Monday PM November 20th, 2006

Striking janitors report tentative agreement...Houston housing market outpaces national sales...Monster online employment local index shows fourth consecutive month of growth...

Janitors joined Mayor Bill White this afternoon to announce a tentative agreement between the more than 1,700 striking janitors and their employers. Details will be presented to janitors this evening in a closed-door meeting at the George R. Brown Convention Center. Visiting Professor Maria Jimenez at the Center for Mexican-American Studies at the University of Houston says civil disobedience is more necessary in Texas than in strong union states.

"Whether it's walking out of the office or a sitting strike, whatever tactic you use, it's very effective if you do have a closed shop. Texas, because it is a right-to-work state, some members of the work site can be members of a union and others don't have to be. That obligates engaging in other tactics outside of the work site. They had an impact. They had an impact upon the political leadership and they had an impact upon the business leadership because it seems that it would not end. It would simply escalate."

Since forming a union with Service Employees International Union last year, more than 5,200 janitors have been seeking a pay increase, more work hours and health insurance in contract talks that resumed over the weekend.

Fresh figures show the state-to-state footprint of a slowing housing market, but Houston is being defined as one of the remaining positive markets. The National Association of Realtors says there were slowing sales in 38 states during the third quarter, especially in Nevada, Florida and California. But the Houston Association of Realtors reports that Houston's October total property sales increased six percent over the same month in 2005. The average single-family sales price increased slightly to $189,527. The national trade group says nationwide sales were off nearly 13 percent from the year-ago period. Nine states had declines of 20 percent or more. The weakness is also reflected in falling prices in many areas. NAR says 45 of 148 metro areas saw prices drop, compared to a year ago.

RealtyTrac says more properties nationwide entered into foreclosure during October than any other month this year—an increase of 42 percent from October 2005. Nationally, about one new foreclosure filing for every 1,001 households were reported for October, but Houston registered one in 827. But Houston foreclosures were down about 40 percent from the same month last year.

The Monster Local Employment Index for Houston rose three points to a level of 120 in October. This is the fourth consecutive month of improvement, reflecting continued growth in online recruitment activity. Houston leads all other markets monitored by the index in year-over-year growth. Monster says the growth is fueled by expansion in energy, trade and technology. Labor demand in Houston is rising as local payrolls grow at more than double the national pace. In contrast to the rest of the nation, the region experienced sold growth in white-collar job opportunities.

The Dallas Morning News and Houston Chronicle are among the newspapers involved a big deal between seven newspaper groups and online search engine Yahoo. Yahoo says it'll work with the groups to share online advertising in a deal that could help newspapers tap into the lucrative online ad market. Yahoo says a total of 176 newspapers in 38 states will participate in the deal. The groups that have signed on include Dallas-based Belo Corporation, as well as Cox Newspapers, Hearst Corporation and E.W. Scripps. The partnership will start in December with Yahoo's Hotjobs Service and move to other types of online advertising. The deal could help the struggling newspaper industry increase lagging ad revenues. Financial terms weren't released.

Tyler Pipe is cutting 134 workers in its Ductile Iron Waterworks Fitting Operations. The company says the layoffs are needed because of softness in the waterworks market. The Tyler Morning Telegraph reports competitive pressure from foreign-produced fittings also played a role. The facility will continue operations with a work force of about 800. Many of the employees affected could be recalled to replace others lost through attrition. Last year the company laid off 222 workers. Some of those workers were later rehired.

South Korean prosecutors confirm that they've obtained indictments today of the Korea Exchange Bank and a subsidiary of Dallas-based private equity group Lone Star Funds. The indictments come as prosecutors step up an investigation into the fund's 2003 acquisition of the Korean lender. The move came after a South Korean court last week issued warrants for two U.S.-based Lone Star executives on stock price manipulation charges. Vice Chairman Ellis Short and General Counsel Michael Thomson face charges of spreading false information to weaken the stock price of the bank's credit card unit, then buying it at a discount. Prosecutors brought the same charges today against KEB and LSFKEB Holdings--a Brussels-based paper company Lone Star set up in 2003 to take over the bank. Today was the deadline for prosecutors to file charges against the corporations under a three-year statute of limitations.

Two Senators hope to end the legal precedent that let Enron founder Ken Lay's fraud conviction be erased after he died. The law has hurt prosecution efforts to get more than $43 million from Lay's estate. Lay in May was convicted on fraud, conspiracy and lying to banks over the 2001 collapse of Houston-based Enron. He died in July in Colorado--of heart trouble--before he could appeal. A judge in Houston--at the request of Lay's attorneys--erased his conviction September 17th. Senators Dianne Feinstein of California and Jeff Sessions of Alabama this week introduced a bill to keep federal convictions intact when a defendant dies, so victims can continue seeking restitution. Courts traditionally have erased convictions of such defendants who die before they can appeal. The changes would be retroactive to July 1st--to apply in the Lay case.

Tags: News


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