Friday AM January 26th, 2007

Union membership drops to lowest percentage since the government began keeping track...UN says service sector has overtaken farming and industry as world's biggest source of jobs...Kinder Morgan' clears FDTC hurdle in $22 billion bid to go private...

The number of wage and salary workers who were union members dropped to 12 percent of the work force last year. That's the lowest percentage since the government started tracking that number over two decades ago. The percentage of workers in a union was 20.1 in 1983. More than a third of American workers were union members in the mid-1950s. The continuing decline in union membership comes as organized labor is pushing for legislation making it easier for workers to form unions. The employee free choice act would let workers form unions more readily by simply signing a card or petition. Supporters say the law is fair to workers because employers can't mount a campaign to prevent formation of a union. Opponents say it deprives workers of the right to vote privately on their union preferences, and can lead to union intimidation of workers.


Wal-Mart will pay $33 million in back wages to thousands of employees. It had turned itself in to the Labor Department for paying too little in overtime, according to the agreement announced by the government. Department official Steven Mandel says the case, involving nearly 87,000 employees, resulted from Wal-Mart coming to the department in early 2005 and asking for a review of its overtime calculations. Mandel says the settlement is one of the largest ever reached by the department's Wage and Hour Division. The national review of all Wal-Mart stores took place over two years, beginning in February 2005. The settlement was approved by a federal judge in Arkansas, the retailer's home state. The highest award to an individual employee is said to have been about $39,000.


The United Nations says the service sector has overtaken farming and industry as the world's biggest source of jobs. The UN's International Labor Organization says the trend is especially true in Asia, Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa. Some 40 percent of the world's workers are now employed in services. That compares to just under 39 percent for agriculture and a little over 21 percent for industry. The UN agency looks for the trend to continue. It also points out that service jobs do not necessarily indicate economic prosperity because they cover a whole range of work. It says about 1.3 billion people are classified as working poor, meaning they make less than $2 a day. A report out says the global work force stood at 2.9 billion last year. At the same time, unemployment grew to about 195 million.


The Federal Trade Commission has issued an order settling antitrust issues, paving the way for pipeline operator Kinder Morgan's $22 billion bid to go private. The FTC approve the move by the company's management, provided that two of the investment firms in the buyout become passive investors in competitor Magellan Midstream Partners. The deal must still be approved by state regulatory commissions in California, Colorado, Nebraska and Wyoming.


The president and CEO of Spacehab has launched a venture capital fund to support nanotechnology. Thomas Pickens, the son of Dallas oilman T. Boone Pickens, announced the fund at the Rice Alliance Nanotechnology Venture Forum. He is the managing partner of Texas Nanotech Ventures to invest in Texas nanotech companies and entrepreneurs.


Halliburton has been awarded a three-year, $100 million contract in Russia, according to the Houston Business Journal. The Houston-based company will handle drilling fluid and waste management services and logging-while-drilling services for work in the Tyumen region starting later this year. Halliburton will work with Russia-based TNK-BP, formed in 2003 in the merger between UK-based BP's Russian oil and gas assets and the assets of Alfa Access Ronova Group.


Select One Hospitality Management is moving from Houston to Austin. The group owns five hotels in Texas, and plans to expand its number of properties. Select One plans to expand services offered to the business traveler, including in-room computers and unlimited long distance service.


Boston-based private equity firm J.W. Childs Associates has purchased Houston-based Mattress Firm from majority shareholder Sun Capital Partners for an undisclosed sum. Mattress Firm has more than 350 stores in 19 states. The company was founded in 1986 and has become the nation's third largest retailer of mattresses.


Cincinnati-based Convergys says it'll open new call centers in east Texas and Kentucky this year. A Longview call center expected to open in the second quarter of 2007 will employ some 550 workers. A center in the Cincinnati suburb of Erlanger, Kentucky, will employ some 800 people and is expected to open in the first quarter. The centers will provide general support and technical help desk services for a variety of Convergys clients by way of voice, e-mail, and Web chat. Convergys offers customer care, human resources, and billing services to clients in 70 countries. It has some 74,000 employees in 75 customer contact centers, three data centers, and other facilities around the world.


