Saturday, December 02, 2006

Ground breaks for MLK memorial

The Washington, DC Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation, Inc. made history with the Ceremonial Groundbreaking of a Memorial to Dr. King on the National Mall. President George W. Bush, President Bill Clinton, members of the House and Senate including Senator Barack Obama and Congressman John Lewis, Ambassador Andrew Young, Rev. Jesse Jackson, Oprah Winfrey, Dr. Maya Angelou, Tommy Hilfiger, and Memorial Foundation president Harry Johnson led the symbolic “turning of soil” groundbreaking.

The event allowed three of King’s children, Yolanda, Martin Luther III, Bernice Albertine King, and Black America’s leading civil rights, church, union and political activists to “turn the ground” for the four-acre memorial. If it gets the necessary funding, King’s will be the first memorial on the National Mall honoring a person of color. The site is at the edge of the Tidal Basin, adjacent to the F.D.R. Memorial, and in direct line between the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials. In its center will be a 30-foot statue of King called the “Stone of Hope.” Visitors will pass through an entryway cut through a massive stone symbolizing the mountain of despair and once inside, will come upon a carved profile of King. The memorial is to be ringed with walls chiseled with King’s words that may eventually be the base for a waterfall.

“When we finish this Memorial, we will have a King among presidents,” said MLK National Memorial Foundation President, Harry Johnson. The memorial “groundbreaking” is more than 20 years after it was conceived by King’s fraternity, Alpha Phi Alpha in 1983. A combination of planning disputes, fundraising hurdles and design discrepancies have impeded the project’s progression.

In 1996, the U.S. Congress passed Joint Resolutions authorizing its establishment. Organizers hope the King’s Memorial will be completed by 2008. If actual construction starts soon, the monument can be completed in the next year and a half. In spite of the high-profile “groundbreaking”, the memorial’s foundation only have $72 million of the estimated $100 million necessary for construction in hand.
Until the $100 million minimum is raised, the Memorial’s rate, and reality, of construction is in question.

Almost two-thirds of the $72 million has been raised from government and corporate sources. Ironically, it was West Virginia Senator Byrd, a key adversary of Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement, that offered the June 2005 amendment to provide $10 million in federal funding for the memorial. Other individuals and organizations giving support to the Memorial Project include: General Motors, the Tommy Hilfiger Corporate Foundation, NBA/WNBA, The Walt Disney Company Foundation, The Coca-Cola Foundation, Procter & Gamble, GE, PepsiCo, FedEx, Exxon Mobil Foundation, filmmaker George Lucas, State Farm Insurance, AFLAC, Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Fannie Mae Foundation, Fannie Mae Corporation, Wal-Mart, Sheila C. Johnson, MacFarlane Partners, The J. Willard and Alice S. Marriott Foundation, The Ford Motor Company Fund, AARP, The Horowitz Family Foundation, Federated Department Stores Foundation, Bell South, Continental Airlines, Bank of America Charitable Foundation, Delta Airlines Foundation, The Dyer Family Foundation, Black Entertainment Television (BET), Carlos Santana, Toyota, Emerson, and Chevy Chase Bank. Most corporate donations have been in the $1 million range.

The qualifier for “the dream” to become reality is “money”. Despite donations from current contributors - federal appropriations, corporations, fraternities and sororities, and celebrity endorsements - the endeavor will need public support for actually building the site. The project’s organizers are pursuing an additional and essential $30 million to start construction. YRC Worldwide Inc., a large trucking company, plans to put billboards on three of its traveling tractor-trailers to advertise the memorial and need.

Though thousands of thoroughfares, buildings, and a site at Atlanta’s King Center, honor MLK, National Memorial advocates say having “King among presidents” is a symbol African Americans need. The “groundbreaking” means the memorial is closer to a reality, but there’s a ways to go before sufficient money is raised to actually “build the dream”. Donors should send contributions of $5 or more to: The National Memorial Project Foundation, Suite 334, 401 F Street, Northwest, Washington, DC 20001. The telephone number is 888.484.3373 and web address

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Union election at DHL postponed

A union election set for today for nearly 470 DHL employees in Wilmington was postponed Wednesday by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

The election was postponed pending an NLRB investigation of an unfair labor practice complaint filed last Friday by the American Postal Workers Union (APWU) against DHL Express.

