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Morning news brief

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

This holiday weekend is expected to be one of the busiest travel periods of the year.

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Yeah, Tropical Storm Idalia could create delays. And earlier this week, American Airlines flight attendants threatened to strike against the airliner unless it met pay and benefit demands. So what does this mean for your travel plans?

MARTIN: David Koenig, airlines reporter for the Associated Press, has some answers and is with us now. Good morning, David.

DAVID KOENIG: Hi, Michel. Good morning.

MARTIN: So what can travelers expect this weekend?

KOENIG: You nailed it. It's going to be busy. You know, on the roads, at the airports, it is going to be a really crowded one. The auto club AAA is saying that travel bookings of all kinds - and that includes flights, hotels, rental cars - they're up 4% over last year's Labor Day. And TSA is expecting to screen about 11% more air travelers than they did over the holiday last year. So if you're flying, I think the best advice is get to the airport early and be patient.

MARTIN: And, you know, parts of the country are still recovering from the damage of that tropical storm - it's now a tropical storm - Idalia. Do we have a sense of whether that is going to affect travel?

KOENIG: The good news is that Idalia has moved out. It's gone off into the Atlantic. We did have about 1,700 flights that were canceled between Tuesday and Wednesday, and most of those were in Florida and Georgia because of the storm. The airline schedules at least have recovered. I mean, there's still power outages and a lot of damage left by the storm, but air travel seems to have recovered. So that's good. The cautionary note is that airlines have struggled at times in the last couple of years, even during good weather, when air travel has come back the way it has. And we're also dealing with a shortage of air traffic controllers. But at least Idalia seems to be behind us.

MARTIN: That's remarkable. What about the strike authorization by American Airlines flight attendants? Is it possible that they may actually strike on what is expected to be one of the busiest weekends of the year?

KOENIG: The short answer is no. They're not going to strike anytime soon. They did authorize their union to call for a strike if it comes to that. They are currently negotiating. They haven't had pay raises since 2019, and they're very frustrated with the pace of negotiations with the company. But federal law makes it really hard for airline unions to conduct strikes, at least legally. There are several steps that have to happen first. Federal mediators have to say any more talks are pointless. And even then, the president and Congress can step in and delay a strike or even impose a settlement on both sides. So unions believe these votes energize their members and put pressure on the companies to settle the contract negotiations. And they do seem to help in that regard. But we're a long way really from a strike.

MARTIN: We've talked a lot about flights, but what about people who are traveling by road? What can they expect?

KOENIG: So we are expecting that to be an issue too. AAA says if you're driving, go early in the morning or later in the day to avoid the heaviest traffic because there are going to be lots of other folks with you.

MARTIN: All right. That's David Koenig with the Associated Press. David, thank you so much.

KOENIG: Thank you, Michel.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: This month marks the 22nd anniversary of the September 11 attacks.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah, and in all that time, there has been no trial. A breakthrough seemed to happen last year, though, when settlement talks began with the five men accused of plotting the attack. But now government prosecutors say they're going to quit negotiating unless the defense offers to settle today.

MARTIN: NPR's Sacha Pfeiffer is here with us to tell us how real that deadline is. Sacha, good morning.

SACHA PFEIFFER, BYLINE: Hi, Michel.

MARTIN: How real is it?

PFEIFFER: Probably not very. The background is that so far, the effort to have a 9/11 death penalty trial has been a complete failure. That's partly because it's happening at the U.S. military court in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, a logistical nightmare. And by the way, as you and I have talked about, these five accused men, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, have been held at Guantanamo for nearly 20 years now. The delays are partly also because the men were tortured, which creates huge legal problems. So settlement talks started a year and a half ago as an alternative resolution. The goal was defendants plead guilty and get life in prison. But those talks are stalled until the Biden administration weighs in on issues like where they would serve their sentences. So one Guantanamo defense attorney, James Connell, who represents Ammar al-Baluchi, told me this.

JAMES CONNELL: For Mr. al-Baluchi, there is essentially no chance that there'll be a plea deal by Friday.

PFEIFFER: And even in the highly unlikely event that a signed plea offer were made today, it would still have to be approved by higher-level officials. So no one I've spoken with in the Guantanamo community believes the 9/11 case could be wrapped up today.

MARTIN: Have you had a chance to investigate what the families of 9/11 victims think about all this?

PFEIFFER: Yeah, I've talked to a lot of them, and many support plea deals because they see the dysfunction at Guantanamo, and they doubt a trial will ever happen. Even if it does, they worry it would be appealed or a verdict would be overturned. One supporter is Elizabeth Miller. Her dad was a Staten Island firefighter who died on 9/11.

