Wednesday PM November 29th, 2006

KBR settles overcharging claims with Justice Department...Valero Energy workers in Aruba walk off job...BP reveals deaths of two contract drilling workers earlier this month in Alaska and Oklahoma...

One of the government's largest military contractors will pay $8 million to settle claims of overcharging for services. The Justice Department announced the settlement with Houston-based KBR. The Feds had alleged KBR overcharged the army for construction and other support services in the Balkans in 1999 and 2000. Kellogg, Brown & Root is a subsidiary of Houston-based Halliburton. KBR was accused of double-billing the government and ordering unusable products while helping build camp Bondsteel in Kosovo. The contractor also allegedly inflated prices for some unspecified goods that were not put out for competitive bid. Halliburton spokeswoman Melissa Norcross says the company is pleased with the settlement, which was reached without charges being filed.

American Airlines has rebuffed a demand from its pilots' union to immediately negotiate terms of the airline's proposed service between Dallas-Fort Worth and China. Union leaders want concessions on the length of workdays and other items in exchange for supporting the airline's bid for the China route. But Tuesday, the Fort Worth-based airline made a counterproposal to the Allied Pilots Association. American asks that most of the union's requests be discussed during regular negotiations on the pilots contract, which are in their early stages. American spokeswoman Sue Gordon says the union sought concessions unrelated to the China route and would have ripple effects on other contracts and airline operations. Gordon said the union should cooperate with the company over the China bid because both would gain if the Transportation Department picks American over three other airlines. She says that winning the route to the large and growing Chinese market would allow for job growth at American. American is bidding against Houston-based Continental Airlines, along with Northwest and United Airlines, to offer several new weekly nonstop flights to China.

About half of the oil workers at a Valero Energy refinery in Aruba have walked off the job. The head of the Independent Oil Workers Union of Aruba says they're joining a strike for higher pay and more benefits. Some 385 workers began their work stoppage Tuesday. They account for about half of the workers at the 275,000 barrels-a-day capacity refinery. A spokeswoman for San Antonio-based Valero says operations and output at the Caribbean plant remain normal, regardless of the strike by union members. Refinery workers want a four-year contract instead of a five-year one and are demanding better wages and more vacation days from Valero--the largest independent oil refiner in the United States. Union officials and the company have been trying to negotiate a new contract since September.

BP Says two contract drilling workers were killed in separate accidents earlier this month in Alaska and Oklahoma, according to Bloomberg News. Both workers, killed within four days of each other, suffered head injuries, although investigations into the causes of the deaths are still pending. One was killed November 13th at the Milne Point oilfield on Alaska's North Slope. He was employed by ASRC Energy Services in Anchorage. The second mishap on November 17th occurred after the drilling of a well in eastern Oklahoma, when a worker was struck in the head by the hand-held wand of a high-pressure washer. He was employed by H2S Safety Plus of Sulphur, Oklahoma.

Discount retailer Dollar General is planning to close 400 stores next year and open about 300 in new locations to improve profitability. There's no word on how many workers will be affected. The plan, which the company says is designed to improve profitability, will cost about $138 million. Half of that's related to store closings and the other half to move away from Dollar General's "packaway'' inventory management model. Under a new inventory strategy, Dollar General plans to sell off some $300 million in older merchandise to make way for newer products that are in season. As of last week, Dollar General had more than 8,200 neighborhood stores in 34 states.

The Houston Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Latina Roundtable has released a survey of 179 Hispanic female entrepreneurs spotlighting problems faced by Latinas in starting and running their businesses. Women responding to the survey said they lack capital and methods to market their businesses. Between 1997 and 2004, the number of Hispanic women-owned businesses has soared by nearly 64 percent, according to a study by the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Women's Business Research.

Bio photo of Ed Mayberry

Ed Mayberry

Local Anchor, All Things Considered

Ed Mayberry has worked in radio since 1971, with many of those years spent on the rock 'n' roll disc jockey side of the business...