Archive for August, 2013

Aug. 29, 2013

SPEEA Petitions for Worker Trade Act Assistance as Spirit Announces More Layoffs in Wichita

The following is a statement from SPEEA, IFPTE Local 2001:

Continuing efforts to help represented employees at Spirit AeroSystems, the union representing professional workers today (Thursday, Aug. 29) filed a petition with the U.S. Department of Labor seeking access to training, income support and other benefits through the federal Trade Act.

The filing by the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace (SPEEA), IFPTE Local 2001, was made just hours before Spirit announced a new round of layoffs, a move that will further cut the ranks of experienced employees needed to meet demands by The Boeing Company and other customers for increased output.

Recently secured by SPEEA for employees laid off by Boeing in Washington state, Trade Act funding is designed to assist eligible laid-off workers impacted by increased imports or companies moving work to other countries. If approved, laid-off employees can apply for additional assistance, including long-term training tuition assistance, income support, health care tax credit, as well as job search and relocation allowances.

The Trade Act filing is part of SPEEA’s ongoing effort to help employees who are shouldering the burden of major missteps by Spirit management. Since spring, Spirit has taken more than $940 million in accounting charges.

Today’s announcement by Spirit was a request for employees willing to “volunteer” for layoff. However, the union understands layoffs beyond the volunteers are planned. With 360 employees dismissed in July, Spirit is nearing 500 layoffs in a quarter, which would require issuing 60-day layoff notices under the federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act. Last month’s layoffs in Kansas and Oklahoma were immediate.

SPEEA has held and sponsored a number of employment assistance and retirement seminars for represented employees. It also filed, and is working, 221 grievances that question the company’s ability to disregard its own policies and employee contracts and dismiss employees on the spot. Two Unfair Labor Practice (ULP) charges related to Spirit’s layoff actions were also filed by SPEEA and are now before the National Labor Relations Board.

A local of the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers (IFPTE), SPEEA represents 26,400 aerospace professionals at Spirit and Boeing in Kansas, Washington, Oregon and California, and at Triumph Composite Systems, Inc., in Spokane, Washington.

via SPEEA Petitions for Worker Trade Act Assistance as Spirit Announces More Layoffs in Wichita | Reuters.

Crude oil prices jumped nearly 3 percent to an 18-month high on Tuesday, capping an increase of about 20 percent over the past two months as a result of scattered supply disruptions and rising anxiety about war and political instability in the Middle East.

The growing likelihood of a U.S.-led military response to reports of Syrian use of chemical weapons rattled markets, analysts said. The price of the U.S. benchmark crude oil, West Texas Intermediate, on the New York Mercantile Exchange closed at $109.01 a barrel for October delivery, up $3.09 from the day before and up from less than $95 in late June.

Syria, whose oil output has shriveled to less than 50,000 barrels a day from 350,000 in March, is insignificant in the 90 million-barrel-a-day global oil market. Although it once exported about 150,000 barrels a day, Syria has been barred from selling oil internationally since sanctions took effect in 2011.

But Syria’s conflict threatens to spread. It has pitted Saudi-backed Sunni rebels against the Iranian-backed Shiite regime of President Bashar al-Assad, an unusually open conflict between proxies of the two leading Persian Gulf powers. Syria’s civil war is also inflaming strife in Iraq, where violence has reached the highest level in five years. Sunni insurgents have repeatedly bombed and disrupted export pipelines from Kirkuk to the Turkish port of Ceyhan, putting a dent in the output of OPEC’s second-largest oil producer.

The Syrian conflict also could undermine nascent hopes among the Western powers of negotiating a deal over Iran’s nuclear program. Such a deal would lead to an easing of international sanctions that have reduced Iran’s oil exports.

“The increasing likelihood of some form of limited US led military action in Syria is compounding concerns about the stability of the world’s key oil producing region and will likely exert upward pressure on prices until the nature of the possible military intervention becomes apparent,” oil analysts at Barclays said in a note to clients. “But the bigger risk for the oil market is the potential for the Syrian conflict to spread to neighboring producing countries and imperil regional output.”

Oil prices are hovering near historic highs, squeezing economic recovery in Europe and swelling the financial power of leading members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, including Saudi Arabia. The sovereign wealth funds of the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait have climbed to more than $2 trillion, up $420 billion over the past two years, according to industry newsletter Petroleum Argus.

