Archive for Friday, June 20, 2003

Briefcase

June 20, 2003

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Sprint pays to settle allegations over billing

Sprint Corp. agreed to pay roughly $5.6 million to the U.S. government to settle allegations of contracting fraud from 2000 to 2002, the U.S. Department of Justice said in a press release Thursday.

The $5.56 million civil settlement resolves allegations that Sprint "knowingly passed through to the government" charges in excess of what it was allowed to assess under a 2001 contract, the Justice Department said. The charges involved are paid by long-distance companies such as Sprint to local telephone companies to recover the costs associated with linking customers to the network.

A Sprint spokesman said that the settlement was a "fair and equitable" resolution to "a billing dispute."

He noted that Sprint, based in Overland Park, admitted no wrongdoing.

Real Estate

Mortgages rates remain at low of 5.21 percent

Rates on 30-year mortgages remained at record low levels this week, welcome news to the housing market, one of the economy's few sources of power.

The average rate on a 30-year fixed-rate mortgages for the week ending June 20 was 5.21 percent, unchanged from last week, Freddie Mac, the mortgage giant, reported Thursday in its weekly nationwide survey.

Last week's rate was the lowest since Freddie Mac began tracking 30-year mortgages in 1971. Records that reach back earlier indicate that the rate is the lowest in more than four decades, economists said.

Labor

Judge orders Wal-Mart to negotiate with union

A judge has ruled that a Wal-Mart store in Jacksonville, Texas, must reopen its meat-cutting department and bargain with unionized butchers whose jobs disappeared when the chain switched to using prepackaged meat.

Judge Keltner Locke, a National Labor Relations Board administrative law judge, ordered the retail chain Wednesday to meet with the butchers and negotiate over the effects of the change.

"This is a historic decision -- the first bargaining order issued against Wal-Mart in the United States," union leader Johnny Rodriguez said in a statement.

In 2000, seven of the 10 butchers at the Jacksonville store voted to join the United Food and Commercial Workers union. The vote marked the only union success at a Wal-Mart store.

Legislation

Panel seeks changes in media ownership rules

The Senate Commerce Committee voted Thursday to overturn parts of a Federal Communications Commission decision freeing media companies from decades-old ownership limits and allowing them to buy more outlets and merge in new ways.

The proposal, which faces an uncertain future in the full Senate and a tough road in the House, would roll back changes that allowed individual companies to own television stations reaching nearly half the nation's viewers and combinations of newspapers and broadcast stations in the same city.

The proposed legislation also would reinstate a ban on newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership. However, it would allow state regulators to recommend to the FCC exemptions for small communities where a merger may be needed to support media outlets in financial trouble.

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