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Boeing Starliner's 2nd launch attempt delayed due to 'unexpected' spacecraft incident

NASA via Getty Images

(New York) — Boeing's chance at redemption for its Starliner spacecraft will have to wait for now. The launch attempt scheduled for Tuesday was scrubbed at the last minute due to an unexpected incident with the spacecraft, NASA said.

The attempt was scrubbed "due to unexpected valve position indications in the Starliner propulsion system," NASA noted. Further details were not immediately available, but the space agency said the next launch opportunity is 12:57 p.m. ET on Wednesday.

The second test flight for Boeing's CST-100 Starliner spacecraft was scheduled to launch from the Florida coast on Tuesday afternoon before it was called off. This comes on the heels of last week's launch attempt also being scrubbed due to an unplanned thruster-firing incident on the International Space Station.

The first Starliner launch in December 2019 famously did not go as planned and the spacecraft never reached the ISS.

NASA was set to carry live coverage of the uncrewed mission starting at 12:30 p.m. ET Tuesday. It's part of NASA's Commercial Crew program, in which the space agency tapped the private sector to help with missions in low-Earth orbit. It's not immediately clear when the next launch opportunity will be.

On Monday, the Starliner spacecraft and a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket were rolled out on to the launch pad at Florida's Cape Canaveral Space Force Station ahead of Tuesday's liftoff. Meteorologists with the U.S. Space Force 45th Weather Squadron predicted a 60% chance of favorable weather for launch day.

After launching, the Starliner was supposed to commence a daylong trip to the space station.

The spaceship was set to bring some 400 pounds of cargo and supplies to the space station crew.

While the test flight is uncrewed, an anthropometric dummy dubbed "Rosie the Rocketeer" will be aboard the Starliner when it launches.The 180-pound test device will sit in the commander's seat of the capsule for the test flight, and its sensors will be used to collect data on how the launch will impact eventual human passengers. The model human was named after the World War II icon Rosie the Riveter, and is meant to honor women pioneers in aerospace. The test device is clad in the iconic red polka-dot bandana.

Boeing also said it will be paying tribute to more than a dozen historically Black colleges and universities during the upcoming flight test. Among the cargo inside the spacecraft are flags, small pennants and other items "representing HBCUs from throughout the U.S.," according to a statement from the company.

NASA and Boeing blamed errors in automation and software issues for the botched launch in December 2019, saying mission clocks were not in sync and thus timing errors prevented the Starliner from reaching the orbit it needed in order to get to the space station. Rather than reach the space station, the Starliner landed in White Sands, New Mexico.

The second test flight mission is seen as critical for Boeing, as it has yet to launch astronauts for NASA while its Commercial Crew program competitor SpaceX has flown multiple crewed missions to the space station in addition to numerous cargo flights. Boeing is also still reeling from the fallout related to issues with its 737 Max jets. If the Starliner launch fails again, it is difficult to see how it will be able to remain competitive against SpaceX for NASA contracts -- especially as the private sector's involvement in the budding commercial space industry has grown significantly over the past year.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Spirit Airlines, American Airlines cancel more than 800 flights

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(NEW YORK) -- Thousands of Spirit Airlines and American Airlines passengers faced cancellations and delays on Monday in the latest summer travel snag.

The airlines canceled more than 800 flights combined on Monday, and delayed more than 1,000.

A Spirit spokesperson told ABC News the cancellations are the result of a "perfect storm," blaming weather, staffing shortages and crews reaching the hour limits in which they are legally able to fly.

In order to get their operations back on track, they proactively canceled 313 flights, which is around 40% of their daily operation. The cancellations gave Spirit "breathing room" to ensure crews and planes can get to the right locations, the spokesperson said.

Frustrated passengers took to social media tweeting that they were stranded, forced to wait in long lines, or rerouted.

“We're working around the clock to get back on track in the wake of some travel disruptions over the weekend due to a series of weather and operational challenges," Spirit said in a statement. "We needed to make proactive cancellations to some flights across the network, but the majority of flights are still scheduled as planned."

American canceled 529 flights on Monday, almost 20% of its daily operation.

The carrier told ABC News it's still recovering from inclement weather Sunday in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. A spokesperson said severe thunderstorms moved in and at least 80 flights had to divert to other airports, adding that it is currently repositioning planes and crews to improve the operation. . The cancellations come as air travel continues to break pandemic records.

Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officers screened more than 2.2 million people at U.S. airports nationwide Sunday -- the highest checkpoint volume since the start of the pandemic.

All U.S. airlines and the TSA have struggled with staffing as air travel has rapidly jumped from historic lows to approaching pre-pandemic levels.

When air travel came to a halt in March 2020, thousands of employees were offered early retirements and buyouts, but now the airlines are desperate to fill these positions again.

Hundreds of American Airlines flights were cancelled in late June because of significant staffing and maintenance issues.

