News Archive

SEC investigating Goldman, Citi on bonds: WSJ

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The Securities and Exchange Commission has launched a probe into how Wall Street banks, including Goldman Sachs Group Inc and Citigroup Inc, allocate and trade corporate bonds, the Wall Street Journal reported on Friday.

The SEC is examining whether banks favor big investors, leaving smaller ones at a disadvantage, the newspaper said, citing unidentified people familiar with the matter.

The regulator has made requests about several deals, including Verizon Communications Inc’s $49 billion bond offering last year, the Journal said.

Representatives of the banks declined to comment. SEC officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

News of the SEC probe followed a disclosure by Goldman Sachs on Friday morning that a regulator was looking into its “allocations of and trading in fixed-income securities,” as well as its financial advisory services.

In the prior quarter, the bank’s long list of regulatory investigations, reviews and litigation into matters ranging from the municipal-bond market to insider trading did not include those terms.

Goldman also lowered its estimate of legal losses it may face beyond what it has set aside to $3.6 billion from a previous estimate of $4 billion.

(Reporting by Lauren Tara LaCapra in New York; Additional reporting by Sarah N. Lynch in Washington; Editing by David Gregorio and Jonathan Oatis)

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United gets tentative U.S. approval for flight to Tokyo Haneda

(Reuters) – The U.S. Department of Transportation on Friday tentatively approved plans by United Continental Holdings (UAL.N) to operate a flight from San Francisco to Tokyo’s Haneda Airport.

United had applied for the rights to fly into Haneda in October after American Airlines (AAL.O) announced plans to end service between New York’s John F. Kennedy International airport and the airport, which is the closest to Tokyo American said its Haneda flight was unprofitable.

Hawaiian Holdings (HA.O) had also sought the Haneda takeoff and landing rights with a proposal to offer service from Kona, Hawaii.

The Transportation Department said United’s flight from San Francisco “would introduce a new U.S. carrier at Haneda and would promote competition by giving business and leisure travelers an additional choice for connecting service.”

In a statement, Chicago-based United said it looked forward to completing the approval process for the Haneda service.

The route is part of an open-skies accord between the United States and Japan that allows four daily roundtrip flights at Haneda. The other flights are operated by Hawaiian from Honolulu; and Delta Air Lines (DAL.N) from Los Angeles and Seattle, the Transportation Department’s statement said.

(Reporting by Karen Jacobs in Atlanta; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)

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S&P ends at record but off day’s high on Ukraine worries

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The SP 500 ended at another record close on Friday but well off the day’s highs as worries about tensions in Ukraine caused investors to take profits ahead of the weekend.

All three major indexes closed out the month with strong gains, however. The Dow scored its best monthly percentage gain since January 2013, while the SP 500 had its best month since October.

Early in the session, the SP 500 hit an intraday record for a second time this week as consumer confidence and other data bucked the recent trend of weaker economic reports.

But indexes turned negative after Ukraine’s acting president accused Russia of open aggression and said Moscow was following a similar scenario to the one before it went to war with Georgia in 2008.

“There’s chatter about Russia’s (involvement) in the Ukraine, and that’s getting people all jittery,” said Michael James, managing director of equity trading at Wedbush Securities in Los Angeles. “It’s sell first, and ask questions later on a Friday afternoon. You don’t know what’s going to happen over the weekend, so people are going to lock in profits.”

The Nasdaq remained in negative territory for the session, and tech shares including Apple (AAPL.O) and Inc (CRM.N) were among the biggest drags on the SP 500.

The Dow Jones industrial average .DJI rose 49.06 points or 0.3 percent, to 16,321.71, while the SP 500 .SPX gained 5.16 points or 0.28 percent, to 1,859.45, a record close. The SP 500 hit an intraday record of 1,867.92.

The Nasdaq Composite .IXIC dropped 10.814 points or 0.25 percent, to 4,308.119.

For the month, the Dow rose 4 percent, the SP 500 gained 4.3 percent and the Nasdaq advanced 5 percent. For the week, the Dow was up 1.4 percent, the SP 500 was up 1.3 percent and the Nasdaq was up 1 percent.

