Around the World January 13, 2002

aroundworld.jpg STATE

Minimum wage initiative certified for November ballot

JUNEAU -- An initiative to raise Alaska’s minimum wage by $1.50 was certified to appear on the ballot in November.

Lawmakers who took up the issue last session will decide whether to renew debate on an increase after they return to work Jan. 14. But a labor union pushing the initiative said voters may have the last word.

The initiative being sought by the Alaska AFL-CIO would raise the state’s minimum wage to $7.15 per hour, putting it $2 above the federal minimum wage.

Mano Frey, executive president of the Alaska AFL-CIO, said the minimum wage in this state is below Washington, Oregon and California. Frey chided the Republican-controlled Legislature for not raising the wage in its last session.

"We have the lowest state minimum wage at $5.65 per hour of any of our Western states," Frey said. "Now, because the Legislature refused to act last year, the people of Alaska will have a chance to act themselves this November at the ballot box."

The union was able to collect nearly 50,000 signatures in support of putting the measure on the ballot, Frey said. Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer certified it for the ballot Jan. 3.

State, Ketchikan shipyard agree on ferry repair bill

JUNEAU -- The State of Alaska and a Ketchikan shipyard have resolved their differences over delays in repairs to the ferry Columbia, with each side dropping its claims.

The deal, months in the making, was announced Jan. 7 in Ketchikan at the Alaska Ship and Drydock facility.

The Columbia’s main switchboard caught fire in June 2000 during a Juneau-to-Sitka run.

The state Department of Transportation and Public Facilities contracted with Alaska Ship and Drydrock for a $10 million-plus overhaul, including upgrades to the ship’s staterooms and public spaces.

The ship was due to be delivered to the state by May 26, 2001, but was not delivered until July 19, well into the peak of the tourism season. Under federal procurement rules, that delay was worth $4 million in damages, according to state officials.

But Alaska Ship and Drydock said the state issued faulty specifications for the work and should pay an additional $2.8 million.

The state and company participated in mediated talks from October to December in a successful effort to avoid litigation.

As part of the settlement, Alaska Ship and Drydock will be paid $1.5 million to complete remaining work on the Columbia.


Supreme Court imposes limits on disability law in workplace

WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court narrowed the reach of a landmark disability rights law Jan. 8, ruling that an assembly line worker with carpal tunnel syndrome was not entitled to special treatment on the job.

A unanimous court ruled that Ella Williams’ partial disability did not obligate her employer, car manufacturer Toyota, to tailor a job to suit her wrist, arm and shoulder problems.

The 1990 Americans With Disabilities Act guarantees equal treatment on the job and elsewhere for people whose disabilities "substantially limit" their ability to perform what the law calls "major life activities," such as caring for oneself.

Williams’ disability did not prevent her from doing many tasks at home and at work. But a federal appeals court found that she was disabled under the ADA because her physical problems substantially limited her ability to perform manual tasks at work.

"This was error," the Supreme Court noted in an opinion written by Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.

Wendy’s founder Dave Thomas dies

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Dave Thomas, the portly pitchman whose homespun ads built Wendy’s Old-Fashioned Hamburgers into one of the world’s most successful fast-food enterprises, died Jan. 8 of liver cancer. He was 69.

Thomas died around midnight at his home in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., the company said.

Thomas had been undergoing kidney dialysis since early 2001 and had quadruple heart bypass surgery in December 1996.

"He was the heart and soul of our company. He had a passion for great tasting hamburgers and devoted his life to serving customers great food and helping those less fortunate in his community," said Jack Schuessler, chairman and chief executive of Wendy’s, based in the Columbus suburb of Dublin.

The founder and senior chairman of Wendy’s International became a household name when he began pitching his burgers and fries in television commercials in 1989.

But burgers weren’t his first love. Thomas, who was adopted as an infant, became a national advocate for adoption.

He once testified before a Congressional committee about the importance of creating incentives for adoption.

"I know firsthand how important it is for every child to have a home and loving family," he testified. "Without a family, I would not be where I am today."


P&O Princess wins German approval for planned merger

LONDON -- P&O Princess Cruises PLC has won approval from German authorities for its planned merger with Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., sailing past the first of three regulatory obstacles to the deal, the British company said Jan. 8.

Germany’s Federal Cartel Office approved the proposed merger Jan. 7, in what Princess called "a positive step on the way." The would-be partners still need permission from competition watchdogs in Britain and the United States to form a combined $6 billion business that would overtake rival Carnival Corp. as the world’s biggest cruise ship operator.

Carnival itself has made a hostile takeover bid for Princess worth $4.4 billion. Princess continued to reject the bid and urged shareholders to do the same when they meet Feb. 14 to consider the proposed merger with Miami-based Royal Caribbean.

Princess is the third-largest cruise operator by market share, and Royal Caribbean is No. 2. A union between them would create a fleet of 41 ships and 75,000 berths.

Their planned merger triggered Carnival’s bid, as the three companies maneuver to cut costs to offset a plunge in passenger traffic after the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States.

All three companies operate in Alaska waters.

Argentine president asks firms to maintain stability of prices

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina -- President Eduardo Duhalde pleaded with businesses Jan. 7 to keep prices steady as Argentines fretted that a devaluation could unleash inflation and rapidly erode their purchasing power.

Duhalde appealed to supermarket owners, shopkeepers and other businesses as he began abandoning a decade-old link between the peso and the U.S. dollar, hoping to reverse the continuing decline of South America’s second-biggest economy.

Economy Minister Jorge Remes Lenicov also said the government would watch for any signs of resurgent inflation after the peso was freed from its one-to-one peg with the dollar.

"The success of this plan depends on keeping prices from shooting up," Remes said. "I’m asking (all Argentines) that they fight and push for stable prices."

He set the peso’s official rate at 1.4 pesos to the dollar for exports and imports, and said a rate applying to most ordinary transactions by Argentines will be set by the marketplace.

-- Compiled from business wire services.

01/13/2002 - 8:00pm