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Wisconsin employers who discriminate will be met with pay penalties

Madison (AP) — Wisconsin employers who discriminate against their workers will face stiffer penalties under a plan state lawmakers approved Wednesday.

The state Assembly approved a bill that requires companies that discriminate against their workers to pay compensatory and punitive damages. That’s a step beyond current law, which allows the state to order companies to reinstate workers and pay back pay and attorney fees.

The bill would apply to employers who discriminate on the basis of race, gender and other factors in promoting, paying or employing workers.

Democratic supporters say the bill would punish discrimination. Republican critics say it will trigger more lawsuits and hurt businesses.

The state Senate approved the measure Tuesday. It now goes to Gov. Jim Doyle for his signature.

PCB-contaminated sediment removal under way on Fox River

Green Bay (AP) — A massive project to remove polychlorinated biphenyl-contaminated sediment from the bottom of the Lower Fox River began Tuesday.

Workers started pumping sediment from a dredging barge to a new dewatering facility. Plans call for trucks to leave every six minutes during daylight hours while hauling dewatered sediment for disposal at the Veolia landfill in the town of Chilton.

Before the work began, paper mills responsible for removing the pollution signed a $593 million contract with the general contractor, Tetra Tech Inc.

The PCBs were byproducts of carbonless paper production and were discharged in the river for decades. PCB production was banned in 1979 after they were shown to cause cancer in wildlife and be a likely carcinogen for humans.

Rockwell Automation second-quarter profit falls

Milwaukee (AP) — Industrial parts maker Rockwell Automation Inc. said Wednesday its fiscal second-quarter profit plunged 72 percent, as weak economic conditions sent its sales tumbling.

Rockwell also cut its fiscal 2009 earnings prediction to $1.40 to $1.70 per share, down from its prediction in February of $1.55 to $2.25 per share. Revenue is expected to fall between 16 percent and 18 percent for the year.

For the quarter that ended March 31, Rockwell earned $40.6 million, or 29 cents per share, compared with $142.8 million, or 96 cents per share, for the same quarter last year. Sales dropped 25 percent to $1.06 billion from $1.41 billion.

The results were roughly in line with Wall Street predictions. Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters expected a profit of 29 cents per share on $1.05 million in revenue.

The recent quarter’s results included pretax restructuring charges of about $20 million, which were partially offset by cost cuts, the Milwaukee company said.

Architecture and software sales fell 34 percent to $393.5 million, while control products and solutions sales fell 18 percent to $664.6 million.

Hutchinson Technology lays off another 300 workers

Hutchinson, MN (AP) — More layoffs are coming at Hutchinson Technology Inc.

President and Chief Executive Wayne Fortun said the company is cutting about 300 more positions companywide, mostly at its facility in Hutchinson.

Fortun said the cuts should save about $50 million a year. Combined with other restructuring actions taken this year, he estimates the company has reduced costs by around $175 million a year.

Those actions include the closure of a plant in Sioux Falls, S.D., and layoffs in Eau Claire. Including the layoffs announced Tuesday, the company will have eliminated 45 percent of its work force, leaving about 2,500 employees worldwide.

Hutchinson Technology makes suspension assemblies for computer disk drives and other electronic products. It’s been struggling due to the weak economy and the loss this month of its largest customer, disk drive maker Seagate Technology LLC, which accounted for nearly 30 percent of Hutchinson’s revenue last year.

Waste Management first-quarter falls, hurt by recycling

Hartford, CT (AP) — Waste Management Inc., the nation’s largest garbage collector, said Wednesday its first-quarter profit fell 36 percent as the recession hurt prices of recycled goods and lowered the amount of trash picked up.

The Houston-based company said in February it expected a weak first quarter. With building activity down sharply, construction companies are carting off less trash from work sites.

Meanwhile, declining markets for recycled materials hit Waste Management particularly hard.

Waste Management posted net income of $155 million, down from $241 million in the first quarter of 2008.

For the quarter that ended March 31, revenue fell to $2.81 billion compared with $3.27 billion for the same period in 2008.

Less than 5 percent of the $456 million decrease in revenue was from solid waste collection and disposal.

The rest was due to the recycling business, fuel and energy and non-operational items including foreign currency translation and one fewer work day during the first quarter.

Jobless rates rise in all U.S. metro areas in March

Washington (AP) — Unemployment rates rose in all of the nation’s largest metropolitan areas for the third straight month in March, with Indiana’s Elkhart-Goshen once again logging the biggest gain.

The Labor Department reported Wednesday all 372 metropolitan areas tracked saw jobless rates move higher last month from a year earlier. Elkhart-Goshen’s rate soared to 18.8 percent, a 13 percentage-point increase.

That was the fourth-highest jobless rate in the country.

The jobless rate jumped to 17 percent in Bend, Ore., a 9.2 percentage-point rise and the second-biggest monthly gainer. Rounding out the top three was North Carolina’s Hickory-Lenoir-Morganton, which saw its unemployment rate rise to 15.4 percent last month, an increase of 9.1 percentage points.

The regions highlight damage inflicted by the recession. Fallout has been especially pronounced in the manufacturing, construction and retail industries, which have suffered heavy layoffs.

Economy shrinks at 6.1 percent pace in first quarter

Washington (AP) — The economy shrank at a worse-than-expected 6.1 percent pace at the start of this year as sharp cutbacks by businesses and the biggest drop in U.S. exports in 40 years overwhelmed a rebound in consumer spending.

The Commerce Department‘s report, released Wednesday, dashed hopes the recession’s grip on the country loosened in the first quarter.

The economy performed nearly as badly as it had in the final three months of last year when it logged the worst slide in a quarter-century, contracting at a 6.3 percent pace. Nervous consumers played a prominent role in that dismal showing as they ratcheted back spending in the face of rising unemployment, falling home values and shrinking nest eggs.

In the January-March quarter consumers came back to life, boosting their spending after two straight quarters of reductions. The 2.2 percent growth rate was the strongest in two years.

Still, businesses cut spending on home building, commercial construction, equipment and software, and inventories of goods. Sales of U.S. goods to foreign buyers plunged as they retrenched in the face of economic troubles in their own countries. Even the government trimmed spending. It was the first time that happened since the end of 2005.

All told, the economy logged its worst six-month performance since the late 1950s.

One comment

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