortunate and grateful to be able to take time to focus on his responsibilities as a father, and believes all American parents deserve the same," the spokesperson said in a statement. "The president's Build Back Better vision calls for paid family leave for all Americans, and the Secretary now brings new perspective to his efforts to push for the Biden-Harris Administration’s push to ensure every American has access to paid leave."

The Biden administration's Build Back Better Act, a $3.5 trillion human infrastructure package, includes a provision that would give all workers up to 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave.

If the provision remains in the bill, which has not yet passed Congress, it would take the U.S. out of the small pool of countries that do not currently guarantee paid leave.

Advocates of paid paternity leave point to research showing its success in not only helping fathers bond with their children, but also in creating long-term economic stability for families and in helping foster an equal balance of parenting duties between partners from the start.

Criticisms of paternity leave, like those Buttigieg faced, show the stigma that still remains in the United States around men taking time off work to care for their children, according to Molly Day, executive director of PL+US (Paid Leave for the United States), an organization advocating for paid family and medical leave by 2022.

"I think that the stigma around paternity leave is to a certain extent, unsurprising, because we've really failed to teach men and boys caregiving skills as a society," said Day. "Now we are finally starting to see through a generation of men who are stepping into roles of dad who are increasingly unwilling to give up that opportunity and responsibility to care for their loved ones."

Day described the U.S. as currently being at an "inflection point" in that there is overwhelming public support for paid family leave, but there is also a lack of access, which adds to the stigma around men taking paternity leave.

Just 13% of employees in the U.S. work in a job where paid paternity leave is offered to all male workers, according to Day.

Among those who have access to paid leave, the median length of paternity leave for dads in the U.S. is one week, according to Pew Research Center data.

"Caregiving is still dominated disproportionately by women, but at the same time, there are structural things that have reinforced that," Day said. "We do not have a national paid family and medical leave policy that ensures that people can care for their families without having to worry how they're going to pay their monthly bills."

Under current U.S. policy, the Family and Medical Leave Act, employees who qualify can take time off to care for a newborn or loved one or recover from illness without fear of losing their job, but in most cases the leave is unpaid.

Only 27% of private industry workers currently have access to paid family leave, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Federal employees are now entitled to 12 weeks of paid parental leave per year, but, as a cabinet member, Buttigieg's leave was approved by the White House.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki described Buttigieg in a tweet as a "role model on the importance of paid leave for new parents."

Paternity leave advocates said the examples set by Buttigieg and other prominent leaders like Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian, a vocal advocate for paternity leave, are important.

"As unfortunate as Tucker Carlson's comments were, at the end of the day, I hope what people take away from this is that men at the peak of their professional careers can and should take the time to care for their families," Day said. "I hope this moment is a powerful and poignant call to action for our legislators and wake-up moment to families of what they deserve and what we need."

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Lawmakers say Amazon reps, including Jeff Bezos, misled or 'may have lied to Congress'

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(NEW YORK) -- A bipartisan group of lawmakers is accusing Amazon leadership -- including former CEO Jeff Bezos -- of misleading or lying to Congress in the wake of reports from media outlets that they say "directly contradicts the sworn testimony and representations" from Amazon about its business practices.

In a letter sent to Amazon CEO Andy Jassy on Monday, lawmakers on the House Judiciary Antitrust Subcommittee are asking the e-commerce giant to correct the record and provide "exculpatory evidence" to corroborate prior testimony and statements made to the committee.

The lawmakers reference investigative journalism pieces from Reuters and The Markup that alleged Amazon used data from individual sellers to create similar items and boost its own products in India, and that Amazon places products from its own brand ahead of those from competitors even on the U.S. site.

"At best, this reporting confirms that Amazon's representatives misled the Committee," the letter, signed by Reps. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., David N. Cicilline, D-R.I., Ken Buck, R-Colo., Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., and Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., states. "At worst, it demonstrates that they may have lied to Congress in possible violation of federal criminal law."

"In light of the serious nature of this matter, we are providing you with a final opportunity to provide exculpatory evidence to corroborate the prior testimony and statements on behalf of Amazon to the Committee," the lawmakers added. "We strongly encourage you to make use of this opportunity to correct the record and provide the Committee with sworn, truthful, and accurate responses to this request as we consider whether a referral of this matter to the Department of Justice for criminal investigation is appropriate."