Hewlett-Packard's alleged involvement in a surveillance tactic called "pre-texting'' may not have been limited to its ill-fated boardroom spying probe. According to new lawsuit against the company, a fired executive alleges HP snooped on his private phone records during its investigation into suspicions that he misappropriate funds. Karl Kamb was HP's vice president of business development until he was fired in 2005 after being accused of stealing trade secrets. Kamb says HP investigators were looking for evidence of impropriety when they used his social security number to trick phone companies into turning over his call logs--the illegal practice of pre-texting. Kamb filed his countersuit in a Tyler federal court after HP sued him and others for stealing trade secrets. HP denies that it was engaged in pre-texting in Kamb's case.


Pork processor Smithfield Foods will phase out gestation stalls or crates at all 187 sow farms it owns in eight states--including Texas. The Virginia-based company will replace the units with "more animal-friendly'' group housing pens over the next decade. The sows, which Smithfield says grow to an average of 400 to 450 pounds during gestation, are kept in two-by-seven-foot metal crates in order to monitor their progress. The pigs have four-month pregnancies. Animal-rights groups argue confining pigs in crates is inhumane. Chief Executive Larry Pope says Smithfield is making the change because customers have told the company they feel group housing is a more animal-friendly form of sow housing. Smithfield owns sow farms in Texas, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Utah, Colorado, Oklahoma and Illinois.


AT&T said that growth in wireless subscribers and in its enterprise businesses helped its fourth-quarter earnings rose by 17 percent. For the quarter, the nation's largest provider of phone, wireless and broadband internet services posted net income of $1.94 billion. Operating revenue grew 23 percent from last year's quarter to $15.9 billion. The results were the first reported since AT&T completed its $86 billion acquisition of BellSouth last month. The largest telecom takeover in U.S. history included some costs associated with the merger.


NCR says its earnings jumped 16 percent in the fourth quarter, fueled by a strong performance from the computer data-warehousing unit the company plans to spin off. The Dayton, Ohio-based company's earnings exceed analysts' expectations. It reports earnings of $174 million. It also reports quarterly revenue rose five percent to $1.81 billion. NCR previously announced plans to outsource production of its automated teller machines in North and South America could cost up to 1,000 jobs. ATM production in Dallas; Waterloo, Ontario; and Ssao Paulo, Brazil, will be shifted to another manufacturer. The plants will continue to do engineering and advanced-product work.


Kimberly-Clark said its fourth-quarter earnings grew 30 percent. The suburban Dallas-based maker of paper and personal-care products credits sales in its health care business and Mexico division. Quarterly net income came in at $482.6 million. Revenue grew seven percent to $4.31 billion. The results beat estimates of analysts surveyed by Thomson Financial. They had expected revenue of $4.24 billion. Kimberly-Clark is in the middle of a major restructuring effort. It says results were lifted by sales in its health care and personal care segments and its KC de Mexico unit. Cost-cutting measures also helped offset inflationary cost increases of about $90 million.


Whitney Holding Corporation saw its fourth-quarter profit drop and miss analysts' forecasts. The New Orleans-based Gulf Coast banking company primarily blames expenses from dealing with the 2005 hurricanes. Whitney has ten Houston-area branches. For the three months ending December 31st, Whitney earned $33.9 million. That's compared with year-ago earnings in the fourth quarter of $35.1 million. Whitney said it sustained $4.9 million in expenses during the fourth quarter from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. For 2006, the company said those expenses totaled $16 million. Whitney's said its net interest income was up $10.6 million, or ten percent, from the previous fourth quarter, primarily because of higher interest rates. Average total loans increased $417 million, or six percent, primarily because of the acquisition of other banking companies.


After some growling, the Dallas city council has decided to let dogs join their owners on restaurants' outdoor patios. By an eight-to-five vote, council members decided to allow restaurateurs to apply for a local variance to state laws banning animals from restaurant premises. Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Elba Garcia says that for some diners, "animals are their children.'' But opponents say the city is opening the door to many problems. Council member Mitchell Rasansky says he's a dog-lover, but he doesn't know if they belong in restaurants. He says he doesn't want to go to a restaurant and see a dog going to the bathroom there. Restaurants allowed to welcome dogs must provide a separate entrance to the patio, post "dog-friendly'' signs, install curtains separating the inside of the eatery from the patio, and prevent dogs from touching the serving staff.


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