Amtrak passengers ‘rail against’ removal of dining cars

September 24, 2019

Harrison Keely’s fondest recollections of riding Amtrak all feature snapshots of the dining car, according to a report by The Chicago Tribune. The luxurious white linen service. The friends made over a slice of cheesecake. The scenery outside the windows.

“There’s something fantastic about dinner in the dining car,” Keely, 32, a writer from Brasstown, North Carolina, told the newspaper. “You get to meet other people and hear so many great stories. It is to me one of the best parts about traveling.”

He adds, “There’s a beautiful rhythm in clacking down the tracks and an excitement in traversing a moving train,” he said. “There’s something that feels special, unique, romantic even, about having dinner in the diner, sleeping on the tracks, and traveling America the way it used to be seen.”

That experience is about to get derailed.

Amtrak has announced that it is relinquishing the dining service on long-haul  trains—in favor of more “flexible” and “contemporary” dining options.

The rail carrier says that, starting this fall on the one-night routes east of the Mississippi River, it will shutter its traditional onboard kitchens, switching to serving prepackaged meals and easing restrictions on the traditional serving times. The change allows the railroad to cut costs.

Amtrak isn’t labeling the change the end of the dining car, but rather an evolution more in line with the demands of this era, the Tribune says—but long-time riders feel the loss. The railway’s announcement has inspired a petition— signed by about 400 people as of September 22— urging Amtrak  to keep the dining car service on all long-distance trains.

These travelers say the dining car is iconic to the rail experience. While it has changed over the decades, becoming more casual with the transition from fancy china to disposable plastic plates and bowls, it remains a favorite of many.

“It is part of an evolution,” Peter Wilander, who oversees Amtrak’s customer experience, told the news outlet in a recent interview “The concept is to provide service the way our customers want rather than have everybody conform to one service delivery.

“Some people really like (the dining car) and view it as sort of a nostalgic train experience,” Wilander conceded “Some people, especially our new millennial customers, don’t like it so much. They want more privacy, they don’t want to feel uncomfortable sitting next to people” they don’t know.”

It’s that demographic, he said, that Amtrak wants to attract with more contemporary car designs and food options.

For now, the changes are only on Amtrak’s one-night routes on the East Coast. The “flexible” dining service for sleeping car customers starts October 1 on the Cardinal (New York-Chicago), City of New Orleans (Chicago-New Orleans), Crescent (New York-New Orleans), and Silver Meteor (New York-Miami). The shift will happen next year on the Silver Start—a 1,500-mile route from New York to Miami.

Passengers in roomettes and bedrooms, considered premium riders, will have the choice to have meals delivered to their rooms. If desired, they will be able to use a new version of a dining car, open exclusively to them, with booths, but no white linens. Eventually, Amtrak said, it may get rid of the booths altogether and create a more contemporary lounge setting.

The new menu offers a variety of prepackaged meals; for example, red wine braised beef and chicken fettuccine. In the morning, passengers will be able to pick up a pastry and coffee from a buffet-style continental breakfast.

Coach riders will eventually be able to buy the meals offered to premium riders, but in the cafe car.

Research contact: @Amtrak

Age discrimination alleged at Google: ‘Tell grandpa to pick up the pace’

September 23, 2019

As the Baby Boom generation grows grayer, age discrimination in hiring and “elder abuse” on the job are increasing—even (and maybe, especially) at the top tech companies.

A case in point: On September 5, Rodney Broome, a 72-year-old former hardware test engineer for platform engineering at Google filed a complaint (Case No. 19CV354620) in a Santa Clara Superior Court against the Internet search company, asking for damages and a jury trial—and alleging that the company had engaged in:

  1. Age discrimination;
  2. Harassment based on age;
  3. Retaliation;
  4. Failure to take all reasonable steps necessary to prevent and correct discrimination, harassment, and retaliation;
  5. Constructive wrongful discharge in violation of public policy;
  6. Violation of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing;
  7. Nonpayment of overtime compensation; and
  8. Intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Indeed, according to a report by Forbes, Broome had worked at Google for ten years (starting in 2007) and “everything seemed fine” until he reported in to a new supervisor, Ignacio Mendez, in 2017.

Shortly thereafter, the complaint details, Mendez called Broome both “old and slow” and “grandpa.” He chastised him for being “in retirement mode” and told him he was “a worthless piece of sh*t.”

What’s more, according to the suit, Mendez allegedly mentioned to Broome that he might encounter car trouble. Coincidentally, Broome’s car and house were broken into. It was alleged that Mendez bragged about criminal connections, according to court filings.