An Amazon spokesperson denied the allegations raised in the letter, and called the media articles in question "inaccurate."

"Amazon and its executives did not mislead the committee, and we have denied and sought to correct the record on the inaccurate media articles in question," a company spokesperson told ABC News in a statement Monday. "As we have previously stated, we have an internal policy, which goes beyond that of any other retailer's policy that we're aware of that prohibits the use of individual seller data to develop Amazon private label products."

"We investigate any allegations that this policy may have been violated and take appropriate action," the statement added. "In addition, we design our search experience to feature the items customers will want to purchase, regardless of whether they are offered by Amazon or one of our selling partners."

The lawmakers, meanwhile, point to the "credible reporting" in Reuters and The Markup. The lawmakers said the claims made in the recent articles are at odds with the July 16, 2019 testimony from Nate Sutton, Amazon's Associate General Counsel, who told them that Amazon does "not use any seller data for -- to compete with them" and that Amazon does not "use any of that specific data in creating our own private brand products." Moreover, Sutton also testified that Amazon's search rankings are not designed to favor its own products.

The lawmakers also pointed to a July 29, 2020, testimony from then-CEO Jeff Bezos, who said that Amazon enforces a policy against using seller-specific data to develop competing products, but that Amazon considers seller data from more than a single seller to be "aggregate" for the purpose of this policy. Bezos claimed in response to post-hearing questions that this policy "prohibits the use of anonymized data, if related to a single seller, when making decisions to launch private brand products," the lawmakers added.

The representatives are asking Amazon to provide a sworn response to clarify the record as to how Amazon uses non-public individual seller data to develop and market its own line of products, as well as a sworn response to clarify how Amazon advantages its own products over products from other sellers in its search rankings. Finally, the lawmakers are seeking all documents and communications relating to its internal inquiry into violations of its Seller Data Protection Policy, as well as documents and responses referred to in the Reuters and Markup reports.

An Amazon spokesperson told the Markup that there is a difference between search results and merchandising placements, but that it does not favor its own brands in the search tool.

"We do not favor our store brand products through search. There is a difference between search results and the placements [the Markup] is referring to - 'Featured from our brands' - which are merchandising placements. As [The Markup] notes, these placements are clearly labeled to distinguish them from search results," a company spokesperson said. "These merchandising placements are optimized for a customer's experience and are shown based on a variety of signals, starting with relevance to the customer's shopping query."

The company spokesperson added that they look at sales and store data to enhance customer experience, "However, we strictly prohibit our employees from using non-public, seller-specific data to determine which store brand products to launch."

An Amazon spokesperson told Reuters, meanwhile, that "these allegations are incorrect and unsubstantiated" and that it "does not give preferential treatment to any seller" on its marketplace. In addition, the company reiterated that it displays search results "based on relevance to customers, irrespective of whether such products are private brands offered by sellers or not."

 

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


What’s causing America’s massive supply-chain disruptions?

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(WASHINGTON) -- As the U.S. economy struggles to fully recover from the coronavirus pandemic, supply-chain disruptions across the country are driving up prices and leading to a growing shortage of goods.

The supply chain bottlenecks -- around the world -- have caused record shortages of many products that American consumers are used to having readily available, from household goods to electronics to automobiles.

Moody’s Analytics has warned that problems "will likely get worse before they get better."

"As the global economic recovery continues to gather steam, what is increasingly apparent is how it will be stymied by supply-chain disruptions that are now showing up at every corner," Moody's wrote in a report.

Here is how experts answer some key questions:

What's causing the disruptions?

Analysts say that the lingering effects of COVID-19 mitigation strategies essentially reduced the production of goods and services, and the supply chain shortages now happening are the result of struggles to return to pre-pandemic levels.

"The result of that imbalance between supply and demand eliminated all the inventory and eliminated all the grease that allows the wheels of commerce to work smoothly," said Steve Ricchiuto, chief U.S. economist at Mizuho Securities.

Not enough warehouse workers, truck drivers

Economists believe there are several issues at work behind the supply chain shortages, including a growing number of workers quitting jobs key to keeping things running smoothly.

