Cleanup Proving Messy
The federal government said it would continue paying for hotels for Katrina evacuees past a previously announced deadline, an acknowledgment of the difficulty in finding other housing solutions. New Orleans officials, meanwhile, told the Wall Street Journal that they will need to bulldoze at least 50,000 of the 215,000 residences in the city because of hurricane and flood damage, with another 50,000 still too unsafe to live in. The head of the federal agency in charge of the cleanup said he would rescind several large, no-bid contracts and seek new bids.
Delphi Warns Its Workers
How much of a pay cut would U.S. workers have to swallow to make big auto parts manufacturers profitable and competitive? By as much as two-thirds, Delphi told its unions. Delphi claims to spend around $65 an hour for pay and benefits, and that would have to drop to between $14 and $19, the company told its unions. For some hourly workers, that would amount to pay of $10 an hour with no pension and much-reduced health benefits. The unions' response: no way. The next step, possibly: bankruptcy court.
Refinery Rescue Package
With about 20 percent of the nation's refining capacity still shut down after two Gulf hurricanes, the House passed legislation aimed at expanding production of gasoline and heating oil. The bill, rammed through on a partisan vote without hearings, would federalize the permitting process, allow refineries to be on closed military bases or other federal lands, and provide as much as $3.5 billion in subsidies and cost guarantees. Some regional blends of gasoline now required by environmental rules would be eliminated.
Dueling Over Downloads
With music pirates on the run and legal downloading more than tripling last year, major record labels are moving to raise royalties. Software giant Microsoft, desperate to break into the music biz, broke off talks with the record labels after concluding that they were demanding unreasonable monthly payments of $6 to $8 per user, the Wall Street Journal reported. The industry also is trying to persuade Apple to drop its one-price, 99-cent fee for downloading any song onto an iPod in favor of a variable pricing formula charging more for current hits.
Pensions Going Out of Style
Lockheed Martin, one of the Washington region's largest private employers, joined a small but growing list of major corporations that will no longer offer health care or a guaranteed monthly pension check to their retirees. In the future, new employees at Lockheed will receive a guaranteed contribution to a 401(k) retirement account that they manage themselves and can take with them whenever they leave the defense contractor. The company said it will honor its commitments to current employees when they retire.