ELIZABETH MILLER: My fear is that if we don't pursue plea deals and if the Biden administration doesn't put their full support behind this - I am 28 years old, turning 29 - I'm going to be doing this advocacy until I'm 50-plus years old.

PFEIFFER: And others, of course, want the defendants put to death. In fact, last week, about 2,000 9/11 victims and family members signed a letter to Biden expressing concern about plea deals. But one organizer, Michel, told me his concern is not about abandoning the death penalty. It's about not having a trial being a lost opportunity. That is Brett Eagleson. He was 15 when his dad died in the World Trade Center collapse. And he's surprised me, considering that he's helping lead a campaign against plea deals, by saying this.

BRETT EAGLESON: I think plea deals will probably likely happen. And I think that under the right conditions, plea deals would help the broader 9/11 community in our pursuit of justice.

MARTIN: What does he mean by under the right conditions?

PFEIFFER: He says that a stipulation of a plea agreement should be that the defendants have to share information about how they carried out the attacks.

MARTIN: And finally, if the plea deals don't happen, will the government keep trying to take the case to trial?

PFEIFFER: Yes, but that means more pretrial hearings, which have been going on for a decade. And those hearings could get even more bogged down because of two recent Guantanamo curveballs. First, one of the 9/11 defendants has been found mentally incompetent to stand trial or plead guilty. The second twist involves a ruling in a different Guantanamo case, the USS Cole warship bombing from all the way back in October 2000. That is also still dragging along. And the judge recently threw out a confession because the defendant was tortured. That could be bad news for 9/11 prosecutors since their case also involves allegedly forced confessions, so don't expect a 9/11 trial anytime soon, if ever.

MARTIN: That's NPR's Sacha Pfeiffer. Sacha, thank you.

PFEIFFER: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: As we head into the Labor Day weekend, we want to give you some news this morning about the labor market.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah, the government has been tallying the number of jobs that employers added last month. The count is expected to show steady but not spectacular job gains.

MARTIN: NPR's Scott Horsley is with us now with a preview of today's employment report. Good morning, Scott.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good morning, Michel.

MARTIN: All right. You've told us this before. The hiring cooled off in the early part of the summer. So what do forecasters think? Do they think that that trend continued into August?

HORSLEY: They do. The predictions are for somewhere around 170,000 jobs being added last month, similar to what we saw in June and July. That would be a slowdown from the pace of hiring earlier in the year, but employers are still adding more than enough jobs to keep the unemployment rate near a 50-year low. Julia Pollak, who is chief economist at the job search website ZipRecruiter, says one sign of the less frenzied job market these days is that fewer workers are quitting jobs in search of better opportunities.

JULIA POLLAK: Workers are quite confident in their ability to land better alternative jobs, but they're nowhere near as high as what we saw earlier in the pandemic when there were so many job openings that people were in the midst of a great reshuffling.

HORSLEY: Many of the measures the government uses to track the job market are now back to where they were just before the pandemic. And keep in mind, that was a very good job market with a historically low unemployment rate of 3 1/2%, just like now.

MARTIN: So businesses aren't adding as many workers. Are some of them cutting jobs?

HORSLEY: Some are, but we are not seeing widespread layoffs. New applications for unemployment benefits are still quite low. In July, the jobs report showed only a few industries actually losing jobs, manufacturing and warehousing among them. Even construction has continued to add jobs despite the sharp run-up in interest rates. Ordinarily, when the Federal Reserve hits the brakes this hard in order to fight inflation, you would expect to see a rise in unemployment. But Pollak says so far that has not happened.

POLLAK: I think this will come as a relief to the Federal Reserve. The slowdown is coming in the form of reduced hiring and reduced job openings, not in the form of a huge surge in layoffs and unemployment.

HORSLEY: Pollak says the question now is whether the job market is at a comfortable cruising altitude where it can just hold steady for a while, or if it's going to continue to slow down to the point where we do actually see some job cuts.

MARTIN: And finally, one indicator of a tight job market that the Fed watches closely is wages. It's also something we all watch closely. So what's happening with people's paychecks?

HORSLEY: Yeah. Wages are still rising, although not as fast as they were a year ago. The good news is prices aren't going up as fast as they were, so wage gains are no longer being gobbled up by inflation. One reason wages aren't going up as fast as they were is that employers now have more workers to choose from. You know, in recent months, we have seen a lot more people joining the workforce, especially women. In fact, the share of working-age women who are in the job market is now close to an all-time high, which is very encouraging. One potential hiccup, though, Michel, is that the federal aid for child care centers that was put in place during the pandemic is about to run out. If child care gets harder to come by, that could make life difficult for a lot of working parents, and that could be a drag on the workforce.

MARTIN: That is NPR's Scott Horsley. Scott, thank you.

HORSLEY: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.