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Woman sues Kraft over Velveeta mac and cheese preparation time

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(NEW YORK) -- A woman in Florida has sued Kraft Heinz Foods Company, claiming the time it takes to make its microwaveable cup of Velveeta macaroni and cheese is longer than what the claims on the label indicate.

Amanda Ramirez filed a $5 million class action lawsuit against the company earlier in November over the "ready in 3 1/2 minutes" claim on the packaging of Velveeta Shells & Cheese cups.

"Consumers are misled to expect the Product will be ready for consumption in a shorter amount of time than it really takes to prepare," the lawsuit reads. "Defendant sold more of the Product and at higher prices than it would have in the absence of this misconduct, resulting in additional profits at the expense of consumers."

In the suit, Ramirez claims that the "3 1/2 minutes" phrase on the packaging refers to the cooking time only.

"According to the directions on the back of the packaging, there are four steps in preparing the product," the suit reads. "First, consumers must 'REMOVE lid and Cheese Sauce Pouch.' Next, they must 'ADD water to fill line in cup. STIR.' Third, 'MICROWAVE, uncovered, on HIGH 3-1/2 min. DO NOT DRAIN.' Finally, they should 'STIR IN contents of cheese sauce pouch.' Defendant then notes that 'CHEESE SAUCE WILL THICKEN UPON STANDING.' "

"Consumers seeing 'ready in 3½ minutes' will believe it represents the total amount of time it takes to prepare the Product, meaning from the moment it is unopened to the moment it is ready for consumption," the suit continues. "However, the directions outlined above show that 3-and-a-half minutes is just the length of time to complete one of several steps. The label does not state the Product takes '3½ minutes to cook in the microwave,' which would have been true."

Ramirez claims in the suit that the mac and cheese products are "sold at a premium price, approximately no less than $10.99 for eight 2.39 oz cups, excluding tax and sales," which she said are priced "higher than similar products represented in a non-misleading way and higher than it would be sold for absent the misleading representations and omissions."

"Good Morning America" has reached out to Kraft Heinz for comment on the lawsuit. In previous comments to other publications, the company has stated: "We are aware of this frivolous lawsuit and will strongly defend against the allegations in the complaint."

Ramirez sued "individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated," which indicates this could lead to a class action settlement for consumers.

"The members of the class Plaintiff seeks to represent are more than 100, because the Product has been sold with the representations described here from thousands of stores in the States covered by Plaintiff's proposed classes," the suit states.

The suit is seeking at least $5 million in damages, "including statutory and punitive exclusive of interest and costs."

A West Palm Beach-based law firm filed the suit with Ramirez, according to the documents, along with Sheehan and Associates, a New York law firm led by Spencer Sheehan, who has brought hundreds of lawsuits against other popular grocery products such as Pop-Tarts, NPR first reported.

The Pop-Tarts lawsuit claimed that the product's packaging was "misleading because the label gives consumers the impression the fruit filling only contains strawberries as its fruit ingredient." A federal judge in New York dismissed the suit in April, stating that "no reasonable consumer would see the entire product label, reading the words 'Frosted Strawberry Pop-Tarts' next to a picture of a toaster pastry coated in frosting, and reasonably expect that fresh strawberries would be the sole ingredient in the Product."

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Biden says Congress must avert rail strike but it's 'not an easy call'; workers 'disappointed'

Florian Roden / EyeEm/Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) -- President Joe Biden on Monday asked Congress to intervene and avert a potential strike of the nation's railway workers -- which could upend huge parts of the economy that depend on freight to move goods -- by forcing the workers' unions to accept a deal negotiated earlier this year.

In a statement, Biden described himself as a "proud pro-labor" president and said his decision was a difficult one.

But he said the larger economic considerations outweighed those concerns.

As at least one of the unions involved express dismay at the move, trade groups applauded Biden's request of Congress.

"I am reluctant to override the ratification procedures and the views of those who voted against the agreement. But in this case -- where the economic impact of a shutdown would hurt millions of other working people and families -- I believe Congress must use its powers to adopt this deal," he said.

He asked Congress to quickly pass legislation to adopt the tentative deal between the rail companies and employees that was reached in September and brokered by the White House.

If a deal is not reached -- or forced by Congress -- then a strike could begin after the Dec. 9 deadline. Outgoing Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement Monday night that the House will soon take up such legislation and won't modify the agreed-upon terms from September.

Like Biden, she said, "We are reluctant to bypass the standard ratification process for the Tentative Agreement -- but we must act to prevent a catastrophic nationwide rail strike, which would grind our economy to a halt."

The tentative contract included a 24% compounded wage increase and $5,000 total in lump-sum payments.

Pelosi praised certain elements of that deal but said, "Democrats are continuing to fight for more of railroad workers' priorities, including paid sick leave." Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., a member of the Democratic caucus, has said his colleagues should do more for workers.

The two largest unions had initially highlighted how the tentative agreement included "wage increases, bonuses, with no increases to insurance copays and deductibles" and improved time-off policies, which had become a sticking point.

While eight of the 12 rail unions then went on to formally ratify the agreement, four rejected it -- including the largest in the nation, with 50.8% of its workers voting against the deal.

Some of the workers' groups who rejected the agreement cited frustration with compensation and working conditions, particularly a lack of paid sick days.

Because all of the rail workers have vowed not to cross the picket line in the event of a stoppage, the objections of four of the 12 unions ensures a strike unless there is a last-minute change in negotiations or congressional intervention.

Biden said Monday he was calling for Congress to act on advice of his secretaries of labor, agriculture transportation, who "believe that there is no path to resolve the dispute at the bargaining table and have recommended that we seek Congressional action," according to his statement.

In urging Congress to ratify the deal between the rail companies and workers, however, Biden also warned lawmakers not to try and change the terms on their own. "Some in Congress want to modify the deal to either improve it for labor or for management. However well-intentioned, any changes would risk delay and a debilitating shutdown. The agreement was reached in good faith by both sides," he said.

A strike would "devastate our economy," he said, noting that "the holiday season" was no time for that outcome.

Why rail workers rejected the deal

Unions have said rail employees are seeking improvements to working conditions, since workers do not receive paid sick days. The unions have accused rail companies of penalizing workers for taking time off for medical reasons and holding the nation's economy hostage to ensure a favorable deal.

The National Carriers' Conference Committee, or NCCC, which represents the nation's freight railroads in national collective bargaining, has said rail employees are provided "significant" time off and the companies have offered a fair contract that includes a considerable wage increase.

After the SMART Transportation Division, or SMART-TD, the nation's largest rail union, rejected the contract in a record turnout vote last week, the group's president urged further negotiations.