A record 4.3 million Americans quit their jobs in August -- the most since the Department of Labor started tracking this data in 2000.

"You have a bunch of sectors that just pay minimum wage and labor is just going to veer over to where it finds the most profit," said Vidya Mani, an associate professor at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business.

The Labor Department in July reported that the warehouse industry had a record 490,000 job openings. Companies such as Walmart, Target and Amazon are going to great lengths to attract warehouse workers with attractive benefits, including free college tuition.

With growing inflation jitters, many large retail employers are increasing their wages to keep up with rising prices, intensifying the competition among companies to make their most compelling job-offers amid the pre-holiday rush to hire workers.

The American Trucking Association in 2019 estimated that it would be short some 60,000 drivers, but those shortages increased due to retirements, and new truck drivers being trained due to COVID-19 closures.

“There is a shortage of drivers, and it is one of several issues contributing to problems in the overall supply chain,” said Sean McNally, an ATA spokesman. “However it is a reflection of the strong demand for goods – and everything consumers buy is delivered in a truck.”

At the same time, economists say large employers preparing to bring their staffs back to work in larger numbers had led to large purchases of bulk items.

So, what happens now?

Supply chain experts say that the best option for consumers right now is to wait and start tapering their demands for goods, or they may ultimately end up paying a higher price once those long-awaited products become available.

"It’s good to be aware of the fact that when we make our purchases that whatever we order is going to land at some point in time,” said Mani. “We see these immediate shortages and we just keep ordering and ordering. A lot of those consumer goods companies are going to just pass on those price increases to you.”

The Biden administration has made a concerted effort to try to close supply chain gaps and has pushed the president’s infrastructure plan as a means of addressing systemic supply chain issues. President Joe Biden announced that the port of Los Angeles would begin 24/7 operations to ease bottlenecks ahead of the holiday season.

"Strengthening our supply chains will continue to be my team’s focus," said Biden. "If federal support is needed, I will direct all appropriate action, and if the private sector doesn’t step up, we’re going to call them out and ask them to act."

But experts believe that untangling supply chain woes could take much longer.

How long before things return to normal?

"We are in for at least four to six months for it to actually catch a break,” said Nick Vyas, executive director at the Kendrick Global Supply Chain Management Institute at University of Southern California Marshall School of Business.

"So I think we're going have to go through the peak seasons with this bottlenecks, and although the bottlenecks may actually move from the ports into the inland, but the delay is, I do anticipate to be continued through the holiday season."

Disruptions to the supply chain at the pandemic’s onset, which caused months of shortages in PPE including N95 respirators, gloves, cleaning supplies and other critical care hospital equipment took nearly a year to resolve.

The federal government, specifically FEMA, had no clear guidance on the distribution of supply to the states leading to an oversupply of goods in some portions of the country while others experienced severe shortages.

Though the supply crunch is driving up prices, companies now have an opportunity to begin figuring out solutions, given the vulnerabilities that recent supply chain crises have exposed, including the deepening cargo ship gridlocks at the world’s busiest ports.

Gooten, a U.S. based supply chain company, facilitates brands and retailers in using on-demand manufacturing to grow their retail and e-commerce businesses on a global basis.

Companies that utilize on-demand production begin producing products only once they are purchased by a consumer, as opposed to forecasting what the demand for a product might be and then producing a set number of those products.

"We have to start that same just-in-time manufacturing model with everything else we produce, whether its apparel, wall art, home goods, toys we just have to shift our thinking,” said Mark Kapczynski, chief marketing officer at Gooten.

"If you’re a retailer, or you’re a brand and you have ten thousand pieces of, let’s say t-shirts, sitting on a box in a boat how do you sell anything?" he said.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Holiday travel may be more chaotic than ever this year, transportation experts say

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(NEW YORK) -- Holiday travel may be more chaotic this year, experts warn, as looming vaccination deadlines threaten airline and airport staffing.

Forty percent of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) workforce hasn't received a single dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, the agency said Thursday, and they only have until Nov. 22 to get fully vaccinated.

