Saturday, September 06, 2008

U.S. road fund short, may pinch big projects

Big projects could face pinch unless Congress acts soon

The federal highway trust fund will run out of money this month, requiring delays in payments to road projects in Michigan and other states, Transportation Secretary Mary Peters said Friday.

The trust fund -- a federal account used to help pay for highway and bridge projects -- will run about $8.3 billion short by the end of September, Peters said during a conference call with reporters.

The shortfall will mean short delays -- and in some cases a temporary reduction -- in payments to states for infrastructure projects the government has agreed to help finance.

Michigan Department of Transportation spokesman Bill Shreck said the agency wasn't sure how the funding crisis would affect roadwork under way in the state. That includes the enormous $170-million Ambassador Bridge Gateway Project in Detroit, "but it's headed nowhere good right now."

"A lot depends on what Congress does," Shreck said. "We're concerned but in wait-and-see mode."

But Shreck said Michigan had been notified that payments made to the states would be reduced by 20%-30% starting Sept. 18. He called the shortfall "the first real volley in a crisis" over transportation funding as fuel consumption declines nationwide, reducing revenue from gasoline taxes.

Peters blamed the funding shortage on the high price of gasoline, which has prompted Americans to drive less. This means less fuel has been purchased, and less gasoline taxes collected for the trust fund. Americans drove 50 billion fewer miles from November to June than during the same period a year earlier.

Compounding the problem, Peters said, is federal lawmakers' habit of loading up highway spending bills with pet projects, or earmarks, for their home states. The current highway spending bill has more than $24 billion in earmarks, she said.

Peters urged immediate passage of legislation that has $8 billion for highway funds.

Less than two months ago, the White House said President George W. Bush would be urged to veto such a bill if it reached his desk. Taking money from the general fund to prop up the highway system was "both a gimmick and a dangerous precedent that shifts costs from users to taxpayers at large," the White House said.

Friday, September 05, 2008

House hearing scheduled for DHL-UPS deal

Union officers representing freight shipping workers at the Wilmington Air Park where thousands of jobs hang in the balance are praising federal legislators’ recent decision to conduct a hearing on a proposed DHL-UPS partnership.

The office of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on Friday confirmed a hearing is scheduled for Sept. 16 to review a planned move by DHL to have UPS Inc. take over its sorting and shipping operations and shift the work from Ohio to Louisville, Ky.

If DHL makes the move, Ohio risks losing more than 8,000 jobs. Wilmington’s ABX Air Inc. and sister shipping company Astar Air Cargo handle operations at the Wilmington airport for the subsidiary of privately held Deutsche Post World Net.

Mark Overberg, secretary of the Teamsters Local 100 in Cincinnati representing Astar dispatchers, called the hearing a “welcome step by Congress to determine if any antitrust violations have occurred as a result of this proposal.”

State officials have reached out to the federal Transportation and Justice departments, asking they investigate the agreement. The Transportation Department responded in August, saying the deal wouldn’t be considered an unfair or deceptive practice and wouldn’t render the U.S. shipping market less competitive.

A representative for Gov. Ted Strickland’s office told Columbus Business First last week that talks are continuing with the Justice Department.

Change to Win Continues Nationwide Truth Campaign on John McCain

Online Video Series "Real McCain of Genius" Showcases Out-of-Touch McCain through Bud Light Parody

Truth Squad to Hit Six New Battleground States in One Month

A new campaign by the seven unions and six million members of Change to Win is challenging the anti-worker agenda championed by John McCain at the Republican National Convention.

Part of a multifaceted, multimedia effort launched in August, Change to Win is continuing the McCain Truth Squad tour, updating its new website,, and premiering "Real McCain of Genius," the first in a two-part online video series. The videos highlight ways John McCain is out of touch with working Americans using a parody of the Bud Light ad, "Real Men of Genius."

