Thursday AM October 5th, 2006

City employees submit petition signatures approving creation of union; Houston janitors march through central business district...Goodyear strike threatened...More maneuvers to get Andy Fastow out of prison for depositions...

Some 7,000 petition signatures have been submitted to the city approving of the creation of the Houston Organization of Public Employees four months ago. Negotiations for more than 13,000 city employees are expected to take place on the heels of contract talks for some 5,300 Houston janitors, who joined the Service Employees International Union about a year ago. Janitors marched through downtown Houston's central business district yesterday afternoon, protesting the lower pay rates paid to Houston workers by commercial building operator Hines Interests. More than 5,300 Houston janitors are entering the final stages of contract talks. HOPE is an affiliate of SEIU and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

About 14,000 union workers nationwide threaten to strike today if Goodyear Tire and Rubber goes through with its plan to close down the plant in Tyler. The Tyler plant has more than 1,000 workers, and 960 are in the union. Their three-year contract expired in July, but workers have stayed on the job under a day-to-day extension. But Tuesday, union officials gave three days notice that they were terminating the extensions. A union official in Tyler describes things there as being "very intense.'' A business leader in Tyler says a plant closure in the east Texas town would deal a severe blow to the local economy.

Plaintiff's attorneys representing Enron shareholders are waiting to hear from U.S. District Judge Melinda Harmon on whether former Enron CFO Andy Fastow can temporarily be released from prison to give a lengthy deposition. U.S. District Judge Kenneth Hoyt denied that request on Monday, saying that Judge Harmon can arrange discovery procedures and locations for depositions. Harmon is overseeing the civil litigation that goes to trial next year. Depositions are set to begin next Monday. Fastow's testimony is considered crucial because he was Enron's chief contact for banks and brokerages. He said at his sentencing that financial institutions actively participated in the company's financial fraud.

A regional Job Fair and Career Event organized by Advance Newsmagazines is set for today at the Houston Grand Plaza Hotel at the Reliant Center. The free event is to help combat a shortage of healthcare workers in Texas. Job-seekers can meet with top area recruiters with jobs in nursing and allied healthcare positions. Educational seminars are planned and an on-site healthcare shop offer healthcare scrubs, shoes, professional products and gifts.

The European School of Economics' Gordon Bethune School of Business will open campuses in Houston and Los Angeles in 2008. A New York campus begins the business school's inaugural graduate program on October 9th. The school was formed to offer graduate and undergraduate degree programs, specializing in emerging and cutting-edge business sectors, including entertainment, fashion and sports. It will collaborate with local, national and international corporations to establish a student placement program. Former Continental Airlines CEO Gordon Bethune this week honored the school's first recipients of its honorary lifetime achievement awards, including former President George Bush, Mayor Bill White and singer Beyonce.

A Texas-based company will create 300 jobs when it opens a second customer service call center in West Virginia's Cabell County. Houston-based GC Services expects to open the center by November. That's according to the Huntington Area Development Council. GC Services opened its first Cabell County call center in 1998 in Altizer. More than 1,000 people are now employed at that site.

Four Westlake Park in Houston has been sold to a New York-based real estate advisor for $122 million, according to the Houston Business Journal. Falcon Real Estate bought the office building on behalf of London-based Strategic Real Estate Advisors. Falcon also has Three Westlake Park under contract for StratREAL, with a deal expected to close by the end of October.

Houston-based Sterling Bancshares has completed the acquisition of the parent company of Bank of the Hills. The five bank locations acquired in the $72.5 million cash-and-stock deal will continue using the Bank of the Hills moniker. Sterling operates 40 locations in Houston, San Antonio and Dallas.

The government says orders to factories for manufactured goods were flat in August. That's following a revised one-percent decline in July. In another report, the Institute for Supply Management says its index of the nation's services sector came in at 52.9. That's down more than four points from the previous month's reading, and weaker than expected. Any number above 50 indicates growth. The ISM New Orders Index is at 57.2, and its Employment Index is at 53.6 percent.

Tivo says an appellate court had given Echostar Communications a reprieve in the pair's ongoing patent battle. The digital video recording provider says the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit granted Echostar's request for a stay of an injunction by an east Texas federal judge. That order would have banned Echostar from making or selling DVR products in the United States. Echostar owns the satellite TV provider Dish Network. The ban by U.S. District Judge David Folsom of Texarkana also would have forced Echostar to disable machines already installed in customers' homes. The appeals court ruling postpones that ban pending the outcome of Echostar's appeal. Folsom's order came after a federal jury in Marshall in April found that Echostar infringed on Tivo's patented TV viewing technology in making set-top boxes for its customers. He also ordered Echostar to pay Tivo $89.6 million in damages.

Analysts say the proposed $15 billion buyout of the world's largest casino operator--Harrah's Entertainment--by two private equity firms could spark a wave of bids in a sector rich in cash flows and real estate--assuming the deal can be successfully sealed. Private equity firms have mostly avoided the gambling industry to dodge the harsh eye of regulators. But regulators have gradually refined their target to chief decision makers. One analyst says that if Texas Pacific Group and Apollo Management overcome the regulatory obstacles facing the fifth biggest leveraged buyout in history, it could pave the way for others.

Houston-based ADV Films has launched its ADV Universe digital download store. That opens hours of Japanese anime distributed by ADV for download-to-own. ADV Films has accumulated the largest English-language anime library in the world. Its Anime Network is digitally cablecast 24 hours a day. It has two publishing arms--Newtype USA magazine and a graphic novels division.

Houston TranStar has upgraded its Web site, adding photos of area roadways from some 400 cameras on state highways and major county roads. A new hurricane section offers links to personal preparedness information, evacuation routes and weather data. Houston TranStar is the region's transportation and emergency management center—a collaboration between the City of Houston, Harris County, Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County and the Texas Department of Transporation.

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