US Airlines get relief funds
American Airlines, Delta Airlines, and bankrupt United Airlines, are each getting more than US$300 million in cash for reimbursed security costs, the government said on Wednesday. The US Transportation Security Administration said it had notified 66 US airlines that their cash reimbursements were being electronically transferred into their accounts. Federal law requires that the disburse--ments be completed by today. Nine of the carriers, including all the major airlines, signed agreements that limit compensation of top executives as a condition of receiving the assistance. Lawmakers agreed to reimburse airlines US$2.3 billion in security costs the carriers had paid the govern-ment since February of last year. Congress agreed to suspend that fee between June 1 and Sept. 30 to save the airlines an additional US$700 million. The fee helps pay for airport security mandated after Sept. 11.
■ Labor disputes
Parisians left stranded
France's government and labor unions broke off talks on funding future state pensions without an agreement, threatening an escalation of strikes that will leave Paris residents and commuters without public transport for a third day. Labor and Social Affairs Minister Francois Fillon presented his revised proposals after public workers staged a walkout Tuesday that brought the country to a standstill and rallied more than 1 million supporters in protest marches nationwide. In Paris, virtually no metro and commuter services were set to run yesterday as strikers voted to pursue their action. "We hope to generalize the strike that we started on May 13," said Marc Blondel, secretary general of Force Ouvriere, France's third-largest labor union.
Retailers' sales plummet
US retailers suffered a surprising drop in sales last month, data showed Wednesday, as American shoppers pared spending in the face of a sluggish, no-job recovery. Retail sales eased 0.1 percent from the previous month, defying Wall Street's expectations of a modest increase, after a 2.3 percent jump in March sales, seasonally adjusted figures showed. Consumer spending is critical because it accounts for two-thirds of US economic activity. "Overall, the report was a little softer than anticipated," said BMO Financial Group senior economist Sal Guatieri. "Still, it is not a bad pullback in retail sales, given the large increase the previous month. On balance, the numbers are indicating sluggish consumer spending largely because of the weakness in labor markets."
■ Labor disputes
Truckers end strike
South Korean truck drivers said on Wednesday they would go back to work following a seven-day strike that crippled the world's third-busiest port and resulted in estimated US$450 million in lost revenue. Truckers union head Kim Jong-in said members had endorsed a package of concessions offered by the government, and apologized to the nation for the strike. "We will return to work as soon as possible," Kim said. Wednesday's agreement, made public by the Labor Ministry, included govern-ment promises to cut income taxes for truck drivers, subsidize their fuel pur-chases and other benefits such as lower highway tolls. South Korea has incurred an estimated US$450 million in losses due to the strike at Busan port.