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Thursday PM October 5th, 2006

Former El Paso trader sentenced to two years in prison…Goodyear union workers stage walkout in Tyler…Houston janitors continue fight for higher wages, health benefits and more hours… Former El Paso Corporation trader Todd Geiger was sentenced to two years in prison today for reporting false natural gas trades data to an industry publication. U.S. District […]


Former El Paso trader sentenced to two years in prison…Goodyear union workers stage walkout in Tyler…Houston janitors continue fight for higher wages, health benefits and more hours…

Former El Paso Corporation trader Todd Geiger was sentenced to two years in prison today for reporting false natural gas trades data to an industry publication. U.S. District Judge Nancy Atlas also sentenced Geiger to two years probation after his release from prison.

Union workers at the Goodyear Tire and Rubber plant in Tyler walked off their jobs at midday today. That’s after talks between Goodyear and the United Steelworkers Union failed to reach agreement on a new labor contract by the midday deadline today. The walkout does not affect Goodyear’s Houston plant.  The walkout by about 1,000 workers affiliated with the steelworkers union is part of a nationwide strike by more than 12,000 Goodyear workers in 12 states and four others in Canada. The strike is also at plants in Akron, Ohio; Gadsden, Alabama; Buffalo, New York; St. Marys, Ohio; Lincoln, Nebraska; Topeka, Kansas; Danville, Virginia; Marysville, Ohio; Union City, Tennessee; Sun Prairie, Wisconsin; and Fayetteville, North Carolina. Canadian facilities on strike include Collingwood, Ontario; Owen Sound, Ontario; Toronto Logistics Center; and Toronto Commercial/Retread. The union also is in contract talks with Bridgestone covering about 6,000 workers at eight U.S. plants in South Carolina, Ohio, Illinois, Iowa, Tennessee, Oklahoma and North Carolina. The union had been working on a day-to-day contract after the July 22nd expiration of a three-year deal. The future of the Tyler plant is a central issue in the national talks. A key sticking point in the talks are Goodyear’s desire to close plants in Tyler and Gadsden, Alabama. The union says it’s determined to avoid plant shutdowns.

Janitors were escorted from the offices of the Houston Building Owners and Managers Association on San Felipe today, as they demonstrated for wages higher than the current average of $5.30 an hour. They’re also asking for more work hours and for health benefits. The janitors work for cleaning contractors hired by building owners and property managers who are members of BOMA. The janitors point out that colleagues who work if the offices of major national landlords like Houston-based Hines in other cities are paid more than $10 an hour, work full-time and have health insurance.

Houston’s office leasing market continues to strengthen, according to Grubb & Ellis, with the Central Business District leading the pack. Chevron USA’s move into 465,000 square feet at 1600 Smith helped contribute to stronger absorption statistics. Vacancy rates could continue to decline in the year ahead, because down the street at 1400 Smith, the original Enron building is under new ownership after standing virtually empty the past three years. Houston’s overall vacancy fell by 53 basis points to 16.1 percent in the third quarter, reaching its lowest level in four years. The Grubb & Ellis report says New York-based Brookfield Properties have been rumored to have acquired the 50-story skyscraper from Towanda Development for use by Chevron.

Lawyers for deceased former Enron Chairman Ken Lay want U.S. District Judge Sim Lake to rule immediately on whether to wipe Lay’s record clean and dismiss the 2004 indictment against him because he died before being sentenced or launching an appeal. A 2004 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found that a defendant’s death pending appeal erases the case.

Miami-Dade County Manager George Burgess brought in Enron whistle-blower Lynn Brewer to speak to hundreds of county supervisors and managers. The former risk-management supervisor helped direct prosecutors in their trials against several top Enron executives accused of concealing losses. Burgess told the managers at the Miami-Dade County Auditorium to listen to their staffs and report their complaints. Several Miami-Dade County agencies and departments have been engulfed by scandal in the past few months.

The co-lead prosecutor in the criminal cases against Enron founder Ken Lay and former CEO Jeff Skilling is taking a job in the Los Angeles law firm of Irell & Manella. John Hueston will become a partner in the firm’s litigation practice, concentrating on securities cases, while-collar crime and intellectual property matters starting November 9th. Skilling and Lay were convicted of conspiracy and fraud in May. Lay’s attorneys are trying to erase his convictions following his July 5th death. Skilling is to be sentenced in October.

The president of the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston says he’ll resign next August after ten years at the medical school’s helm. John Stobo says he’s resigning to give his successor more than a year before the start of the 2009 legislative session to learn about the school and become its strong advocate before lawmakers. Stobo says he and his wife will continue living in Galveston, but he hasn’t decided what to do next. UT System Regents Chairman James Huffines hails Stobo as “a man of vision and great personal integrity.” In June, Stobo announced that UTMB would have to cut jobs from its 13,000-member work force to help stem operating losses of $20 million a year and build a reserve fund. The medical school ended up cutting more than 700 full-time equivalent positions, which resulted in 358 people losing their jobs. University officials have said rising medical costs, uninsured patients and shrinking government reimbursements are causing a growing gap in its operating budget.

A federal appeals court is siding with the Texas Public Utility Commission in a dispute over an application by the former SBC Texas to provide long-distance service. The Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans ruled Wednesday that the PUC acted legally in changing a model agreement for phone companies to share networks. The ruling upheld a decision by a federal judge in San Antonio. The appeals court says Congress gave state regulators power to interpret and enforce modifications to the agreements. The case goes back to a 1996 federal law that let former monopolies such as SBC Texas enter the long-distance business. In exchange, Congress required the former Bell companies to open their local networks to competitors. SBC Texas is now part of San Antonio-based AT&T. It had sued the PUC when the agency modified a model network-sharing agreement without the company’s consent.

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