Thursday PM October 12th, 2006

Continental baggage and cargo workers reject union bid by TWU…Purchasing Manager’s Index ties year’s lowest score, but still indicates economic health in Houston…Judge denies Jeff Skilling access to sealed documents from other Enron cases… The Transport Workers Union has failed in its bid to represent baggage handlers and cargo agents at Continental Airlines. Officials today […]

Continental baggage and cargo workers reject union bid by TWU…Purchasing Manager’s Index ties year’s lowest score, but still indicates economic health in Houston…Judge denies Jeff Skilling access to sealed documents from other Enron cases…

The Transport Workers Union has failed in its bid to represent baggage handlers and cargo agents at Continental Airlines. Officials today announced the effort fell nearly 300 votes short in what was the union’s second setback in as many years at Continental. The election was conducted by the National Mediation Board. The union tried to convince workers that it would protect their jobs in case a rumored Continental-United Airlines merger takes place. Company officials have denied they’re planning to merge with United, and they accused the union of running a scare campaign. The TWU effort was among the biggest organizing campaigns this year. Continental’s pilots, flight attendants and mechanics are represented by unions.

This month’s Purchasing Manager’s Index ties July for the lowest score recorded in 2006, but the National Association of Purchasing Management says 60.4 still indicates fervent economic health for Houston. Employment continues climbing, with 35 percent of firms responding reporting net gains in jobs compared to August. But the survey finds that long lead times continue to plague Houston businesses. The PMI is based on a monthly survey of some 80 purchasing executives in oil and gas exploration and production, manufacturing, engineering and construction, chemicals, distribution, business and financial services and healthcare. There are eight components of the PMI: sales, production, employment, purchases, prices paid and inventory levels.

U.S. District Judge Sim Lake has denied a request by former Enron executive Jeff Skilling to give him access to sealed documents from other Enron-related cases. Judge Lake said the court will base its decision on disputed sentencing issues on the facts in this case, and not on the government’s position in other cases.

El Paso Corporation has applied with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to approve an expansion at its Elba Island liquified natural gas terminal and to construct a new pipeline. The $930 million project includes a 190-mile pipeline to transport natural gas from the Elba Island LNG terminal near Savannah, Georgia to its markets. The first phase of the expansion would be in service in 2010, and the second phase and pipeline construction would be complete by 2012. Elba’s storage capacity will be doubled.

El Paso Corporation has dropped plans for a natural gas pipeline that would have run from the Bahamas to Central Palm Beach County, Florida. In 2001, the Houston-based company proposed to ship liquefied natural gas to the Bahamas, heat it to gaseous form and send it back through an underwater pipeline to fuel South Florida power plants. A company spokesman says they couldn’t find enough shippers interested in using the pipe and faced unresolved environmental issues–ultimately killing the plan. The proposal called for the pipeline to run six miles west from the ocean, then connect with the region’s main gas line along Florida’s turnpike. Community leaders fought against the project, saying the pipelines could cause accidents. Two other companies are still pursuing similar plans, but both would run their pipelines through Broward County. The projects have obtained most of their U.S. permits, but are still under review in the Bahamas.

The Federal Communications Commission is putting off until Friday a scheduled vote on AT&T’s $78.5 billion buyout of BellSouth. The deal would further reunite modernized parts of the old Ma Bell phone monopoly broken up by the government in 1984 and won approval from the Justice Department yesterday. It also would create the nation’s biggest provider of phone, wireless and broadband Internet services. The FCC isn’t saying why it’s delayed a vote that had been expected today. The merger is a political hot potato for the FCC. The commission’s two Democratic members criticized the Justice Department move as a reckless abandonment of its responsibility to protect consumers and smaller businesses. If the deal wins final government approval, the purchase of Atlanta-based BellSouth would give San Antonio-based AT&T total control of the nation’s largest cellular provider. Atlanta-based Cingular Wireless is a joint venture of the two companies that serves more than 57 million customers.

Atlanta-based poultry producer Gold Kist’s board said it’s turning thumbs down on a hostile takeover bid by Texas-based rival Pilgrim’s Pride. It’s also filing a lawsuit to try to block the Pittsburg, Texas-based poultry producer from putting its own officers on Gold Kist’s board. Pilgrim’s Pride had offered $20 per share for Gold Kist in a bid valued at more than $1 billion. Pilgrim’s Pride is the nation’s second-largest chicken producer. Pilgrim’s Pride has said buying Gold Kist would create a bigger company that could better serve large U.S. customers such as Wal-Mart with more plants in different parts of the country. It said a deal also would allow Pilgrim’s Pride to enter the big Florida market and be more competitive against foreign poultry producers. Chicken processors have been hurt recently by fears that poultry meat could transmit Avian Flu, and by an oversupply of chicken parts that has pushed down prices.

President Bush says he’s glad the price at the pump has dropped–but he worries about the effect that’ll have on the American psyche. Bush told an energy conference in St. Louis he’s worried cheaper gas prices will make the nation “complacent” when it comes to supporting alternative energy sources. Bush says he won’t let the lower prices dim his enthusiasm for encouraging use of those sources. He says one reason for diversifying from oil is for national security–noting America gets oil from “from some countries that don’t particularly care for us.” The president especially touted the use of ethanol, which has boomed in the midwest’s corn belt.

U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison says she expects the next farm bill will be crafted without access to some foreign markets. Hutchison was in Lubbock Wednesday speaking to about 100 cotton farmers. The Senator says it’s going to take a long time to have a level playing field without subsidized competitors–and it’s going to be a fight. Hutchison supports extending the current farm bill–a five-year measure that expires in 2007. Texas is still suffering from drought–with an estimated $2.6 billion in crop losses and $1.5 billion in losses to the livestock industry. Hutchison told producers she’s working to get a disaster relief bill into an agriculture appropriations bill to help Texas farmers and ranchers.

Officials say a new border security research center at the University of Texas at El Paso will study securing the border against terrorism. U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison on Wednesday announced a $1 million federal grant to start the Center for Defense Systems Research. The Texas Republican says the center’s work will aid the Bush administration’s global war on terror. She says it will also focus on ensuring commerce with Mexico and other countries. UTEP President Diana Natalicio says border security and defense are issues of daily relevance for the region. The center will conduct some of its work in conjunction with the Fort Bliss Army Post.

Recertification Workshops for continued rental aid and employment opportunities are being held today and tomorrow for hurricane evacuees at the George R. Brown Convention Center. The city’s Joint Hurricane Housing Task Force is hosting the sessions to assist evacuees in applying with FEMA to be recertified for extended rental benefits through next February. Those who fail to recertify will lost their housing aid on October 31st. Attendees will have access or referrals to expertise in preparing and copying resumes, polishing interview skills, posting resumes online and applying for job openings or career training.

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