Saudi Arabia, for most of the past century considered one of the pillars of American oil diplomacy, has recently defied the United States over Egypt, pledging to make up for whatever aid the United States withdraws from the new military regime. If the United States relies less on Saudi Arabia because of rising domestic production, Saudi Arabia relies less on American markets for its oil, although it still overwhelmingly buys U.S.-made military equipment.

This summer’s run-up in crude-oil prices flies in the face of widespread optimism about oil supplies in the United States, where domestic production has surged as a result of shale drilling. Yet global oil supplies remain somewhat tight in large part because of disruptions in Iraq and Libya.

In Iraq, persistent attacks on the pipeline from Kirkuk to Ceyhan sliced about 290,000 barrels a day off Iraqi exports, according to the Energy Information Administration. In Libya, labor protests at several oil production facilities cut production to 1 million barrels a day in July, down from 1.5 million barrels a day in April. It has now slumped to 200,000 barrels a day, according to a Bloomberg News report. In Nigeria, crude exports were reduced during July and August because of work on key pipelines.

Further disruptions in Yemen, Sudan and South Sudan have trimmed global oil output.

But Greg Priddy, global oil director at the Eurasia Group consulting firm, expects that the run-up in oil prices may be temporary. He expects a limited attack on Syria and notes that the summer peak oil consumption period is ending and that demand eases during the fall. Moreover, he added in an e-mail, Saudi Arabia has increased its oil production to 9.8 million barrels a day in an effort to moderate prices. The kingdom added 150,000 barrels a day to calm markets after the Egyptian military toppled the elected president, Mohamed Morsi.

One factor driving up the price of the West Texas Intermediate benchmark has been the addition or reversal of pipelines to alleviate the bottleneck in Cushing, Okla., where the price is set. Oil flowing to Cushing from Canada, North Dakota and other areas can now be transported more easily to the Gulf Coast, where there are more buyers.

But the price of the more widely used international benchmark called Brent crude also jumped on Tuesday, to $113.95 a barrel. It has risen sharply since late June.

via Crude oil prices reach 18-month high – The Washington Post.

Aug. 27, 2013

The California high-speed rail project is expected to result in $560 billion in revenue for certified companies during the project’s first and second phases, according to a foundation that advocates for minority-, women- and disabled-veteran-owned businesses.

While the project’s potential economic impact on area businesses is good news, it also translates into a “tremendous need” for project leadership to work with companies based in California’s Central Valley, said Reynaldo Arellano, president of the Economic Empowerment Fund (EEF).

“Companies interested in contracting with the project will be required to be certified to bid on any contracts,” he said in a press release. “For companies new to the certification process, it can appear to be an intimidating and stressful process for business owners. Individuals who have gone through the process can attest to the fact that it is worth the effort.”

One free online tool that businesses can use to help them get started in the certification process is procurementvault.com, according to EEF.

The high-speed rail project is expected to generate $140 billion in revenue during the first phase and more than $420 billion in the second phase in such sectors as construction, professional services, food and beverage, and manufacturing, says Arellano.

via Rail News – California high-speed project is ‘good news’ for Central Valley firms, foundation says. For Railroad Career Professionals.

Aug. 28, 2013

Locomotive engineers represented by the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) recently signed a new five-year contract with Tacoma Rail.

Retroactive to July 1, 2012, the agreement covers 20 locomotive engineers. The contract contains a signing bonus, significant improvements to wages and paid time off, and health and welfare benefits equal to other city workers in Tacoma, Wash., BLET officials said in a press release.

BLET’s Division 238 in Tacoma represents members from both BNSF Railway Co. and Tacoma Rail, which serves the Port of Tacoma and interchanges with BNSF and Union Pacific Railroad.

via Rail News – BLET-represented engineers sign contract with Tacoma Rail. For Railroad Career Professionals.

Aug. 30, 2013

U.S. Class Is originated a record 108,605 carloads of crude oil in the second quarter, up 11.8 percent compared with the first quarter and a whopping 111 percent compared with second-quarter 2012, Association of American Railroads (AAR) officials announced yesterday.

Crude oil accounted for 1.5 percent of total Class I carloads in the second quarter. Based on data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the AAR estimates that railroads currently transport about 11 percent of U.S. crude oil production versus virtually none a few years ago, association officials said in a press release.

