WestJet Airlines Ltd pilots vote against plan to form union

The unionization drive by pilots at WestJet Airlines Ltd. has fizzled out for now after the majority of pilots rejected certification in a close vote.

The WestJet Professional Pilots Association (WPPA) said Wednesday that of the 1,247 pilots who voted, 55 per cent said no to unionization, allowing the company to preserve its status as the only major Canadian airline without a union.

“The majority of WestJet pilots have decided that they do not wish to pursue certification at this time,” the association, which was created by a group of pro-union pilots, said in a posting on its Facebook page.

“While naturally disappointed with this result, we hope the open discussions that have taken place as part of this process will set the stage for constructive dialogue between our pilots and WestJet leadership going forward.”

WestJet said it was “pleased” with the result and emphasized that it will continue to work with the existing WestJet Pilots’ Association, the non-union group that currently represents the airline’s pilots.

“Our model of cooperation and employee representation through the WestJet Pilots’ Association has allowed for the continued success of our pilots and our airline,” CEO Gregg Saretsky said in a statement.

“Despite the positive outcome, there is continued work that needs to take place to better understand some of the issues for our pilot group and we can now turn our efforts to that goal.”

The pro-union WPPA  did not reveal the identity of its members or grant any media interviews during its unionization drive, saying that if names were attached to the organization, “pilots may be preoccupied with the individuals and not the institution we seek to create.”

It did, however, hint on its website at the reasons for its existence, saying it believes the existing WestJet Pilots’ Association “has proven to be ineffective at representing the interests of our pilots.”

“The WestJet Professional Pilots Association has serious concerns that the level of representation has not kept pace with the immense changes that have taken place at our airline in the recent past,” the WPPA site says.

“The pilot group is concerned that the increasing burden placed on all employee groups in pursuit of corporate profits is damaging our product. The damage to employee morale, damage to our guest experience, and ultimately the damage to our airline’s long-term sustainability must be addressed.”

In a recent analysis, Raymond James’s Ben Cherniavsky said WestJet’s expansion from one type of aircraft — the Boeing 737 — to three, with the addition of Q400 turboprops for its Encore regional airline and Boeing 767s for its new overseas operations, may have created tension among pilots and other employees.

Last November, WestJet’s flight attendants rejected a new tentative agreement before voting in favour of a revised proposal in May. An organization called the WestJet Professional Flight Attendants Association is also trying to unionize, and the giant Canadian Union of Public Employees is also pushing for certification for flight attendants.

Reddit decides quarantining isn’t enough, bans racist subreddits

In July, newly appointed Reddit CEO Steve Huffman tried striking a balance between maintaining the community site’s free-speech aspirations and toning down “offensive” content by “reclassifying” its most controversial “subreddit” communities. Certain subreddits that didn’t necessarily break the site’s content policy, particularly ones that revolved around racism, would be placed behind a consent and e-mail verification gate, removed from public search results, and disconnected from the site’s ad sales.

On Wednesday, that general stance remained in place, only now with a new content policy that subreddits can be banned for violating. As a result, Huffman took to the official Announcements subreddit to share that updated policy while confirming that a slew of subreddits, particularly ones with racists slurs, had been banned as a result.

Huffman confirmed in a follow-up comment that subreddits such as “CoonTown” had been banned because they “exist[ed] solely to annoy other redditors, prevent us from improving Reddit, and generally make Reddit worse for everyone else.” That phrase does not currently exist in Reddit’s content policy page, but other similarly broad conditions do, including only offering “some guidelines” for what’s not acceptable and a warning that “looking for loopholes is a waste of time.”

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Unlike Donald Trump’s Campaign, His Take On The Federal Reserve Is Sort Of Serious

Donald Trump, real estate mogul and ersatz Republican presidential candidate, is not one for in-depth policy prescriptions. The entertainer’s campaign website lacks an “issues” section, and he often blanches when pressed to elaborate on a grandiose pronouncement.

But there is at least one issue about which Trump has offered more details than most actual presidential candidates: Federal Reserve monetary policy.