The NLRB is a government agency that oversees union elections.

According to Assistant NLRB Regional Director Laura Atkinson, the order to postpone the election stems from Regional Director Gary Muffley's assessment that if the probe does find merit to the complaint, then potentially the employees' right to a fair and free election has been diminished, an outcome that would warrant postponement.

In other words, the union election was postponed because the unfair labor practice allegations, if true, would mean DHL has engaged in conduct that could impact its employees' free choice to form a labor organization at the place they work.

The ballot that had been prepared for today asked eligible DHL employees whether they wanted to be organized for collective bargaining by the APWU, by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, or neither union.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

On the Road as Far as China

Anyone who has been on a road trip lately is likely to have seen a big Yellow or Roadway truck hauling merchandise.

YRC Worldwide owns those trucking lines, and several other businesses. William D. Zollars, 59, the chairman and chief executive, spoke recently about the company’s rapid growth, the spotlight on gasoline prices and the perk of being home every night. Following are excerpts:

Q. You announced last month that third-quarter sales reached a quarterly record of $2.57 billion. Wall Street had expected sales of $2.64 billion. Why is Wall Street disappointed when you are setting records?

A. The revenue fell short of projections because the economy slowed significantly in the quarter. We were the last company to report earnings in our sector, and every other company had already reported revenue that fell short of projections.

Q. Higher gasoline prices have been a thorn in the side of consumers for much of this year. Have they been painful for your company, too?

A. Not directly because we have a fuel surcharge that we put in place in 1996. It is adjusted on a weekly basis and has protected us from the rising gas prices.

Q. Have your customers complained about the rise in the surcharge?

A. The fuel surcharge used to be viewed as being temporary, and the fact that it wasn’t very much, customers really didn’t pay a lot of attention to it. But it’s been as high as 20 percent now for quite a while and as a result of that has become an integral part of the pricing discussion. In the old days, that topic probably wouldn’t have come up. Today, it’s front and center with every one of our customers.

Q. The company’s share price has fallen more than 20 percent since January. What is going on?

A. People have been very goosey about the economy, with predictions of a recession about every month. Since we are a cyclical company, we really get whacked when downturns are seen as imminent. Of course, that hasn’t happened, but we believe it keeps our stock price from performing where we think it should be.

And even though we have the fuel surcharge, people think there is a correlation between high gas prices and our costs.

Q. You acquired the USF Companies last year and now are on pace to finish 2006 with $10 billion in sales for the first time. Are you now shopping for more properties?

A. We bought Roadway in 2003, so we have had two major acquisitions in the past three years. We have tripled the size of the company since 2003. I think that we are probably finished buying asset-based companies in the U.S. and have shifted our focus to building out the global network. We have a couple of joint ventures in China, which is a primary area of emphasis for us.

Q. Why is China important?

A. We are basically following our customers around the world. And almost all of our customers now have a presence in China.

We have two joint ventures with a Chinese company, Jin Jiang. One is in the freight-forwarding part of the business; the other is in the logistics side of the business. Both of those are going well. And we probably will be making acquisitions there now as part of that strategy as well.

Q. When will you announce the China deals?

A. I would say definitely within the next year.

Q. The lifestyle and demands of trucking must make it tough to recruit and retain drivers.

A. We are a little bit advantaged in that regard because many of our companies, including Yellow and Roadway, are Teamster companies, meaning we offer wages and benefits that are higher relative to other competitors. And we also offer a better quality of life for our drivers. Because of the way our networks are engineered, they are usually home every night in their own beds. We only have about a 2 percent turnover rate.

Q. You are also on the boards of other companies, including Cigna and ProLogis. Has the spy scandal at Hewlett-Packard caused you to rethink your role on them?

A. I think there are good reasons to serve on other boards. One is to pick up a perspective that you don’t have in your own company. One of the boards I am on is health care related, and that is a big deal for any company. And the other one is a logistics company in the distribution-center business, and a lot of that stuff is very translatable to our businesses.

At the end of the day, I have a hard time relating to all of these scandals du jour because they are so foreign to my experiences.