However, the ongoing uptick in petroleum products traffic hasn’t been enough to buoy U.S. railroads’ total carloads for much of the year. Another case in point: the week ending Aug. 24, when U.S. carloads declined 1.7 percent to 291,889 units compared with the same week last year, according to AAR data.

Six of 10 carload commodity groups posted gains, led by petroleum and petroleum products at 15.3 percent, but grain volume tumbled 15.3 percent.

At least U.S. intermodal volume registered another weekly gain. For the week ending Aug. 24, the roads originated 257,080 intermodal loads, up 3.5 percent year over year. In addition, total U.S. rail traffic ratcheted up 0.7 percent.

Meanwhile, Canadian railroads for the week ending Aug. 24 reported carloads totaling 79,241, down 0.8 percent, and intermodal volume totaling 56,458 units, up 6.1 percent year over year. Mexican railroads’ carloads climbed 6.2 percent to 15,857 units, but their intermodal volume declined 4 percent to 10,691 units.

Through 2013’s first 34 weeks, 13 reporting U.S., Canadian and Mexican railroads handled 12,645,588 carloads, down 0.3 percent, and 10,390,003 containers and trailers, up 3.5 percent compared with the same 2012 period.

via Rail News – Class Is’ 2Q crude volume record not enough to shake U.S. carload traffic from year-long malaise. For Railroad Career Professionals.

Aug. 28, 2013

FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) – American Airlines posted a record one-month profit in July as it benefited from lower labor costs and higher revenue during the peak of the summer vacation season.

Parent AMR Corp. said Monday that net income more than doubled to $292 million, continuing the company’s rebound since it filed for bankruptcy protection in November 2011.

“We are completing one of the most successful turnarounds in aviation history,” CEO Tom Horton said

in a letter to employees

“We are building a strong, competitive and profitable new American poised to lead again.”

Horton said that excluding one-time restructuring costs, AMR would have earned $352 million last month – a company record. The CEO noted that the airline is adding new routes and getting the first of hundreds of new planes that it ordered.

American’s momentum is convincing some in the travel industry that AMR doesn’t need to merge with US Airways after all.

“If they’re doing this well now in the throes of bankruptcy, I can only expect that they’ll be able to compete alone and don’t need this merger,” said Brian Kelly, who blogs about travel as The Points Guy. Kelly believes the merger will lead to higher prices by reducing the nation’s five biggest airlines to four.

That’s the same argument that the U.S. Justice Department made when it filed a lawsuit this month to block the merger. A federal judge could decide Friday when that lawsuit will go to trial; in the meantime it’s delaying the merger.

Others in the industry think that American’s newfound prosperity could be fleeting and shouldn’t be seen as reason to block the merger of the nation’s No. 3 and No. 5 airlines. Bob Mann, an aviation consultant who once worked at AMR, questioned whether an independent American could increase revenue, hold down expenses and improve relations with labor unions, which support the merger.

Vicki Bryan, an analyst at bond-research firm Gimme Credit, said a stand-alone American would continue to struggle and could destabilize the rest of the industry.

“This merger is not about two fat cats coming together to get richer at the expense of consumers,” Bryan wrote in a note to clients. “Restoring profits is important, yes, but this merger is also about jobs and flyer safety” and reliable service.

AMR’s bankruptcy creditors pushed hard for the merger, which they saw as the best way to create an airline big enough to compete with United and Delta.

AMR has used the bankruptcy process to eliminate several thousand jobs and rewrite labor contracts. Its labor costs last month were 12 percent lower than in July 2012, accounting for about half the improvement in profit.

The company finally boosted revenue – up 7 percent from a year earlier. It was flat in the April-to-June quarter.

That helped AMR end July with $5.83 billion in unrestricted cash and short-term investments, an increase of $1 billion in one year.

via American Airlines profit doubles on high demand, cost cuts.

Aug. 29, 2013

NEW YORK (AP) — The agency that runs New York City’s subways and buses is inviting the public to try out and weigh in on dozens of new apps designed to ease getting around.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority and AT&T released 49 new apps on Tuesday. They were developed in a competition to create new mobile tools that draw on real-time MTA data.

Users can vote through Sept. 10 on their favorite app. Winners will be announced at the end of September.

Competitors are vying for $40,000 in prize money, provided by Dallas-based AT&T Inc.

A panel of tech experts will choose some winners. The public vote will select others.

The MTA offers its own apps but also has made a practice of inviting developers to use its data.

via NYC transit app competition asks public to vote – Times Union.