Hollywood actors' union notes disagreements with studios' offer, including AI

Starbucks is increasing pay and benefits for most of its U.S. hourly workers after ending its fiscal year with record sales.

But the company said Monday that unionized workers won't be eligible for some of those perks, a sign of the continuing tension between the Seattle coffee giant and the union trying to organize its U.S. stores.

At least 366 U.S. Starbucks stores have voted to unionize since 2021, according to the National Labor Relations Board. But Starbucks and the Workers United union have yet to reach a labor agreement at any of those stores. Starbucks has 9,600 company-operated stores in the U.S.

Starbucks said Monday it will increase wages — which currently average $17.50 per hour — starting Jan. 1. Employees at both union and non-union stores who have worked four years or less will get raises of 3% or 4% depending on years of service.

Employees who have worked five years or more will be eligible for a 5% increase, but since that's a new benefit, it must be negotiated with Workers United and is therefore not available to unionized stores, the company said.

Workers United rejected that claim and said it would file unfair labor practice charges against Starbucks with the NLRB.

“Withholding benefits from unionized stores is against the law,” the union said.

Starbucks said it is also shortening the time hourly employees must work before accruing vacation days from one year to 90 days. That benefit is also only available to workers at non-unionized stores.

The company also announced a new North American barista championship open to employees in the U.S. and Canada. The company said the program also won't be available to employees at unionized stores since it involves prize money and travel.

Starbucks’ actions go against a September ruling by an administrative law judge for the NLRB, who ruled that the company acted illegally last fall when it raised pay only for non-union workers. Starbucks has appealed that ruling, saying NLRB’s standards don’t allow employers to make unilateral changes in the wages or benefits of unionized employees.

 The Hollywood actors' union on Monday responded to the latest offer from major studios and streaming services, saying the two sides had yet to reach an agreement on several items including the use of artificial intelligence.

The SAG-AFTRA union said its negotiating committee was determined to secure the best deal and bring a responsible end to a strike that has lasted four months.

"We're at a critical point in our industry," the union said in a note to members posted on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter. "We need a fair contract to make sure this career is viable now AND in the future."

SAG-AFTRA members walked off the job in July to demand higher compensation in the streaming TV era plus protections around the use of artificial intelligence (AI) and other gains.

The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), which represents Walt Disney (DIS.N), Netflix (NFLX.O) and other companies, presented what the studios described as their "last, best and final" offer on Saturday.

Netflix Co-CEO Ted Sarandos, in an interview with Reuters on Monday, said negotiations to find a resolution were ongoing.

"We’re at the table all day, every day and we’re trying to get the strike resolved and get the town back to work," Sarandos said at an event at the Egyptian Theatre, a Hollywood landmark that Netflix recently restored.

"We're in the business of telling stories and that’s what we want to do every day," Sarandos added. "We are going to try our best to get things up and running and get the output back up for our fans too."

Last week, union leaders expressed "cautious optimism" that a deal could be reached soon but also said there were gaps between the two sides on various issues. On AI, actors are seeking assurances that their digital likenesses will not be used without their permission.

Japan's largest industrial union UA Zensen will seek a 6% total wage increase, of which 4% will be base pay hikes, at next spring's negotiations, a union official said on Monday.

Annual wage negotiations effectively kicked off on Monday and will be concluded on Jan. 23, before Japanese blue-chip companies offer next year's wage hike plan in March.

This year, Japanese firms offered workers the highest wage hikes in 30 years. Average Japanese workers' wages had remained virtually flat since the asset-bubble burst in the early 1990s until this year.

"We strengthened the resolve for wage hikes, emphasizing the determination to 'tackle' the 'basis of' the wage hikes, instead of just aiming for around 6%," the UA Zensen official said.

About 2,291 unions are grouped under the umbrella of UA Zensen, representing 1.8 million workers in the service, textiles, distribution, and other sectors, making it Japan's largest sector-to-sector union.

UA Zensen will formally come up with its executive plan for wage hikes on Dec. 6 and decide on demands for the 2024 wage negotiations on Jan. 23, before spring negotiations with major companies to be concluded in mid-March.

It would be the second straight year that UA Zensen's pay demand would exceed that of Rengo, Japan's largest trade union confederation, which last month called for pay hikes of 5% or more next year.

 WeWork (WE.N), the SoftBank Group (9984.T)-backed startup whose meteoric rise and fall reshaped the office sector globally, sought U.S. bankruptcy protection on Monday after its bets on companies using more of its office-sharing space soured.

The move represents an admission by SoftBank, the Japanese technology group that owns about 60% of WeWork and has invested billions of dollars in its turnaround, that the company cannot survive unless it renegotiates its pricey leases in bankruptcy.