"SMART-TD members with their votes have spoken, it's now back to the bargaining table for our operating craft members," SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson said in a statement then.

"This can all be settled through negotiations and without a strike. A settlement would be in the best interests of the workers, the railroads, shippers and the American people," he added.

Immediate reactions on Congress intervening

One of the unions whose membership turned down the new freight rail contract said it was "disappointed by and disagrees with" Biden's call for Congress to pass legislation to end the labor dispute.

The Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes Division of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (BMWED) said in a news release Tuesday that congressional intervention "both denies Railroad Workers their right to strike while also denying them of the benefit they would likely otherwise obtain if they were not denied their right to strike."

The union reiterated workers' calls for better paid sick leave policies in a new contract, saying the president and Congress should "act swiftly by passing any sort of reforms and regulations that will provide paid sick leave for all Railroad Workers."

The tentative deal, if enforced, would give rail workers an additional personal leave day.

Pelosi said on Tuesday that the House would take up legislation to avert a rail strike as soon as Wednesday morning.

"Tomorrow morning, we will have a bill on the floor," she said outside the White House after meeting with Biden and the other top four congressional leaders: Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer, Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell and Republican Rep. Kevin McCarthy.

"It's not everything I would like to see," Pelosi said, adding that she would've liked to see the rail workers get more paid sick leave.

Schumer confirmed that the Senate, too, would get the bill on the floor soon -- and he said he had agreement from McConnell.

"Leader McConnell I agreed we'd try to get it done ASAP," Schumer said.

Neither he nor Pelosi answered questions or said whether they thought they had the votes to pass the legislation. At least one senator, Florida Republican Marco Rubio, wrote on Twitter that he opposed it because it "doesn't have the support of the rail workers."

McCarthy said outside the White House that thought legislation would pass.

He didn't miss an opportunity to blame Biden for the deal falling apart, though. He called it another example of the White House going back on its word, after calling the negotiation a "win" just a month ago.

"It's unfortunate that this is how we're running our economy today," he said.

Biden told ABC News' Mary Bruce at the White House on Tuesday that he was "confident" in avoiding a strike.

"Congress, I think, has to act to prevent it. It's not an easy call, but I think we have to do it. The economy's at risk," he said.

What a railroad strike could mean for the economy

A potential strike could lead to $2 billion a day in lost economic output, according to the Association of American Railroads, which lobbies on behalf of railway companies.

"No one benefits from a rail work stoppage -- not our customers, not rail employees and not the American economy," AAR President and CEO Ian Jefferies said in a statement Monday night. "Now is the appropriate time for Congress to pass legislation to implement the agreements already ratified by eight of the twelve unions. A clear pattern of ratified agreements has been established and Congressional action to prevent a work stoppage in this manner is appropriate."

"A national rail strike would severely impact the economy and the public," the NCCC said last week.

Rail is critical to the entire goods side of the economy, including agriculture, manufacturing, retail and warehousing. Freight railroads are responsible for transporting 40% of the nation's long-haul freight and a work stoppage could endanger those shipments.

Moody's Analytics chief economist, Mark Zandi, said that a railroad strike would be "economically costly," and that a freight shutdown would roil supply chains and put upward pressure on U.S. goods inflation, making price problems temporarily worse.

The main channel for a strike to boost inflation is through the higher cost of transportation, particularly for agriculture, Zandi said. Corn, wheat and soybeans are the primary agriculture commodities that use rail.

A strike would also affect shipments of ethanol, potentially leading to higher gas prices, according to Zandi.

Trucking freight rates, which are still elevated above pre-pandemic levels, could also be pushed higher. Zandi said that the American Trucking Association estimates that a rail work stoppage would require 500,000 more trucks and 80,000 more drivers to fill the gap -- an untenable number.

More immediately, however, Zandi said a strike would not have a material impact on holiday sales. Inventories of Christmas goods are ample and the major shipping of goods from ports to warehouses for the season is long over.

"Getting goods from warehouses to homes is done by truck," Zandi said. "Perhaps some trucks would be diverted to help move goods typically done by rail, but this should not be a significant factor for Christmas."

Local rails, though, could see disruptions should a rail strike occur -- leaving commuters in a lurch. Freight companies own and operate many of the tracks across the country and in the event of a strike, local trains that run on those tracks would be forced to cancel trips.

But some Amtrak trains and commuter rails that run along the Northeast Corridor wouldn't be affected by this. Amtrak owns some of its tracks, and they are not involved in the ongoing negotiations. In addition, local rail that own and operate their own tracks would not be affected -- such as Trinity Railway Express in Dallas and Bay Area Rapid Transit in San Francisco.

Why Congress is involved in potential rail strike

All labor disputes in the railway and airline industries -- which are seen as critical to the U.S. economy, stretching across major industries from energy to agriculture -- are governed by a 1920s-era federal law known as the Railway Labor Act, or RLA.

Congress enacted that law after decades of sometimes violent worker strikes and when Americans had grown dependent on many industries, particularly farming and manufacturing.

Under the RLA, if the parties in the rail labor dispute do not reach agreement on a new contract, the railroads can either impose their own work rules or employees can strike -- or both.

At that point, the RLA would no longer set the terms of behavior.

Congress, acting with authority from the Constitution's commerce clause, has not voted to end a railroad strike since April 1991 -- less than 24 hours after a walkout. At the time, lawmakers approved a joint resolution -- with President George H. W. Bush being roused from his bed in the middle of the night to sign the bill -- that forced the parties in the dispute into a 65-day binding arbitration process.

Had those workers not approved of the terms in arbitration, Congress mandated that less generous solutions from the Presidential Emergency Board, acting as a third party, be accepted.

ABC News' Adam Carlson, Cheyenne Haslett and Lauren Peller contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Rejected contracts, White House involvement: A timeline of a potential rail strike

Micha Pawlitzki/Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) -- Hundreds of thousands of rail workers stand on the brink of a nationwide strike that would paralyze the U.S. supply chain and passenger rail service ahead of the busy holiday season.

"Let me be clear: a rail shutdown would devastate our economy," President Joe Biden said on Monday. "Without freight rail, many U.S. industries would shut down."

Biden asked Congress to pass a law that imposes the terms of a tentative agreement reached in September but was rejected by several unions.

Still, the fate of a potential deal between rail workers and companies remains uncertain, especially if Congress fails to impose the tentative agreement. Four of 12 unions have already voted down the agreement and those four unions represent the majority of unionized rail workers.

A nationwide strike is expected unless the contract is ratified by each of the 12 rail unions, since all of the unions have vowed not to cross the picket line in the event of a work stoppage.

