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Archive for Saturday, April 27, 2002

Briefcase

April 27, 2002

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Hershey employees bitter about health-care benefits

Nearly 3,000 Hershey Foods Corp. workers upset with an offer from the nation's biggest candymaker that would increase their health insurance contributions walked off the job Friday at two Hershey factories.

The strike affects two factories in Hershey and about one-fifth of the company's overall work force. Negotiations between Hershey and the Chocolate Worker's Local 464 broke off Wednesday. No new talks were scheduled. The workers, above, picketed Friday across from a Hersey plant.

Company officials said a strike would not interrupt service to its customers. Hershey Foods has been building inventory and cash reserves in preparation for a walkout, analysts said.

There were no plans to bring in replacement workers, Hershey Foods spokeswoman Christine Dugan said.

Topeka: Western Resources may sell interest in ONEOK utility

Topeka-based Western Resources said it might sell its stake in ONEOK, an Oklahoma gas company.

Western's subsidiary, Westar Industries Inc., owns 45 percent of ONEOK, of Tulsa, Okla. A ONEOK subsidiary, Kansas Gas Service, is the largest provider of natural gas to homes and businesses in Kansas.

On Friday, Western noted that it might try to get ONEOK to buy its stake, or find a third-party buyer within 16 months.

Western also said it "may pursue any other means available" for selling its stake under its shareholder agreement with ONEOK.

During Kansas Corporation Commission hearings last year, critics of Western's now-defunct plan to merge with Public Service Company of New Mexico said the company instead could sell its stake in ONEOK to raise cash to pay down its debts. Western's stake could be worth $700 million or more, depending on stock prices.

Agriculture: Farmland credit rating falls

Moody's Investor's Service has lowered the credit rating for Kansas City Mo.-based Farmland Industries.

Moody lowered the rating two notches from B3 to B1. The service said it lowered the company's rating amid concerns that it may have to file for bankruptcy protection. Farmland had mentioned that possibility in a recent filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Since that filing, though, company officials have said they no longer see bankruptcy as a necessary consideration.

Farmland owns a nitrogen fertilizer plant in Lawrence, but it has been on stand-by status since January and most of its employees have been laid off. The company has not announced whether it will re-open the plant.

Lawsuit: Aquila target of lawsuit

A Pennsylvania law firm announced Friday it has filed a class-action lawsuit against Kansas City Mo.-based Aquila, formerly known as UtiliCorp United Inc.

The lawsuit, filed by Schiffrin & Barroway, alleges the company did not form an audit committee in a timely manner to monitor transactions between UtiliCorp and Aquila. The suit claims the failure to timely form an audit committee allowed Aquila stock to be purchased by the company at a less than optimum price per share.

The suit seeks an unspecified amount of damages. Attempts to reach Aquila officials for comment were unsuccessful.

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