A WeWork spokesperson said about 92% of the company's lenders had agreed to convert their secured debt into equity under a restructuring support agreement, wiping out about $3 billion of debt.

The company, which also intends to file recognition proceedings in Canada, said it expected to have the financial liquidity to continue business normally and that its locations outside of the U.S. and Canada, as well as its franchisees around the world, were not affected by these proceedings.

WeWork had office space available at 777 locations worldwide as of the end of June.

SoftBank said it believed WeWork's restructuring support agreement was the appropriate action for the company to reorganize its business and emerge from Chapter 11 proceedings.

"SoftBank will continue to act in the best long-term interests of our investors," the Japanese company said in a statement

WeWork shares have fallen about 98.5% so far this year.

Profitability has remained elusive, as WeWork grapples with expensive leases and corporate clients cancelling because of a trend toward employees working from home. Paying for space consumed 74% of WeWork's revenue in the second quarter of 2023, the last time it reported financial results.

In a filing with the New Jersey bankruptcy court, WeWork listed assets of $15.06 billion and liabilities of $18.66 billion as of June 30.

"WeWork could use provisions of the U.S. bankruptcy code to rid itself of onerous leases," law firm Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft LLP said in a note to landlords on its website in August. Some landlords are bracing for a significant impact.

"As part of today's filing, WeWork is requesting the ability to reject the leases of certain locations, which are largely nonoperational, and all affected members have received advanced notice," the company said in a statement.

Under its founder Adam Neumann, WeWork grew to be the most valuable U.S. startup worth $47 billion. It attracted investments from blue-chip investors, including SoftBank and venture capital firm Benchmark, as well as the backing of major Wall Street Banks, including JPMorgan Chase (JPM.N).

Neumann's pursuit of breakneck growth at the expense of profits, and revelations about his eccentric behavior, led to his ouster and the derailment of an initial public offering in 2019.

SoftBank was forced to double down on its investment in WeWork, and tapped real estate veteran Sandeep Mathrani as its CEO. In 2021, SoftBank cut a deal to take WeWork public through a merger with a blank-check acquisition company at an $8 billion valuation.

WeWork managed to amend 590 leases, saving about $12.7 billion in fixed lease payments. But this was not enough to compensate for the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, which kept office workers at home.

Many of its landlords, who were also feeling the squeeze, had little incentive to give WeWork a break on the terms of their leases.

While WeWork had some success in signing up large conglomerates as clients, many of its customers were startups and smaller businesses, which cut their spending as inflation soared and economic prospects soured.

Adding to WeWork's woes was competition from its own landlords. Commercial property companies that traditionally only entered into long-term rent agreements started offering short and flexible leases to cope with the downturn in the office sector.

Mathrani was succeeded as WeWork CEO this year by former investment banker and private equity executive David Tolley, who as chief executive of Intelsat helped the debt-stricken satellite communications provider emerge from bankruptcy in 2022.

WeWork engaged in debt restructurings, yet this was not enough to stave off its bankruptcy. The company last week secured a seven-day extension from its creditors on an interest payment to win more time to negotiate with them.

Shortly before WeWork filed for bankruptcy, Neumann said in a statement, "I believe that, with the right strategy and team, a reorganization will enable WeWork to emerge successfully."

 Facebook owner Meta (META.O) is barring political campaigns and advertisers in other regulated industries from using its new generative AI advertising products, a company spokesperson said on Monday, denying access to tools that lawmakers have warned could turbo-charge the spread of election misinformation.

Meta publicly disclosed the decision in updates posted to its help center on Monday night, following the publication of this story. Its advertising standards prohibit ads with content that has been debunked by the company's fact-checking partners but do not have any rules specifically on AI.

"As we continue to test new Generative AI ads creation tools in Ads Manager, advertisers running campaigns that qualify as ads for Housing, Employment or Credit or Social Issues, Elections, or Politics, or related to Health, Pharmaceuticals, or Financial Services aren't currently permitted to use these Generative AI features," the company said in a note appended to several pages explaining how the tools work.

"We believe this approach will allow us to better understand potential risks and build the right safeguards for the use of Generative AI in ads that relate to potentially sensitive topics in regulated industries," it said.

The policy update comes a month after Meta - the world's second-biggest platform for digital ads - announced it was starting to expand advertisers' access to AI-powered advertising tools that can instantly create backgrounds, image adjustments, and variations of ad copy in response to simple text prompts.

The tools were initially made available only to a small group of advertisers starting in the spring. They are on track to roll out to all advertisers globally by next year, the company said at the time.