Unions have said rail employees are seeking improvements to working conditions, since workers do not receive paid sick days. The unions have accused rail companies of penalizing workers for taking time off for medical reasons and holding the nation's economy hostage to ensure a favorable deal.

The National Carriers' Conference Committee, or NCCC, which represents the nation's freight railroads in national collective bargaining, has said rail employees are provided "significant" time off and the companies have offered a fair contract that includes a considerable wage increase.

Here's a timeline of how the U.S. arrived at the precipice of a rail shutdown and what to expect as a deadline nears in the coming weeks:

July 15 – As rail unions and companies struggle to reach an agreement on the terms of a new contract, Biden signs an executive order that creates a presidential emergency board.

The board's goal is to issue guideline recommendations for an agreement between the two sides in order to avert a potentially devastating rail strike.

Aug. 16 – The presidential emergency board issues recommendations for a compromise agreement between the unions and rail companies.

The recommendations include a 24% raise from 2020 to 2024 and bonus increases. The union's demand for a new time-off policy, however, is omitted.

Sept. 14 – Rail workers and companies prepare for a potential strike that could cost $2 billion a day in lost economic output, according to the Association of American Railroads, which lobbies on behalf of rail companies.

Freight railroads are responsible for carrying 40% of the nation's long-haul freight and a work stoppage could jeopardize these shipments.

Sept. 15 – Rail companies and unions reach a tentative labor agreement after 20 consecutive hours of negotiations brokered by U.S. Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh.

The tentative agreement "balances the needs of workers, businesses, and our nation's economy," Walsh said.

The agreement improves the time-off policies at the rail companies, which are a key sticking point in the negotiations, according to a statement from the two largest unions, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers Trainmen, or BLET, and the SMART Transportation Division, or SMART-TD.

Oct. 11 – A union representing about 12,000 rail workers votes down the tentative contract that was brokered by the White House, raising the possibility of an eventual strike.

The Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees Division of the Teamsters, or BMWED, rejects the tentative contract due to frustration with compensation and working conditions, particularly a lack of paid sick days, BMWED President Tony Cardell says in a statement.

"Railroaders do not feel valued," Cardell says. "They resent the fact that management holds no regard for their quality of life."

The National Carriers' Conference Committee, or NCCC, the group representing the freight railroad companies, expresses "disappointment" in the decision to reject the contract.

Oct. 27 – A second union rejects the White House-brokered deal, elevating the likelihood of a nationwide strike.

The vote by the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen, a union representing 6,000 workers, centers on the lack of paid sick days, according to a statement from Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen President Michael Baldwin.

The NCCC expresses disappointment over the union vote.

The tentative contract "included the largest wage package in nearly five decades, maintained rail employees' platinum-level health benefits, and added an additional day of paid time off," the NCCC says in a statement.

Nov. 21 – The nation's largest rail union votes down the tentative contract brokered by the White House, dramatically escalating the likelihood of a strike.

SMART-TD, which represents about 28,000 conductors, narrowly rejects the contract in a vote that garnered record turnout, the union says.

The second-largest rail union, made up of engineers, votes in favor of the contract, splitting the top rail unions.

Nov. 28 – Biden asks Congress to intervene and avert a potential strike by forcing the workers' unions to accept a White House-brokered deal as a December deadline approaches.

In a statement, Biden touts himself as a "pro-labor" president but says the larger economic implications outweigh those concerns.

"I am reluctant to override the ratification procedures and the views of those who voted against the agreement. But in this case -- where the economic impact of a shutdown would hurt millions of other working people and families -- I believe Congress must use its powers to adopt this deal," he says.

He calls on Congress to quickly pass legislation to adopt the White House-brokered deal reached in September.

Outgoing Speaker Nancy Pelosi later says in a statement that the House will soon take up such legislation and will not modify the agreed-upon terms.

Nov. 29 – Biden tells ABC News he's "confident" the U.S. will avert a rail strike.

"Congress, I think, has to act to prevent it," he says. "It's not an easy call, but I think we have to do it."

Dec. 4 – By the end of the week that concludes on Dec. 4, House lawmakers are expected to take up a bill that adopts the tentative agreement brokered by the White House.

If passed, the bill will be sent to the Senate, where it faces uncertain prospects as the chamber is split 50-50 between the parties. Most legislation requires 60 votes to overcome a filibuster.

Dec. 9 – A strike deadline looms on Dec. 9, when unions could move forward with a coordinated work stoppage.

Additional reporting contributed by Morgan Winsor, Sam Sweeney, Sarah Kolinovsky, Amanda Maile, Zunaira Zaki, Trish Turner, Ahmad Hemingway and William Kim

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


How China's zero-COVID policy threatens the US economy

Matt Anderson Photography/Getty Images

(NEW YORK) -- Historic protests across China over its zero-COVID policy battered U.S. stocks on Monday, highlighting a close link between the contentious Chinese measures and domestic economic conditions that could help determine whether the U.S. enters a recession.

Residents in isolation in some regions say they’ve gone without sufficient food or medical care. Meanwhile, protests flared up after a fire on Thursday in an apartment building in the northwest city of Urumqi that killed at least 10 people, as some alleged that lockdowns obstructed the rescue of victims, while government officials denied any such impact.

Tension over COVID lockdowns in the world’s second-largest economy coincides with a precarious U.S. economic outlook.

An aggressive series of interest rate hikes from the Federal Reserve aim to dial back sky-high inflation by slowing the economy and slashing demand. But the approach risks tipping the country in a downturn and putting millions out of work. Plus, ongoing disruption from the Russia-Ukraine war has exposed vulnerability in economies across the globe, including the U.S, experts said.

COVID lockdowns in China have clogged supply chains in the manufacturing stalwart, extending pandemic-era bottlenecks that have contributed to inflation, analysts told ABC News. Meanwhile, the zero-COVID policy has stagnated the Chinese economy, hurting spending among Chinese customers and in turn pummeling U.S companies that depend on it, they said.

“When consumers are locked down in these different cities, it’s a gut punch to the U.S. economy,” Dan Ives, a managing director of equity research at Wedbush, an investment firm, told ABC News. “It has reached a fork in the road.”

Here’s what you need to know about how China’s zero-COVID policy heightens the risk of a U.S. recession:

Zero-COVID policy contributes to US inflation

A key threat to U.S. economic performance is inflation, which remains highly elevated and owes in part to Chinese lockdowns.

Sky-high price hikes stem from the pandemic, when millions across the globe facing lockdowns replaced restaurant expenditures with couches and exercise bikes. But the surge in demand for goods far outpaced supply, as COVID-related bottlenecks slowed delivery times. When demand exceeded supply, prices skyrocketed.

Some supply bottlenecks have eased but others remain, including China’s zero-COVID policy and its related lockdowns.