Forbes notes in its story that Broome brought this matter to the attention of human resources—but to no avail. The complaint reflects that the harassment only intensified.

In fact, Law.com reports, after Broome complained to his manager’s supervisor, Mendez retaliated with poor performance reviews, cut his bonuses and offered his job to two younger employees. After receiving a written warning, Mendez accused Broome of “ratting him out.”

Subsequent to what he described as physical confrontations and continued abuse, Broome resigned in February 2019. Broom’s lawyer, John Winer of Winer, Burritt, & Tillis in Oakland, California, claims that the case is a blatant instance of age discrimination;and part of a pattern of discrimination and harassment due to the company’s youthful culture.

Winer told Forbes, “I think that Google and other companies are far more focused on earnings than they are on human resource issues.” He added, “Instead of attempting to assure that there is no harassment and discrimination in the workforce, in fact it’s rampant.”

Age discrimination remains a pervasive problem in the workplace, and Google itself recently settled an age bias class action for $11 million after 227 plaintiffs claimed the company engaged in systemic age discrimination, HR Dive reports.m, noting that some experts have called age bias the workplace’s “open secret.”

Employers sometimes engage in unintentionally problematic conduct, including prioritizing recruiting efforts in programs that favor younger workers (such as college job fairs) or creating job descriptions that include age-indicative terms such as “digital native.”

While age discrimination often occurs during the hiring process, it is often not as obvious (or easy to prove) as it is when the complainant already has been satisfactorily employed by a company for a considerable length of time.

As the allegations in this suit show, however, age bias often can be more blatant on the job, HR Dive says. In another recent case, a dental practice in Pennsylvania allegedly fired eight of nine hygienists over the age of 40 at a single location and hired 14 new employees—13 of whom were younger than 40.

Research contact: @Forbes

Ralph and Rachel: Friends forever, right?

September 20, 2019

It has been 25 years since the sitcom, Friends, debuted—but the show’s characters and actors continue to be popular—and even to be trendsetters. In fact, uber-designer Ralph Lauren has just partnered with Warner Bros. Consumer Products to mark the anniversary with  a celebration of his brand’s role in the series. After all, Rachel Green, one of the main characters (played by Jennifer Aniston) worked at Ralph Lauren throughout several seasons.

Just as the show has proved to be a perennial favorite, “the new collection reflects Ralph Lauren’s timeless styles and archetypes that have remained a go-to for the modern working woman,” the designer says in a press release.

The collection, which comprises pieces from Polo and LAUREN Ralph Lauren, encapsulates the polished style synonymous with the iconic brand. It features trousers in black leather; skirts in suede, leather, and plaid with both midi and mini hem lengths; and jackets in velvet, faux leopard fur and purple shearling. The collection calls on tradition through pinstripe suiting, crested blazers, and equestrian-inspired accessories, while enhancing these classic pieces with navy and orange color-blocking and pops of leopard to offer a fresh fall spirit.

In celebration of the partnership, Ralph Lauren has teamed up with Bloomingdale’s to bring the show’s most memorable locations to select stores. On September 21 and September 22, shoppers at the Bloomingdale’s 59th flagship store in Manhattan can enjoy a complimentary cup of coffee while lounging in a replica of Central Perk. Located in the retailer’s Studio 59 space, the content creation hub has been transformed into the show’s iconic coffee shop, complete with the famous orange couch.

What’s more, through September 27, shoppers looking for additional social media worthy moments can visit the store’s third floor to see a re-creation of Rachel’s office and a different section of Central Perk. Every two weeks, these iconic installations will travel to a different Bloomingdale’s location in the New York metro area.

In addition to Bloomingdale’s, the collection will be available globally in select Ralph Lauren retail stores and on RalphLauren.com.

Research contact: @RalphLauren

Shooting down a bad idea: Hoodies with bullet holes spark viral backlash

September 19, 2019

A New York City-based clothing company has introduced school shooting hoodies that have bullet holes in them and feature the names of four schools at which major mass shooting have occurred—among them, Sandy Hook, Columbine, Marjory Stoneman Douglas, and Virginia Tech, ABC News reports.

The new fashion line was shown by the brand Bstroy during New York Fashion Week—and instantly generated fierce criticism on social media and in fashion blogs.

Bstroy, a self-described “neo-native” post-apocalypse streetwear brand, according to Paper Magazine, has been slammed with comments—of all types—after showcasing its Spring 2020 menswear collection, called “Samsara,” in a series of posts on Instagram.

