Archive for November, 2012

November 29, 2012

Holding free and fair elections without fear or favor is the ultimate test of a democratic union — but Transport Workers Union Local 241 at Columbia University flunked, several fed-up members told the Daily News.

The Nov. 7 officers election at the Local, which represents maintenance workers at Columbia and several other uptown institutions, was marred by fraud and blatant irregularities during balloting, union dissidents allege.

In a razor-close contest, electrician Kelvin McAllister, a former president of the 850-member union, lost his bid to reclaim the top post by 13 votes to cleaner-custodian Luis Ventura, the recording secretary who was elected president.

The 53-year-old McAllister and numerous members say they were “robbed” because election observers were rebuffed and paper ballots were unsecured. One candidate allegedly transported a ballot box to a polling place and back — a 36-mile trip — in his car.

“I believe this election was stolen, pure and simple,” said McAllister, who has worked at Columbia’s main campus for 28 years. “The fear of many members is that tampering with the ballot boxes could have taken place on multiple occasions.”

Local 241 calls the charges “baseless,” but declines to address specific charges of misconduct.

“Our election was run fairly, consistent with our bylaws, our constitution and U.S. Dept. of Labor law,” said Sebastian Di Palma, the outgoing president and a head locksmith at Columbia.

McAllister has a long history of acrimonious battles with union brass. He has bitterly contested past election results, and was once named a “member in bad standing” for allegedly disclosing private union business, Local 241 sources say.

But his charges of wrongdoing are so flagrant that if proven true — and if he loses a first appeal to his local and a second to TWU’s international — the results could eventually be overturned by the U.S. Labor Dept.

“The ballot boxes weren’t even sealed, which violates both basic election law and common sense,” said Ramon Rogiers, a custodian who lost his bid for vice president. “We are demanding a fair re-run of the election. But do it properly this time!”

The disputed election involved electricians, custodians, mechanics, groundskeepers and other maintenance employees at Columbia, the Jewish Theologicial Seminary, Juilliard School, Jewish Museum and Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.

Among the charges:

* A ballot box was allegedly driven to Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in Rockland County, by the victorious vice presidential candidate, Steven Jones, a custodian. Accompanied by an independent election monitor, Jones then drove the ballots back to Columbia after voting.

Jones didn’t respond to an email.

* A ballot box was left wide open after voting when it should have been sealed, according to a volunteer who observed the election on McAllister’s behalf.

The same ballot box wasn’t properly inspected to ensure it was empty before voting began — an obvious precaution to thwart ballot-box stuffing.

* Candidates had inappropriate access to the polling place and were present while votes were being cast and counted.

* Election observers weren’t permitted to get close enough to watch the tallying of ballots and verify its accuracy. Ballot boxes weren’t opened in the presence of formal observers.

l Jones allegedly transported some two dozen workers from Columbia’s Baker field to the polling place, another possible violation of local bylaws.

The chairman of Election Services Solutions, an independent contractor hired to monitor and supervise the race, declined to address specific charges about alleged misconduct.

The local has 30 days to rule on McAllister’s appeal, which he filed on Nov. 13. He can file a second appeal with the Transport Workers Union of America, in Washington, D.C. His final recourse is to file a complaint with the U.S. Dept. of Labor.

Columbia also declined to comment, noting the dispute was an internal union issue.


November 30, 2012

NEW YORK–Crude oil futures snapped a three-day losing streak, rising 1.8% Thursday on hopes that Congress and the Obama administration can reach agreement to avoid the so-called “fiscal cliff.”

Oil staged a full-bloom rally, again taking a lead from strength in U.S. equities, after shedding steep losses in late trading Wednesday.

Despite the gain, which erases nearly all the declines earlier this week, crude oil futures remained stuck in the $84- $90 trading range in place this month.

Light, sweet crude oil futures for January delivery on the New York Mercantile Exchange settled 1.8%, or $1.58 a barrel, higher at $88.07. The contract had shed $1.79 a barrel heading into Thursday’s trading on worries over a potential sharp blow to oil demand if the U.S. didn’t reach a debt deal by year-end.