Strong gains this week have come from retailers, with the SP 500 retail index .SPXRT up 4.5 percent for the week following upbeat results from Home Depot (HD.N) and others.

Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen bolstered the market on Thursday when she said harsh weather seems to be to behind recent U.S. economic softness.

Also helping the market was data showing consumer sentiment rose more than expected, while the Chicago Purchasing Managers Index was also ahead of expectations. However, the U.S. government slashed its estimate for fourth-quarter economic growth.

Among the day’s top percentage gainers, Monster Beverage (MNST.O) shares rose 5 percent to $74 a day after reporting results. shares fell 5.8 percent to $62.37, a day after it raised its full-year revenue forecast but its profit forecast was largely below estimates. Other business software makers also fell, including Workday (WDAY.N), down 4.8 percent at $109.92, and Netsuite (N.N), down 3.8 percent at $115.09.

Advancers beat decliners on the NYSE by 1,818 to 1,186 while on the Nasdaq decliners beat advancers by 1,408 to 1,188.

About 7.7 billion shares changed hands on U.S. exchanges, above the 7 billion average this month, according to data from BATS Global Markets.

(Additional reporting by Rodrigo Campos; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Nick Zieminski)

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U.S. GDP revised down, but hints of economic thaw emerge

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. government slashed its estimate for fourth-quarter economic growth on Friday in the latest sign of a loss of momentum, but some tentative signs emerged that suggested the worst of the slowdown may be over.

Gross domestic product expanded at a 2.4 percent annual rate, the Commerce Department said, down sharply from the 3.2 percent pace it reported last month and the 4.1 percent logged in the third quarter.

The economy has faced a number of headwinds, including a 16-day shutdown of the government in October and an unusually cold winter that has weighed on activity since late December.

Growth has also been dampened by the expiration of long-term unemployment benefits, cuts to food stamps and businesses placing fewer orders with manufacturers as they work through a pile of unsold goods in their warehouses.

“I don’t think the fundamentals have changed appreciably,” said Ryan Sweet, a senior economist at Moody’s Analytics in West Chester, Pennsylvania. “Heading into this year we knew it wasn’t going to be smooth sailing.”

First-quarter growth is forecast at below a 2 percent pace. But other data on Friday on consumer sentiment, regional factory activity and housing suggested some economic thawing, which should put growth on a stronger path later in the year.

Consumer sentiment rose modestly in February, while factory activity in the Midwest edged up after three months of slower growth. In addition, contracts to buy previously owned homes nudged up in January after being on a downward trend since July.

“That suggests some stabilization in economic activity,” said Millan Mulraine, deputy chief economist at TD Securities in New York. “It bolsters the current narrative that the slowing in activity has been the result of the unseasonably cold winter conditions, which we expect to reverse in coming weeks.”

The mixed data buoyed U.S. stocks, but they gave up some gains late in the session on rising tensions in Ukraine. The Standard Poor’s 500 index closed at a record high for a second straight day.

U.S. government debt prices fell, although they pushed off the day’s lows in late trade. The dollar weakened against a basket of currencies.


Frigid temperatures have slammed retail sales, industrial production, residential construction and home sales, while also putting a brake on hiring early this year.

The Federal Reserve, which has been cutting back on the amount of money it is pumping into the economy through monthly bond purchases, views the recent soft patch as temporary.

Fed Chair Janet Yellen told lawmakers on Thursday the cold weather had played a role in the weakening data, and that it would take a “significant change” to the economy’s prospects for the central bank to suspend plans to wind down its stimulus.

Indeed, a number of Fed officials on Friday made clear they still believed the economy was on an improving path.

“I’d still project that 2014 would have stronger GDP growth than 2013 did,” even if recent signs of weakness turned out not to be weather-related, St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank President James Bullard told CNBC television.

The economy averaged growth of just 1.9 percent last year after expanding 2.8 percent in 2012.

The revision left GDP just above the economy’s potential growth trend, which analysts put somewhere between a 2 percent and 2.3 percent pace. Even with the downgrade, the second-half growth pace was a solid 3.3 percent and a jump from 1.8 percent in the first six months of the year.