When asked to name his model Federal Reserve chair on Bloomberg’s TV talk show, “With All Due Respect,” on Tuesday, Trump said it’s former Chairman Paul Volcker. 

“I liked Paul Volcker a lot,” Trump told hosts Mark Halperin and John Heilemann during the segment, which can be viewed below. “I thought he was a terrific guy in so many different ways, and he had a good pulse and … he was doing what had to be done.”

Volcker, who ran the Fed from 1979 to 1987, increased interest rates dramatically to combat high inflation. He is credited with reducing inflation from 13.3 percent in 1979 to 3.2 percent in 1983 – but in so doing, he induced a recession.

Trump said that his praise for Volcker reflects his own hawkish monetary policy, and expressed more concern about inflation than full employment. He said that while the current near-zero Fed interest rates benefit him as a businessman, they should be raised to avoid an asset bubble.

From a business standpoint, “I like low interest rates,” Trump said. Yet he added that “from the country’s standpoint, I’m just not sure it’s a very good thing, because I really do believe we’re creating a bubble.”

Agree or disagree with Trump’s remarks, the actual presidential candidates in either party have rarely provided such a window into their views of Federal Reserve monetary policy. Only one Republican hopeful, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, has been as explicit as Trump. Echoing Trump’s concerns about an asset bubble, Christie condemned the central bank in June for its “easy money” policies.

Though former Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) gained notoriety in 2011 for calling then-Fed Chair Ben Bernanke’s monetary stimulus policies “treasonous,” he has not commented on the topic since then. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) is calling for the Fed to be audited and stripped of its regulatory authority, but has not explicitly addressed the Fed’s monetary policy.

On the Democratic side, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did not mention the Federal Reserve in her otherwise policy-laden inaugural campaign speech in New York City on June 13. Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) have said that the Fed should be held more accountable in its regulation of, and relations with, big banks, but have not laid out their positions on monetary policy, either.

The Huffington Post reached out to all of the campaigns mentioned above for comment, but did not immediately receive any responses.

Some economists and financiers share Trump’s fears about an asset bubble, believing that by enabling cheap credit for so long, the Fed is inflating a stock market bubble.

Trump’s association with this school of thought, however, appears to conflict with his professed commitment to economic growth. Raising rates, even to address sound concerns about asset or price inflation, would reduce demand in the economy and slow job creation.

Many liberal-leaning economists and activists believe that the Fed should tie a rate increase to more significant wage growth, which they say the job market has yet to generate. They argue that the Fed can control asset bubbles through regulation and the use of its bully pulpit, rather than by raising rates, which would depress employment.

The Fed said in a July 29 statement that it is waiting for prices to get closer to its target inflation rate of 2 percent before raising interest rates. But the central bank also said it is pleased by the health of the labor market, leading many to predict a September rate hike.

Trump’s praise for Volcker could also heighten suspicion that he lacks genuine conservative convictions. Volcker headed President Barack Obama’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, an outside panel of economic advisors, from 2009 to 2011. 

The president has the power to influence Fed policy by nominating the powerful Fed chair, as well as members of the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, when their terms expire. Some analysts have criticized Obama for not investing more political capital in appointing Fed governors. Two of the seven governor spots remain vacant.

Trump suggested that he would make shaping Fed policy a priority if he were elected president, an office he claims to seek. He called the Federal Reserve a more important institution than the Treasury Department.

“The Federal Reserve — right now, in this world, the way we built it up — probably has more of an impact than almost any other position, other than the couple of biggies,” Trump said.

UPDATE: 7:30 p.m. — Democrat Martin O’Malley’s campaign forwarded the former Maryland governor’s response to a question about monetary policy for the labor union AFSCME’s candidate questionnaire. O’Malley didn’t share Trump’s concerns about an asset bubble, instead aligning himself with liberal-leaning economists and activists, who want the Fed to target wage growth. ”With no signs of inflation, the Fed should not raise interest rates until wages are consistently rising at a healthy rate or inflation is immediately on the horizon,” O’Malley said.