During its most recent earnings call, Southwest Airlines executives revealed they have had to double their hiring efforts because they are getting fewer applications than they are used to.

“If it’s not the number one focus, it is 1A, which is getting our hiring in place and our staffing in place,” Southwest’s Executive Vice President Robert Jordan said.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Black women lose nearly $1M over a lifetime due to gender wage gap, data shows

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(NEW YORK) -- Black women are typically paid only 63 cents for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men, which means they have to work seven months into 2021, Aug. 3, to earn what white, non-Hispanic men made in 2020 alone.

The gender wage gap has closed by only three cents for Black women over the last 30 years, according to the National Women's Law Center, a policy-focused organization that fights for gender justice.

As a result of the wage gap, Black women, on average, lose $2,009 each month, $24,110 annually, and $964,400 over the course of a 40-year career, according to a new analysis by the NWLC.

Equal Pay Day for all women was marked on March 24, 2021, meaning that Black women have to work an extra five months to catch up.

This year's Black Women's Equal Pay Day comes as Black women are continuing to face the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic, during which Black women have been hit disproportionately hard.

Over 1 in 12 Black women ages 20 and over were unemployed in June, an increase of 8% since May. And Black women's unemployment rate remains nearly two times higher than their pre-pandemic unemployment rate, according to the NWLC.

In July, the median weekly earnings for a Black woman were $746, compared to $1,115 for a white man, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

With Black women more likely to be the breadwinner for their family, the pay gap matters even more in a time of economic uncertainty like the pandemic, according to Nicole Mason, president and CEO of the Institute for Women's Policy Research.

"When we have a pandemic and then the economic downturn, there's less money to ride out an economic storm, less money that they're bringing home, especially if their hours have been cut," Mason told Good Morning America last year. "Some people think that the pay gap doesn't exist or you don't really feel it, but women feel it every day in their wallets, every day when they go to work and bring home less, or during an economic downturn or job loss. They don't have the money they need to be able to provide for their families."

Mason's organization has released research that estimates Black women will not bring home the same earnings as white men for the same jobs until 2130 if the current rate of change persists.

When it comes to solutions for closing the pay gap for Black women, Mason said the federal government can play a role in passing legislation that promotes pay equity and pay transparency and works to end workplace discrimination.

She said employers can play a role, too.

"Employers have a role to play in terms of making sure there is pay equity and making sure that women across the board earn what they're worth and the skills and talents they bring to the table," Mason added. "And as a culture and a society, we have a lot of work to do in terms of breaking gender stereotypes around women in the workplace, their value and how much women should be paid for their work."

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Boeing's Starliner spacecraft is back: How to watch Tuesday's launch

GREGG NEWTON/AFP via Getty Images

(CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla.) -- After a very public flop in 2019, Boeing's chance at redemption for its Starliner spacecraft is finally here.

The second test flight for Boeing's CST-100 Starliner spacecraft is scheduled to launch from the Florida coast on Tuesday at 1:20 p.m. ET, after a launch attempt last week was scrubbed due to an unplanned thruster-firing incident on the International Space Station. The first Starliner launch in December 2019 famously did not go as planned, and the spacecraft never reached the ISS.

NASA will carry live coverage of the uncrewed mission as it is a part of NASA's Commercial Crew program, in which the space agency tapped the private sector to help with missions in low-Earth orbit. Live coverage of the Starliner launch will commence on NASA's website and social media handles at 12:30 p.m. ET.

On Monday, the Starliner spacecraft and a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket were rolled out onto the launch pad at Florida's Cape Canaveral Space Force Station ahead of Tuesday's liftoff. Meteorologists with the U.S. Space Force 45th Weather Squadron are predicting a 60% chance of favorable weather for launch day.

Approximately 30 minutes after launch, the Starliner is set to perform its orbital insertion burn that kicks off its daylong trip to the space station. It is then scheduled to dock at the ISS at 1:37 p.m. ET on Wednesday.

The spaceship is bringing some 400 pounds of cargo and supplies to the space station crew.

While the test flight is unmanned, an anthropometric dummy dubbed "Rosie the Rocketeer" will be aboard the Starliner. The 180-pound test device will sit in the commander's seat of the capsule for the test flight, and its sensors will be used to collect data on how the launch will impact eventual human passengers. The model human was named after the World War II icon Rosie the Riveter, and is meant to honor women pioneers in aerospace. The test device is clad in the iconic red polka-dot bandana.

Boeing also said it will be paying tribute to more than a dozen historically Black colleges and universities during the flight test. Among the cargo inside the spacecraft are flags, small pennants and other items "representing HBCUs from throughout the U.S.," according to a statement from the company.

NASA and Boeing blamed errors in automation and software issues for the botched launch in December 2019, saying mission clocks were not in sync and thus timing errors prevented the Starliner from reaching the orbit it needed in order to get to the space station. Rather than reach the space station, the Starliner landed in White Sands, New Mexico.

