The Week in Business: The Future of Chicken, and More Stimulus Chatter

It’s officially the holiday season, and you’d better get your online shopping done early — the overworked United States Postal Service slapped temporary shipping limits on retailers like Gap and Nike, a sign that delivery systems are bursting at their seams. Here’s what else you need to know about business and tech for the week ahead.

For months, lawmakers have lectured one another on the need for more pandemic stimulus but have done nothing about it. Now it seems that negotiations are gearing up again — but if we’ve learned anything from the past few months, it’s this: Be skeptical. Congressional Democrats put forth a $908 billion proposal from a bipartisan group of lawmakers as the basis for talks with Republicans and the White House. (That’s lot of money, sure, but still less than half of what Democrats initially proposed — a major concession.) The proposal puts new pressure on Senate Republicans to broker a deal by the end of the year. President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr., who’s made stimulus a cornerstone of his economic recovery plan, called the measure “urgent” on Friday.

Google fired four employees last year after they got involved with labor organizing at the company. Now a federal agency says that two of the firings violated federal labor laws against union-busting. Google will likely settle the case out of court, but if not, it will go before a judge, who could compel the company to rehire the two workers and give them back pay for the months since they were dismissed. In related news, a Google researcher came forward this week and said she was fired for criticizing the company’s approach to minority hiring and for calling attention to biases in its artificial intelligence systems.

The government’s Paycheck Protection Program was meant to funnel aid to millions of small businesses so that they could pay their bills during the coronavirus pandemic. But new data shows what many applicants already suspected: Most of the funding went to a tiny fraction of those who needed it. A report from the Small Business Administration revealed that 1 percent of the program’s 5.2 million borrowers received more than a quarter of the $523 billion that was distributed. As for the other 99 percent? Many businesses received much less than what they applied for, and have struggled all the more since the program ended in August.

Staring down a long, potentially locked-down winter, it seems like the coronavirus vaccine can’t get here fast enough. And with several promising candidates on deck, it’s just a matter of weeks before the first batch becomes available. The next challenge: convincing Americans to trust the vaccine. Facebook said this week it would start removing posts that contain claims about the vaccines that have been debunked by public health experts, such as rumors that they contain microchips. It’s an aggressive step for the platform, which has previously dealt with falsehoods by making them harder to share — not taking them down altogether. In other Facebook news, the company has been accused by the Justice Department of discriminating against American workers and favoring immigrant visa-holders instead.

If you weren’t familiar with the messaging tool Slack before the pandemic, chances are your work-from-home days are now filled with it. And the tech conglomerate Salesforce now wants to capitalize on its ubiquity: The company announced this week that it would buy Slack for $27.7 billion in cash and stock. If the deal goes through, it will end Slack’s short run as an independent publicly traded company (it went public in mid-2019), and mark Salesforce’s largest acquisition since it was founded 21 years ago.

A San Francisco company that makes “cultured meat” (i.e. grown from animal cells in a lab, not on farms) has received approval to sell its chicken product in Singapore. It’s a big step for the lab-grown meat industry, which is small but has big ambitions to create more sustainable food sources with a lower carbon footprint. Livestock accounts for almost 15 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, about the same percentage as the transportation industry (including planes, ships and cars). If the chicken catches on — and that’s a big if — other countries may follow Singapore’s example.

Warner Bros. will make its entire 2021 film slate (17 movies) available to stream on HBO Max on the same day that they come out in theaters — a major shift in how Hollywood normally does business, and a sign of how the pandemic has forced the entertainment industry to adapt.

Jobs data from November showed that the unemployment rate declined to 6.7 percent, from the previous month’s rate of 6.9 percent. But that number doesn’t tell the whole story, as it doesn’t include people who have dropped out of the labor force (say, to provide child care) and are not actively searching for work. Unemployment claims did drop last week for the first time in a month, but that could be because the Thanksgiving holiday delayed the filing of claims.

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