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Roundup: Workers' wages focus of immigration deal; AK Steel projects 1Q loss; more

| Saturday, March 23, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Workers' wages focus of immigration debate

Senators working on a sweeping immigration bill scrambled Friday to sketch out a deal before Congress takes a two-week recess, even as a last-minute dispute over wages for lower-skilled workers flared between business and labor groups. The public clash between the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and AFL-CIO over wages for lower-skilled workers underscored the high stakes involved in legislation that would dramatically reshape the immigration and employment landscape, putting 11 million illegal immigrants on a path to citizenship while allowing tens of thousands of new high- and low-skilled workers into the country. The chamber and AFL-CIO, negotiating through the so-called Gang of Eight senators, had reached significant agreement on a new visa program to bring up to 200,000 lower-skilled workers a year to the country. The number of visas would fluctuate according to demand, and the workers would be able to change jobs and could seek permanent residency. But the AFL-CIO was pushing for higher wages for the workers than the chamber had agreed to so far.

Boeing to lay off 800 as part of 2,000 job cuts in jet programs

Boeing said Friday it will lay off some 800 machinists by the end of this year as workforce needs on its newest jet programs, the 787 Dreamliner and 747-8 jumbo jet, are reduced. Company spokesman Doug Alder said that other reductions will be made through attrition so that the total number of positions cut this year will be between 2,000 and 2,300. Alder said the cuts are not related to the current grounding of the 787 because of problems with its battery system. The news, which was delivered to managers in Everett, Wash., and to union officials Friday morning, comes as a shock because Boeing jet production is set to soar this year. The 787 production rate is planned to double from five jets per month to 10 per month by year end.

Darden 3Q profit falls but tops expectations of Wall Street

Darden Restaurants' third-quarter net income dropped 18 percent, as it dealt with soft sales at Red Lobster but the performance still beat Wall Street's expectations. The Orlando, Fla., company said Friday that sales at its Olive Garden, Red Lobster and LongHorn Steakhouse restaurants open at least a year fell a combined 4.6 percent. This figure is a key gauge of a restaurant operator's performance because it excludes results at stores recently opened or closed. For the three months ended Feb. 24, Darden earned $134.4 million, or $1.02 per share. That's down from $164.1 million, or $1.25 per share, a year earlier. Revenue rose 5 percent to $2.26 billion. Darden Restaurants Inc. has been struggling to make its brands relevant again as diners increasingly head to chains such as Chipotle and Panera, where they feel they're getting restaurant-quality food without paying as much. As it looks for ways to catch up to shifting trends, Red Lobster this week started testing a “pay-at-the-counter” concept at two locations near the its headquarters.

FDA proposes new rules for heart defibrillators to get more data

The Food and Drug Administration will require makers of heart-zapping defibrillators to submit more data on their safety and effectiveness following years of recalls of the emergency devices. Defibrillators use electric shocks to jolt the heart back to normal after patients collapse from cardiac arrest. Once used exclusively in emergency rooms, they are now found in schools, office buildings and other public places. The devices have been plagued by design and manufacturing flaws for years. The FDA says it has received 45,000 reports of problems with defibrillators between 2005 and 2012. Currently the FDA approves defibrillators through a fast-track process reserved for devices similar to ones already on the market. The FDA proposal, when finalized, will require manufacturers to submit more extensive testing documentation before new defibrillators can be marketed.

Reynolds' CEO made $8.65 million in compensation; it's a 2% increase

Reynolds American Inc., the nation's second-biggest tobacco company, awarded its CEO Daniel M. Delen a compensation package valued at $8.65 million in fiscal 2012, about 2 percent more than the previous year, according to an Associated Press analysis of a regulatory filing. The pay package came in a year when the maker of Camel and Pall Mall cigarettes, and Kodiak and Grizzly smokeless tobacco saw its profit fall 10 percent to $1.27 billion and its revenue excluding excise taxes decline 3 percent to $8.3 billion. Cigarette volumes fell more than 5 percent to 68.9 billion cigarettes and its U.S. retail share fell 1.1 percentage points to 26.5 percent of the market. The company, based in Winston-Salem, N.C., said smokeless tobacco volumes grew 8 percent and it claimed 32.4 percent of the U.S. retail market.

BP announces $8 billion share buyback using money from sale

Oil company BP said Friday it will buy back $8 billion of shares using money it earned by selling its stake in Russian producer TNK-BP. The announcement came after BP completed the sale of its 50 percent interest in TNK-BP to Moscow-based Rosneft, in a deal that gave it $12.5 billion in cash and a stake in the state-owned oil company. The deal allowed Rosneft, the Russian oil giant, to tighten its grip on the country's lucrative oil industry.

PepsiCo says it's not hungry for a big snack deal that could include Nabisco

PepsiCo Inc. says it isn't interested in any big acquisitions after a report suggested a mega-snack food deal could bring its Doritos under the same roof as Oreos. The Purchase, N.Y., company, which dominates the salty snack market with Frito-Lay, issued a short statement Friday after the Telegraph newspaper of London said activist investor Nelson Peltz could push it to merge with Mondelez, which is known for sweets including Cadbury and Nabisco. The report cited unnamed sources saying Peltz, who often makes big investments in companies and then forces change, has been building stakes in Pepsi and Mondelez in recent weeks.

Other business news

• Anthony's Coal Fired Pizza plans to open a restaurant in August on McDowell Lane in Peters, at the location of a former Damon's restaurant, said Matt Levinson, a spokesman for the Florida-based chain that cooks Italian dishes in coal-burning ovens. The new restaurant across from the Donaldson's Crossroads Shopping Center on Route 19 will be the third Anthony's in the region. Other locations are in Robinson and Monroeville, and a Cranberry restaurant is expected to open in 2014, Levinson said.

• The Redevelopment Authority of Allegheny County approved a $750,000 grant for road and other infrastructure improvements at the 28-acre former Civic Arena, which is being developed into a $500 million-plus complex. The complex will include 1,100 or more residences, a hotel, office, retail and entertainment facilities, according to Travis Williams, chief operating officer of the Penguins, which is acting as the developer.

• A plan by Sewickley to develop a portion of its downtown area through the use of Tax Increment Financing got the necessary approval Friday when the Redevelopment Authority of Allegheny County approved certification for redevelopment of the site. That was a step necessary before a TIF could be authorized for the property located within a site bounded by Walnut Street, between Thorn and Beaver streets. Plans are to build a parking garage there, with possible development also of an office, retail and residential.

— Staff and wire reports

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