Consumer spending accounted for a large chunk of the revision. It grew at a 2.6 percent rate, not 3.3 percent as previously reported.

Still, it was the fastest pace since the first quarter of 2012 and it contributed 1.73 percentage points to GDP growth.

An upward revision to inflation was also a factor.

A price index in the report rose at a 1.0 percent rate, instead of the previously reported 0.7 percent rate. A core measure that strips out food and energy costs increased at a 1.3 percent rate, revised up from a 1.1 percent pace.

“While that is not runaway inflation by any means, it will certainly alleviate concerns about disinflation,” said Omair Sharif, senior economist at RBS in Stamford, Connecticut.

The contribution from trade was lowered to 0.99 percentage point from 1.33 percentage points, reflecting a wider trade gap than previously estimated. Nevertheless, it was the largest contribution trade has made to GDP growth since late 2010.

Inventories, previously reported to have risen by $127.2 billion in the fourth quarter, were revised down to $117.4 billion. Even so, the rise in the stocks was the largest since early 1998.

“The downward revision to inventories is good news for near-term growth,” said Stuart Hoffman, chief economist at PNC Financial Services in Pittsburgh.

With fewer stocks on their shelves or in their warehouses, businesses now are more likely to need to place new orders or otherwise ramp up production to meet demand.

Government spending was revised down by more than half a percentage point to show its biggest decline in a year.

Business spending was revised sharply higher. Economists said businesses likely pushed through equipment purchases to take advantage of tax credits expiring at the end of last year.

“That’s going to hurt us a little bit this quarter,” said Moody’s Analytics’ Sweet.

(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Additional reporting by Steven C Johnson and Rodrigo Campos in New York; Editing by Paul Simao and Chizu Nomiyama)

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American Air flight attendants pact on union representation

(Reuters) – Flight attendants at US Airways, which merged with AMR Corp late last year to form American Airlines Group (AAL.O), on Friday approved an agreement to change their union at the merged company.

The US Airways flight attendants are represented by the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA union, while their counterparts at American are represented by the Association of Professional Flight Attendants (AFPA).

As a result of the vote, the AFPA will represent the 24,000 flight attendants at the combined airline.

The vote sets the stage for talks on a joint labor contract to move faster, on a timetable expected to result in an agreement in place no later than the first quarter of 2015.

The two unions planned to file an application with the U.S. National Mediation Board in June to ask that the Association of Professional Flight Attendants be certified as the representative for flight attendants at the combined airline. The US Airways flight attendants’ vote was the last step before the labor groups can formalize the change on representation.

Until the board certifies the change, the US Airways attendants will retain their current representation.

Formed in December, American Airlines Group is the world’s biggest airline. Doug Parker, the former chief executive of US Airways who took that role at the merged carrier, said in a statement that the flight attendant vote showed that “the people of American are working together in an environment of coordinated, collaborative teamwork and mutual respect.”

Shares of American Airlines were up 0.8 percent to $36.83 in afternoon trading.

(Reporting by Karen Jacobs in Atlanta; Editing by Bernard Orr and Amanda Kwan)

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Fed may need to let inflation run hot to meet goals: Evans

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The Federal Reserve should be willing to let inflation temporarily run above its target level so as to more quickly bring the economy back to health, a top Fed official said on Friday, even as a second policymaker signaled the very idea left him cold.

The debate, between Chicago Fed President Charles Evans and Philadelphia Fed President Charles Plosser, underscored a fundamental disagreement over the central bank’s optimal approach to policy under new Fed Chair Janet Yellen.

To Evans, one of the Fed’s most dovish policymakers, allowing inflation to run above the Fed’s 2-percent target would be a small price to pay for bringing the U.S. economy back to full employment quickly, and could even signal the Fed’s commitment to making good on its goals.

To Plosser, an ardent policy hawk, letting inflation rise above the target would call into question the Fed’s commitment to its goals, undermining its policy effectiveness.

How the debate plays out could have a huge impact on the course of Fed policy as Yellen prepares to chair her first policy-setting meeting next month, particularly as policymakers debate ways to retool a low-rate promise that both hawks and doves see as in need of a serious overhaul.