"Even if they get half of that done by Thanksgiving, that leaves 20% not available to work," aviation expert Henry Harteveldt told ABC News. "Something's going to have to give. I'm really worried."

TSA said it is currently developing contingency plans, but anticipates "that the vast majority of TSA employees will get vaccinated."

Several major U.S. airlines are also grappling with the fast-approaching vaccine requirement deadlines.

American Airlines and Jet Blue are requiring U.S.-based workers to provide proof of vaccination the day before Thanksgiving.

"This is happening at perhaps the most difficult time ever," spokesperson for the Allied Pilots Association Capt. Dennis Tajer said. "We have a very high volume of flying and it's created a lot of uncertainty about the holiday travel period. Now you have some unknown quantity of pilots that that may go away and go through termination."

Out of the 14,000 American pilots Tajer's union represents, 4,000 pilots remain unvaccinated.

"We've heard about all the staffing issues that happen," Tajer said. "It's not just on the flight deck in the cockpit, it's happening throughout corporations everywhere."

Southwest's operational meltdown last weekend served as a potential warning of what's to come this winter.

Tens of thousands of passengers were stranded at U.S. airports due to the more than 2,000 flight cancelled within three days.

The airline blamed the multi-day mess on air traffic control issues, bad weather and "other external constraints."

On Thursday, Southwest said it's going to hire more than 5,000 employees by the end of the year to mitigate future issues and has 50% of the goal met.

With airlines booking their flights to 100% capacity, experts are concerned there is no wiggle room left in the system to recover if a major airline melts down during the busy travel season.

"The chaos that is the Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday travel season will be even more chaotic this year," Harteveldt said.

He recommends traveling on off-peak days and to book on the airline that has the most flights to your destination, even if that's not the airline you normally fly.

"Take the earliest possible departure in the morning that you can, because it gives you more leeway if something goes wrong," he added.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Ex-Boeing test pilot indicted for fraud in 737 Max probe

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(NEW YORK) -- Boeing's former 737 MAX test pilot, Mark Forkner, was indicted for fraud Thursday for allegedly misleading regulators about problems tied to the aircraft's two fatal crashes. The ex-chief technical pilot is the first Boeing employee to be charged over the 737 Max's failures.

In October 2019, pilots struggled to regain control of the MAX and it plunged into the Java Sea off the coast of Indonesia. Five months later, another MAX crashed near Addis Ababa airport in Ethiopia just six minutes after takeoff, killing all on board and forcing regulators around the globe to ground the plane. Three hundred and forty-six people perished in both accidents.

Investigators found that both crashes were tied to the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, or MCAS, software, which had been designed to help stabilize the jet after heavier, repositioned engines placed on the aircraft caused the plane's nose to point too far upward in certain circumstances.

In both crashes, incorrect data from a faulty sensor caused the MCAS to misfire, forcing the planes to nose down repeatedly. MCAS was not mentioned in the pilot manual -- allowing pilots to enter the MAX cockpit without simulator training that would have cost the airlines more money.

"In an attempt to save Boeing money, Forkner allegedly withheld critical information from regulators," Acting U.S. Attorney Chad E. Meacham for the Northern District of Texas said in a release. "His callous choice to mislead the FAA hampered the agency's ability to protect the flying public and left pilots in the lurch, lacking information about certain 737 MAX flight controls. The Department of Justice will not tolerate fraud – especially in industries where the stakes are so high."

Internal messages that surfaced in October 2019 between Forkner and another Boeing pilot appeared to show the company knew about problems with MCAS in 2016, two years before the crashes.

The documents released by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee show Forkner told FAA officials that MCAS was safe despite calling it "egregious" based on simulator tests, according to internal messages and emails.

"I basically lied to the regulators (unknowingly)," Forkner said to his colleague in the messages.

Forkner was the main point of contact between the administration and Boeing in regard to areas like pilot training and manual recommendations, an FAA official explained at the time.

Boeing said in a statement in 2019 that Forkner's comments "reflected a reaction to a simulator program that was not functioning properly, and that was still undergoing testing."

In January 2020, Boeing released more than 100 pages of internal communications that the company itself called "completely unacceptable."

In one exchange, an unnamed Boeing employee says the 737 Max "is designed by clowns, who in turn are supervised by monkeys," after complaining about the flight management computer.

