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15th September 2021
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Judge blocks medical worker vaccine mandate in NY state
A federal judge has temporarily blocked the state of New York from compelling medical workers to be vaccinated after a group of health care workers sued. Judge David Hurd in Utica issued the order after 17 health professionals, including doctors and nurses, claimed in a lawsuit that their Constitutional rights were violated because the state's mandate disallowed religious exemptions. Hazel Crampton-Hays, press secretary to New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, a Democrat, said that the state was considering all legal options. “Governor Hochul is doing everything in her power to protect New Yorkers and combat the Delta variant by increasing vaccine rates across the State. Requiring vaccination of health care workers is critical to this battle,” Crampton-Hays said. Dr. Joseph R. Sellers, president of the Medical Society of the State of New York, said that the nonprofit organization for physicians, residents and medical students was “greatly dismayed by today’s decision,” observing “We believe this step will result in a flurry of attempts to circumvent the well-reasoned vaccination requirement that was an important step towards reversing the recent surge attributable to the more easily spread Delta variant . . . No major religious denomination opposes vaccinations, and the Supreme Court has for over 100 years upheld vaccination requirements as a means to protect the public health.” The lawsuit said the plaintiffs, who are all Christians, wanted to proceed with anonymity because they “run the risk of ostracization, threats of harm, immediate firing and other retaliatory consequences if their names become known.”
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Real wages fall for the lowest-paid Americans
Pandemic-induced labor shortages have forced many employers to sharply raise pay but these same disruptions have pushed inflation to near its highest rate in over a decade. For the lowest-paid Americans, real wages—adjusted for rising prices— actually fell 0.5% in August from a year earlier. “Lower-income households are being hit hard by higher food prices, higher energy prices, higher shelter costs,” said Richard F. Moody, chief economist at Regions Financial Corp. “It’s taking bigger proportions of their budget so it’s leaving them with much less discretionary income as opposed to higher-income households.”
Amazon hires Twitter executive to lead on diversity
Amazon has appointed Twitter executive Candi Castleberry Singleton as vice president of global diversity, equity and inclusion. In the role, she will be charged with helping Amazon meet diversity goals it laid out in April, with the firm looking to double the number of Black leaders at the company and increase the number of women in senior tech roles by 30%. Amazon has faced at least six lawsuits this year claiming racial bias, gender bias or both filed by women who worked in corporate or warehouse management roles. Castleberry Singleton said in a company memo: "If we get this right, together we can create a greater sense of inclusion not only within Amazon, but for Amazon customers around the world."
Law firm to offer corporate Peloton perk
O’Melveny & Myers is the first law firm to sign up for Peloton’s Corporate Wellness Program. All of the Los Angeles-headquartered firm’s employees will have free access to Peloton’s digital platform for workouts and will receive discounts on the company’s all-access membership and stationary bikes. The program debuted in June and is now used by UnitedHealthcare, SAP and Samsung, among other companies. O’Melveny’s chief operating officer George Demos said: “We immediately saw (Peloton’s Corporate Wellness Program) as an opportunity to address not only physical health, but also the emotional and mental components of wellbeing.”
Former SEC official: Government action needed to increase competition among audit firms
Greater competition among audit firms will likely come about only as a result of government action, Lynn Turner, former chief accountant at the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has told an SEC advisory panel. “I don’t see that much is going to be done on competition unless there’s some fundamental changes made, or determined to be made, by the government. In the area of competition, we’ve gone backwards,” Turner, a senior advisor at Hemming Morse, said during a webcast hosted by the SEC’s Investor Advisory Committee, calling the Big Four audit firms an “oligopoly.” “We’ve got to change the culture in the firms where they view the investors as the ultimate client, not the management team who’s paying them,” Turner told the SEC’s advisory committee. “Let’s give the investors more power and make the auditor beholden to the investor.”
Law firm has a new chief talent officer
Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr has added the role of chief talent officer to its senior management team, and hired Chandra Kilgriff away from Robins Kaplan, where she was chief talent & diversity officer. She will report directly to the 366-attorney firm’s leaders on recruiting, retention, professional development, and diversity and inclusion efforts, and observes that Saul Ewing “is really interested in aligning our HR and talent management functions to meet the needs of the firm as we transition into this hybrid [post-pandemic] world.”