Tuesday's mission is seen as critical for Boeing, as it has yet to launch astronauts for NASA while its Commercial Crew program competitor SpaceX has flown multiple crewed missions to the space station in addition to numerous cargo flights. Boeing is also still reeling from the fallout related to issues with its 737 Max jets. If the Starliner launch fails again, it is difficult to see how it will be able to remain competitive against SpaceX for NASA contracts -- especially as the private sector's involvement in the budding commercial space industry has grown significantly over the past year.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Google, Disney join growing list of employers mandating COVID-19 vaccines

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(NEW YORK) -- As coronavirus cases in the U.S. begin a concerning climb upward and virus variants threaten a return to normalcy, a handful of businesses have announced COVID-19 vaccination mandates as they prepare to welcome workers back to the office.

The Equal Opportunity Employment Commission said employers can legally require COVID-19 vaccinations to re-enter a physical workplace, as long as they follow requirements to find alternative arrangements for employees unable to get vaccinated for medical reasons or because they have religious objections.

Still, the requirements have proven a hot button issue as business leaders mull over office reopening plans, in some cases sparking legal challenges and immense pushback from workers who refuse the shot. President Joe Biden said Tuesday that a mandate to require all federal employees to be vaccinated is now "under consideration."

Here is a roundup of some of the major U.S. employers that have announced COVID-19 vaccine mandates.

Tyson Foods

Tyson Foods announced Tuesday that it would be requiring team members at U.S. office locations to be fully vaccinated by Oct. 1, and all other team members to be fully vaccinated by Nov. 1.

The company said in a statement that this action makes it the largest U.S. food company to require COVID-19 vaccinations for its entire workforce. The company, which dealt with workplace outbreaks amid the pandemic, also said it would provide $200 to its frontline team members for getting vaccinated.

"With rapidly rising COVID-19 case counts of contagious, dangerous variants leading to increasing rates of severe illness and hospitalization among the U.S. unvaccinated population, this is the right time to take the next step to ensure a fully vaccinated workforce," Dr. Claudia Coplein, the chief medical officer at Tyson Foods, said in a statement. The company said exceptions to the mandate will be made for workers who seek medical or religious accommodation.

Uber

Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said the company will require that employees be fully vaccinated to come to the office, according to an internal memo sent to staff that was obtained by ABC News.

“We know that vaccines are more widely available in some countries than others. Given the level of vaccine availability in the US, we will start by mandating vaccination for employees based there, and we’ll follow up with guidance for employees outside the US,” the email stated. “If vaccines are readily available in your country, we strongly encourage you to get one as soon as you can.”

The company also pushed back its “return to office date” to Oct. 25 and announced that all employees globally will be required to wear masks in the office.

Google
Tech giant Google announced a vaccine requirement Wednesday for those returning to its offices. The company has some 135,301 employees, according to SEC filings.

In a memo sent to employees, Google's CEO Sundar Pichai also announced that the company's "voluntary" work-from-home policy had been extended through Oct. 18 after it was initially set to expire on Sept. 1. In addition, Pichai wrote that "anyone coming to work on our campuses will need to be vaccinated."

"We're rolling this policy out in the U.S. in the coming weeks and will expand to other regions in the coming months," the chief executive said. "The implementation will vary according to local conditions and regulations, and will not apply until vaccines are widely available in your area."

He said local leads will share further guidance with employees, including "details on an exceptions process for those who cannot be vaccinated for medical or other protected reasons."

Pichai added that he hopes these steps "will give everyone greater peace of mind as offices reopen."

Facebook
Hours after Google's announcement, Facebook said Wednesday it will require anyone working at its U.S. campuses to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

Implementation of the new policy will hinge on "local conditions and regulations," Facebook Vice President of People Lori Goler said in a statement to ABC News. There will be a "process" for those who will be exempt from the mandate, such as for medical reasons, Goler said.

ABC News has requested further details on the testing protocols and action for failure to adhere to the requirement.

"We continue to work with experts to ensure our return to office plans prioritize everyone's health and safety," said Goler, who noted that Facebook will be evaluating its approach outside the U.S. "as the situation evolves."

Facebook is headquartered in Menlo Park, California, and has offices in over 80 cities worldwide.

Washington Post
Some staff members at the Washington Post on Tuesday shared on Twitter that the company announced it was mandating vaccines.

In a memo sent to employees and shared with ABC News by the Washington Post, publisher and CEO Frederick J. Ryan, Jr. announced the mandate and said employees must also "demonstrate proof of full COVID-19 vaccination as a condition of employment."

The Post, which employs more than a thousand journalists and is aiming for a mid-September reopening, said accommodations will be provided to people with "genuine medical and religious concerns" and that they will need to document them with the human resources team.

