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Hobby Lobby increases minimum wage, but how much is just to save face?

(BUSINESS NEWS) Are their efforts to raise their minimum wage to $17/hour sincere, or more about saving face after bungling pandemic concerns?

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Hobby Lobby storefront

The arts-and-crafts chain Hobby Lobby announced this week that they will be raising their minimum full-time wage to $17/hour starting October 1st. This decision makes them the latest big retailer to raise wages during the pandemic (Target raised their minimum wage to $15/hour about three months ago, and Walmart and Amazon have temporarily raised wages). The current minimum wage for Hobby Lobby employees is $15/hour, which was implemented in 2014.

While a $17 minimum wage is a big statement for the company (even a $15 minimum wage cannot be agreed upon on the federal level) – and it is no doubt a coveted wage for the majority of the working class – it’s difficult to not see this move as an attempt to regain public support of the company.

When the pandemic first began, Hobby Lobby – with more than 900 stores and 43,000 employees nationwide – refused to close their stores despite being deemed a nonessential business (subsequently, a Dallas judge accused the company of endangering public health).

In April, Hobby Lobby furloughed almost all store employees and the majority of corporate and distribution employees without notice. They also ended emergency leave pay and suspended the use of company-provided paid time off benefits for employees during the furloughs – a decision that was widely criticized by the public, although the company claims the reason for this was so that employees would be able to take full advantage of government handouts during their furlough.

However, the furloughs are not Hobby Lobby’s first moment under fire. The Oklahoma-based Christian company won a 2014 Supreme Court case – the same year they initially raised their minimum wage – that granted them the right to deny their female employees insurance coverage for contraceptives.

Also, Hobby Lobby settled a federal complaint in 2017 that accused them of purchasing upwards of 5,000 looted ancient Iraqi artifacts, smuggled through the United Arab Emirates and Israel – which is simultaneously strange, exploitative, and highly controversial.

Why does this all matter? While raising their minimum wage to $17 should be regarded as a step in the right direction regarding the overall treatment of employees (and, hopefully, $17 becomes the new standard), Hobby Lobby is not without reason to seek favorable public opinion, especially during a pandemic. Yes, we should be quick to condone the action of increasing minimum wage, but perhaps be a little skeptical when deeming a company “good” or “bad”.

Anaïs DerSimonian is a writer, filmmaker, and educator interested in media, culture and the arts. She is Clark University Alumni with a degree in Culture Studies and Screen Studies. She has produced various documentary and narrative projects, including a profile on an NGO in Yerevan, Armenia that provides micro-loans to cottage industries and entrepreneurs based in rural regions to help create jobs, self-sufficiency, and to stimulate the post-Soviet economy. She is currently based in Boston. Besides filmmaking, Anaïs enjoys reading good fiction and watching sketch and stand-up comedy.

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Bay Area co-living startup strands hundreds of renters at dire time

(BUSINESS NEWS) They’re blaming COVID for failing as a co-living space, but it looks like trouble was well established even before now.

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Person packed a bag and walking away from co-living space.

Over the last few years, “co-living” startups have become increasingly common in tech-rich cities like San Francisco. These companies lease large houses, then rent individual bedrooms for as much as $2,000 per month in hopes of attracting the young professionals who make up the tech industry. Many offer food, cleaning services, group activities, and hotel-quality accommodations to do so.

But the true value in co-living companies lies in their role as a third party: Smoothing over relations, providing hassle free income to homeowners and improved accountability to tenants… in theory, anyway. The reality has proved the opposite can just as easily be true.

In a September company email, Bay Area co-living startup HubHaus released a statement that claimed they were “unable to pay October rent” on their leased properties. Hubhaus also claimed to have “no funds available to pay any amounts that may be owed landlords, tenants, trade creditors, or contractors.”

This left hundreds of SF Bay Area renters scrambling to arrange shelter with little notice, with the start of a second major COVID-19 outbreak on the horizon.

HubHaus exhibited plenty of red flags leading up to this revelation. Employees complained of insufficient or late payment. The company stopped paying utilities during the spring, and they quietly discontinued cleaning services while tenants continued to pay for them.

Businesses like HubHaus charge prices that could rent a private home in most of the rest of the country, in exchange for a room in a house of 10 or more people. PodShare is a similar example: Another Bay Area-based co-living startup, whose offerings include “$1,200 bunk beds” in a shared, hostel-like environment.

As a former Bay Area resident, it’s hard not to be angry about these stories. But they have been the unfortunate reality since long before the pandemic. Many urbanites across the country cannot afford to opt out of a shared living situation, and these business models only exacerbate the race to the bottom of city living standards.