The Truth Squad of nine workers also continues its journey this week, launching its second leg in St. Paul, Minnesota with a response to the GOP Convention. The Squad is traveling through three states using direct action and creative events to educate union members on controversial McCain policies including his Bush inspired voting record, negligence on national flood disasters, and lack of support for America's firefighters.

"The real McCain would be a real disaster for America's workers," said Anna Burger, Chair of Change to Win. "What we saw in St. Paul was not the change Americans need, but the nomination of a candidate who has voted with George W. Bush 90 percent of the time. After seven years of failed economic policies resulting in millions of lost jobs, lost homes and lost access to health care, working families have had enough. The Change to Win Truth Squad is traveling the country so America's workers see that behind John McCain's self-proclaimed maverick style lies a Washington insider running on an agenda for a third Bush term." Full Story......

US jobless rate near 5-year high

The unemployment rate in the US is at its highest level in nearly five years after a higher-than-expected 84,000 jobs were lost last month.

The jobless rate has risen to 6.1%, the highest since December 2003, adding to concern about the US economy and its ability to stave off a recession.

In a further blow, the Labor Department revised upwards job loss figures for each of the past two months.

The Federal Reserve said earlier this week economic activity remained "weak".

Worse than thought

The number of jobs lost last month was significantly higher than the 75,000 forecast by economists.

All sectors of the economy were affected with manufacturing worst hit, shedding 61,000 jobs.The labor market has worsened noticeably in recent months, reflected by the fact that it is now apparent that more jobs were lost in June and July than was previously thought.

Revised figures show that in June, 100,000 jobs were lost while in July 60,000 jobs disappeared. This was up from the 51,000 figure initially forecast for both months.

Employers have now reduced their payrolls for eight straight months, with the dramatic downturn in the housing market and the credit crunch hurting all sectors of the economy.

"This is more convincing evidence that the economy is still in trouble," said Gary Thayer, senior economist at Wachovia Securities.

Arkansas Best Corporation to Appear at the Wachovia 2008 Transportation and Packaging Conference

Arkansas Best Corporation will appear at the Wachovia 2008 Transportation and Packaging Conference in New York City on Monday September 8, 2008 from 8:55 a.m. - 9:25 a.m. ET.

Robert A. Davidson, President and Chief Executive Officer of Arkansas Best and Judy R. McReynolds, Senior Vice President, Chief Financial Officer and Treasurer of Arkansas Best, will make a company presentation.

The live program will be webcast (in a listen-only mode) and an archive will be available following the presentation.

To access the live audio, please go to the company's website at This presentation will be archived through September 30.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Cargill to add product line when C.R. plant reopens

Cargill Corp. plans to add a new product line after its flooded Cedar Rapids corn milling plant at 1710 16th St. SE reopens in October.

The plant is expected to reopen in October after extensive flood cleanup and repairs, the company said. Starting in November, the company will begin manufacturing a new line of enhanced fiber additives for the tissue paper industry.

The fiber additives are designed to increase the strength of soft tissue, paper and paperboard products, while lowering manufacturing costs.

Produced from renewable corn fibers, they provided an alternative to chemicals for strengthening tissues, company officials said.

The new product line was included in an announcement that Cargill is partnering with Tissue Technology LLC and ABF Freight Systems to donate paper products and matching funds valued at more than $4,500 to the Salvation Army in Cedar Rapids.

Tissue Technology, one of Cargill's business partners, donated 75 cases of facial tissues and 25 cases of dispenser napkins. ABF, a Cargill-preferred trucking company, covered the costs of shipping the tissue products from Green Bay, Wis., to Cedar Rapids.

Cargill is matching both donations with cash.

"We're looking forward to continuing our commitment to the Cedar Rapids community with the startup of this business," said Rosetta Anderson, quality and logistics coordinator for the new facility.

Anderson said Cargill saw the donation arrangement with ABF and Tissue Technology as a way to let the Cedar Rapids community know it hasn't forgotten what they went through in the mid-June floods on the Cedar River.