"Even though the overwhelming majority of Post employees have already provided proof of vaccination, I do not take this decision lightly," Ryan said in the memo. "However, in considering the serious health issues and genuine safety concerns of so many Post employees, I believe the plan is the right one."

St. Jude's, Houston Methodist and more hospitals
The health care sector, perhaps unsurprisingly, has been one of the industries with the most vaccination requirements.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday that all patient-facing health care workers in state-run hospitals are required to get vaccinated. "That is a point of contact, that could be a serious spreading event, we want to make sure those workers are vaccinated period," Cuomo said Wednesday.

At St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital, staff were informed earlier this month that they had a Sept. 9 deadline to get vaccinated. "By September 10, employees who have refused vaccination or do not have an approved medical or religious exemption will be put on an unpaid administrative leave for two weeks," wrote Dr. James R. Downing, president and CEO of the Memphis hospital. "Those who fail to start the vaccination process will be terminated at the end of the two-week period."

The Houston Methodist hospital system in Texas, which oversees eight hospitals and has more than 26,000 employees, set a June 7 deadline for staffers to get the vaccine or risk suspension and termination. More than 175 staffers at the Houston Methodist hospital were temporarily suspended without pay last month after not complying with a mandate, and a lawsuit was filed against the hospital. A Texas judge sided with the hospital, tossing out the lawsuit filed by 117 employees who were against getting the shot.

Delta Airlines
Delta Airlines came out ahead of the curve on vaccine mandates. The airliner said in May that it would require all new hires in the U.S. to be vaccinated against COVID-19 unless they qualify for an accommodation.

The Atlanta-headquartered company with some 91,000 full-time workers has said it will not be putting in place a company-wide mandate to require current employees to be vaccinated, though the new hires vaccine requirement kicked in on May 17.

Disney
The Walt Disney Company announced Friday that all salaried and non-union hourly employees in the U.S. must be fully vaccinated.

Employees working in-person who aren't already vaccinated have 60 days to do so as of July 30 while most employees working from home must provide proof of vaccination before returning, said Paul Richardson, Disney's senior executive vice president and chief human resources officer.

Richardson said the company is also developing vaccination protocols for employees outside the U.S.

Disney is the parent company of ABC News.

ABC News' Sasha Pezenik contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Missy Park makes $1M contribution to support USWNT and its fight for equal pay

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(NEW YORK) -- Missy Park, CEO and founder of athletic brand Title Nine, is supporting the U.S. Women's National Soccer Team in a big way.

This week, Park announced that the women's adventure and outdoor apparel retailer will contribute $1 million to USWNT players to support their fight for equal pay. In addition, Title Nine established the "Kick In For Equal Pay" initiative, where the company will match any donations up to $250,000.

"My hope with this contribution is that we all are conscious of the small and large things that we can do," Park told "Good Morning America."

Park, a former athlete at Yale University and an beneficiary of Title IX, a federal civil rights law that was passed to prohibit sex-based discrimination in schools or education programs that receives federal money, said she was compelled to support USWNT players after watching the HBO Max documentary "LFG," which chronicles their ongoing fight for equal pay.

In March 2019, the players sued the U.S. Soccer Federation for gender discrimination, despite the courts having dismissed their equal pay claims last year. While competing at the Olympics, the team filed an appeal stating the ruling "penalized the USWNT players for their success."

"These women, they play more games, they win more games, and yet they are paid less, so I was really mad about that," Park said. "But then I also realized I'm kind of mad at myself. Like, it's not just up to U.S. Soccer to fix this -- it's up to all of us."

In a statement to ABC News, the U.S. Soccer Federation said it is "committed to fair and equal pay for our Women’s National Team players – and for all women."

"Comparing only the game bonuses our Men’s and Women’s National Teams receive ignores the $100,000 annual salary that U.S. Soccer pays members of the Women’s National Team. The USWNT Players Association negotiated and agreed to a contract that provides guaranteed annual salaries and benefits, in addition to game bonuses. Due to this contract structure, they receive lower game bonuses than the Men’s National Team, who do not receive salaries or benefits and are paid only on a “pay to play” basis," the statement continues. "Right now, we are focused on supporting the Women’s National Team in their quest to win a fifth Olympic Gold Medal. Moving ahead, we will continue to work with the team and its players association to chart a positive path forward."

Park's decision to contribute to the USWNT's fight for equal pay is also a personal one. As a mother of two kids who both have big athletic dreams, Park wants to make sure they're both able to pursue them in a way that's equal.

"I have a son, Leo. And he's a basketball player. And I have a daughter, she's a soccer player, amongst other things," she said. "I think about Leo when he was young -- he dreamed of being in the NBA. You know he could dream of making a living doing that … My daughter is a soccer player -- shouldn't she have that dream, too? Don't we want all our sons and daughters to have the same dreams?"