“The main effect of the zero-tolerance policy in China is interrupting some supply chains,” David Dollar, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution focused on U.S.-China economic relations, told ABC News.

“We still import a lot from China and those problems in supply chains means the products are not here and that contributes a little bit to inflationary pressure,” he added.

For instance, China’s zero-COVID policy has led to major iPhone shortages heading into the holidays, according to a report released by Ives on Monday. Shortages have reached as low as 35% of typical holiday inventory in some stores, causing overall iPhone demand to outstrip supply by a ratio of 3 to 1, he found.

The iPhone shortage is the “poster child” of a larger trend, Ives told ABC News. The zero-COVID policy continues to reduce the supply of goods from China by an estimated 10% to 20%, he said.

To be sure, analysts disagree about the extent to which supply shortages have contributed to inflation, as opposed to a flood of stimulus payments that juiced demand.

“There’s definitely some linkage but I would not exaggerate it,” Dollar said.

Zero-COVID policy hurts Chinese consumers and U.S. companies

In addition to clogging up supply, the Chinese lockdowns have suppressed consumer demand in the country, causing slowdowns at U.S. companies that operate a significant portion of their business in China.

Holiday spending during a weeklong National Day break last month fell 56% compared to pre-pandemic levels, Bloomberg reported. Overall, China’s gross domestic product grew 3.9% over three months ending in September, well below 4.9% growth seen over the same period last year.

“People are locked down at home a lot of the time, so they're not out spending money,” said Dollar, of the Brookings Institution.

“If China were growing well, it’d be importing more from the U.S. and contributing to the profits of U.S. companies that operate there,” he added. “That’s all not happening this year.”

Sluggish consumer demand in China contributed to the market sell off on Monday in response to civil unrest over the zero-COVID policy, Dollar said.

As of Monday afternoon, shares in Apple fell nearly 3%.

“A lot of big American companies listed in New York have serious business in China,” he said. “If there’s civil and political unrest, if the Chinese economy is slowing down, that creates uncertainty for a lot of American businesses.”

“The market hates uncertainty,” Dollar added.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Elon Musk attacks Apple for allegedly threatening App Store removal

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(NEW YORK) -- Elon Musk, the billionaire entrepreneur who owns Twitter, attacked Apple on Monday in a series of tweets hammering the tech giant for allegedly decreasing the amount of ads it displays on Twitter and threatening to remove the platform from its App Store.

“Apple has mostly stopped advertising on Twitter,” Musk tweeted. “Do they hate free speech in America?”

In a post addressed to the Twitter account of Apple CEO Tim Cook, Musk asked: “What’s going on here?”

The broadside against Apple arrives after a slew of major companies, including General Motors and Pfizer, have announced a pause of advertising on Twitter. Some of the companies have said they need time to evaluate their advertising presence on Twitter as the company pursues a new direction under Musk.

Apple did not respond to a request for comment.

In addition, Musk said Apple had threatened to remove Twitter from its App Store.

"Apple has also threatened to withhold Twitter from its App Store, but won’t tell us why," Musk posted.

Terms of use posted on Apple’s website include the prohibition of services that “post objectionable, offensive, unlawful, deceptive, inaccurate, or harmful content.”

Since he acquired Twitter last month, Musk has made significant changes. He fired top executives and cut the company's 7,500-person workforce in half, while reinstating some formerly suspended accounts such as that belonging to former President Donald Trump.

He also revamped Twitter’s subscription service, Twitter Blue, allowing users to access verification if they pay a monthly fee of $8. The service was suspended after it gave rise to a flood of fake accounts impersonating public figures and brands.

Musk, who said he overpaid for the platform at the purchasing price of $44 billion, faces pressure to boost the company's revenue. Earlier this month, he said that the company is losing $4 million each day.

In remarks on Monday, Musk also took aim at a 30% fee charged by Apple for digital sales made by apps hosted in its App Store that reach $1 million in revenue.

“​​Did you know Apple puts a secret 30% tax on everything you buy through their App Store?” Musk posted.

In recent years, Apple faced a lawsuit from gaming company Epic over the 30% fee alleging that the practice reflects an abuse of Apple’s monopoly power. Last September, a federal judge said Apple was not acting as a monopolist, but ordered the company to allow in-app links that direct users to make purchases outside of the app that circumvent the 30% fee.

Court proceedings resumed earlier this month after both sides appealed portions of the ruling.

For years, Apple has defended the fee it charges for sales made in its App Store as a reasonable rate that does not indicate the use of monopoly power on the part of the company.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Kim Kardashian 're-evaluating' her relationship with Balenciaga amid ad scandal

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(NEW YORK) -- Kim Kardashian has broken her silence on Balenciaga's recent ad scandal.

"I have been quiet for the past few days, not because I haven't been disgusted and outraged by the recent Balenciaga campaigns, but because I wanted an opportunity to speak to their team to understand for myself how this could have happened," she wrote on social media Sunday, Nov. 27.

Kardashian has worn Balenciaga to high-profile events like the Met Gala in the past, and walked in the luxury brand's couture show at Paris Fashion Week earlier this summer.

Kardashian's post comes a week after Balenciaga was criticized for its advertisements featuring children posing with the company's plush bear bags, which wear BDSM-inspired harnesses.

One photo featured a child standing on a bed with one of the plush bear bags, surrounded by other purses and accessories, which included what appeared to be a chain leash as well as a Balenciaga branded dog collar choker.

The reality star, businesswoman and mom to North, 9, Saint, 6, Chicago, 4, and Psalm, 3, continued, "As a mother of four, I have been shaken by the disturbing images. The safety of children must be held with the highest regard, and any attempts to normalize child abuse of any kind should have no place in our society -- period."

"I appreciate Balenciaga's removal of the campaigns and apology. In speaking with them, I believe they understand the seriousness of the issue and will take the necessary measures for this to never happen again," she concluded.

The SKIMS founder added that she is "currently re-evaluating my relationship with the brand." Kardashian said she would base her future relationship with the brand on its willingness to accept accountability, as well as its actions to protect children.

The Spanish luxury brand previously issued an apology for the ads on its Instagram on Nov. 22, writing, "We sincerely apologize for any offense our holiday campaign may have caused. Our plush bear bags should not have been featured with children in this campaign. We have immediately removed the campaign from all platforms."

In a follow-up statement on Monday, Balenciaga added, "We strongly condemn child abuse; it was never our intent to include it in our narrative. The two separate ad campaigns in question reflect a series of grievous errors for which Balenciaga takes responsibility."