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Urgent Action: Gulf Carrier Subsidies Need to Be Addressed Now

Earlier this week, the U.S. government closed the public docket on the dispute over the abuse of two Open Skies agreements; the procedure invited Americans to submit comments about the massive subsidies to three Gulf carriers, state-owned Qatar Airways, Etihad Airways, and Emirates. Initial results suggest that about two-thirds of the comments – from members of Congress, local mayors and local business leaders, U.S. airline employees, and individuals from across the country – urged the U.S. government to act now to protect American airline jobs. And a new research report highlights the urgent need for the action that so many have called for.

The airline industry, like others, has an ecosystem of experts, and at the top of that food chain is MIT Professor William Swelbar. Bill has an unmatched combination of deep professional experience within airlines (he paid for college as a flight attendant) and data-driven academic rigor. When he writes about aviation, people who truly know the business pay attention. Recently, he released a paper detailing how massive subsidies provided to Emirates, Etihad, and Qatar Airways, are harming airline service to and from small and medium-sized communities. The paper is entitled “Violations of ‘Fair and Equal’ Open Skies Agreements Threaten Large and Small American Communities and their Access to the Global Air Transportation Network,” and his compelling analysis highlights how important it is for our government to act now.

Prof. Swelbar opens with two foundational arguments. First, every one of the U.S. government’s 117 Open Skies agreements, including those with the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, has a provision mandating “fair and equal opportunity to compete,” which means if an airline wants unrestricted access to the huge U.S. market, it cannot be subsidized as their three clearly are – proven subsidies and other unfair benefits totaling $42 billion in the last 10 years alone. Second, established economic theory tells us what we would expect to see in unbalanced, subsidized markets, and the U.S.-Gulf (and beyond) market exhibits four telltale signs:

  1. Huge capacity increases, greater than growth in demand
  2. Decreases in local and connecting passengers on U.S. airlines and their European alliance partners (for example, United and Lufthansa)
  3. Traffic shifting from these services to subsidized Gulf carriers
  4. As a result of the above, drops in U.S. and alliance capacity in much of the world beyond the Atlantic

Swelbar succinctly explains network economics, in this case the flow of passengers from the U.S. to Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Doha, the vast majority of whom connect to flights bound for points beyond. For example, only 6% of Qatar’s U.S. traffic is bound for its home, Doha, while 67% is headed to 11 cities in India. The paper then thoroughly dismantles the falsehood the Gulf carriers and their allies repeatedly advance, that these three airlines are serving destinations U.S. airlines don’t want to serve. For instance, Emirates claims that they “carry travelers from the U.S to 56 destinations . . . which are not served by any American carrier.” But the facts are otherwise: of the 178 cities the three Gulf carriers together serve, 175 of them (98%) are served by one or more of the three airline alliances to which American, Delta, and United belong. Indeed, United’s Star Alliance alone covers 172 of the 178. So much for “don’t want to serve”!

Professor Swelbar quickly bats down another oft-touted Gulf carrier argument, that they’re growing the market. He writes, “The math is clear. Subsidized Gulf carrier service threatens the viability of nonstop flights with greater economic impact than the Gulf carriers themselves could ever hope to provide.”

Continuing the discussion of network, Swelbar then explains, with customary clarity and brevity, the threat to small and medium U.S. cities: “Domestic flights to smaller airports rely on international traffic to justify their profitability and their existence.” And, parsing the traffic data, he has uncovered a new danger: it turns out that when Gulf carriers enter a new U.S. market, their subsidized low prices incent customers in nearby cities to drive to these new nonstop services, rather than begin their journey at their home airport. Since 2012, U.S. airlines have added capacity at Austin, Texas, and Richmond, Virginia, but traffic from these points to the Middle East and South Asia have declined 20% and 33% respectively, as travelers have opted to drive the 214 miles to DFW Airport, Texas, or 121 miles to Washington Dulles.