In another 2018 message a Boeing employee asks, "Would you put your family on a MAX simulator trained aircraft?"

"I wouldn't," he said.

"No," the colleague responded.

Boeing has since rewritten the MCAS software, receiving the FAA's approval for the jet to reenter commercial service on Nov. 18, 2020.

In January, The U.S. Justice Department charged The Boeing Company with "conspiracy to defraud the United States" -- concluding after a lengthy investigation that the company knowingly misled regulators while seeking approval for its 737 MAX aircraft.

In an SEC filing, Boeing said it agreed to the charge "based on the conduct of two former 737 MAX program technical pilots."

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Henrietta Lacks family seeks justice: Grandchildren sue biotech company

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(NEW YORK) -- The family of Henrietta Lacks, an African American woman whose cells were collected from her body and used for medical research without her consent in 1951, is seeking justice for their relative.

On Oct. 4, the 70th anniversary of her death, Henrietta Lacks' family filed a federal lawsuit against Thermo Fisher Scientific claiming unjust enrichment and nonconsensual use of her cells and tissue samples.

The Lacks family has retained Benjamin Crump as their lead attorney. Crump, who previously represented the families of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, says he believes this case can bring justice to the family.

"This whole notion of her cells are being sold even to this day as chattel property when everyone benefits from it but her own family. Her own flesh and blood. It reminisces of days of slavery when they sold black people as chattel property and we never got to benefits from our labor, our contributions," Crump said.

In 1951, at the age of 31, Henrietta was diagnosed with cervical cancer and began treatment at one of the only facilities willing to treat African Americans, Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. During her treatment, a gynecologist preformed a biopsy on her and sent her tissue to a lab for research, without her consent or that of her family's.

In subsequent experiments with her tissue sample, scientists discovered that Henrietta's cells reproduced and thrived outside of her body -- a discovery that helped shape medical innovations.

Those cells were named, "HeLa" after Henrietta Lacks. HeLa cells have led to several medical breakthroughs including the polio vaccine, coronavirus vaccines, cancer treatments, AIDS treatments, zero gravity in space, and more.

What Henrietta Lacks experienced is now illegal and researchers are required to get consent before using a patient's tissue sample for research according to federal law.

The family members say they have not received any profit from the research and use of Lacks' cells. They say they believe the time is now to be compensated and they are aware they will have to fight as many as 100 defendants, the first being Thermo Fisher.

Thermo Fisher Scientific Inc., based in Massachusetts, sells HeLa cells on its website.

"Thermo Fisher Scientific's business is to commercialize Henrietta Lacks' cells—her-living bodily tissue—without the consent of or providing compensation to Ms. Lacks" the lawsuit states. "All the while, Thermo Fisher Scientific understands—indeed, acknowledges on its own website—that this genetic material [is] stolen from Ms. Lacks."

The lawsuit is also asking the court to order Thermo Fisher Scientific to "disgorge the full amount of its net profits obtained by commercializing the HeLa cell line to the Estate of Henrietta Lacks."

Christopher Seeger, another attorney for the Lacks family, said that other companies also will be targeted for commercializing Lacks' cells.

Thermo Fisher Scientific, he said, "shouldn't feel too alone because they're going to have a lot of company soon."

Lack's story emerged about a decade ago with the release of the book, "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks."

Her story gained more national attention with the release of "The Life of Henrietta Lacks" movie. Oprah Winfrey starred as Henrietta's daughter, Deborah Lacks, and Renee Elise Goldsberry portrayed Henrietta.

Ron Lacks says his mother was the first person in the family to discover that cells obtained from her deceased mother-in-law, Henrietta Lacks, were still viable in 1973.

Ron Lacks is the estate's executor and the oldest grandson of Henrietta. For years he has been inspired by his mother's resilience to keep Henrietta's name alive and he is using this inspiration to fight for his family's ownership of his grandmother's legacy.

"Every time, I walk into my mother's room, she gives me strength because I know I'm doing it for her. She started this in 1973. She started this, so when I walk into her room and feed her, change her, I know I'm doing this for her." Ron Lack told ABC News. "When you fighting for your family, you come off with all guns blazing, you don't stop until you succeed or they knock me down," he added.