The corn milling operation's main product is starch.

Soybean processing operations in Cedar Rapids operated by Cargill were also hit by the floods. It has previously provided more than $86,000 in funds for flood relief.

Ralph Nader to visit Wilmington next week

Independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader plans to visit Wilmington on Monday, Sept. 8, becoming the latest presidential hopeful to visit with employees who could lose their jobs if DHL transfers its U.S. cargo flying business away from its Wilmington air freight hub.

Save Our Jobs, a coalition of union members and community activists lobbying to keep the jobs in Wilmington, asked Nader to visit. He is to appear Monday afternoon at Wilmington College, between campaign visits to Columbus and Cincinnati, to speak and meet with employees of DHL's Wilmington air freight hub.

Republican presidential candidate John McCain visited Wilmington on Aug. 7 to meet with the local activists. His Democratic opponent, Barack Obama, met with Wilmington leaders about the DHL issue during Obama's July 11 campaign appearance in Dayton.

Tony Olson, a member of Save Our Jobs, said the coalition is encouraging the high-profile visits to keep a public focus on the issue.

DHL spokesman Jonathan Baker said Thursday, Sept. 4, that his company is not commenting on matters that involve the presidential election campaign.

DHL said on May 28 that it plans to hire United Parcel Service to handle DHL's U.S. cargo flying and sorting. UPS has said it would handle that work at its Louisville, Ky., hub. Ohio officials estimate that a switch to UPS will cost at least 8,200 jobs at DHL's Wilmington freight hub, the region's biggest employer.

Meanwhile, a planned Sept. 11 workshop arranged with the help of the U.S. Department of Commerce will focus on how other cities have coped with the loss of large employers.

The three-hour session at Wilmington College will feature federal officials and representatives from Aurora, Colo., which lost an Army hospital in a 1995 military base realignment and closure round; San Antonio, Texas, which lost Kelly Air Force Base to the 1995 BRAC closure decisions, and Greenville, Mich., a community of 8,000 which has lost a 2,700-employee Electrolux appliance factory and a 200-employee Tower Automotive plant to closings since 2006. Officials will discuss efforts by those communities to redevelop the sites of the closed facilities to create new jobs.

YRC Worldwide Names Mike Kelley Chief Sustainability Officer

YRC Worldwide Inc. announced today that Mike Kelley has been named Chief Sustainability Officer. Mr. Kelley's appointment is effective immediately.

In this newly created position, Mr. Kelley is responsible for the company's overall sustainability efforts, including working with all the business units of YRC Worldwide to continue to develop, implement and integrate sustainability strategies, goals, measurements and reporting. He will also represent the company in sustainability discussions with customers, the community and with a number of national, international and industry groups to advance issues important to YRC Worldwide.

"Sustainability continues to be increasingly important to the success of YRC Worldwide, our customers and our communities," said Bill Zollars, Chairman, President and CEO of YRC Worldwide. "Mike Kelley has been instrumental in driving our green initiatives. Under Mike's leadership, we will move forward in our sustainability efforts in a way that is environmentally and socially responsible and economically sound."

Added Mike Kelley, "I am excited about my new responsibility and the opportunity it creates to execute our sustainability strategy to effectively and aggressively promote greenhouse gas reduction, waste reduction, and conservation across our daily operations to reduce our carbon footprint."

Mr. Kelley will also continue to serve as Vice President of External Affairs for the company, a role in which he is responsible for government affairs, including promoting and protecting the interests of YRC Worldwide before trade associations and with legislative and regulatory officials at the local, state and federal level.
With over a decade of experience in the transportation industry and government affairs, Mr. Kelley has held previous positions at the Kansas Motor Carriers Association and Yellow Transportation. He also served as a Congressional Aide to members of the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate.