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Trevor Milton, founder of electric truck startup Nikola, hit with securities fraud charges

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(NEW YORK) -- Trevor Milton, the billionaire founder of electric truck manufacturer Nikola, was hit with securities fraud charges from federal prosecutors in New York City on Thursday.

In a nearly 50-page indictment, prosecutors accused Milton of preying on vulnerable retail investors who had turned to trading after losing income due to the pandemic. In some cases, these victims lost their retirement savings, authorities said, as they outlined his web of false promises related to an electric truck that was never operable.

"Milton's scheme targeted individual, non-professional investors -- so-called retail investors -- by making false and misleading statements," the indictment said.

Milton pleaded not guilty on Thursday after being taken into custody and was released on a $100 million bond. A spokesperson for his legal team maintained that Milton is innocent in a statement to ABC News Thursday, calling the situation "a new low in the government’s efforts to criminalize lawful business conduct."

"Mr. Milton has been wrongfully accused following a faulty and incomplete investigation in which the government ignored critical evidence and failed to interview important witnesses," the statement added. "From the beginning, this has been an investigation in search of a crime. Justice was not served by the government’s action today, but it will be when Mr. Milton is exonerated."

Authorities had been investigating Milton and Nikola for more than a year after short seller Hindenburg Research called the firm an "intricate fraud" in a September report.

The company subsequently conceded video of its electric truck gave a misleading impression it was actually drivable. The company also said Milton had made inaccurate statements about the technology behind the vehicle. Federal prosecutors agreed.

The false promotional video for the semi-truck prototype known as Nikola One was referenced heavily in the indictment. The concept included a shot of the Nikola One coming to a stop in front of a stop sign, according to the indictment.

"In order to accomplish this feat with a vehicle that could not drive, the Nikola One was towed to the top of hill, at which point the 'driver' released the brakes, and the truck rolled down the hill until being brought to a stop in front of the stop sign," prosecutors wrote. "For additional takes, the truck was towed to the top of the hill and rolled down the hill twice more."

Moreover, the door had to be taped to the vehicle during the shoot "to prevent it from falling off," prosecutors wrote. Batteries were also entirely removed from the vehicle during the shoot, which was attended by Milton, to, according to prosecutors, "mitigate the risk of fire, explosion, or damage."

Phoenix-based Nikola planned to build battery- and hydrogen-fuel cell-powered heavy trucks for long-haul trucking and the company had been valued at more than $12 billion. The doubts raised by short sellers and regulators have tanked the stock price and scuttled a deal with General Motors to take a stake in the company.

Nikola said in a statement, "Trevor Milton resigned from Nikola on September 20, 2020 and has not been involved in the company’s operations or communications since that time. Today’s government actions are against Mr. Milton individually, and not against the company. Nikola has cooperated with the government throughout the course of its inquiry."

Prosecutors said Milton lied at every turn about the company's ability to produce its electric truck.

According to the indictment, Milton made false and misleading statements about the company's success in creating a fully functioning Nikola One prototype when he knew that the prototype was inoperable. He also made false statements about an electric- and hydrogen-powered pickup truck known as the Badger using Nikola's parts and technology when he knew that was not true, the indictment claimed.

"Among the retail investors who ultimately invested in Nikola were investors who had no prior experience in the stock market and had begun trading during the COVID-19 pandemic to replace or supplement lost income or to occupy their time while in lockdown," prosecutors wrote.

When it emerged that Milton's statements were false and misleading, the value of Nikola's stock plummeted.

"As a result, some of the retail investors that Milton's fraudulent scheme targeted suffered tens and even hundreds of thousands of dollars in losses, including, in certain cases, the loss of their retirement savings or funds that they had borrowed to invest in Nikola," the indictment added.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Retail trading app Robinhood makes its Wall Street debut on the Nasdaq

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(NEW YORK) — Investing platform Robinhood officially became a publicly-listed company Thursday, making its Wall Street debut on the Nasdaq under the trading ticker $HOOD.

Robinhood co-founders Vlad Tenev (the current chief executive officer) and Baiju Bhatt (the chief creative officer) rang the Nasdaq's opening bell in Times Square on Thursday morning, surrounded by colleagues and family members. Tenev carried his young daughter on his hip as his company made its initial public offering.

Trading opened to the public at $38 per share, giving it a valuation of some $32 billion. By mid-day the stock fell slightly, trading at around $35 per share.

Robinhood exploded in popularity amid the COVID-19 pandemic as swaths of retail investors turned to its commission-free trading services. It became embroiled in controversy amid the GameStop short-squeeze, when an army of retail investors attempted to take on Wall Street firms that were betting against the video game retailer.

As individual investors pushed the price of GameStop shares up, Robinhood and other trading platforms abruptly halted trading of the stock -- leading to allegations they were doing so at the urging of hedge funds and short sellers. The company has denied this, saying the temporary halt was due to clearinghouse-mandated deposit requirements that skyrocketed amid the volatility.