"The first campaign, the Gift collection campaign, featured children with plush bear bags dressed in what some have labelled BDSM-inspired outfits. Our plush bear bags and the Gift collection should not have been featured with children. This was a wrong choice by Balenciaga, combined with our failure in assessing and validating images. The responsibility for this lies with Balenciaga alone," the brand continued.

"The second, separate campaign for Spring 2023, which was meant to replicate a business office environment, included a photo with a page in the background from a Supreme Court ruling 'United States v. Williams' 2008 which confirms as illegal and not protected by freedom of speech the promotion of child pornography. All the items included in this shooting were provided by third parties that confirmed in writing that these props were fake office documents. They turned out to be real legal papers most likely coming from the filming of a television drama," Balenciaga said.

The company added, "The inclusion of these unapproved documents was the result of reckless negligence for which Balenciaga has filed a complaint. We take full accountability for our lack of oversight and control of the documents in the background and we could have done things differently."

Balenciaga's holiday campaign photographer, Gabriele Galimberti, also issued a statement on Nov. 23.

"I am not in a position to comment Balenciaga's choices, but I must stress that I was not entitled in whatsoever manner to neither chose the products, nor the models, nor the combination of the same," Galimberti wrote in the caption of an Instagram post. "As a photographer, I was only and solely requested to lit the given scene, and take the shots according to my signature style. As usual for a commercial shooting, the direction of the campaign and the choice of the objects displayed are not in the hands of the photographer."

Galimberti also claimed he had "no connection with the photo where a Supreme Court document appears," referring to a separate earlier ad for a purse, in which a Supreme Court ruling on child pornography laws could be seen.

"That one was taken in another set by other people and and was falsely associated with my photos," he said.

Balenciaga has since filed a lawsuit against the North Six production company, as well as set designer Nicholas Des Jardins, over the Spring 2023 ad campaign.

According to court documents filed with the New York State Supreme Court for the County of New York on Friday, Balenciaga is seeking "redress for extensive damages defendants caused in connection with an advertising campaign Balenciaga hired them to produce" and accuses North Six and Des Jardins of "malevolent or, at the very least, extraordinarily reckless" conduct.

"As a result of Defendants' misconduct, members of the public, including the news media, have falsely and horrifically associated Balenciaga with the repulsive and deeply disturbing subject of the court decision. Defendants are liable to Balenciaga for all harm resulting from this false association," the fashion house said in its court filing.

Balenciaga is seeking $25 million in damages from North Six and Des Jardins.

North Six has not yet commented publicly on the lawsuit. A source close to North Six told ABC News' Good Morning America that the production company handled logistics for that shoot, including catering, shoot permitting, location booking and crew and equipment management, but did not have creative control or input in the ad campaign and was not on set during final set arrangements.

A representative for Des Jardins told the Washington Post on Monday that the Supreme Court documents seen in the earlier ad campaign "were obtained from a prop house that were rental pieces used on film [and] photo shoots."

"Everyone from Balenciaga was on the shoot and was present on every shot and worked on the edit of every image in post production," said Gabriela Moussaieff, Des Jardins' agent, who claimed Des Jardins was "being used as a scapegoat," according to the Post.

Moussaieff added that the set designer is currently hiring legal representation.

Good Morning America has reached out to North Six and Moussaieff for comment on the lawsuit.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Thanksgiving Day 2022 marks record consumer spending

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(NEW YORK) -- Shoppers spent a record $5.29B this Thanksgiving, according to Adobe Analytics -- a figure up 2.9% year-over-year.

Adobe Analytics’s report on record spending may be surprising to some, as the economy is at an inflation level not seen in the last 40 years, and ongoing fears of a recession.

Big discounts on toys and electronics enticed shoppers, according to Adobe Analytics. Mobile shopping -- purchases made through smartphones -- accounted for 55% of online sales, an all-time record for Thanksgiving Day since 2012.

Black Friday, which occurs the day after Thanksgiving and is considered the kickoff to the holiday shopping season, is expected to bring in $9M online Friday.

Deep discounts on toys, computers and electronics are expected. Notable discounts are expected for clothing, appliances and TVs, but Adobe predicts the best deals for these categories will be over the weekend.

Top-selling items in the 2022 holiday season

The top-selling toys so far include Squishmallows, Roblox, Paw Patrol, Hot Wheels, Cocomelon and L.O.L. Surprise Dolls.

The top gaming consoles sold so far include the Nintendo Switch, the Xbox Series X, and PlayStation 5.

And the most popular video games include God of War Ragnarök, FIFA 23, Madden 23, and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II.

Other hot sellers are mostly technology: Apple Airpods, Instapots, smart televisions, digital cameras and gift cards.

Holiday spending despite economic uncertainty

Days before the 2022 midterm elections, roughly half of Americans said either the economy or inflation was the most important issue in their vote for Congress, making bread-and-butter financial issues by far the most dominant, according to an ABC News/Ipsos survey.

Although there has been a slew of recent layoffs at tech companies, the labor market remains fairly robust. While the jobs added each month have fallen over the second half of this year, they remain strong, keeping the unemployment rate below 4%.

 

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Paper or plastic? Gift cards don't need to be trash

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(NEW YORK) -- As the holidays approach, experts estimate that roughly 60% of consumers plan on purchasing gift cards this December, making it one of the most popular gift-giving options. As a $173 billion business, gift cards have come a long way since they were first introduced in 1994.

More than 3.4 billion gift cards were sold in the United States in 2021 and 47% of U.S. adults said they have one or more unused gift cards in their possession, according to Research and Markets. But as environmentally conscious consumers demand more sustainable products, plastic gift cards have often flown under the radar, despite frequently ending up as plastic waste.

"As someone who works everyday trying to reduce plastic pollution, even I did not appreciate how many plastic gift cards are sold in the United States,” Judith Enck, founder of the advocacy group Beyond Plastics, which is working to eliminate single-use plastics and plastic pollution around the globe, told ABC News.

Most of those billions of gift cards are made from plastic, but some retailers, like Starbucks, Apple, and Amazon, have begun to sell paper or cardboard cards, which come from a renewable source and are easier to recycle. The best sustainable option is an electronic gift card, which has zero waste, but the majority are still produced in plastic.

"Seventy percent of them are made from polyvinyl chloride plastic,” Enck said. "The reason we’re so concerned about polyvinyl chloride plastic, or PVC, is because it’s poisonous to produce."

The Environmental Protection Agency classified vinyl chloride, a key component in the production of PVC, as a hazardous pollutant and human carcinogen. The production and disposal of PVC plastic puts a variety of people at risk of exposure to toxic chemicals.

"I don't think there's a risk from handling the PVC cards, but there definitely is a risk from manufacturing them,” Enck told ABC News. “If these cards are being burned, or even going to a permitted municipal waste incinerator in the United States, they pose a problem.”

