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Daily Glean: Wal-Mart: Always screwed workers

By David Brauer
Wednesday, July 2, 2008 “No, you can’t have a bathroom break,” says the Arkansas retailer to Minnesota workers.

Wal-Mart massively exploited 56,000 Minnesota workers by denying breaks and making them work off the clock two million times. The PiPress’s Julie Forster says a Dakota County judge ordered $6.5 million for lost wages. A jury could raise that to $2 billion, though a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling may cap added penalties at the $6.5 million figure. The Strib’s H.J. Cummins writes that one worker confessed to “soiling herself” because bathroom breaks didn’t happen; the judge called that an “aberration.”

More Wal-Mart: The case mirrors actions in other states. There’s been recent debate about whether Target compensates its workers as well as the Arkansas giant, but there’s no competition in court: the Strib offers a nifty employment-lawsuit tracker, and Wal-Mart is five to 35 times as likely to be sued as our Big Red Bull’s-eye. AP’s Elizabeth Dunbar reports that Wal-Mart’s stock still went up 48 cents yesterday.

The Business Journal notes Ford Ranger sales fell 33 percent in June from a year earlier. Not great news for the St. Paul plant that’s trying to stay open. Still, Rangers did better than Ford SUVs, which fell 40 percent compared to a year ago. However, the locally built light truck fared a bit worse than Ford trucks overall, which slid 31 percent. KARE’s Boyd Huppert profiles a River Falls dealership has added scooters to its sales floor.

Al Franken flipflopped: He no longer favors raising the federal gas tax, MPR’s Mark Zdechlik reports. In the wake of last year’s 35W bridge collapse, Franken said he was open to a “small” hike to rebuild infrastructure. Now, he says gas prices have risen too high to consider it. He’ll seek some other, unspecified funding mechanism. Norm Coleman has consistently opposed a tax hike.

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A D.C. ethics group has filed a formal Senate Ethics Committee complaint against Coleman for his possibly cheap rent deal. The GOP blames the messenger, charging CREW with being partisan Franken surrogates, MPR’s Zdechlik says. The possibly effective riposite is also stupid: CREW’s other three 2008 complaints were all against Dems.

Is there a chance Jesse Ventura — proud inhabitant of Mexico — might not be able to run for U.S. Senate even if he wants to? Minnesota Independent’s Paul Demko explores the question.

Gov. Pawlenty signed a 13-week extension of unemployment benefits, the Biz Journal reports. Up to 50,000 people who exhausted benefits after April 30 will benefit from the federal program that runs through next June 30.

Twin Cities Daily Planet’s Doug McGill offers a riveting account of local Ethiopian expats tracking the “third front in the War on Terror” in their country’s Ogaden region. The destruction is “Darfur-like” but has received no U.S. coverage, McGill writes. He asserts that the destroyers are close U.S. allies: the Ethiopian government. The expats assert Ethiopian spies exist in the Twin Cities.

“Hundreds of small Minnesota companies are cashing in on America’s defense industry,” and City Pages’ Jeff Severns Guntzel looks at several. It’s an overdue and engaging roundup, and includes Democratic U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar pumping up state businesses; Minnesota ranks 34th of 50 states in federal defense outlays.

Following on yesterday’s small Minnesota abortion decline, the Strib’s Josephine Marcotty says teen abortion numbers ticked up, and so did the subset that never used birth control. Though the rising numbers are tiny, pro-contraception forces argue better availability and education is needed. The numbers have risen amid more abstinance education. A weak economy doesn’t help, experts say.

Politics in Minnesota’s Sarah Janecek provides her list of top 10 Minnesota House races to watch this November. Anoka State Rep. Jim Abeler, a Republican who voted to override Gov. Pawlenty’s transportation-bill veto, was the first to file for re-election in his county, the Strib’s Paul Levy notes. In Washington County, a Republican county commissioner who backed a transit sales-tax hike was denied endorsement. Dennis Hegberg will run anyway, the Strib’s Allie Shah writes.

The Minnesota Supreme Court discussed broadcasting local trials, AP’s Brian Bakst reports. Thing I didn’t know: Minnesota trials can already be televised if the judge, prosecution and defense all agree. (It hasn’t happened much.) The PiPress’s Emily Gurnon quotes one North Dakota judge saying media coverage of televised trials is more decorous: TV shows quiet courtroom scenes, and fewer wailing relatives outside. Some locals say it’s about ratings, not educating the public. No timetable for action, if any.

Duluth faces a $4.4 million budget shortfall and will have to cut 5 percent from its budget, MPR’s Bob Kelleher says. Mayor Don Ness would close fire stations and cut subsidies to events like Grandma’s Marathon. The aquarium, already down 17 of 70 positions, would be slashed further. The city will also seek insurance-company reimbursement for time spent on accidents and fires.

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KSTP’s Chris Keating reports on Ramsey County’s new city-beach smoking ban, and how it can possibly be enforced. You can light up 50 feet away from the sand. The ban also includes playgrounds and ice arenas.

I seem to run into birders everywhere these days so this one’s for them: MPR’s Stephanie Hemphill reports on an “ambitious five-year bird count” in Minnesota. The state is behind others in creating a “bird atlas.” (Iowa had one 20 years ago.) Hemphill hangs with researchers who are testing how well a helicopter works to count birds in Minnesota’s most remote parts.

Northwest pilots would own 2.38 percent of the merged NWA-Delta, AP notes. That might be like owning a bit of the Strib these days, but it’s something. Delta pilots get more (3.5 percent) because there are more of them.

The Strib’s Susan Feyder details an eight-story, 280,000-square-foot apartment-retail project that would replace the Oak Street Cinema near the new Gopher football stadium. The 175-unit complex may be done by the 2010 school year. Developers say U employees, as well as students, are the market. There’s talk of a 30-story West Bank apartment tower where the now-closed Grandma’s stands.

A Todd County judge sided with a local Catholic Church’s ban on an autistic teen who engaged in “repeated harassment” of parishioners. The Strib’s Richard Meryhew and Curt Brown note the judge’s view that the troubles were unintentional, but congregants did suffer through “objectively unreasonable” actions.

Did you know they use “dry-ice blasting” to rehab historic structures like Lake Superior’s Split Rock Lighthouse? I didn’t either, until Finance & Commerce’s Brian Johnson told me. It removes gunk but doesn’t leave residue, like soda, or debris, like sand.

Carlson Cos. may be cutting local staff, but acquired the remaining 24 percent of India travel company Indtravels Private Ltd., the Business Journal notes.

Remember that Burnsville minor-league ballpark? The developer claims a stadium can open next season, but a company has a permit to store dirt on the site until 2012, the PiPress’s Maricella Miranda reports. And the dirt dealer wants an 18-month extension, though the city denied that. Backers still haven’t submitted stadium plans.

Nort spews: Despite hitting into five double plays, Minnesota bounces back behind Scott Baker to beat Detroit 6-4. Motor City papers lament the missed opportunity in Sore Loser, and also review Monday’s tensions. The Lynx are firmly back to earth with a 73-71 loss to the Chicago Sky. The Wild officially lost Brian Rolston to New Jersey, but signed old favorite Andrew Brunette.