Still, Robinhood's Tenev was called to testify before lawmakers and the fallout of the GameStop saga left Wall Street reeling for months.

Robinhood has repeatedly said its mission is to "democratize finance for all." The firm on Thursday celebrated what it saw as bringing its Main Street clientele to Wall Street via its Nasdaq listing. Some 50% of Robinhood users are first-time investors.

"The U.S. stock market is one of the world’s greatest sources of wealth creation. But for generations, it was out of reach for most people," Tenev and Bhatt said in a joint statement Thursday celebrating the IPO. "Robinhood changed that -- we’ve built investing products for everyday people, to put them in control of their financial futures."

"Our listing day is a celebration of our customers -- Generation Robinhood," the statement added. "Through Robinhood, millions of everyday people have started investing in the stock market for the first time."

Tenev and Bhatt said these new everyday investors are "making their voices heard through the markets, transforming our financial system in the process."

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Biden's federal workforce vaccine mandate could inspire companies to follow suit

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(WASHINGTON) -- The Biden administration’s vaccine mandate for federal workers could set the groundwork for more private sector organizations to follow along. But it also is likely to trigger an avalanche of lawsuits from those who say required vaccinations infringe on the civil liberties of Americans.

President Joe Biden is expected to announce on Thursday a plan requiring all federal workers to be vaccinated or comply with "stringent COVID-19 protocols like mandatory mask wearing -- even in communities not with high or substantial spread -- and regular testing.”

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission says that employers can require their employees to be vaccinated with exceptions being granted for religious and medical reasons.

Federal law does not bar organizations from mandating coronavirus vaccines even as the publicly available vaccines have yet to receive full authorization from the Food and Drug Administration, according to a Justice Department memo.

But some legal scholars say that full approval from the FDA would give companies increased legal cover from employees who refuse to comply with a vaccine mandate.

“There are many companies that are worried about pushback litigation and are waiting for full FDA approval,” said Larry Gostin, a professor of global health law at the Georgetown University Law Center and director of the World Health Organization Center on Public Health Law and Human Rights.

Full FDA vaccine approval is expected in September, according to a federal official. Normally, full approval takes up to a year following the submission of all required data.

Gostin added that employers also have the right to terminate employees who do not comply with their company’s vaccine mandate.

“A worker doesn’t have a legal or ethical entitlement to go unvaccinated or unmasked in a crowded workplace,” he said. “They can make decisions for their own health and well-being, but they can’t pose risk to others. Somebody who is unvaccinated and isn’t tested and unmasked poses a very substantial risk of transferring a very dangerous, if not deadly, disease.”

Similar to the legal arguments over state mask mandates, the debate surrounding vaccine mandates is an issue widely expected to end up in court.

“America is a very litigious society and there will be lawsuits,” said Gostin. “But employers and particularly hospitals are on very firm legal grounding and will win those lawsuits.”

While the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate for federal workers could inspire similar moves from large employers to local governments, some states are taking offensive measures.

Several states including Arkansas, Tennessee, Utah, and Montana have already passed legislation banning COVID-19 vaccine mandates and vaccine passports, according to the National Academy for State Health Policy.

And with return to school quickly approaching for millions of U.S. students, some legislatures have even sought to prohibit required COVID-19 vaccines for school attendance.

The Federal Law Enforcement Officer’s Association, which consists of FBI agents and U.S. Marshalls, however, sees the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate for federal employees as an attack on civil liberties.

“Forcing people to undertake a medical procedure is not the American way and is a clear civil rights violation no matter how proponents may seek to justify it,” said Larry Cosme, the association’s president, in a statement.

The idea of employer vaccine mandates is something that many public health experts increasingly agree on. A large number of companies are still allowing employees back to the office based entirely on voluntary employee disclosure of vaccination status as opposed to requiring actual proof of vaccination.

“An honor system can work in a situation where you don’t have an epidemic,” said Dr. Wafaa El-Sadr, a professor of epidemiology and medicine at Columbia Mailman School of Public Health. “We need to realize that we are in an emergency, and we have to do everything possible to ensure that the vast majority of people get vaccinated.”

Google, Apple and Facebook all postponed their return to office plans for mid-October as the delta variant continues to drive a dramatic rise in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations nationwide.

Google's decision to require staff in their offices to be vaccinated comes after similar announcements impacting government workers in New York and California to curb the spread of the delta variant.

“The timing for these vaccine mandates is right and it’s actually a bit long overdue,” said El-Sadr.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Rocket Lab launches US Space Force experimental satellite

Rocket Lab

(NEW YORK) -- Rocket Lab successfully launched an experimental satellite for the United States Space Force on Thursday morning.

The California-based aerospace company returned its Electron rocket to flight from its space launch facility on New Zealand's Mahia peninsula.