Most recently, Mr. Kelley was appointed by Kansas state Governor Kathleen Sebelius to serve on the Kansas Energy and Environmental Policy Advisory Group. He is also past Chair and current member of the American Trucking Associations (ATA) Environmental Policy Committee, Co-Chair of the ATA Sustainability Task Force, Chair of the ATA Image and Policy Committee, and Chairman of Gifts in Kind International. He holds a BA in Political Science with an emphasis in state and local government from Avila College and an MBA from Rockhurst University.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Labor Day parade spotlights 'working class people'

Quad-Citians filled the streets of downtown East Moline on Labor Day to celebrate working men and women, marvel at the machines they make and drive, and honor the union movement.

But Monday’s event — which drew labor unions and politicians up and down the ticket — also was about advancing a political agenda.

“Today is all about what the working class people do. This is our day,’’ said Howard Spoon, president of the Teamsters Local 371. Representing the Teamsters were truck drivers from almost a half dozen companies who drove their big rigs along the parade route. Among them was an ABF semi that pulled four tractor trailers.

“We’re coming out to show labor is sticking together,” Spoon said, adding that “the political arena is where we all need to focus. We’re all committed to helping elect (Barack) Obama.”

Lining up for the parade to begin, Laborer’s Local 309 was a sea of bright orange as members sported their new Obama/Biden 2008 T-shirts. “We’re just here fighting for the working men and women of America,” said Quintin Waterman, president of the Rock Island local. “We’re confident this election is going to go how we want it to go ... and working men and women will be moving up the food chain.”

Members of AFGE Local 15 and 2119 on the Rock Island Arsenal hoped to raise awareness of the benefits lost by some of the union brotherhood.

“We are fortunate, working for the government, we haven’t lost benefits — health care, pensions and holidays,” Tom Esparza, president of Local 15, said, adding that other unions have not been so lucky. “The union members have come out and are hoping for a change in the future.”

Tom Close, the longtime president of AFSCME Local 2371, which represents municipal workers across the Illinois Quad-Cities, said the most pressing issue for his union is “health care — No. 1.” A longtime employee of Oak Glen Nursing Home in Coal Valley, Ill., Close said many of the facility’s workers have to rely on state aid and food stamps to supplement their incomes. With insurance costs rising every year, he said, “it’s just terrible the people that don’t have health care because they can’t afford it.”

East Moline alderwoman Cheri Bustos, who was riding in the back of a dump truck with fellow city leaders, said taking time out to honor labor is very important in East Moline. “Our roots are in labor. In every truck, ag implement, school bus and dump truck —it all comes back to labor.”

As the trucks, buses, green and yellow John Deere equipment, dump trucks and other heavy equipment barreled down the parade route, spectators were focused on having fun with their families and celebrating labor.

As 9-year-old Moziah Tousseau filled a bag of candy, she said the day was about “trying to get candy and have a good time.” But she also knew it had something to do with “solidarity,” a word she often hears from her grandmother.

“My parents are with the union, so we know Labor Day is very important,’’ said her mother, Octavia Tousseau, of Moline. “The union paid for my first two years of college.”

As the marching bands and parade walkers passed by, it was a chance for homecomings and reuniting as neighbors spotted friends, family members and acquaintances.

Mike Hughes, who was with his wife Angela and children, Julia, 8, and Joshua, 3, beamed proudly as a classic 1963 Cadillac convertible passed.

“I’ve done a lot of restoration work on that,” said Hughes, the owner of Mike’s Automotive in downtown East Moline. But he could not take credit for the oversized patriotic “ ‘’08 Obama” lettering along the side of the car.

Wearing a foam hammer visors that she got in the parade, Julia Hughes guessed her candy bag to weigh about 5 pounds. “And there’s still a lot more out there,” she said of the candy-littered street.

United Way of the Quad-Cities even distributed hard-bound children’s books. “I’d rather he take one of these home than candy,” Nancy Velacquez said of her 2-year-old son, Ervey, who clutched his new book tightly. “He was very excited to get a book.”

