Besieged workers at the Lyondell-CITGO refinery here may finally be catching some breaks.
For years the union there has been trying to get someone to listen to their tales of mistreatment at the hands of management, but they've been about as effective as PETA protesters at the rodeo.
Things are looking up, though: They've gotten some fired employees back on the payroll after arbitration hearings, and this month the U.S. Department of Labor ordered the company to fork over almost $400,000 in overtime back pay. Still, they couldn't get what they wanted most: a meeting with CITGO bigwigs.
But with the city of Houston negotiating tax breaks to lure the company headquarters here from Tulsa, Mayor Bill White has taken up the employees' cause. He's not going to hold off on the tax breaks -- this is Houston, after all, where city officials never met a polluter they didn't like -- but he's pressuring CITGO CEO Luis Marin to meet with union reps.
"They had some legitimate concerns that I investigated," White said after meeting with workers. District H Councilman Adrian Garcia is also raising the issue: "We want to make sure we're not supporting this move just for the sake of bringing new business to town, and put our workforce at risk of alleged bad practices."
Marin says he'll meet with workers, White says. He's "considering" it, a CITGO spokeswoman says.
You wouldn't think that conducting what has a great chance of being a pro forma meeting with management would get CITGO workers excited. But you don't know how hard they've been pushing for any such meeting. They're psyched, and see it as a major victory.
Another sign of a possible thaw: The union met with the ambassador to Venezuela, which owns CITGO through a subsidiary. "I think we have, honestly and truly, made a difference in these negotiations," says Jim Lefton of the Paper, Allied-Industrial, Chemical & Energy Workers Union.
We'll disengage our skepticism button. For now, at least.
The $5,000 Pee
The Ninfa's at the First Colony Mall food court has both a restaurant and an "express" counter for to-go meals. In January Leonard Teal ordered something at the counter and then asked to use the bathroom. An employee with "a very bad attitude" told him the bathrooms were for restaurant customers only. Outraged, Teal left.
But Teal is a man who takes seriously his urination needs. Not only did he file suit for the $5,000 maximum allowed in small claims court, he went undercover. He videotaped the earthshaking events one night when a friend of his ordered something at the counter and then was allowed to use the bathroom. The perfidy!
"I believe it's a form of discrimination," says Teal, even though the friend he filmed is as black as he is.
A judge ordered the suit to mediation, the transcript of which will no doubt be forever enshrined in the annals of piss-related jurisprudence. Maybe Teal can be awarded two tickets to the show that opens at the Hobby Center a few weeks after that March 11 hearing -- Urinetown: The Musical, with its stirring anthem "Privilege to Pee."
It's the Good Kind of Bombs and Child Porn
The city of Midland is not exactly a neighbor, but Houstonians were fascinated by the 1987 saga of Baby Jessica trapped in a well, so that counts for something.
One of the cops involved in that rescue, William Andrew Glasscock, pleaded guilty this month to sexual exploitation of a child and storage of explosives.
Glasscock secretly filmed a 12-year-old girl getting in and out of a shower in his place; he also had 400 pounds of high explosives -- including two pipe bombs and four homemade hand grenades -- in the house. Cops found child porn and bestiality pictures on his computer. And he was fired from the force in January for having sex (which he filmed) with unconscious women he'd drugged.
And what did his attorney tell the media at the guilty plea? Jeff Robnett offered this defense: "He never intended to hurt anyone. He's accepted just how wrong his actions are."
The second part of that statement, sure. But he never intended to hurt anyone?
Robnett wouldn't return our calls, so we asked attorney Brian Wice, past winner of the Houston Press's Best Sound Bite award, to rate the effort.
"On a scale of one to ten, if ten is gold, this is a negative five," he says. "Oh, my God. I'm a firm believer in a lawyer never saying 'No comment,' but the first rule has gotta be 'Do no harm.' 'He never intended to hurt anyone'? Isn't that the tagline in Psycho when they're talking about Norman Bates?"
Glasscock, by the way, is appealing his dismissal from the force. Probably because he didn't intend to hurt anyone.
Halliburton Co. is doing selfless work these days feeding the troops in Iraq and Kuwait. Overcharging the government millions and millions for doing it, sure, but your definition of "selfless" might not necessarily match that of a Halliburton executive.
The company has agreed to reimburse the United States for about $27 million in overcharges that have been discovered (so far) in the company's contract to run, via a subcontractor, mess halls in the two countries.
Halliburton, of course, moved its corporate headquarters to Houston last year, ably filling the evil-empire void left by the Enron collapse. The cafeterias at its various locations are closed to the public, but we still wanted to make sure Houstonians weren't getting ripped off by the company -- or at least not any more ripped off than the average American taxpayer already is.
We called Halliburton and got transferred to "Sue" in the cafeteria:
Q. If I come and eat there, how much would it cost for the special, like the gumbo?
A. Well, the gumbo is a soup, and stuff varies every day.
Q. Ah. What's the typical price?
A. The average check here is $4.79 to $5.29.
Q. Do people ever get overcharged accidentally by the cashier?
A. (Long pause.) I'm curious about why you are asking all these questions.
Q. Well, I was a little worried if I went to eat there, because I read Halliburton agreed to reimburse the military--
A. Well, how could you come and eat here if you're not a Halliburton employee? You can't get inside the building.
Q. Do Halliburton employees get overcharged?
A. I think I am not going to share any more information with you on anything. I am a little confused on why you are asking me these questions.
Q. Okay. If they do get overcharged, do they just bring back their receipt?
A. I'm curious about why you are asking about this when I had nothing to do with what's going on over in Iraq We are contracted by Halliburton to run the on-site food service [in Houston]. Our company has nothing to do with that.
Take note, Pentagon auditors: Sue had nothing to do with all that Iraq overcharging. And she's not much of a talker, either.
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Move Over, Smith & Wesson
From the Business PR Wire: HEAVEN -- J.H. Christ, for years a leader in the faith-based fund-raising industry, is branching out into the automobile security sector.
And one of the first customers is a Houstonian driving a green Mazda. "Warning," the sticker reads. "This property protected by Jesus Christ. If you think there is something here that you want and need Please don't break in. If you want what I have, just ask me, and I will tell you how to ask Jesus for it."
Jesus is apparently standing by to handle any and all requests for a gym bag, some perfume bottles and a pile of laundry.