Wednesday PM September 26th, 2007

UAW and GM reach tentative contract agreement...Letter at trial states Oscar Wyatt had no ownership stakes in companies accused of kickbacks in U.N. Oil-for-Food program...Port of Houston bond election gains endorsements...

Workers are back on the job at General Motors plants across the country, after ending a two-day strike. The United Auto Workers says the deal was reached shortly after two o'clock this morning. The two sides tentatively agreed to a groundbreaking agreement that allows GM to move its retiree health care costs into an independent trust administered by the UAW. The union also agreed to lower wages for some workers. In exchange, the UAW won commitments from GM to invest in U.S. plants, as well as bonuses and an agreement to hire thousands of temporary workers. That's according to a person who was briefed on the contract, but didn't want to be identified. The deal will be reviewed by local UAW presidents this week. If they approve, it goes to a vote by GM's 74,000 rank-and-file members. Those include more than 2,000 workers at the GM assembly plant in Arlington. The UAW says voting is expected to begin this weekend. The agreement is expected to set a pattern for contracts that now will be negotiated at Ford and Chrysler.

Defense attorneys for Oscar Wyatt, Jr., unveiled a letter Tuesday in which the Houston oilman stated he had no ownership stakes in a company later accused of paying kickbacks to Saddam Hussein's regime. Prosecutors have presented documents in the New York trial in an effort to link Wyatt to two Cyprus-based companies, alleging they were used to buy Iraqi crude oil and pay kickbacks. Wyatt's defense attorneys don't dispute the payment of surcharges, but say Wyatt did not control those companies. Prosecutors submitted bank records and documents they say link Wyatt to those companies. Wyatt is charged with fraud and conspiracy for funneling millions of dollars in illegal surcharges when purchasing Iraqi oil in the United Nations Oil-for-Food program. The prosecution expects to rest its case on Monday.

The Baptist Ministers Association of Houston and Vicinity and the International Longshoremen's Association are endorsing the Port of Houston's bond election, slated for November 6th. The groups say the Port creates economic opportunity and thousands of jobs. Harris County voters will be asked to consider $250 million in port bonds to improve security and for construction of the Bayport Container and Cruise Terminal. These bonds will not increase Harris County's tax rate.

The Pasadena City Council has re-appointed Steve Phelps to the Port Commission of the Port of Houston Authority for another two-year term. Phelps is serving as chairman of the PHA Pension Committee. Commissioners serve two-year terms without pay.

Governor Rick Perry has announced establishment of the Texas-Israel Chamber of Commerce. The goal is to foster economic exchange and academic collaboration. Perry, in a stop in Richardson, also says he's asking the Employees Retirement System and Teachers Retirement System to divest their funds from companies doing business with Iran. Governor Perry says Texans won't condone Iran's continued support of those seeking to do harm "to our men and women in uniform.'' Perry visited an engineering and research lab at the University of Texas at Dallas. The president of Iran--Mahmoud Ahmadinejad--has previously called for the destruction of Israel, which is a U.S. ally in the Middle East.

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