“Under what scenario could somebody think this was a good idea? This has me so upset. If any of my followers no [sic] anybody involved with this clothing line, please ask them to stop it immediately,” tweeted Fred Guttenberg, whose daughter Jaime was killed on February 14, 2018, by Nikolas Cruz in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas

A memorial page for Vicki Soto, one of the teachers killed in the December 14,2012, Sandy Hook shooting responded directly to the Instagram post of the Sandy Hook hoodie saying “As a Sandy Hook family, what you are doing here is absolutely disgusting, hurtful, wrong and disrespectful. You’ll never know what our family went through after Vicki died protecting her students. Our pain is not to be used for your fashion.”

“This is disgusting,” actress Alyssa Milano simply tweeted, according to ABC.

The network news outlet reported that one of the company’s founders, Brick Owens, responded to the critics by releasing a statement on Instagram. “Sometimes life can be painfully ironic,” the statement read. Like the irony of dying violently in a place you consider to be a safe, controlled environment, like school. We are reminded all the time of life’s fragility, shortness, and unpredictability yet we are also reminded of its infinite potential. It is this push and pull that creates the circular motion that is the cycle of life. Nirvana is the goal we hope to reach through meditation and healthy practices that counter our destructive habits. Samsara is the cycle we must transcend to reach Nirvana.”

We are making violent statements,” the other founder of Bstroy, Dieter “Du” Grams told The New York Times in a profile that was published last week. “That’s for you to know who we are, so we can have a voice in the market. But eventually that voice will say things that everyone can wear.”

ABC noted, “While the vast majority of responses to the clothing line were negative, there were some who thought the company was doing their best to bring awareness to the issue of gun violence in America.”

“I hope all the people in the comments that are upset, are upset enough to talk to their elected officials about serious gun control measures,” said Instagram user @magnetic_poles.

Bstory has not immediately responded to ABC News’ request for comment on Wednesday morning.

Research contact: @ABC

Stadium food and the fan experience: Yankees give ticketholders both in partnership with Postmates

September 18, 2019

Have you ever missed a home run while you waited at a baseball stadium concession stand for food and drinks? Now, the New York Yankees have partnered with Postmates Live to enable fans to order snacks and beverages from their seats and pick them up at designated locations when they are ready—without missing the action on the field. There are no added fees.

Postmates launched the first stadium version of Postmates Live at Dodger Stadium in August, according to a joint press release from the organizations.

In cooperation with Legends, Postmates Live will launch at Yankee Stadium beginning September 17 in a limited seating areaallowing fans to order their favorite food and drinks from their seats and pickup their items at designated Postmates Pickup points in Sections 113 and 116 for the remainder of the season. The roll-out of the service to additional Yankee Stadium stands will be completed for the 2020 season.

“We couldn’t be more excited to expand the Postmates Live offering to New York,” said Bastian Lehmann, co-founder and CEO, Postmates. “The historic moments created at Yankee Stadium make it one of the most well-known venues in the country and we look forward to providing Yankees fans with an easier and faster way to get their favorite food and drinks on-demand!”

“Yankee Stadium strives to provide an unparalleled game day experience for every fan,” said Marty Greenspun, Yankees SVP of Strategic Ventures. “Our partnership with Postmates will allow Yankee Stadium Guests the convenience of selecting, ordering and paying for their food in advance of arriving at concession stands, maximizing the amount of time Guests can spend at their seats enjoying the action on the field. We are excited to provide this option in select Stadium locations immediately and have already begun making preparations to provide additional pickup locations throughout the Stadium in 2020.”

To order within Yankee Stadium, fans just need to open the Postmates app on their mobile devices and:

  • Browse and select desired offerings;
  • Place an order and pay in the app; and
  • Receive a pickup time and text notification when the order is ready;

To celebrate the partnership, Postmates is offering everyone using Postmates Live at Yankee Stadium a $5 credit which can be redeemed by entering the promo code, “YANKEES”. 

Research contact: @Yankees

Sweetgreen is putting $1 million into better school lunches

September 17, 2019

They are living their “salad days,” so why shouldn’t they be enjoying fresh-grown greens (and reds and yellows) for lunch? With that in mind, the trending salad franchise, Sweetgreen, based in Culver City, California, has just committed $1 million to the nonprofit FoodCorps to transform school lunches.

Portland, Oregon-based FoodCorps launched in 2009 with a mission to connect kids with healthier ways of eating by teaching cooking, gardening, and tasting, since children love to eat things they have prepared themselves.