About an hour after a successful liftoff at 2 a.m. ET, the rocket deployed a small research and development satellite, called Monolith, into a 600-kilometer low-Earth orbit.

Monolith, sponsored by the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory, will "explore and demonstrate the use of a deployable sensor, where the sensor's mass is a substantial fraction of the total mass of the spacecraft, changing the spacecraft’s dynamic properties and testing ability to maintain spacecraft attitude control," according to Rocket Lab.

"Analysis from the use of a deployable sensor aims to enable the use of smaller satellite buses when building future deployable sensors such as weather satellites, thereby reducing the cost, complexity, and development timelines," the company said in a statement. "The satellite will also provide a platform to test future space protection capabilities."

The launch was procured by the U.S. Department of Defense's Space Test Program and the U.S. Space Force's Rocket Systems Launch Program, both located at Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque. The mission was named "It's a Little Chile Up Here" in a nod to New Mexico's beloved green chile, according to Rocket Lab.

The U.S. Space Force is the newest and smallest branch of the American military, set up in 2019 under former President Donald Trump.

Thursday's launch was the fourth of the year for Rocket Lab and the 21st involving Electron. It was also the first Electron launch since a failed mission on May 15, in which the rocket was supposed to deploy two Earth-observation satellites for global monitoring firm BlackSky but "experienced an anomaly shortly before stage two ignition," Rocket Lab later said in a statement.

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Walt Disney World, Disneyland requiring masks indoors again for guests

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(NEW YORK) -- Disney Parks has updated its mask policy for all visitors regardless of vaccine status after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revised its mask guidance following the surge in COVID infections.

The high-traffic theme parks in Florida and California announced late Wednesday that beginning Friday, July 30, all guests are required to keep masks on while indoors, including when entering all attractions and in Disney buses, monorail and Disney Skyliner.

"We are adapting our health and safety guidelines based on guidance from health and government officials, and will require Cast Members and Guests ages 2 and up, to wear face coverings in all indoor locations at Walt Disney World Resort and Disneyland Resort," Disney Parks said in a statement.

The news comes days after the CDC's call for a return to masks in public, indoor settings due to the transmissibility of the fast-spreading delta variant.

The Walt Disney Co. is the parent company of ABC News

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'Made in America' company creates fashionable bags out of recycled sails

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(PORTLAND, Maine) -- One company is taking used sails from sailboats and creating something totally brand new: summer tote bags.

Sea Bags, founded in Portland, Maine, makes unique tote bags out of locally recycled materials. Since 1999, the company says it has saved over 700 tons of material from going into landfills.

“Our materials come from Maine first; New England, second; and [the] U.S.A, third,” it says on the company's website.

Located right on the water on Custom House Wharf in Portland, Sea Bags employs 200 workers.

Employee Dillon Leary, who has been working for Sea Bags since high school, said he’s proud of his role in producing the bags.

“We get to see the process from the very beginning,” said Leary, “Out of the thousands of pounds of sails that we're taking per year, every single one of those starts in this building."

Timeiqua Nixon, who has been a part of the design team for over six years, said that pride goes into each product.

“Everything is handmade. So I love that we just do it ourselves,” she said. “Which is, we’re the main source for it. We don’t have to outsource anything.”

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Target, Staples, Barnes & Noble And More Offer Back-To-School Discounts For Teachers

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(NEW YORK) -- As the end of summer approaches, teachers are already preparing for the school year ahead, which is happening again this year amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

To help teachers, select retailers are offering special back-to-school deals and discounts. Here are some of the retailers offering special deals now for teachers.

Target
Target is offering teachers a one-time, 15% discount on select classroom supplies and essentials now through July 31. Teachers need to sign up for Target Circle and verify their teacher status to be eligible.

All K-12 teachers, homeschool teachers, teachers working at daycare centers and early childhood learning centers, university or college professors and vocational/trade/technical school teachers are eligible, according to Target.

Staples
At Staples stores across the country, teachers and school administrators can get 20% off select purchases now through Sept. 30.

Parents can also help support teachers through Staples' Classroom Rewards program, which gives a percentage of their qualifying purchase made at a Staples store back to an enrolled teacher or school administrator of their choice, according to the company.

To start getting discounts, parents, teachers and school administrators must download the Staples Connect app and enroll in Classroom Rewards.

Abt Electronics
Teachers who purchase $500 worth of Abt Electronics supplies are eligible for a $50 discount. This offer applies to teachers, teachers aides, teaching assistants, educational assistants, lifetime teaching credential holders, professors, speech pathologists and school administrators.

To use the discount, teachers must verify that they are eligible when they check out. Then, they will receive a promotion code to access their discount.

Meijer
Teachers can now get 15% off back-to-school supplies with a coupon at Meijer. The coupon covers 1,500 items that teachers can use in the classroom.