Just 8 months old, twins Halie and Abigayle Hicks were too little for chasing candy, but they were enjoying their first parade under the shade of a small tree — pint-sized American flags in their tiny hands.

“I like that the people walking in the parade are people like us,’’ their mother, Ashley Reisenbigler, of East Moline, said, adding that her fiance, John Hicks, works at Tyson Foods. “I like that the people who work hard for a living are being honored.”

Monday, September 01, 2008

Obama curtails campaign to watch Gustav

Barack Obama urged hundreds of thousands of supporters Monday to donate to the Red Cross to help victims of Hurricane Gustav. The Democratic presidential nominee scaled back Labor Day speeches to unions in an effort to keep the focus on the Gulf Coast.

Obama planned to finish his campaign schedule Monday with stops in Michigan and Wisconsin, two battleground states the campaign views as possible wins, before heading home to Chicago to monitor the situation and decide his schedule for the rest of the week.

"Instead of a speech, what I'd like to do is to ask all of us join in some silent prayer for all those Americans who are spending this Labor Day in a shelter waiting for another storm to pass," Obama said at an outdoor rally in the shadow of General Motors' headquarters.

Republicans have criticized Obama for continuing to campaign while the storm threatens the region hit hard by Hurricane Katrina three years ago. Republican John McCain scaled back the opening of his nominating convention because of the hurricane.

"There's a time for us to argue politics, but there's a time for us to come together as Americans," Obama said, trying to place himself above politics. "I know John McCain wants what's best for the people who have been evacuated. I know George Bush wants what's best for them and so do I."

In an e-mail sent to hundreds of thousands of his supporters, Obama said, "Please give whatever you can afford, even $10, to make sure the American Red Cross has the resources to help those in the path of this storm." Aides said the e-mail did not go to people in areas likely to be affected by Gustav.

He also sent a text message to cell phones, asking for $5 for the Red Cross. Obama had built up a massive list of cell phone numbers with a promotion to announce his running mate by text message.

"We don't know yet what's going to happen with this storm," Obama said at an invitation-only union picnic in the backyard of a Plumbers and Pipefitters Halls in Monroe. "But there's going to be some damage."

In his brief remarks in Detroit, Obama praised organized labor, which typically works on behalf of Democratic candidates.

"The idea behind the labor movement is that you don't walk alone. You're not by yourself. And each of us are vulnerable by ourselves. Each of us are subject to tragedy and disaster," Obama said.

"I believe it's important to have a president who doesn't choke on the word 'union.' And I believe we have to have a Department of Labor that believes in labor."

Obama's running mate, Joe Biden, also skipped a Labor Day parade in Pittsburgh to monitor the storm on Monday.

Men track down owner of lost jewelry

Three USF Holland employees went the extra mile to return the jewelry.

When Karen Scull lost several irreplaceable pieces of jewelry en route to a vacation with her husband, she came to terms with the fact that she may never see them again.

It came as quite a surprise when she returned home many days later to a message on her answering machine: Her lost treasures had been found.

“I found them at the Pilot gas station in North Lima,” said Gary Speelman, driver for USF Holland Trucking Co. out of North Lima. “They were on the ground, and I found them as I was walking into the front doors.”

Scull, 53, of Kirsey, Pa., said she thinks the jewelry — a watch with her wedding ring, a wedding band that belonged to her good friend, her mother’s 25th-wedding anniversary ring and her college class ring attached to the band — fell out of her purse when she and her husband, George, stopped at the gas station.

She said she didn’t even realize they were missing until they arrived at Red Feather Lakes, Colo., for vacation, because she thought they were packed away in a suitcase.

“I was angry at myself when I realized they were missing because I remembered seeing them the morning when we left” her brother-in-law’s house in Canfield. “I need to put them in a safer place,’’ Scull recalled saying to herself.