In this case, Fast Company reports, Sweetgreen is backing three specific initiatives that the nonprofit uses to improve school cafeterias:

  • Tasty challenge allows kids to regularly try fruits and vegetable prepared in different ways and vote for their favorites (trying raw versus roasted carrots, for instance).
  • Flavor bar allows students to choose from a variety of sauces and spices in order to explore new flavors and ways of seasoning their food (from adobo to hot sauce, ketchup, or garlic granules).
  • School Cafeteria 2.0 empowers kids to decide for themselves how their dining experience might be improved, and then use that consensus to make changes alongside school administrators. In some schools, the priority might be more natural light and plants, while in others, it could be more communal seating—rethinking how the food itself is arranged and served so kids actually have time to eat it.

Sweetgreen Co-founder and Chief Brand Officer Nathaniel Ru told Fast Company in an interview that one of the most appealing aspects of all these concepts is the “hands-on learning” opportunities for kids. In some ways, it represents what’s happening in his shops as regulars try or combine new things.

“[This] is really focused on seeking to understand students’ kind of choice and voice and things that really change behavior in terms of healthy eating in schools,” he says. (Plus, starting kids on salads early is a good step toward growing the pool of future Sweetgreen customers.)

After visiting schools and studying student behavior, FoodCorps began implementing these changes at five prototype schools last fall. With Sweetgreen’s backing, they’ll expand the effort to 15 cafeterias around the country during the 2019 school year, reaching an estimated 6,500 students in 10 states including Oregon, Arkansas, Michigan, New York, and Virginia. FoodCorps works with 350 schools in 18 states. The initial goal is to add this kind of programming to 50 schools and be helping 20,000 kids by the end of 2020.

Research contact: @FastCompany

Bud Light promotes special edition alien-themed cans, as ‘raid’ of Area 51 approaches

September 16, 2019

Next Friday, September 20, from 3 a.m. to 6 a.m. (PDT), a huge group of alien enthusiasts—close to a million—has agreed to meet up at the U.S. government’s off-limits, heavily guarded  Area 51 in the desert 80 miles north of Las Vegas “and coordinate our entry.”

And just in time for that raid—on a facility at which scientists are rumored to study actual alien bodies and spacecraft—Bud Light is introducing alien-themed cans of beer “for legal drinking age humans;” as well as special wearables, such as caps with alien artwork.

However, Bud Light and its parent company, Anheuser-Busch, have made it clear that they are not necessarily encouraging the attack on Area 51.

Calling itself “the favorite light lager of American Earthlings,” the  Bud Light brand says, “”The way we see it, we’d much rather people crack open a crisp Bud Light with alien visitors rather than storm Area 51. Nothing says ‘we come in peace’ like sharing a beer with friends from another place or another galaxy. We promised to have beer waiting for any alien that wants it and we plan to deliver on that promise. Our hope is that humans stock up, too—because you never know when you might need some Bud Lights to welcome intergalactic neighbors.”

Starting on September 13, the alien cans of brew went on sale in NevadaArizona, and California . The special-edition aluminum cans feature a green alien and black background, as well as a new crest welcoming all extraterrestrials from near and far to crack a cold one.

To bring the fun to fans everywhere, Bud Light also has produced a line of limited-edition merchandise—including not only the caps, but koozies, shirts, and bomber jackets. Legal drinking age fans can purchase items online from the www.abgiftshop.com at prices of $100 or less.

Research contact: @BudLight

Amid U.S. vaping clampdown, Juul enters China, the world’s largest tobacco market

September 13, 2019

Holy smokes! No sooner did U.S. e-cigarette maker Juul Labs come under scrutiny for its flavored products at home than it surfaced in China, Reuters reports—with online storefronts on e-commerce sites owned by Alibaba Group and JD.com, geared to tap into the world’s largest market of smokers.

Following a press conference on September 11, during which President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump voiced concern about the health effects of vaping—noting that their 13-year-old son, Barron, is in the age group most likely to be captivated by the tasty, new smokes—the U.S. government announced plans to remove all flavored e-cigarettes from store shelves.

Juul, in which tobacco giant Altria Group owns a 35% stake, has been launching its products in international markets such as South Korea, Indonesia, and the Philippines, Reuters says.

The move comes as U.S. health officials are investigating a handful of deaths and potentially hundreds of lung illnesses tied to contaminants in vaping products—among them, E acetate, THC, cutting agents/diluents, pesticides, opioids and other toxins.

China, which is the world’s largest single market for tobacco consumption with over 300 million smokers, represents a market with both opportunity and risk for the company.

It is already home to dozens of Chinese competitors with names such as Relx, Yooz, and SNOW+ that have taken tens of millions of dollars in venture capital funding from high-profile investors.