Meta and other tech companies have raced to launch generative AI ad products and virtual assistants in recent months in response to the frenzy over the debut last year of OpenAI's ChatGPT chatbot, which can provide human-like written responses to questions and other prompts.

The companies have released little information so far about the safety guard rails they plan to impose on those systems, making Meta's decision on political ads one of the industry's most significant AI policy choices to come to light to date.

Alphabet's (GOOGL.O) Google, the biggest digital advertising company, announced the launch of similar image-customizing generative AI ads tools last week. It plans to keep politics out of its products by blocking a list of "political keywords" from being used as prompts, a Google spokesperson told Reuters.

Google has also planned a mid-November policy update to require that election-related ads must include a disclosure if they contain "synthetic content that inauthentically depicts real or realistic-looking people or events."

TikTok and Snapchat owner Snap (SNAP.N) both bar political ads, while X, previously known as Twitter, has not rolled out any generative AI advertising tools.

Meta's top policy executive, Nick Clegg, said last month that the use of generative AI in political advertising was "clearly an area where we need to update our rules."

He warned ahead of a recent AI safety summit in the UK that governments and tech companies alike should prepare for the technology to be used to interfere in upcoming elections in 2024, calling for a special focus on election-related content "that moves from one platform to the other."

Earlier, Clegg told Reuters that Meta was blocking its user-facing Meta AI virtual assistant from creating photo-realistic images of public figures. Meta committed this summer to developing a system to "watermark" content generated by AI.

Meta narrowly bans misleading AI-generated video in all content, including organic non-paid posts, with an exception for parody or satire.

The company's independent Oversight Board said last month it would examine the wisdom of that approach, taking up a case involving a doctored video of U.S. President Joe Biden that Meta said it had left up because it was not AI-generated.

China's imports unexpectedly grew in October while exports contracted at a quicker pace, in a mixed set of indicators that showed the recovery in the world's second-largest economy remains uneven amid multiple challenges at home and abroad.

Recent indicators suggest Beijing's support measures since June are helping bolster a tentative recovery, although a protracted property crisis and soft global demand continue to dog policymakers heading into 2024.

Exports shrank 6.4% from a year earlier in October, customs data showed on Tuesday, faster than a 6.2% decline in September and worse than a 3.3% fall expected in a Reuters poll. Imports rose 3.0%, dashing forecasts for a 4.8% contraction and swinging from a 6.2% fall in September. Imports snapped 11 straight months of decline.

"The figures are in contrast to market expectations. The bad export data may hit market confidence as we had expected the supply chain of exports to recover," said Zhou Hao, an economist at Guotai Junan International.

"The significant improvement in imports may come from rising domestic demand, in particular a demand to replenish stocks."

The Baltic Dry Index, a bellwether gauge of global trade, hit its lowest since December 2020 in October, due to congestion in North American and European ports.

However, in a sign trade is finding some footing, South Korean exports to China fell at their slowest pace in 13 months in October.

China posted a trade surplus of $56.53 billion in October, compared with a $82.00 billion surplus expected in the poll and $77.71 billion in September.

Analysts say it is too early to tell whether recent policy support will be enough to shore up domestic demand, with property, unemployment, and weak household and business confidence threatening a sustainable rebound.

China's manufacturing activity unexpectedly contracted in October, data showed last week, complicating policymakers' efforts to revive growth.

 OpenAI unveiled a marketplace on Monday that enables users to access personalized artificial intelligence “apps” for tasks like teaching math or designing stickers, signaling an ambition to expand its consumer business.

OpenAI CEO Sam Altman shared the updates at the AI lab's first developer conference, which attracted 900 developers from around the world and marked the company's latest attempt to capitalize on the popularity of ChatGPT by offering incentives to build in its ecosystem.

ChatGPT, launched in November 2022, now has 100 million weekly active users, Altman said.

OpenAI is calling the customized AI apps "GPTs", which the company said are early versions of AI assistants that perform real-world tasks, such as booking flights, on behalf of a user.

It will launch a GPT Store later this month where people can share their GPTs and earn money based on the number of users. It's a renewed effort from the company's failed attempts to build an ecosystem of ChatGPT plugins earlier this year.

"Eventually, you'll just ask the computer for what you need, and it'll do all of these tasks for you," Altman said in his keynote speech at the event in San Francisco.

"We really believe that gradual iterative deployment is the best way to address the safety challenges of AI. We think it's especially important to move carefully towards this future."

In addition to GPTs, OpenAI also released a slew of developer-focused updates, including significant cost slashing, an announcement met with loud cheers from the audience.


Even before attendees were allowed to check in early Monday morning, hundreds had lined up around the block in the Mid-Market neighborhood of San Francisco. Most were developers already using OpenAI technology who wanted updates.