Under Yellen’s predecessor Ben Bernanke, the Fed used massive bond-buying programs and a promise to keep rates low to boost the economy despite having already slashed the main policy rate to near zero.

But with unemployment still too high and inflation undesirably low, Evans said on Friday the U.S. central bank’s policy-setting Federal Open Market Committee is still falling short on both of its goals.

“If anything, the FOMC has been less aggressive than the policy loss function might admit,” Evans told the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business conference on monetary policy in New York.

The Fed has made it clear that an unemployment rate of about 5.5 percent and an inflation rate of about 2 percent are indicative of a healthy economy, he said. Bringing the economy back to health slowly poses risks because of the chance of intervening policy shocks, Evans said.

“The surest and quickest way to get to the objective is to be willing to overshoot in a manageable fashion,” Evans said. “With regard to our inflation objective, we need to repeatedly state clearly that our 2 percent objective is not a ceiling for inflation.”

Speaking after Evans on the same panel, Philadelphia Fed chief Plosser warned that if the Fed fails to treat its guidance as goals, its credibility will fall by the wayside and so will its policy effectiveness.

The Fed has promised to keep interest rates near zero until well past the time that the unemployment rate reaches 6.5 percent, as long as inflation does not threaten to rise above 2.5 percent.

With the U.S. jobless rate now at 6.6 percent, the Fed’s unemployment threshold has become irrelevant, Plosser said. That’s an assessment with which Evans has said he agrees.

But, Plosser added, the public could also come to doubt the Fed’s seriousness about its inflation safeguard.

“In other words,” he said, “by allowing the unemployment threshold to pass without taking action, the public might conclude that the Committee could easily decide to let the inflation threshold pass without taking action as well.”

To Plosser, that would be problematic. The Fed must have “some degree of commitment to abide” by its promises, Plosser said on Friday: too much flexibility could undermine the Fed’s policies.

Meanwhile another top Fed official on Friday said concern that loose monetary policy was fueling financial instability was not a pressing issue and that there was enough slack in the economy to give the U.S. central bank two to three years to mull the problem.

“We don’t need this theory to be able to make decisions in March of 2014,” Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank President Narayana Kocherlakota said in a reference to growing concerns among his colleagues that loose monetary policy could be fueling financial instability.

The economy remains weak, he said, so “I think we have two to three years to be thinking of this problem.”


After more than five years of super-easy monetary policy in the wake of the 2007-2009 recession, the Fed is taking the first small steps toward a more normal interest-rate environment. It trimmed its bond-buying program by $10 billion in each of the past two months, and it expects to raise interest rates sometime next year as long as the economy continues to improve.

Recent bad weather in large portions of the United States has slowed economic growth recently, but top Fed officials remain optimistic about economic prospects.

Even if the recent spate of soft data is entirely unrelated to weather, St. Louis Federal Reserve President James Bullard told CNBC television on Friday he is still optimistic about the economic growth outlook.

“I’d still project that 2014 would have stronger GDP growth than 2013 did and I’d still project that inflation would come back to target,” Bullard said.

On Thursday, Yellen attributed much of the recent weak economic data to bad weather and suggested that only a significant change in the economic outlook would drive the Fed to reconsider its plan to wind down its massive bond-buying program this year.

Dallas Fed President Richard Fisher, speaking in Zurich on Friday, wholeheartedly embraced that plan.

“As soon as feasible, the Federal Reserve should stop large-scale asset purchases entirely,” said Fisher, who has a vote on the Fed’s policy panel this year.

The Texan is one of the most outspoken opponents of the current round of bond buying, which has swollen the Fed’s balance sheet to more than $4 trillion.

(Reporting by Susan Heavey, Jason Lange, Bill Trott, Alice Baghdjian and Katharina Bart; Writing by Ann Saphir; Editing by Andrea Ricci and Meredith Mazzilli)

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Panama Canal says deal with consortium to be signed next week

PANAMA CITY (Reuters) – The Panama Canal Authority said on Friday it expects to sign a financing deal next week to finish work on expanding the waterway and end a dispute over cost overruns that has held up the multibillion-dollar project.