U.S. service members’ tax penalties in Germany weren’t ‘on my radar,’ says Blinken
A U.S.-Germany treaty dispute that has exposed large numbers of U.S service members and Defense Department support staff to tax penalties in the European country was not “on my radar,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said. The tax dispute centres on the interpretation of the NATO Status of Forces Agreement, which Blinken, as head of the U.S. State Department, oversees. In some cases, U.S. military personnel in Germany have been penalised as much as six figures, while still having to pay their U.S. taxes. U.S. military personnel can expose themselves to the German tax hit if they are viewed to be in Germany for reasons beyond their military service – such as being married to a German or owning German property. However, Americans serving elsewhere, such as Italy, Spain, Britain, Japan or South Korea, face no similar financial situation.
Afghan women should not work alongside men, senior Taliban figure says
A senior figure in the Taliban has said Afghan women should not be allowed to work alongside men. Waheedullah Hashimi said that the Taliban would fully implement its version of sharia, or Islamic law, despite international pressure  to allow women the right to work where they want. Reuters notes that such a stance, if formally implemented, would effectively prohibit employment for women in government offices, banks, media companies and elsewhere. Hashimi said in an interview: "Sharia ... does not allow men and women to get together or sit together under one roof,” adding "Men and women cannot work together. That is clear. They are not allowed to come to our offices and work in our ministries." Reuters says that the issue of women in the workplace is of major importance to the international community and could affect the amount of aid and other assistance that is delivered to help the battered Afghan economy.
Singapore introduces bill to combat foreign interference in local politics
Singapore has introduced a bill that is aimed at combating foreign interference in local politics. Authorities say the island nation is particularly vulnerable to online misinformation campaigns, such as those experienced by Western nations. The home affairs ministry, without identifying the countries involved, detailed two incidents involving alleged China-linked activities in Australia and Europe. “The bill will strengthen our ability to prevent, detect and disrupt foreign interference in our domestic politics conducted through hostile information campaigns and the use of local proxies,” the ministry said in a statement, adding “These provisions do not apply to Singaporeans expressing their own views on political matters, unless they are agents of a foreign principal. Singaporeans have the right to discuss politics . . . Nor do they apply to foreign individuals or foreign publications reporting or commenting on Singapore politics, in an open, transparent and attributable way, even if their comments may be critical of Singapore or the government.” The government will have the power to instruct internet platforms to block social media accounts that are deemed to be engaged in hostile information campaigns, and authorities will also have the power to direct internet service providers to geo-block such content.
Unvaccinated French health care workers face suspension from work
Health care workers in France could be suspended from work if they have not had the Covid vaccine by today. Covid vaccines are compulsory for health care and emergency workers, and the deadline to have had at least the first dose is today. From tomorrow, health workers who have not had at least one vaccine dose cannot work and will not be paid, although the French Constitutional Court has ruled that they cannot be fired. Recent data indicate that around 88% of health  workers are vaccinated. One of France's biggest public sector unions, the CGT, has warned of a "health catastrophe" if the government suspends large numbers of health workers. "We will not back down," Prime Minister Jean Castex warned last month.
U.S. states where borrowers owe the most in student debt
Student debt has grown significantly over the past several decades in the U.S. The Federal Reserve estimates that, in the second quarter, Americans owed $1.73tn in student loans, a 3% annual increase despite a lengthy pause on federal student loan interest rates and the elimination of billions of federally held student loans by the Biden administration. WalletHub recently compared the 50 states and the District of Columbia based on 11 measures of indebtedness, including average student debt totals and earning opportunities,  to determine which states struggle the most with student debt. They identified West Virginia as the state most impacted by student debt, with data suggesting that borrowers from the state experience some of the worst ratios of student debt to income, even when adjusted to account for the local cost of living. The second worst state for student debt holders is New Hampshire, while the least serious student debt difficulties could be seen in California and Utah. 

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