Michaels
Teachers are eligible year-round for a 15% discount at Michaels after verifying their profession and creating a Michaels account. The discount will apply if they provide their phone number or email at checkout online or in-person.

JOANN
By signing up for the Teacher Rewards Digital Discount Card, teachers can receive a 15% year-round discount at JOANN. To register for the card, teachers must show a valid educator identification.

Barnes & Noble
Teachers will receive 20% off qualifying book purchases at Barnes & Noble if they sign up to become a B&N Educator. The sign-up process, while free, must be done in-person at a Barnes & Noble location.

Dollar General
Dollar General is offering teachers a 30% discount on back-to-school supplies until Sept. 6. Teachers can use the discount after signing up for a Dollar General account, completing a teacher verification process and waiting 24 to 48 hours.

The discount applies to the purchase of pens, pencils, crayons, paper, notebooks, scissors, binders, folders glue, rulers, backpacks, lunch boxes and more.

Office Depot
Through Sept. 30, teachers who are Office Depot OfficeMax Rewards members are eligible for a coupon that allows them to earn 20% back in rewards when completing in-store purchases.

Teachers can also receive a 40% discount for school supplies such as classroom posters, instructional materials and name tags when completing an in-store purchase. For the discount to apply, teachers must show a valid teacher ID at checkout.

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Spelman College is latest HBCU to cancel tuition balances

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(ATLANTA) -- Spelman College announced it will use federal funding to clear outstanding tuition balances for the past academic year of to address the financial hardships of students during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The historically Black college based in Atlanta, Georgia, will also offer a one-time 14% discount on tuition for the 2021-2022 academic school year and rollback mandatory fees to the 2017-2018 rate.

"This reset to the lower tuition rates of four years ago will have a long-term impact on affordability," said Mary Schmidt Campbell, Ph.D., president of Spelman, in a statement Tuesday.

The Spelman College financial relief comes after Clark Atlanta University, a neighboring HBCU in Atlanta, announced it would cancel outstanding tuition balances for the spring 2020 and summer 2021 semesters.

"We understand these past two academic years have been emotionally and financially difficult on students and their families due to the COVID-19 pandemic. That is why we will continue to do all we can to support their efforts to complete their CAU education," Dr. George T. French, President of Clark Atlanta University, said in a statement last Friday.

For Ta'Lar Scott, a 21-year-old junior at Clark Atlanta University, having her $500 tuition balance canceled was the fresh start she needed to re-enroll to finish her undergraduate degree in social work after taking a semester off.

Like thousands of HBCU students, Scott has relied on federal grants and student loans to pay for her college education. With aspirations of becoming a teacher and now as an expectant mother, paying for school expenses in addition to re-enrollment was so daunting she considered not attending the fall semester.

"I was going to take this semester off and it was really because I knew I had a balance," Scott told ABC News. "The university clearing my balance up kind of pushed me and let me know that I can do this. I'll be fine. Regardless, I'll have to learn how to adjust, which I've been doing all my life."

HBCUs received approximately $2.6 billion through the CARES Act Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund, a $40 billion funding allocation set aside for higher education as part of the American Rescue Plan.

Clark Atlanta University and Spelman College are the latest of over 20 HBCUs using federal funding to provide financial relief and emergency funds for students in recent months. South Carolina State University, Delaware State University and Wilberforce University used federal COVID relief dollars to cancel student loan debt for eligible students.

ABC News' Jianna Cousin contributed to this report.

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Walmart announces plan to pay 100% of college tuition for employees

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(BENTONVILLE, Ark.) -- America's largest private employer announced on Tuesday that it will pay for college tuition and books for associates, in full.

In a press release, Walmart says with these changes, "approximately 1.5 million part-time and full-time Walmart and Sam's Club associates in the U.S. can earn college degrees or learn trade skills without the burden of education debt."

The company said that associates who are part of the program will also no longer be required to contribute a $1 per day fee, which had been in place since the program had initially launched.

Lorraine Stomski, the company's senior vice president of learning and leadership, said the move would create "a path of opportunity for our associates to grow their careers at Walmart, so they can continue to build better lives for themselves and their families."

The company also noted it will add four academic partners, bringing the total number of institutions it works with to ten. The new partners include Johnson & Wales University, the University of Arizona, the University of Denver, and Pathstream.

The cost of education is still a leading barrier to earning a degree, with student loan debt in the U.S. topping $1.7 trillion. Walmart said its Live Better U program has had more than 52,000 associate participants since 2018, with 8,000 of them graduating.

Rachel Carlson, CEO and co-founder of Guild Education, hailed Walmart for "setting a new standard for what it looks like to prepare workers for the jobs of the future."

Earlier this year, Walmart announced it would raise its starting pay to $11 per hour. That move, which affected approximately 425,000 employees, brought the company's average pay to $15 per hour.

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