The EPA is currently weighing whether to classify PVC plastic as hazardous waste, which would force entities to properly discard PVC in a responsible way.

Because it’s so difficult to dispose of, the bulk of PVC waste, including gift cards and bales of cut-out PVC from the production of gift cards, often end up overseas and illegally dumped in countries like Turkey, Malaysia, and Indonesia, experts said.

"The reality is it’s not recyclable and it ends up here, in an agricultural field," Sedat Gündoğdu, a biologist and professor at Cukurova University in Turkey, who focuses on plastic pollution, told ABC News.

Gündoğdu has collected heaps of discarded gift cards from U.S. and U.K. retailers that have been illegally dumped and buried in agricultural areas across Turkey.

"Users in the United States are throwing out these cards, thinking they're being recycled, but they're really being sold to places like Turkey where they get shipped over and they're just getting dumped,” Gündoğdu said.

Some of the discarded cards Gündoğdu finds are new and unused. Chanda Wicker, a senior vice president at InComm Payments, a payments technology company, told ABC News that the gift card industry is working towards forecasting consumer demand to “prevent over-production of cards and reduce industry waste.”

Wicker said paper cards are typically less expensive than PVC cards to manufacture and that 70% of the cards InComm Payments have purchased from contracted printers are made from paper.

Although plastic continues to remain popular, the Retail Gift Card Association Sustainability Task Force told ABC News it is "working on publishing a Sustainability Best Practice guide" to help retailers "make decisions that drive us towards a more sustainable future."

If you do want to purchase gift cards this year, both Gündoğdu and Enck recommend e-cards or paper alternatives, and they urge popular gift card retailers and grocery stores to tell companies to stop producing PVC cards.

"PVC cards should be banned because we have paper alternatives, which are less toxic than plastic," Gündoğdu said.

If you do have old plastic gift cards and want to dispose of them safely, Enck recommends throwing them away in the trash.

"Definitely don't put it in your recycling bin, and contact companies and tell them to stop making PVC gift cards as soon as possible."

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Donald Trump reported losses of nearly $1 billion over 2-year period, accountant says

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(New York) -- Donald Trump reported nearly $1 billion in operating losses over a two-year period about a decade ago, an accountant testified at the criminal trial of the Trump Organization, spilling into public tax information that the former president has tried repeatedly to keep private.

The accountant, Donald Bender, a partner at Mazars USA, the firm that prepared tax returns for Trump and his company, testified Tuesday that Trump reported losses each year for 10 years from 2009 to 2018.

"There are losses for all these years," Bender said.

The disclosure at the Manhattan trial of Trump's family business came the same day the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the IRS is required to turn over six years' worth of Trump's tax information to the House Ways and Means Committee.

Prosecutor Susan Hoffinger questioned Bender about Trump's taxes during cross-examination as the trial nears an end. The Manhattan district attorney fought for nearly three years to obtain the records, including two appearances before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Hoffinger asked Bender about Trump's losses in 2009 and 2010, when the company lost nearly $1 billion.

"Do you recall in 2010 Donald Trump had losses of almost $200 million on his personal tax returns?" Hoffinger asked.

"I believe so," Bender said after examining the records.

"Do you recall in 2009, Donald Trump had, his personal tax returns had losses around $700 million?" Hoffinger followed.

"Sounds about right," Bender replied.

The staggering losses belie the reputation Trump has carefully tried to cultivate as a shrewd and successful businessman. That image helped carry him to the White House once, with Trump hoping it will again as he now embarks on a new run for president.

The numbers largely mirrored a report in The New York Times in September 2020 when they acquired select portions of Trump's tax returns.

Trump is not a defendant in the case and the line of questioning had no obvious connection to the tax scheme the Trump Organization is charged with carrying out over a 12-year period when former chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg and other executives were allegedly paid off the books with perks like rent, car leases and private school tuition.

Weisselberg, who has pleaded guilty and testified pursuant to a plea agreement with prosecutors, has aided the defense by saying he hatched the scheme out of his own greed and Trump was unaware. He also testified that the scheme helped the Trump Organization reduce its payroll taxes, assisting the Manhattan District Attorney's Office prove there was a benefit to the company.

Bender was the first witness called by the defense, which has suggested it was his responsibility to alert the Trump Organization to any fraud but didn't in order to keep a lucrative client happy.

"Fair to say the Trump account represented roughly two-thirds of the revenue you brought into Mazars?" asked defense attorney Bob Brennan.

"Closer to 60 [percent]," Bender replied.

"But it was your largest account?" Brennan asked. "Yes sir," Bender said.

Prosecutors showed the jury a letter from Mazars that said the firm's work for the Trump Organization "does not include any procedures designed to detect errors, irregularities, or illegal acts, including fraud or defalcations, should any exist."

Bender appeared to help the prosecution when he testified that Weisselberg never told him the company was paying his rent and other personal expenses tax-free.

"At any time before the year 2021, did you actually know that The Trump Corporation and Donald Trump were paying these personal expenses as part of Allen Weisselberg's compensation and not reporting them to the tax authorities?" Hoffinger asked.

"No, ma'am," Bender answered.

"If you had known all of that at that time, what would you and Mazars have done?" Hoffinger asked.

"We would have had a serious conversation about continuing with the client," Bender responded.

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E. Jean Carroll to file 2nd lawsuit against Trump, her attorneys say

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(New York) -- Former Elle columnist E. Jean Carroll will file a new lawsuit against former President Donald Trump on Thanksgiving, the first day of New York's new Adult Survivors Act that allows adult victims of sexual assault to file civil lawsuits that would otherwise be barred due to the passage of too much time, her attorneys said during a court hearing Tuesday.

Carroll is already suing Trump for defamation in federal court after he denied her claim that he raped her in a department store dressing room in the mid-1990s, saying she was "not my type." The new lawsuit, also being filed in federal court, will include a new allegation of defamation and an allegation of battery.

Attorneys for Carroll asked the federal judge presiding over the original case to delay a trial date to account for the new lawsuit, but the judge declined.

"The second action is technically not before me today," Judge Lewis Kaplan said.

An attorney for Trump, Alina Habba, told the judge she didn't know if she would be representing Trump in the new suit.

"The complaint has not been filed. I have not been retained," Habba told the judge. "I don't know whether I'll be retained on that matter."

"Your client has known this is coming for months and he would be well advised to know who is representing him in it," Judge Kaplan replied.

Carroll's attorney, Roberta Kaplan, said she asked Trump about the second alleged incident of defamation during a recent deposition.

Whether Carroll's initial lawsuit can even proceed hinges on the outcome of a legal question before a different court.