Research source: @Reuters

California passes landmark bill requiring gig workers to be treated as employees

September 12, 2019

California lawmakers passed a landmark bill (Assembly Bill 5 ) on September 10 that promises to reshape how the peer-to-peer ridesharing and food delivery industries do business.

The legislation passed in a 29 to 11 vote in the State Senate and now moves on to the State Assembly, where if it passes, it will land on the governor’s desk.

The legislation, which is scheduled to go into effect on January 1, 2020, would require gig economy workers to be reclassified as employees instead of contractors, CNBC reports—affecting the operating plans on which Uber and Lyft base their current success.

But shares of Lyft popped more than 7.8% on Wednesday morning, while Uber climbed more than 4.5% after California Governor Gavin Newsom (D) told the The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday that he’s still engaged in talks with Uber, Lyft and other gig economy companies about possible negotiations around the bill. Newsom recently voiced his support for the bill, the news outlet said.

Additionally, CNBC says, the bill has received broad support from Democratic presidential candidates—among them, Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts), Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) and Kamala Harris (D-California), and South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D).

The bill has the potential to change the employment status of more than 1 million low-wage workers in California, including those at DoorDash, Postmates, and Instacart. It will make it harder for gig economy companies to prove that their workers aren’t staff, while ensuring key benefits and protections, like minimum wage, insurance and sick days.

But predictably, AB5 has attracted staunch opposition from gig economy companies. In an effort to push back against the bill, Uber and Lyft proposed establishing $21-an-hour minimum wage for drivers in California. The ride-hailing companies, as well as Doordash, have also pledged $90 million on a ballot initiative for the 2020 election that would exempt them from AB5.

Lyft spokesperson Adrian Durbin told CNBC that the bill has the potential to hurt drivers who prefer a flexible work schedule.

 “Today, our state’s political leadership missed an opportunity to support the overwhelming majority of rideshare drivers who want a thoughtful solution that balances flexibility with an earnings standard and benefits,” Durbin said in a statement. ”…We are fully prepared to take this issue to the voters of California to preserve the freedom and access drivers want and need.”

A DoorDash spokesperson said the company was disappointed by the decision, but said it was “committed” to establishing a guaranteed minimum wage, benefits, and other protections for its gig workers.

Representatives from Uber, Postmates and Instacart were not immediately available for comment.

Research contact: @CNBC

Why Facebook may know when you last had sex

September 11, 2019

Did you think that you and your partner or spouse were the only ones who knew (maybe, aside from your next-door neighbors) when you two last had sex? Wrong. Facebook may know, too, according to a September 9 report in The New York Times. And they also may know when it’s “that time of the month.”

How is that possible?

According to the UK-based privacy watchdog, Privacy International, at least two menstruation- and ovulation-tracking apps, Maya and MIA Fem, have shared intimate details of users’ sexual health with Facebook, the world’s largest social media platform, as well as other entities.

In some cases, the data shared with external social media (which are self-recorded by users in the app) included:

  • When a user last had sex,
  • The type of contraception used,
  • Her mood, and
  • Whether she was ovulating.

The Times notes, “The findings raise questions about the security of our most private information in an age where employers, insurers, and advertisers can use data to discriminate or target certain categories of people.”

The information was shared with the social media giant via the Facebook Software Development Kit, a product that allows developers to create apps for specific operating systems, track analytics, and monetize their apps through Facebook’s advertising network. Privacy International found that Maya and MIA began sharing data with Facebook as soon as a user installed the app on her phone and opened it, even before a privacy policy was signed.

Facebook spokesperson Joe Osborne told the new outlet that advertisers did not have access to the sensitive health information shared by these apps. In a statement, he said Facebook’s ad system “does not leverage information gleaned from people’s activity across other apps or websites” when advertisers choose target users by interestBuzzFeed first reported the news.

However, the fact is that today, many apps still are not subject to the same rules as most health data.

Some of the apps even have come under scrutiny as powerful monitoring tools for employers and health insurers, which have aggressively pushed to gather more data about their workers’ lives than ever before under the banner of corporate wellness. Plus, it appears the data could be shared more broadly than many users recognize, as flagged by the Privacy International study.

Several period- and pregnancy-tracking apps have been called out for sharing health data with women’s employers and insurance companies, as well as for security flaws that reveal intimate information, the Times reports.

Deborah C. Peel, a psychiatrist and founder of the nonprofit Patient Privacy Rights, based in Austin, Texas,  told the Times that people expect their health data to be protected by the same laws that protect their health information in a doctors office, but that many apps aren’t subject to the same rules.

“Most people would want to make their own decisions about what’s known about their sex life, about whether it’s shared or not,” said Peel. “Right now we have no ability to do that.”

Research contact: @nytimes