News Briefs

Ruud Lighting permanently lays off about 8 percent of work force

Mount Pleasant (AP) — Ruud Lighting laid off about 50 of its nearly 600 workers.

President and chief executive officer Alan Ruud said sales have dropped with the collapse of the construction industry. He says the company is restructuring, and the layoffs are permanent.

The privately owned company makes commercial, industrial and residential lighting fixtures.

Ruud said the job losses would have been more severe if not for the company’s success with energy efficient light-emitting diode light fixtures.

He said demand also has been good for fluorescent high-bay industrial lighting. Many utilities offer rebates to encourage conversion to the energy-saving lights.

Ruud said the workers laid off Tuesday will receive severance packages and outplacement services.

Federal judge strikes down Wisconsin rules prohibiting partisanship among judges

Madison (AP) — A federal judge struck down rules that prohibit Wisconsin judges from joining political parties, soliciting campaign donations and endorsing partisan candidates.

U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb said the rules do little to advance an independent judiciary and violate judges’ free speech rights. She said the Wisconsin Judicial Commission cannot enforce them.

Crabb said the rules may hurt the judicial system because they deny voters information about candidates and hide potential bias among judges.

Milwaukee County Judge John Siefert challenged the rules, saying he wants to be able to join the Democratic Party, endorse Democratic candidates and raise money for his next campaign.

Racine city administrator resigns abruptly after one and a half years on job

Racine (AP) — Racine City Administrator Ben Hughes resigned Monday without citing a specific reason.
According to information attributed to Hughes in a press release, “unique circumstances and unanticipated events sometimes call for the need for a new page to be turned.”

He did not return calls seeking comment.

Hughes resigned just before the city’s executive committee met in a closed session to discuss two state complaints pending against the city that both name Hughes specifically. He had been city administrator since October 2007.

Former Racine Mayor Gary Becker resigned last month and Hughes took a lead role in the days following Becker’s arrest. Becker is charged with eight felony counts related to an Internet sex sting investigation.

MPCA study finds increase in mercury levels in fish

St. Paul, MN (AP) — The amount of toxic mercury in northern pike and walleye in Minnesota has been unexpectedly rising since the mid-1990s, and a Minnesota Pollution Control Agency scientist said coal burning by other countries or climate change may be the cause.

The MPCA reported the increase on Tuesday, after publishing a study in last week’s edition of the peer-reviewed journal “Environmental Science & Technology.”

“In the decade before the mid-1990s, the methylmercury concentrations in northern pike and walleye from the great majority of Minnesota lakes were decreasing,” said MPCA scientist Bruce Monson, who conducted the analysis. “However, the analysis showed that the fish-mercury concentration in the majority of lakes has been increasing since the mid-1990s.”

The MPCA said the finding is a concern because methylmercury, the form of mercury in fish, is toxic to humans and wildlife. MPCA scientists analyzed tissue obtained from fish collected from 845 Minnesota lakes over 25 years.

Because the trend is statewide, the MPCA said a local source of mercury likely is not responsible.

Goodyear to cut nearly 5,000 jobs after fourth-quarter loss

Cleveland (AP) — Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., the biggest U.S. tire maker, said Wednesday the global economic slowdown will force it to cut nearly 5,000 jobs this year after it posted a fourth-quarter loss and revenue sank 21 percent.

The cuts equal almost 7 percent of the Akron, Ohio-based company’s work force and follow the elimination of about 4,000 jobs in the second half of last year.

Goodyear lost $330 million in the fourth quarter, after a profit of $52 million a year earlier.

Sales dipped to $4.1 billion from $5.2 billion a year earlier.

The company said the global economy depressed the number of tires sold in the recent quarter by 19 percent. Revenue per tire actually increased.

Goodyear also is freezing salaries, putting restrictions on some spending and putting in place purchasing strategies aimed at lowering raw materials costs.

Goodyear also plans to reduce its global tire capacity while improving cash flow.

New York City launches program to encourage entrepreneurs

New York (AP) — New York City is launching 11 business programs to encourage entrepreneurship and help the financial services sector rebound from the economic downturn.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced the plan Wednesday at the first city-sponsored “business incubator,” where entrepreneurs rent office space for $200 per person per month, get office services, take advantage of networking opportunities and receive training.

The city also is forming a fund to help support startup companies and launching services meant to help people laid off from financial services industry jobs start and join new companies.

In addition, officials will seek to recruit new financial services companies to the city, including commercial banks and insurance companies based in China and India.

General Electric chiefs decline full bonuses for 2008, saving millions

Washington (AP) — General Electric Co. said Wednesday that chairman and chief executive Jeffrey Immelt will forgo a 2008 bonus and performance awards worth millions of dollars after the company’s earnings fell last year and its stock price plunged amid a deteriorating economy.

The Fairfield, Conn.-based conglomerate, which makes everything from locomotives to household appliances, said Immelt will not receive his $11.7 million long-term performance award. Immelt received a base salary of $3.3 million, unchanged from 2007, but no bonus. In 2007, GE paid Immelt a $5.8 million bonus.

According to information in a statement attributed to Immelt, GE’s board of directors took the steps at his urging because of the company’s sagging performance. Earnings were down 22 percent in 2008. Company shares lost more than half of their value last year and are already down 33 percent in 2009, trading at levels not seen since the mid-1990s.

Chief Financial Officer Keith Sherin and Michael Neal, chief executive of GE Capital, received 2008 bonuses 15 percent and 25 percent below their prior-year payments, respectively. The two executives both declined half the amount earned under their long-term performance awards, which means a $2.6 million reduction in Sherin’s payment and a $2.9 million reduction in Neal’s payment.

On average, GE reduced the size of its executive bonuses by 19 percent during 2008.

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