HubHaus capitalized on this situation and took advantage of their tenants, who were simply looking for an affordable place to live in a market where that’s increasingly hard to find.

They’ve tried to place the blame for their failure on COVID-19 — but all signs seem to indicate that they had it coming.

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Las Vegas’ largest dispensary gets massive Infinity Wall expansion

(BUSINESS NEWS) Las Vegas’s largest dispensary is getting a big, expensive makeover, thriving while other brick-and-mortar shops are struggling.

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Planet 13, Las Vegas's largest dispensary, set to get a huge expansion.

Have you ever heard of an Infinity Wall? If I were you, I’d check it out right now because it’s utterly mesmerizing.

An 80-foot version of this wall is just one of the new features that Planet 13 (or The Company) announced it will be implementing in Las Vegas’ largest dispensary, The SuperStore, this past Monday. In addition to the futuristic entertainment feature (I honestly can’t get over that thing), they will be doubling the sales floor and expanding the dispensary to ~23,000 sq. ft. For reference, the entire Planet 13 SuperStore complex is 112,000 sq.ft.

Why expand an already massive dispensary during a pandemic, when most brick and mortar stores are suffering? Well, according to Larry Scheffler, Co-CEO of Planet 13, The Superstore is actually thriving beyond belief.

“We are achieving record sales even with Las Vegas at ~50% tourist occupancy. As Las Vegas returns to normal and this industry continues to grow, we anticipate that this will be first of many expansions we will undertake to keep up with demand.”

The expansion adds 40 points of sale to uphold the outstanding customer service reputation Planet 13 has. If you do have to wait, you have a state-of-the-art entertainment system to enjoy. It’s win-win for any and all visitors.

The CapEx cost of the expansion between is $1.5 – $2.5 million. The project is expected come to completion by the end of Q1 2021.

Las Vegas has become a sort of cannabis mecca. After all, it’s home to MJBizCon, the industry’s largest networking event attended by thousands from around the world. And the popularity and overall acceptance makes it an easy choice for any cannabis aficionados. The SuperStore, like most things in Las Vegas, is huge, glamorous, and caters to tourists.

I have no doubt that when the city bounces back from the pandemic, this new-and-improved dispensary will be a must-visit destination.

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Business News

The future of work from home will be a hybrid, says Google CEO

(BUSINESS NEWS) Google is looking to adapt a more flexible, long-term hybrid work model for their employees, which includes partially working from home and partially being on-site.

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Work from home woman at a laptop.

Google, the world’s largest search engine company (yes I know they do other things), is positing that the corporate office will look completely different post-COVID-19.

In September Google’s CEO, Sundar Pichai said that the organization was making changes to its offices that would better support employees in the future. This includes “reconfiguring” office spaces to accommodate “on-sites”, days when employees who regularly work from home will come into the workplace. The move comes after Google was one of the first major tech companies to announce that employees could possibly work from home through next summer.

“I see the future as definitely being more flexible,” Pichai said during a video interview for Time 100, “We firmly believe that in-person, being together, having that sense of community, is super important for whenever you have to solve hard problems, you have to create something new,” he said. “So we don’t see that changing, so we don’t think the future is just 100% remote or something.”

It was reported that Google’s decision to work remotely into mid-2021 was originally in part to help employees whose children might be learning remotely during the coronavirus pandemic. Pichai said that several factors went into the decision, stating that improving productivity was a major concern.

“Early on as this started, I realized it was going to be a period of tremendous uncertainty, so we wanted to lean in and give certainty where we could,” Pichai said. “The reason we made the decision to do work from home until mid of next year is we realized people were trying hard to plan… and it was affecting productivity.”

Pichai also mentioned that the decision would help the firm embrace the reality that remote working wasn’t going anywhere once things returned to normal. A recent survey at Google found that 62% of employees felt they only need to be in the office on occasion, while 20% felt they didn’t need to be in the office whatsoever. While the work from home trend had already been growing over the past several years, the pandemic accelerated that movement greatly.

With housing costs surging in the San Francisco area, where Google headquarters resides, many employees have been forced to move outside of the city to afford a mortgage. This caused many to commute long hours into the office, something Pichai realized was a problem.

“It’s always made me wonder, when I see people commuting two hours and away from their families and friends, on a Friday, you realize they can’t have plans,” Pichai said. “So I think we can do better.”

It’s too early to tell whether or not Pichai’s vision of a “hybrid model” will be adopted by other companies when the pandemic ends. One thing is for certain though—work will never be what is pre-COVID-19.

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