Trump has argued the Justice Department should be substituted as the defendant in the case because as president, he was an employee of the federal government, which cannot be sued for defamation.

In September the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Trump was indeed a government employee under the terms of the Westfall Act, which shields federal employees from personal liability -- but it left to the D.C. Court of Appeals to determine whether Trump's denials fell within the scope of his employment.

The Court of Appeals, which retains jurisdiction over the conduct of federal government employees, has scheduled oral arguments for January to decide whether Trump was acting in his official capacity as president when he denied Carroll's rape claim and allegedly defamed her.

If the court decides in Trump's favor, any defamation suit would be void.

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Twitter faces serious legal threat from ex-employees, experts say

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(NEW YORK) -- Elon Musk, who admitted to overpaying for Twitter, cut workers at the social media platform almost immediately. In response, some of the axed employees want their day in court.

Within days of the acquisition, Musk fired top executives and cut the company's 7,500-person workforce in half. Soon after, he posed an ultimatum to employees asking that they commit to being, in Musk's words, "extremely hardcore" and "work long hours of high intensity" or resign. The move sent more workers out the door.

These personnel changes provoked several lawsuits from former workers alleging that the moves violated workers' rights because the company allegedly did not provide ample notice for laid-off workers or accommodations for disabled employees.

Musk, who also runs Tesla and SpaceX, may have exposed Twitter to serious legal liability that could wreak financial damage on the company, two labor experts told ABC News. The experts were reluctant to comment on the specifics of the cases, but said the former workers carry legitimate grievances that the courts will have to assess.

The combined lawsuits could cost Twitter "many millions of dollars," Michael LeRoy, a professor of labor and employment relations at University Of Illinois, told ABC News.

However, the legal proceedings could take more than five years to resolve, affording the company leverage if it were to pursue settlements with former employees, LeRoy added.

Sharon Block, executive director of the labor and worklife program at Harvard University Law School and a former member of the Obama administration, said the personnel moves demonstrate "reckless disregard for workers' wellbeing."

Twitter has not responded to a request for comment.

In one class-action lawsuit, departed workers allege that the company failed to provide the 60-day notice of layoffs required by federal law under the WARN Act, which mandates large businesses give notice when undertaking a mass layoff, Shannon Liss-Riordan, the attorney for the workers, told ABC News.

Twitter plans to keep many, but not all, of the laid-off workers on the payroll for two months as a means of complying with the law, Liss-Riordan said. However, the company does not intend to pay full severance beyond those months as previously promised, she added.

In a separate class-action lawsuit -- also overseen by Liss-Riordan -- a disabled former employee is suing the company over allegations the ultimatum that workers be "extremely hardcore" forced disabled workers to resign because they could not meet the elevated standard for work performance.

Federal labor law affords companies wide latitude to terminate workers without explanation under a measure called at-will employment. But businesses face some limits on the type or execution of layoffs, including prohibitions against discrimination and requirements that employees at some firms be alerted in advance of large layoffs.

"We completely understand that business leaders and owners of companies get to make decisions about how they think the company will best operate going forward," Liss-Riordan told ABC News. "But we do have laws in place to protect workers and laws to protect workers subject to layoffs."

"If Elon Musk thinks it's best for Twitter and its shareholders to slash workers, he's within his rights to do that," she added. "But if he tries to violate workers' rights, he's got to expect pushback."

LeRoy, of the University of Illinois, said the breakneck speed of Musk's personnel decisions has placed his company on precarious legal ground.

"Haste makes waste," LeRoy said. "Hasty terminations often have legal consequences."

Still, the company could make arguments focused on exemptions in relevant law, LeRoy said. For example, the federal statute that mandates large companies provide notice ahead of mass layoffs excludes companies suffering financial hardship, he added.

"That adds some degree of ambiguity to the situation," he said.

In addition, the legal proceedings could take many years, giving the upper hand to Twitter as it fights the lawsuits or pursues a favorable settlement, LeRoy said.

Liss-Riordan acknowledged the challenge posed by a potentially lengthy legal proceeding, but said the cases against Twitter could be resolved with relative ease.

"Cases can take a long time," she said. "In this case, I'm hopeful perhaps we might be able to get this resolved sooner."

"Paying laid-off workers what they're owed should be the easiest of Musk's current problems to address," she added.

Since he acquired Twitter late last month, Musk has imposed major changes at the social media platform.

He revamped the company's subscription product Twitter Blue, by allowing users to access verification through a monthly $8 fee, but halted the rollout after a rise of impersonations on the platform, including impersonations of Musk himself.

More recently, he reinstated the account of former President Donald Trump, reversing a previous announcement that said major account reinstatement decisions would await the formation of a content moderation council. Trump had been permanently suspended "due to the risk of further incitement of violence" in the wake of Jan. 6.

Musk, who acquired Twitter at the purchasing price of $44 billion, faces pressure to boost the company's profits. Earlier this month, he said the company was losing $4 million each day.

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Balenciaga pulls controversial ads featuring children and inappropriate teddy bears

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(NEW YORK) -- Luxury brand Balenciaga has issued an apology for its recent advertisements featuring children with sexualized teddy bears.

"We sincerely apologize for any offense our holiday campaign may have caused. Our plush bear bags should not have been featured with children in this campaign. We have immediately removed the campaign from all platforms," the company wrote in a statement posted to its Instagram story on Tuesday.

The advertisements, which were originally posted earlier this week, were for the brand's new holiday gifting campaign. The photos featured children posing with the company's plush bear bags, which wear BDSM-inspired harnesses.

One photo featured a child standing on a bed with one of the plush bear bags, surrounded by other purses and accessories that include what appears to be a chain leash as well as a Balenciaga branded dog collar choker.

Social media users immediately called out the brand's latest campaign on Twitter, with some also denouncing a promotional photo for a purse that included what appears to be an excerpt from the U.S. Supreme Court opinion on United States vs. Williams (2008), which upheld part of a federal child pornography law.

"We apologize for displaying unsettling documents in our campaign. We take this matter very seriously and are taking legal action against the parties responsible for creating the set and including unapproved items for our Spring 23 campaign photoshoot. We strongly condemn abuse of children in any form. We stand for children's safety and well-being," the company said in its statement on Tuesday.

Balenciaga's ad campaign featured its Spring/Summer 2023 collection, which debuted this fall at Paris Fashion Week.

The Spanish luxury label made headlines last month for cutting ties with Ye, the rapper formerly known as Kanye West, after he made antisemitic comments on social media and in several interviews. Ye had walked in Balenciaga's Paris Fashion Week show just weeks earlier.