Swelbar next turns to a danger he describes as “perhaps even more worrisome,” one often overlooked in the Gulf-carrier debate: the Open Skies agreements permit Emirates, Etihad, and Qatar to carry passengers, without limits, on “Fifth Freedom” services, flights to or from a city not in the U.S. nor their home countries, as long as the flight begins or ends in either of the two countries. For example, for almost two years Emirates has flown New York-Milan (the flight goes on to Dubai). Fifth Freedom flights are an anachronism, dinosaurs with wings that date to a time when airplane range was limited, fuel stops were needed, and airlines could not economically operate without the right to carry “local” customers between countries. But since Emirates flies three times daily from New York to Dubai, it’s pretty clear they don’t need to land in Italy for gas. Their one daily Milan flight is likely just the start; they have the right to fly L.A.-London, Chicago-Paris, and so on, threatening the viability of U.S. service on these routes – and they could do this across the Pacific, too, say, San Francisco-Tokyo-(Abu Dhabi).* Of course, as above, these flights would also endanger service to and from smaller and mid-size communities, because those long nonstops depend on connecting passengers from places like Omaha, Birmingham, and Syracuse. It is an integrated grid – we’re all in this together.

Lastly, Professor Swelbar reminds us throughout the study that things will only get worse, given the expansion plans – and aircraft orders – of all three. The capacity dumping by Emirates, Etihad, and Qatar has rapidly accelerated in the past 18 months. In a single day, Qatar announced new service to three more cities, Boston, Atlanta, and Los Angeles. Although we lump them together, each airline is racing against the other two, and each has wheelbarrows of state-provided cash to advance their economic development goals.

Our government needs to heed this threat to the U.S. airline grid, to domestic economic objectives, and to good-paying U.S. jobs. As someone who worked in the U.S. airline business for 25 years, I know firsthand that American, Delta, and United can compete, but not on a playing field rigged by limitless resources. The American people have weighed in and the docket is closed – the U.S. government must act before the consequences become irreversibly dire.

* The exercise of Fifth Freedom rights also requires the consent of the third country, for example, Japan in the case of San Francisco-Abu Dhabi flights.

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Canceled Rare game details emerge thanks to Rare Replay achievement hunters

One of our favorite things about the newly released Rare Replay video game anthology was that it included some really cool archival footage and interviews about classic Rare games like Blast Corps and Battletoads, along with a meaty chunk of canceled game concepts. Unfortunately, one of our least favorite things about the anthology was how heavily it locked up all of that footage behind some very, very tough achievements—particularly the canceled-game footage.

Most of the collection’s achievements require nearly 100 percent completion of particular games, so we wondered how long it would take intrepid players to climb up to achievement levels 18 and above; trust us, those are high levels. The answer? Not even a day. Right now, four of the game’s locked-up, canceled-game videos reside at YouTube, detailing projects that all appear to have been started after the company was acquired by Microsoft in 2002.

Our favorite of these canceled game designs is Black Widow, whose footage we’ve linked at the top. The open-world adventure game would have put players in an eight-legged robot that could crawl on most any wall and destroy many of the buildings it ran into, all while blasting missiles and dodging lasers. The Black Widow video contains more actual gameplay than the rest of the posted videos thus far, and its narrator mentioned how the robo-spider would have gotten a new lease on life by way of an appearance in Kameo 2, which also received a Rare Replay canceled-game reveal.

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VIDEO: ‘We’re picking up bodies from water’

Rescuers are searching for hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean after a boat carrying as many as 600 people capsized off the coast of Libya.

Rights Groups Say New World Bank Proposal Endangers People And Environment

WASHINGTON — The World Bank’s latest proposal for redoing its standards for financing dams and other big projects represents a “dangerous rollback” of the global development giant’s protections for vulnerable people and the environment, according to Oxfam, Human Rights Watch and other environmental and rights groups.

The bank’s proposed changes “will vastly weaken protections for affected communities and the environment at the same time as the bank intends to finance more high-risk projects” through governments in economically struggling regions, a statement signed by 19 global advocacy groups says.

The groups say the new standards would shift too much responsibility to governments to police themselves, and fail to require detailed procedures or budgets for the bank’s oversight. 

The World Bank counters that the proposed changes would strengthen rather than weaken protections. It says the latest rewrite is a “major step forward” that will improve safeguards for ecosystems and for people who are evicted from their homes as the result of development initiatives.

