Welcome to California Inc., the weekly newsletter of the L.A. Times Business Section.
I'm Business columnist David Lazarus, and here's a rundown of upcoming stories this week and the highlights of last week.
Where are job openings these days? Try down on the farm, where pay is rising well past minimum wage. However, it doesn’t seem as though American-born workers are rushing to take the gigs. A federal survey finds that nine in 10 agriculture workers in California are still foreign-born, and more than half are in the country illegally.
Judging the judge: President Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court, Neil Gorsuch, will appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday for the start of his confirmation process. On business matters, Gorsuch’s record has offered only a few clues to his leanings. In a 2013 opinion involving the retailer Hobby Lobby, he argued that companies can have religious rights. A 2016 ruling made it easier for companies that are targets of class-action suits to move the case from state to federal court, a venue many businesses prefer.
Luggage fees: Monday is the last day for the public to submit comments on a proposed new rule that would require airlines and travel agents to disclose baggage-fee information at all points of sale. The Department of Transportation rule would expand a previous regulation that mandated airlines include easy-to-find fee information on their websites. The latest proposal goes a step further by requiring that the fees appear alongside fares when fliers search airline websites, as well as online travel sites.
Labor nominee: Trump’s second choice for secretary of Labor has a second appointment for a Senate confirmation hearing on Wednesday. R. Alexander Acosta’s hearing was originally scheduled for last week but was postponed. Acosta, a former Justice Department official, was nominated for the Labor post on Feb. 16 after the withdrawal of the president’s first pick, outspoken SoCal fast-food executive Andy Puzder. If Acosta wins approval by the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, and then the full Senate, he would be the only Latino in Trump's Cabinet.
Meet the mayor: As part of the “City on the Verge” series of public discussions at Occidental College, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti will talk with Los Angeles Times architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne on Wednesday about the future of the L.A. River, expansion of the region’s transit network, and local growth and development issues. The free public event begins at 7:30 p.m. at Thorne Hall on the Occidental campus. Garcetti was re-elected this month to a second term as mayor.
Homeless aid: The group that will decide how to spend money from Measure H, the recent Los Angeles ballot proposition aimed at helping the homeless, will hold its first meeting Thursday. County officials have outlined basic strategies for using the quarter-cent sales tax increase, but details will be sorted out by a panel of 50 people appointed from county government, cities and the nonprofit world. The panel’s meeting is scheduled from 9 a.m. to noon in the United Way headquarters, 1150 S. Olive St.
Monday’s Business section takes a look at the shortening life of retail brands. The fashion industry has long been fickle, with some trends rising and dying in the space of weeks. But shifting consumer habits are forcing brands to adapt even faster today. Faced with seismic change — including the onslaught of e-commerce and the decline of traffic at many malls — retailers are filing bankruptcy at an increasing pace.
Here are some of the other stories that ran in The Times Business section in recent days that we’re continuing to follow:
Public broadcasting: Proposed cuts to federal funding of public broadcasting conjure up images of Big Bird getting pink slipped from “Sesame Street.” But the impact of the cuts would be a lot closer to home. President Trump’s budget blueprint would eliminate support for the Public Broadcasting Service and National Public Radio. KPCC 89.3 FM in Pasadena gets $1.3 million a year in federal funding, which represents 5% of its operating budget. KCRW 89.9 FM in Santa Monica receives about $1.2 million, which is 5.4% of its budget.
Rent control: Amid California’s housing crisis, several state lawmakers want to give cities the ability to dramatically expand rent control, including imposing the kind of strict limits that once existed in Santa Monica and West Hollywood but have been barred since the 1990s. A bill that would do so marks the most significant move yet in a growing movement to cap skyrocketing rents as California’s economy booms and housing production lags. “The momentum is very much on the side of rent control,” says one advocate.
Yahoo breach: Russian spies and a hacker orchestrated one of the largest thefts of consumer data in history, pilfering detailed user information from more than 500 million Yahoo accounts, including those of diplomats, journalists, Russian officials and politicians critical of the Kremlin. In other Yahoo news, a regulatory filing shows that CEO Marissa Mayer is up for a $23-million severance package after the company’s digital services are sold to Verizon Communications. It’s good to be the ex-boss.
Changing Obamacare: Twenty-four million fewer Americans would have health coverage over the next decade under the House Republican plan to replace the Affordable Care Act, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated. A separate analysis found that health insurance premiums would leap substantially for many Californians, especially lower-income people living in high-cost cities, under the GOP plan. The change would especially hurt those living in San Francisco and other cities in Northern California, where healthcare is more expensive.
Showing her age: A report on the Queen Mary, the iconic landmark that has been docked in Long Beach since 1967, identifies more than 20 repair projects needed to prevent a hull collapse and flooding that threaten the stability of the ship. The most immediate fixes would cost $5.7 million, with a total budget of $289 million for all repairs over the next five years. Long Beach must decide whether the overhaul would be a good investment for a floating tourist attraction that has struggled over the years to remain profitable.
WHAT WE’RE READING
And some recent stories from other publications that caught our eye:
Misplaced priority? Trump ran on a platform of jobs, jobs, jobs. But his proposed budget cuts are decidedly unfriendly to many American workers, says the Atlantic. “For a president fixated on employment, his proposal for federal spending leaves out a surprising number of young, elderly, and disabled workers.”
Triage for Trumpcare: The New Yorker examines the central role of presidential adviser Steve Bannon in rescuing Trumpcare. “Bannon knows that the Ryan bill’s failure would be catastrophic for the rest of Trump’s agenda, because it would break a core campaign promise and sap Trump’s already limited political capital.”
Prudential shifts: Americans aren’t afraid of an early death as much as they used to be, and that has hurt the life insurance business, says the Wall Street Journal. So Prudential Financial, America’s largest life insurance company, has transformed itself into an investing giant focused heavily on retirement-related products and services.
Union fight: When employees at the lifestyle website Thrillist decided they wanted to join a union, management didn’t like it, and set out to stop it from happening, reports Deadspin. Thrillist founder and CEO Ben Lerer gathered employees for a meeting and told them a union would interfere with the “entrepreneurial” nature of the company. Employees pushed back, complaining about management’s attitude on social media.
Cost of death: Two consumer groups are pushing the funeral industry to be more transparent about pricing, reports the Orange County Register. The Consumer Federation of America and the Funeral Consumers Alliance said “it is past time for funeral homes to join the 21st century and post their prices on their websites as nearly every other retail service sector does voluntarily.”
Here’s a question we don’t get to ask every day: Best movie about a funeral? That story above about funeral pricing demands an answer. One obvious pick is this one starring Hugh Grant. Or this one starring Hugh Grant. There’s this one with Chris Rock. But my pick for best film funeral (and related use of Rolling Stones music) goes to this one.
For the latest money news, go to www.latimes.com/business. Mad props to Scott J. Wilson for helping put this thing together.
Until next time, I'll see you in the Business section.