Following bitter wrangling with the Spanish-led building consortium since the start of the year, the authority announced a preliminary deal Thursday night. Canal Administrator Jorge Quijano said he expected the agreement to be signed on Thursday.

The deal with the construction group led by Spanish builder Sacyr and Italy’s Salini Impregilo foresees work finishing by December 2015 and would require the canal and the consortium to immediately each inject $100 million.

Both sides have agreed to continue disputing the $1.6 billion in extra costs through international arbitration. In the meantime, the deal gives the consortium immediate cash to resume work.

The expanded waterway connecting the Atlantic and Pacific oceans was originally due to open this year, but disputes over the funding and delays have pushed that deadline back.

Mistrust over the process still lingers, and canal chief Quijano was far from jubilant as he discussed the accord with reporters in a conference call from Panama City.

“I’m always very cautious because the relationship has not been very good with this contractor, I must admit,” he said.

“We will very closely supervise whatever is happening in the field. All of the monies … will go directly into the project. It cannot be siphoned out to the shareholders,” he added.

Quijano said he expected the $100 million cash injections to be in place by next Friday, and stressed the consortium would not be “getting any more money from me.”

The overall canal expansion, of which the Grupo Unidos Por el Canal (GUPC) consortium is building the lion’s share, was first expected to cost around $5.25 billion. But the overruns could increase that bill to nearly $7 billion.

The agreement with the GUPC envisages extending repayment of advanced payments made by the canal authority to the consortium worth $784 million until 2018 at the latest.

Antonio Tajani, the European commissioner for industry and entrepreneurship, said the deal was “crucial.”

“This is one of the most important infrastructure (projects) in the world,” he said in an interview.


As part of the deal, the Canal Authority agreed that the consortium could use a $400 million surety bond through insurer Zurich North America as backing to seek financing.

However, the Zurich part will take up to six weeks to arrange, for which reason the $100 million cash injections were necessary to jump-start work at full capacity, Quijano said.

Limited work on the project resumed on February 21 after a two-week stoppage. The dispute has fanned fears of delays that could cost Panama millions of dollars in lost shipping tolls.

Holdups in the prestigious project posed a setback for companies worldwide that want to move larger ships through the waterway that links the U.S. Gulf Coast to Asian markets.

Following the deal, Quijano said the newly expanded waterway would begin operating commercially by January 2016.

But he cautioned that if GUPC does not comply with the agreement, the canal will find other ways to complete the work.

“We remain prepared for another option,” Quijano said.

The agreement contains safeguards related to the payback of the advances so that if the companies fail to comply they have to return the money straight away, he added.

Sacyr, which receives a quarter of its international revenue from the canal project, reported on Friday a net loss of 496 million euros ($679 million) for 2013.

(Additional reporting by Daniel Bases in New York; Writing by Alexandra Alper; Editing by Dave Graham and Jonathan Oatis)

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Sears says investigating possible security breach

BOSTON (Reuters) – Sears Holdings Corp said Friday it has launched an investigation to determine whether it was the victim of a security breach, following Target Corp’s revelation at the end of last year that it had suffered an unprecedented cyber attack.

“There have been rumors and reports throughout the retail industry of security incidents at various retailers and we are actively reviewing our systems to determine if we have been a victim of a breach,” Sears spokesman Howard Riefs said in a statement on Friday.

“We have found no information based on our review of our systems to date indicating a breach,” he added.

He did not say when the operator of Sears department stores and Kmart discount stores had begun the investigation or provide other information about the probe.

Sears Holdings Corp operates nearly 2,500 retail stores in the United States and Canada.

Bloomberg News reported on Friday that the U.S. Secret Service was investigating a possible secret breach at Sears, citing a person familiar with the investigation. The report did not identify that source by name.

The Bloomberg report said that its source did not disclose details about the scope or timing of the suspected breach.

A spokesman for the U.S. Secret Service declined comment when Reuters asked if the agency was investigating a possible breach at Sears.

