Tuesday PM October 31st, 2006

CSB makes recommendations in aftermath of BP explosion...CB Richard Ellis buys Trammell Crow...Striking Houston janitors take their cause nationwide...

A federal panel today recommended U.S. refineries stop using a type of atmospheric vent involved in a deadly BP explosion in Texas City. The March 2005 accident killed 15 people and left more than 180 hurt. The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board called on the American Petroleum Institute to revise its guidelines. The feds suggest warning against using a blow down drum--in which flammable liquids overflow. Investigators have said that if a flare system--which burns off excess vapors--was in place instead of a blow down drum, the BP accident could have been prevented or minimized. The board can issue recommendations but has no authority to enforce them. A spokesman for the American Petroleum Institute says the industry group already has a taskforce examining the guidelines on blow down drums.


CB Richard Ellis Group has agreed to buy Dallas-based commercial real estate developerTrammell Crow for $1.8 billion. Both companies announced the deal today. Debt assumption and transaction and integration costs would bring the value of the deal to about $2.2 billion. The deal has been approved by Trammell Crow shareholders, but it's still subject to regulatory approvals. Under terms of the deal, Los Angeles CB Richard Ellis will pay $49.51 in cash for each share of Trammell Crow stock. The transaction is expected to close late this year or early next. If the transaction is completed, Trammell Crow's development and investment business would continue to run as an independent entity under the Trammell Crow name. However, it would be wholly owned by CB Richard Ellis, which also is the world's largest commercial real estate services firm.


Word that Goodyear Tire and Rubber plans to close its Tyler plant triggered feelings of anger, frustration and betrayal for some workers. About 1,100 jobs will be lost. Jim Taylor is a 26-year employee who joined about 12,000 workers nationwide in walking off the job October 5th as part of the dispute. Taylor says he feels very frustrated and let down. Akron, Ohio-based Goodyear says the Tyler closure is necessary to remain competitive and trim costs by 2008. Meanwhile, union officials have criticized Goodyear for hiring temporary workers, saying the company is incapable of making safe, dependable tires with the temps. Goodyear is hiring an unspecified number of temporary workers at 12 plants affected by the strike, including the Tyler plant.


Janitors in their second week of a strike against Houston's major commercial cleaning companies say they're taking their cause nationwide. Strikers and union officials announced plans to join with workers in other cities and set up picket lines in solidarity with Houston janitors. The Service Employees International Union is seeking a raise--to $8.50 an hour--health insurance and more guaranteed work hours for Houston janitors. Workers went on strike October 23rd after contract talks with ABM Janitorial Services, GCA Services, OneSource, Sanitors Services of Texas, and Pritchard Industries Southwest broke down. A union official says about 1,700 janitors have walked off the job. Symbolic picket lines are scheduled for Chicago, Los Angeles, Sacramento and Washington, leading to simultaneous demonstrations on November 8th.


The U.S. Department of Education is giving Houston $11.8 million for teacher bonuses. Fifteen other cities around the country are also receiving similar grants--including Dallas. The Houston district is the nation's seventh biggest and is home to the country's largest program that rewards teachers based on student performance. National and state standardized tests are used. The funding for Houston teachers will be spread over five years. The maximum bonus previously had been expected to be about $4,500 per teacher. About half of the Houston district's 13,000 teachers are expected to receive a bonus this year under the incentive program, which was approved by the school board in January.


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