Johns Hopkins University states on its website that it has "never sold or profited from the discovery or distribution of HeLa cells" and that the university does not own the rights to the HeLa cells.

The university also claims it has helped the Lacks family broker an agreement that requires scientists to receive permission to use Henrietta Lacks' genetic blueprint.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


President Biden to meet with port heads ahead of expected Christmas supply crunch

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(WASHINGTON) -- With global supply chain bottlenecks threatening the Christmas shopping season, President Joe Biden will highlight his administration's work with ports on Wednesday and try to stave off the potentially politically explosive headaches Americans may face as delays threaten holiday gift-giving.

The president plans to meet with the leaders of the two busiest ports in the United States -- Los Angeles and Long Beach, both in California -- and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, "to discuss the challenges that ports across the country and actions each partner can take to address these delays," White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday.

The port of Los Angeles, a senior Biden administration official said, will announce on Wednesday that it will move to 24/7 operations in order to help alleviate bottlenecks.

Several shippers and retailers will announce that they are taking steps to move toward 24/7 operations, too, according to senior administration officials.

According to the White House, Walmart will increase its use of nighttime hours; UPS will increasingly use 24/7 operations and enhance data sharing with ports; FedEx will increase its nighttime hours and make changes to trucking and rail use; Samsung will operate 24/7 over the next 90 days to move almost 60% more containers out of the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports; The Home Depot will move up to 10% more containers out of these ports in their off-hours each week; and Target will move 10% more containers during these off-peak hours.

Several of these companies and other stakeholders will participate in a virtual roundtable hosted by the White House Wednesday, according to the White House.

That dynamic carries great political risk for Biden, who has pegged his presidency to both pulling the country out of the coronavirus pandemic -- the onset of which precipitated this supply crunch -- and rebuilding the U.S. economy.

But Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen tried to temper fears Tuesday during an interview with CBS News.

“There may be isolated shortages of goods and services in the coming months," Yellen said. "But there is an ample supply of goods. I think there's no reason for consumers to panic about the absence of goods that they're going to want to acquire at Christmas.”

The White House launched a task force in June to address disruptions to supply chains and in August added a port envoy to that group.

"We certainly know addressing those bottlenecks at ports could help address what we see in many industries across the country, and frankly are leading people who are preparing for holidays, for Christmas, whatever they may celebrate, birthdays, to order goods and get them to people's homes," Psaki said Tuesday.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Diaper crisis escalates amid COVID-19 pandemic

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(NEW YORK) -- As her belly curves in a small circle overlapping the top button of her jeans, Elisha White, 26, anticipates the birth of her fifth child.

White is currently unemployed and without a car, and though her family is pitching in and assisting her, she said her local diaper bank has been a saving grace now and since the beginning of her journey into motherhood.

"Ever since high school, they have always been there for me and been someone I can go and talk to," said White. "They are really important to families that need [diapers] and that can't afford them."

White's local diaper bank, The Diaper Bank of the Delta, which is located in Clarksdale, Mississippi, is the only organization in the state that is a part of the National Diaper Bank Network, which includes more than 200 independent diaper banks and pantries.

According to data from the organization, disposable diapers can cost up to $80 a month per child, with the average child needing up to 12 diapers daily. The federal government assistance programs such as Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) do not allow funding for diapers to be expensed through them.

"Before the pandemic, [there] was already a need in our community, especially in our service. I am located in the Mississippi Delta, where most of our population is African American, and they were already struggling to afford diapers to properly diaper their children," said Chelesa Presley, executive director of the Diaper Bank of the Delta and member of Black Diaper Bank Leaders Group. "And then when the pandemic happened, oh my goodness."

In 2020, the National Diaper Bank Network distributed more than 100 million diapers to 220 diaper banks across the country -- a 67% spike from 2019. In addition, most child care facilities require parents to provide diapers for their child. Nationally, 57% of parents experiencing diaper needs who rely on child care said they missed an average of four days of school or work in the past month because they didn't have diapers to send with their children.

Presley said many low-income families and families of color spend twice as much on diapers for their children compared to families who have the means to buy diapers in bulk at a lower price.