Speelman said he knew they were priceless pieces, and wanted nothing more than to get them back to the owner.

“I thought, if my mom or grandmother had lost their rings ... I’d want them to get it back,” he said. “I felt that she was constantly missing those items.”

Speelman brought the items back to USF Holland and gave them to Bob Pratt, operations supervisor, who made sure they were kept safe until an owner could be identified.

That same day, Jim Chandler, assistant supervisor for USF Holland, noticed Scull’s Indiana University of Pennsylvania class ring and thought he could help.

“I had my investigative mind running, and I knew from being on the Internet that I could probably get in contact with the university and get a name,” he said. “I contacted their alumni department, and they got back to me the following day.”

Chandler said the total amount of time it took to track down Scull was about a week and a half.

He and Speelman both said the thought of keeping the rings never crossed their minds.

“I knew if it was mine, I would hope that someone would go to that extent to try and track them down,” Chandler said.

Scull said she was elated when she listened to the message that her jewelry had been found.

“I called my husband inside and made him listen to the message,” she said. “I was like, ‘My rings! This is unbelievable.’”

Scull said she has much respect for all the men for doing the right thing and finding her when they could have easily kept the items.

“I’m so grateful, and it’s nice to know there are very concerned, caring people in this volatile world we live in,” she said. “I will forever be indebted to them.”

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Labor Day's Other Meaning


The nation celebrates Labor Day this weekend. But to me, it's Mother's Day. No, I'm not making some corny pun about birth pangs.

My mother, in her first career out of college, was a Teamsters business rep in the 1940s. It was an unusual job for a woman in those days. But it was wartime, and women were being recruited into many male-dominated fields.

Just picturing a petite, beautiful young Midwestern woman slugging it out at the negotiating table with industry bosses and blue-collar workers warms my heart.

I grew up knowing about Mom's work for a labor union in Los Angeles before she married Dad. But I didn't know the details. So I asked her recently to fill me in.

Mom was raised in Winona, Minn., the eldest daughter of parents who emigrated from England to Canada, then the United States.

They were decent, hard-working folks who brought their children up in the Episcopal Church during the Great Depression, with strong moral values and a sense that the world was essentially good.

Mom told me she never knew prejudice or injustice existed until she went away to college at the University of Wisconsin and her studies opened her eyes.

Mom skipped her freshman year after a placement test advanced her to sophomore immediately (did I mention how smart she is?). She met and fell in love with a pre-law student who encouraged her also to study law.

When he graduated and entered law school, Mom wasn't a senior yet. But she took a placement test and was admitted to law school without a bachelor's degree. That was where she learned about the struggle for workers' rights.

Mom soon had to set aside her studies and go to work to put her husband through law school, as wives did in those days. She never went back.

When her husband got his law degree and was offered a job in California, she came with him. The Teamsters offered her the job as a business rep working in the wholesale grocery industry representing warehouse workers, making sure their contracts were enforced and taking part in negotiations.

Mom said she'd entered her new job a bit naïve and idealistic, thinking she was going to change the world. The scope of work turned out to be a bit less expansive. But knowing Mom, I feel certain she made a difference.

For a historical perspective on what labor unions contributed to modern work life, I asked UC Riverside professor emeritus of sociology Edna Bonacich.

Bonacich said unions fought for and won child labor laws, the 8-hour workday, 40-hour work week, overtime pay, sick pay, pensions, health care benefits and paid vacations -- things people take for granted today.

Mom and her first husband eventually divorced, and Mom continued to work for the Teamsters until she met and married my father and gave birth to my brother and me.

She's 90 years old now. I'm so proud of her, and not just for her role -- however small she thinks it was -- in the labor movement.

She and my Dad taught my brother and me to speak out against injustice and stand up for our beliefs. It might not make you popular, but it gives meaning to your life.

So, Mom, this one's for you. Happy Labor Day.