ICE January Brent crude settled $1.25 higher, at $110.76 a barrel.

House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) said “no substantive progress” has been made in talks between Republicans and Democrats on a deal to avoid a series of automatic tax increases and spending cuts next year. Sen. Charles Schumer (D., N.Y.) said progress had been made behind the scenes.

“Everyone is just looking at the fiscal cliff and we have been oversold here,” said Carl Larry, head of Oil Outlooks and Opinions, an advisory group.

Mr. Larry said some strength in the market also came from position squaring ahead of the expiration at Friday’s settlement of December-delivery contracts for heating oil and reformulated gasoline blendstock futures. Inventories are tight for both products, but demand has been weak as well.

December-delivery RBOB futures settled 1.9%, or 5.31 cents, higher at $2.7870 a gallon, the highest front-month price since Oct. 16.

Prices gained overnight after the head of the United Nation’s nuclear body called for “urgent” diplomacy to halt what it says is Iran’s efforts to develop nuclear weapons. Iran has maintained it is only pursuing a peaceful nuclear power program.

Diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis over Iran’s nuclear activities need to be pursued with “urgency,” International Atomic Energy Agency head Yukiya Amano said at the start of a two-day meeting of the IAEA board, which will be dominated by the Iran issue.

Global sanctions on Iran have slashed its oil output by 1 million barrels a day, and dropped it from its role as the second-biggest oil producer in the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries behind Saudi Arabia. By some counts, Iran has fallen to the No. 5 producer in OPEC, as other Gulf nations have raised output to cover any shortfall.

Meantime, the Commerce Department reported that preliminary third-quarter U.S. gross domestic product rose by 2.7%. That is the strongest growth since the fourth quarter of 2011, but was just below economists’ forecasts of 2.8% growth.

Tim Evans, analyst at Citi Futures, noted that growth in U.S. GDP hasn’t translated into stronger oil demand in the past siz quarters, due to increased efficiencies, such as higher vehicle mileage standards, and greater use of natural gas.

“There may continue to be those who will buy oil because they see GDP rising,” he said. “But they are likely to be disappointed when none of that translates into stronger petroleum demand, let alone market tightness. The U.S may be the most bearish regional oil market in the world right now.”

December heating oil futures prices settled 3.26 cents higher at $3.0406 a gallon, after shedding 6.9 cents in the prior three days.

Data from the Energy Information Administration on Wednesday showed distillate stocks (diesel/heating oil) were the lowest for this time of year in 30 years of government data. But the figures showed stockpiles were inching higher in the Northeast, the main heating oil consuming region.

More information on settlements and highs and lows for futures on Nymex and I E platforms can be found by searching for the following headlines: Nymex Light Crude Oil Close Nymex Harbor RBOB Gasoline Close Nymex Heating Oil Close ICE Brent Crude Oil Close ICE Gas Oil Close

November 29, 2012

Yesterday, the U.S. Department of Transportation awarded more than $3.2 million to the state of Washington for the Mount Vernon siding extension project.

The $8.4 million project is part of the state’s plan to improve travel times and operate higher-speed trains in the Pacific Northwest. The project calls for extending the existing siding, which is not long enough for freight trains to use, to help alleviate a bottleneck for BNSF Railway Co. and Amtrak Cascades trains operating through BNSF’s Bellingham Subdivision.

Since 2009, the Federal Railroad Administration and states of Washington and Oregon have invested $800 million to help fund 21 rail improvement projects in the Pacific Northwest.–33464

November 28, 2012

New York state’s estimated $41.9 billion cost to clean up, recover and install future preventative measures as a result of Hurricane Sandy includes $5 billion for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and $841 million for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, N.Y. Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Monday.

After assessing the damage in consultation with private firms and the affected counties, state officials estimate repair and restoration work will cost $32.8 billion, and mitigation and prevention measures will cost $9 billion.

“The devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy is of unprecedented proportions, ranking among the worst natural disasters in our nation’s history in terms of loss of life, property damage and economic impact,” Cuomo said in a prepared statement.