The brand left Twitter on Nov. 15, shortly after billionaire Elon Musk bought the company for $44 billion in October, but remains on Instagram.

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Kroger holds off passing turkey costs onto consumers, outlook for prices through new year

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(NEW YORK) -- Americans may be feeling the pinch at grocery store checkouts, but the largest chain in the country has shared some positive news ahead of the holiday season.

"Our turkey costs are up about 20%, but we decided early on to not pass that cost increase through to try to help somebody stretch their budget," Kroger Chairman and CEO Rodney McMullen told Good Morning America.

The announcement comes at a crucial time for last-minute Thanksgiving shoppers. The U.S. Department of Agriculture said in its latest National Retail Report on turkey that there is currently "a wide variant in prices throughout most regions" but that "fresh and frozen weighted average whole turkey prices increase when compared to the previous ad cycle."

"However, many lucrative values abound for both fresh and frozen turkeys helping to lure the customer through [grocery store] doors," the agency noted.

With inflation impacting grocery bills for many people, some have turned to other Thanksgiving main dishes, including roasted chicken, to save a few dollars. But while McMullen said the price of "chicken and some of those items" was "starting to come down," the latest USDA Agricultural Marketing Service report shows that, overall, whole chicken prices "are trending at least steady for all sizes."

The best deal for a non-turkey poultry option, according to the USDA National Retail Report on chicken, are bulk packs of thighs and drums.

McMullen noted that other meats like beef and pork were still affected by high price tags. "Beef is still inflationary, pork is still a little bit inflationary," he said.

He added, however, that "some of the produce items are starting to come down just a little bit."

With inflation currently at 7.7%, prices on goods have continually crept upward in the food category, which rose 10.9% overall in the last year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' Consumer Price Index report. Food at home costs, meanwhile, have risen 12.4% since last year.

"The biggest thing we're seeing is people continue to eat and cook at home. One of the things during COVID, people learned to cook at home and they found they enjoy it, they love eating as a family," McMullen said. "It also helps stretch the budget because it's significantly cheaper for somebody to cook a meal at home versus going out to a restaurant."

When looking for savings opportunities at Kroger, McMullen encouraged people to shop the grocery chain's "private label" products which are generic store-brand offshoots of mainstream consumer packaged goods.

As for the end-of-year outlook, McMullen added, "Our hope and expectation, as we get early into next year, is that we'll see [inflation] continue to decrease a little bit."

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Food donations to help feed families this Thanksgiving

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(NEW YORK) -- As Americans get ready for the holiday season, millions will turn to food donations and assistance from organizations to help get meals on the table.

Over 33 million Americans lived in food-insecure households last year, with 8.6 million adults living in very low food security households, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition data. According to the agency, food-insecure households are defined as households that are "uncertain of having or unable to acquire enough food to meet the needs of all their members because they had insufficient money or other resources for food."

How to help fight food insecurity this Thanksgiving

Nonprofits like Feeding America, which works with a network of food banks and food programs nationwide, offer lots of free resources for people who want to help tackle food insecurity, especially during the holidays.

Start by locating a nearby food bank to donate Thanksgiving essentials, such as canned goods or other non-perishable foods, for a great way to help neighbors in need.

Foods to donate for Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is one of the busiest times of the year for food banks looking to add healthy, non-perishable items to their already in-demand essentials.

Feeding America suggests adding the following items to your donation lists and grocery carts: boxed stuffing, instant mashed potatoes, canned vegetables, dry macaroni, cranberry sauce and canned pumpkin.

Although it's the main dish of a Thanksgiving table, Feeding America reminded interested donors to hold off on including turkey. The Feeding America network collaborates with restaurants, caterers and manufacturers to donate leftover foods like turkey, which are guaranteed to be fresh and safe for families in need.

Similarly, skip sending in any fresh fruits or vegetables since those are highly perishable items. Many food banks work with farmers and corporate partners to help bring fresh produce to families before it goes bad, the organization said.

How to volunteer for food banks this Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is a perfect opportunity to volunteer at a local soup kitchen, food pantry or food bank.

Between assembling Thanksgiving meal boxes or serving food at a Thanksgiving dinner, there are a lot of ways to help families in need make the holiday special.

Click here to locate volunteer opportunities through one of the many partners with Feeding America.

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Biggest rail union rejects contract, raising possibility of nationwide strike during holidays

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(NEW YORK) -- The nation's largest rail union on Monday voted down a tentative contract brokered by the White House, raising the possibility of a nationwide strike next month that could cripple the U.S. economy.

The SMART Transportation Division, or SMART-TD, which represents about 28,000 conductors, rejected the contract in a vote that garnered record turnout, the union said Monday. The contract was nixed by a slim margin, as just 50.8% of workers voted against it.

The second-largest rail union, made up of engineers, voted in favor of the contract on Monday, splitting the top rail unions, which represent roughly half of the industry's workers.

The results arrive roughly a month after the nation's third-largest rail union rejected the White House-brokered contract.

A nationwide strike is expected next month unless the contract is ratified by each of the 11 rail unions, since all of the unions have vowed not to cross the picket line in the event of a work stoppage. So far, four unions have ratified the agreement.

"SMART-TD members with their votes have spoken, it's now back to the bargaining table for our operating craft members," SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson said in a statement.

"This can all be settled through negotiations and without a strike. A settlement would be in the best interests of the workers, the railroads, shippers and the American people," he added.

In a statement, SMART-TD did not provide the reason behind the members' disapproval. Previously, unions have rejected the tentative contract due to frustration with compensation and working conditions, particularly a lack of paid sick days.

The National Carriers' Conference Committee, or NCCC, the group representing the freight railroad companies, said in a statement that the risk of a nationwide strike next month will require the companies to start taking steps to prepare for the disruption.

"A national rail strike would severely impact the economy and the public," the NCCC said. "Now, the continued, near-term threat of one will require that freight railroads and passenger carriers soon begin to take responsible steps to safely secure the network in advance of any deadline."

The tentative contract included a 24% compounded wage increase and $5,000 in lump-sum payments, the NCCC said last month.

American railway companies and unions reached a tentative labor agreement in September amid the threat of strikes. That agreement came after 20 consecutive hours of negotiations led by U.S. Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh at his office in Washington, D.C., Walsh said.

The agreement improved the time-off policies at the rail companies, which made up a key sticking point in the negotiations, BLET and SMART-TD said in a statement in September.

A potential strike could lead to $2 billion a day in lost economic output, according to the Association of American Railroads, which lobbies on behalf of railway companies.

Rail is critical to the entire goods side of the economy, including agriculture, manufacturing, retail and warehousing. Freight railroads are responsible for transporting 40% of the nation's long-haul freight and a work stoppage could endanger those shipments.

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