“We are well on our way to having ‘leading edge’ environmental and social standards that are clear, stronger and more comprehensive than our current safeguards, and that support our goals of ending poverty and promoting shared prosperity,” Stefan Koeberle, the bank’s director of operations risk, said in a news release.

The bank released the proposed rules on Tuesday. New rules cannot go into effect until after a period of public comment followed by a vote to approve them by the World Bank Group’s governing board, which is made up of representatives from the United States and other member countries.

That process could take months, or even stretch into 2016.

The bank’s “environmental and social safeguards” address what happens to poor and vulnerable communities that end up in the path of roads, power plants and other projects backed by the bank. The safeguards framework requires that the bank’s borrowers identify people whose homes or land will be lost, as well as people whose livelihoods will be damaged as a result of development projects. Borrowers must resettle them into new homes or help restore their livelihoods.

The arguments over how these principles are carried out aren’t just a matter of bureaucratic wrangling. The standards that the World Bank agrees to follow — and impose on governments that borrow money from the bank — will have an impact for generations.

Projects sponsored by the World Bank can hurt or help people and habitats around the globe. Building dams can provide electricity for rural precincts, but it can also force thousands of poor people from their homes. Conservation programs sponsored by the bank can help preserve forests and fight climate change, but they can also endanger the way of life of indigenous peoples who live in the forests.

In addition, the World Bank’s rules are often treated as benchmarks by regional and national development banks and large private sector firms as they set their own standards for financing development.

The rulemaking process comes against a backdrop of growing criticism of how well the bank has enforced its current rules. An investigation by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, The Huffington Post and other media partners found that the World Bank often fails to make sure that people harmed by its projects are protected and compensated for their losses. In some cases, governments have been accused of using World Bank money to bankroll mass evictions that have destroyed villages and targeted people for violence from security forces.

World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim has promised that the bank will work harder to make sure its safeguard standards are followed. He has also said the bank will allow “no dilution” of its safeguards during the revision process.

The bank said Tuesday that the proposed safeguards framework would improve how the bank judges social and environmental risks, ensure that resources get directed to high-risk projects and require that borrowers follow due process if they evict people from their homes. The latest draft includes new language specifying that resettlement costs must be included in total project costs and that project activities that displace people cannot begin until resettlement plans are approved by the bank.

Environmental and rights groups criticized the first draft of the safeguards revision when it was released in 2014. They say that the new draft released Tuesday includes some improvements over the earlier version but that it still represents an unsettling departure from the bank’s current standards.

In the groups’ statement, Kate Geary of Oxfam said the bank has an “appalling track record when it comes to protecting people moved from their homes and livelihoods as a result of Bank-funded projects. The draft does little to ensure that these problems will be addressed, as the [World Bank Group] Board will be asked to approve projects that cause displacement even before resettlement plans and budgets are in place.

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Canceling ’19 Kids And Counting’ Cost Discovery $19 Million

 TLC took its sweet time before they decided to cancel “19 Kids and Counting” when Josh Duggar apologized following reports that, as a teenager, he allegedly molested five underage girls, including some of his sisters. 

Duggar’s confession came in May, but the network didn’t officially cancel the reality series until July. As the network’s highest-rated show, no doubt finances were a concern. The Wrap reports that TLC’s parent company, Discovery Communications, lost about $19 million when they said goodbye to the Duggar family.

During a post-earnings conference call on Wednesday, the company’s Chief Financial Officer Andrew Warren revealed Discovery had lost a total of $24 million during the second quarter, listing “higher restructuring and other charges this year of $19 million, primarily due to content impairment charges of canceling TLC’s ’19 Kids and Counting,'” as the reason. 

Still, TLC hasn’t completely cut ties with the Duggars. At the same time that it  announced the series’ cancelation, it also revealed their new partnership with child-protection organizations, Darkness to Light and RAINN (Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network), as part of a new campaign to raise awareness about child sexual abuse. 

“TLC will work closely with both groups and with the Duggar family on a one-hour documentary that will include Jill and Jessa and other survivors and families that have been affected by abuse,” the network said in its statement. 

 

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