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Business today

Compiled from Times wires

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 4, 2001

FACTORY ORDERS SLIDE IN FEBRUARY: New orders at U.S. manufacturers dropped in February to the lowest level in 16 months, the Commerce Department said, led by reduced bookings for industrial equipment such as computers, construction machinery and communications gear. The 0.4 percent decline in February orders to $363-billion exceeded the 0.2 percent decline many analysts expected. The report, which also showed the sixth straight month of declining shipments, suggests the manufacturing slowdown will continue until mid-year. The report also showed factory orders plunged by 4.3 percent in January, according to revised figures. That was weaker than the government previously estimated.

DISNEY MUST PAY WORKERS FOR DRESS TIME: Employees of Walt Disney World should be paid for the time it takes to get dressed as Mickey Mouse or Goofy, a federal mediator has ruled, opening the door to back pay for thousands. Arbitrator J. Chumley's decision stems from a complaint filed last year with the National Labor Relations Board by the Service Trades Council, which represents six unions at Disney World. The complaint alleged that in the fall of 1999, Disney unfairly stopped paying workers for time spent changing into or out of a costume or uniform, and for the time spent wearing a uniform before reaching work. About 3,000 employees at Epcot, the Magic Kingdom and Fort Wilderness Lodge were affected.

GENDER PAY REPORT DISPUTED: The average woman working on U.S. government contract jobs is paid 72 cents for every dollar a man earns, 82 cents if she has the same position and 89 cents if she has equal tenure and experience at the same company, a Labor Department survey of federal contractors found. The draft study was released by Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and quickly got tangled in politics. The Labor Department said the report, commissioned by Harkin, has not been issued officially because of accuracy questions that arose during the Clinton administration. Harkin released the draft study to mark Equal Pay Day, the theoretical point in the year when women's pay catches up to men's salaries from the year before.

FILING DELAY HURTS XEROX: Shares of Xerox Corp. fell 18 percent a day after the company said it would delay filing its year-end financial report to allow outside auditors to conduct a more thorough review. Xerox, whose finances are being investigated by the Securities and Exchange Commission, said Monday the independent auditing firm KPMG has not raised any issues so far. Xerox was supposed to file its annual report with the SEC in March. Xerox fell $1.05 to $4.95.

AUTO SALES' SLUMP CONTINUES: U.S. sales by major domestic automakers continued to slide for the sixth straight month in March, falling a lower-than-expected 9 percent. Still, automakers embraced the latest numbers, given the slowing economy and what they considered unfair comparisons to March 2000, when nearly all major automakers reported sales gains in what became a record sales year.

PSC TACKLES SLAMMING CHARGES: The state Public Service Commission took action against two companies accused of illegally changing customers' long-distance service, the practice known as slamming. America's Tele-Network Corp. agreed to stop operating in Florida and provide restitution to customers for 299 alleged infractions. The commission also approved a show cause order against WebNet Communications Inc., which faces $580,000 in fines or losing its operating certificate in connection with 128 slamming complaints.

MICROSOFT MUST CLARIFY MISLEADING ADS: To settle federal allegations that Microsoft misled users in ads for its handheld computer, the software giant will write an essay outlining the limitations of its device and publish it in newspapers around the country. The Federal Trade Commission said Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard claimed the Pocket PC handheld computer came with built-in wireless Internet access. In fact, customers have to buy a modem -- costing up to $350 -- separately. The ads, which ran in major newspapers and news magazines last April, said a modem was required, but the FTC said the typeface was too small. Hewlett-Packard made the Pocket PC devices at issue, and Microsoft created the operating system and software.

UNITED ATTENDANTS APPROVE JOB ACTION: United Airlines flight attendants have voted overwhelmingly to authorize periodic strikes if its proposed acquisition of US Airways goes through. The union, which represents United's 26,000 flight attendants, endorsed a "CHAOS" strike, standing for Create Havoc Around Our System. The plan includes actions such as random, unannounced strikes. The attendants claim the purchase would violate job security provisions in its contract that bars United from owning and operating another airline. United said any strike action would violate federal labor laws and the contract between the two parties.

CITIGROUP TO CUT STAFF: Citigroup Inc. said it is firing several hundred employees to trim costs. Most of the cuts are being made in technology and operations staff, a spokeswoman said. Citigroup shares fell $2 to $43.70.

ECKERD LOSES LAWSUIT: Eckerd Corp. has lost a lawsuit that accused the Largo company of overcharging customers for their purchases. Consumer advocate Mary Bach, of Murraysville, Pa., brought the civil suit asserting scanners at Eckerd drug stores have consistently overcharged customers on a wide array of products. Bach and Eckerd settled the case for an undisclosed amount.

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