On Monday, Cuomo held a briefing with the state’s congressional delegation, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and county executives from Nassau, Suffolk and Westchester to review a detailed assessment of the damage and the future costs of mitigation and prevention efforts. They discussed the state’s approach to seeking supplemental federal assistance to help cover the costs.

“Working together, we will rebuild stronger and better than ever before, so New York state is better prepared and has the infrastructure in place to handle future major weather incidents,” Cuomo said.

Late last week, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie announced a preliminary cost analysis of storm damage in his state was estimated at $29.4 billion. The estimate will be refined in the days and weeks ahead, Christie said in a prepared statement.–33449

November 30, 2012

For the week ending Nov. 24, U.S. railroads reported 252,931 carloads, down 4.6 percent, and 194,538 containers and trailers, up 1.9 percent compared with volumes from the same week last year, according to the Association of American Railroads.

Twelve of 20 carload commodity groups posted gains, led by petroleum products (63.6 percent), farm products excluding grain (24.8 percent), and lumber and wood products (17.1 percent). Metallic ores volume fell 24.7 percent, grain loads dropped 16.7 percent and coal carloads declined 12.2 percent.

But utility coal volumes might tick up next year. Peabody Energy, the nation’s largest coal producer, expects U.S. coal demand to increase by 40 million to 60 million tons in 2013, recouping roughly half of the coal production lost in 2012, Robert W. Baird & Co. Inc. analysts said in their latest “Rail Flash” report.

“Peabody noted that increased demand is driven by stronger coal burn and increased natural gas prices, which at $4 per MMBtu bring both Powder River Basin and Illinois Basin coal into the money,” they said.

Meanwhile, Canadian railroads reported 77,180 carloads for the week, up 3.1 percent, and 50,567 containers and trailers, up 5.4 percent year over year. Mexican railroads’ weekly carloads rose 8.6 percent to 14,418 units and intermodal volume climbed 20.3 percent to 10,556 units.

Through the year’s first 47 weeks, 13 reporting U.S., Canadian and Mexican railroads handled 17,599,573 carloads, down 1.9 percent, and 14,045,177 containers and trailers, up 4.5 percent compared with totals from last year.–33495

November 28, 2012

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia denied a request by American Airlines to delay a union representation election for passenger service agents so the high court could hear its appeal, union organizers said Tuesday.

Without the delay, voting by the 9,700 agents is scheduled to begin on Dec. 4, with votes tallied by the National Mediation Board on Jan. 15.

The Supreme Court request was the latest legal challenge made by the Fort Worth-based airline to try and stop the organizing effort by the Communications Workers of America.

“We believe pursuing this case on behalf of the majority of American’s agents and representatives who did not seek or authorize a union election was the right approach,” said American spokesman Bruce Hicks. “With the election now going forward, we urge all of our agents and representatives to vote.”

American, which is restructuring in bankruptcy court, argued that the union did not collect authorization cards from 50 percent of workers, as required by a law enacted in February.

The National Mediation Board, which oversees union representation elections, argued that the previous 35 percent standard should be used since the application for an election had been filed in December 2011, while an older law was in place.

“It’s been just about one year since agents filed for this election, and many agents have seen their jobs outsourced, wages and benefits cut over that period,” said CWA spokeswoman Candice Johnson. “Agents want their union, and today’s decision brings that union another step closer.”

The union said that American could appeal to the full Supreme Court but would need four of the nine justices to hear the case, which probably would not occur until January.

Voting instructions for the upcoming election were mailed out Tuesday. A majority of the votes cast will decide the election.

November 27, 2012

NEW YORK — Shares of some top airlines companies were mixed at the close of trading:

Delta Air rose $.02 or .2 percent, to $9.82.

JetBlue Airways Corp. fell $.02 or .4 percent, to $5.06.

Southwest Airlines Co. fell $.11 or 1.2 percent, to $9.29.

US Airways Group fell $.20 or 1.5 percent, to $12.72.