"They're leaving the diapers on the babies longer," said Presley. "I can tell you more and more families are coming to us, and we've increased the number that we give out because they're saying, 'We're still not having enough to meet our needs.'"

"We were giving out 30 diapers. We've increased it up to 50, and some still need diapers to just completely diaper their babies because they just can't afford it," said Presley.

But Joanne Samuel Goldblum, the CEO and founder of the National Diaper Bank Network, said there is a greater need for diapers due to the COVID-19 pandemic, because many families lost their jobs and cannot afford diapers due to their price increase. As if that wasn't enough, the consumer price index -- the Labor Department's measure of what consumers pay for everyday goods and services -- spiked 5.4% over the last 12 months. In June alone, it jumped 0.9%

"The price of all commodities is rising," said Goldbulm. "So people have sort of latched on to this conversation about the diaper-pricing increase -- and it has, but so has almost every other commodity that we buy."

One in three American families are experiencing a diaper shortage, according to a 2020 report from the National Diaper Bank Network. Goldblum says internal research in 2020 found that National Diaper Bank Network members distributed on average 86% more diapers in 2020 versus 2019.

"Everybody knows that when a baby's crying, no matter who's around, somebody is going to say, 'Did you check their diaper?'" said Goldblum. "What does it mean, as a parent -- especially a new parent, you know, if it's a little baby -- not being able to meet that child's needs?"

Goldblum said that although the research for 2021 has not been released yet, diaper banks across the country are continuing to see the increased need for diapers and trying to continue to expand their capacity.

This is a problem that goes beyond diaper hygiene. Goldblum pointed to a 2013 study published in Pediatrics found that diaper need is more highly correlated with maternal stress and depression than any other material deprivation.

"Diaper needs impact children and it impacts caregivers," Goldblum said.

"It is a crisis and is a real problem for families who are struggling, and this is affecting our future," Presley said. "Our future children, it is affecting their health, it is affecting their mental health, and eventually in about 10 to 20 years, we're going to see the effect this pandemic has had because of diaper needs and mental health issues."

White said her local diaper bank will continue to help her and other mothers in need.

"It is so helpful for people who can't afford [diapers] right now during the pandemic," she said. "They are really helpful to me because I be about to lose my mind without them."

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


When should I mail holiday gifts? USPS, FedEx, UPS release 2021 ship-by dates

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(NEW YORK) -- Each year, we spend time sweating over getting holiday gifts out in time and worrying about shipping delays.

This year, experts are warning of possible shortages and delays on getting everything from toys to artificial Christmas trees due to COVID-related supply chain issues, as well as reports of slower shipping service.

With that in mind, shipping services have released their recommended ship-by dates in order for packages to arrive on or before the Christmas holiday. The overall advice: The earlier you send, the better.

Scroll down for deadlines from USPS, UPS and FedEx:

USPS

Dec. 15: This is the last day for retail ground shipping.

Dec. 17: This is the last day for first-class mail service (including greeting cards) and packages up to 15.99 ounces.

Dec. 18: This is the last day for Priority Mail service.

Dec. 23: This is the last day for Priority Mail Express service.

More information on USPS holiday shipping deadlines can be found here.
 

UPS

Dec. 15: This is the last day for UPS Ground service.

Dec. 21: This the last day for UPS 3 Day Select service.

Dec. 22: This is the last day for UPS 2nd Day Air service.

Dec. 23: This is the last day for UPS Next Day Air service.

More information on UPS holiday shipping deadlines can be found here.

FedEx

The company advises planning ahead to ensure gifts arrive on time. You can create your own shipping label at home and find a nearby location for easy drop-off service.

Dec. 15: This is the last day for FedEx Ground service.

Dec. 21: This is the last day for FedEx Express Saver and 3Day Freight services.

Dec. 22: This is the last day for FedEx 2Day A.M. and 2Day Freight services.

Dec. 23: This is the last day for FedEx 1Day Freight, Extra Hours, Standard Overnight, Priority Overnight and First Overnight services.

Dec. 24: This is the last day for FedEx SameDay, SameDay City Priority and SameDay City Direct services.

More information on FedEx holiday shipping deadlines can be found here.

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