The YouTube livestream of Altman's speech attracted more than 40,000 viewers, and some even set up watch parties.

For its 2 million developers, OpenAI announced a new GPT-4 Turbo model, which compared to its predecessor GPT-4 is several orders of magnitude cheaper and processes much more data.

It unveiled assistant application programming interfaces (APIs) with vision and image modalities, confirming a Reuters report. It also launched a beta program for developers to fine-tune GPT-4 models.

"It's a huge boom for startups like us. All of a sudden, our costs went down by a factor of three X, which is huge," said Flo Crivello, the founder of AI assistant startup Lindy and one of the attendees at the conference.

Crivello also acknowledged Lindy could be competing with OpenAI's upcoming GPT bots, calling his startup's relationship with OpenAI "complicated."

Speaking to the media on Monday, Altman warned startups using OpenAI's technology against building applications that only have simple integrations with OpenAI.

"We are planning to build the obvious features," he said. "But there's enormous value to building a deeper integration on top of OpenAI."

Altman said he envisions a future where each person has multiple GPTs that can work together to accomplish tasks on their behalf.

OpenAI wants more enterprises and developers to build models to rival those developed by Anthropic and Alphabet's (GOOGL.O) Google and open source models such as Meta Platforms' (META.O) Llama. It also competes for enterprise customers with Microsoft.

Satya Nadella, the CEO of OpenAI backer Microsoft (MSFT.O), made a brief, surprise appearance at the conference, reiterating his support for the expensive race in building foundation models. Microsoft has invested more than $10 billion in OpenAI.

"We commit ourselves deeply to making sure you all, as builders of these foundation models, have not only the best systems for training and inference but the most compute so that you can keep pushing forward on the frontier," he said.

To address the concerns of big enterprises, OpenAI launched its Custom Models program, offering to create custom GPT-4 models at an "expensive" price.

It matched offers from Google and Microsoft to cover any legal costs incurred by claims around copyright infringement for enterprise users.

 AT&T management employees are entitled to caregiver leave, which gives them up to 15 days off a year to care for ailing children or other relatives without eating into their vacation or personal sick days. Paid caregiver time off is a rarity in the U.S., which has no federal law requiring employers to offer paid sick or family leave. AT&T’s Vice President of Global Benefits Juli Galloway said the Dallas company decided to offer caregiver leave in 2021 to help its management employees balance their personal and professional lives in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. It doesn’t apply to non-management employees because their contracts are negotiated separately with their union.

Q: How did the idea of offering caregiver leave come about?

A: We were hearing from our employees, how they were having difficulty managing family life. And when I think about that, I think about this sandwich generation, right? We had parents who were at home. They have young children. They have parents. They are trying to manage both the generation up and the generation down. Our specific employee population is a little bit older than at some of the tech companies. We realized that by focusing only on paid parental leave, we were missing a whole piece of the population. We looked and we said, all right, how can we help our employees? And the idea of caregiver leave was born.

Q: How does the benefit work?

A: It’s up to 15 days in a calendar year when our employees can take time to care for their family members. Personal example, my mom, 83 at the time, stepped off the curb and broke her ankle. I was able to use caregiver leave to take time off from work to go to the orthopedic surgeon with her and to go to the doctor to help her, and I was able to do that knowing that I was not giving up my vacation time to care for my mother. That was a key important point for us. We wanted our employees to use their vacation time for vacation.

Q: What has been the reaction and the take-up from your employees?

A: I’ll be honest: When we were launching this, I was a little bit concerned that it might be abused. It’s caregiver leave but all of a sudden I have 15 more days in a year that I can take. And I’m really happy to say that’s not what we’ve seen at all. My fears did not come to fruition. We’ve had it two-and-half years so far. I’ll quote the data through 2022 to be clear: We’ve had about 15% of our management employees who have logged some caregiver time off. For those people who have logged caregiver time off, the average number of days taken has been 4.1.

Q: How do you make sure your employees feel empowered to take it?

A: It takes a lot of education and communication. We in benefits have different benefits fairs. We have a benefits newsletter that we send out eight times a year. We participate in various company halls, etc. We have a concerted effort to try and reinforce that this is a benefit that’s offered just like all the other benefits we have.

Q: How much did the pandemic influence the decision around caregiver leave?

A: It played a key part. Early on in the pandemic, especially, this idea of burnout and isolation … we started to see these things go up. We get regular reporting from the carrier we use to support our employees’ mental health in terms of the top five presenting factors, and burnout was showing up in the top presenting factors. And so we tried to dig in deeper and realized we just needed to have something to better help our employees manage their lives. There were a lot of considerations and factors that went in, but the caregiver leave was one thing that came out of that

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