The Secret Service is leading the U.S. government’s investigation into last year’s attack on Target, which the company has said led to the theft of some 40 million payment card numbers as well as another 70 million pieces of personal data.

(Reporting by Jilian Mincer and Jim Finkle; Editing by Nick Zieminski)

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Legal test central to U.S. union challenge of VW plant vote

(Reuters) – A bid by the United Auto Workers union to invalidate the results of an election it lost at a Tennessee Volkswagen (VOWG_p.DE) plant may hinge on the novel application of a legal test used by U.S. labor regulators to assess third-party interference.

The five-factor standard has been used to determine whether some previous union elections were tainted, and the UAW has asked the U.S. National Labor Relations Board, or NLRB, to apply it to the contentious mid-February election in Chattanooga.

Known as the Westwood test, it is commonly used in cases of workers intimidating other workers. So it is unclear if the test is suited to assessing whether anti-union statements made by conservative lawmakers and interest groups compromised the Chattanooga election, as the UAW contends, experts told Reuters.

The NLRB has not yet said whether it will apply the test. If it does, it could boost the UAW’s push to force another election. If the NLRB chooses not to apply the Westwood criteria, it was unclear how it might handle the case.

Plant workers were bombarded by anti-UAW messages from privately funded anti-union groups and Republican lawmakers, including Tennessee Senator Bob Corker and Governor Bill Haslam.

Germany’s VW stayed neutral in the campaign, even granting the UAW access to employees at the plant. But the union on February 14 lost its bid to organize the plant by a 712-626 vote.

A UAW victory would have resulted in the first foreign-owned auto plant to unionize in the South, a historically anti-labor region where the UAW has been trying hard to gain a toehold.

The UAW is arguing that “interference by politicians and outside special interest groups” created “a general atmosphere of fear of reprisal rendering a free election impossible.”


The VW plant in Chattanooga, nestled in the mountains of deeply conservative and Republican eastern Tennessee, opened in 2011. It manufactures the Passat four-door sedan.

During the union election campaign, state lawmakers said they would not vote to give VW tax incentives to expand if the plant unionized. Corker, a former mayor of Chattanooga, said he had been “assured” a new SUV production line would come to the plant, bringing more jobs, if the workers rejected the UAW.

In addition, privately funded anti-union groups from inside and outside Tennessee leased billboards, bought radio advertisements and held meetings to campaign against the UAW.

The NLRB has rules about what unions and management can say during union election campaigns. But statements by third parties with no direct connection to either side fall into a gray area.

The UAW argues that third-party messages contaminated the VW election. In February 21 objections filed with the NLRB, which supervised the election, the union cited the Westwood test, which was developed in a case concerning a unionization drive at the Westwood Horizons Hotel in Los Angeles in the early 1980s.

In the Westwood case, a few pro-union workers, with no official union ties, threatened and harassed other workers to try to get them to vote for unionization. The union won the election.

The hotel owner challenged the outcome. The NLRB invalidated the results and ordered a new election.

But the Westwood test “doesn’t fit particularly well when you’re talking about the statements of elected officials, exercising their First Amendment rights, who aren’t immediately involved in the election process itself,” said Ronald Meisburg, a former NLRB general counsel and now a Proskauer Rose attorney who represents management.


In its Westwood decision, the NLRB said it would weigh five considerations to determine whether a third party, other than the union or the employer, had influenced workers to such a degree that the election result should be set aside:

– whether the threats would affect all voting workers;

– whether they were widely made;

– whether the person making them could carry them out;

– whether employees acted or voted in fear of the threats;

– whether the threats coincided with the election.

The Westwood criteria have been used historically to assess situations in which workers threatened or intimidated colleagues.

The UAW told the NLRB that third-party statements during the VW campaign met the five Westwood criteria. According to the union, the lawmakers essentially said workers would have less job security if they unionized and employees had every reason to accept those remarks as true.

Taken together, these statements were part of an “extremely high visibility campaign” disseminated by lawmakers’ press shops, anti-union groups and the media, the union said.

“Moreover, the threat to eliminate state incentives was made by powerful political leaders who, in fact and in the reasonable perception of employees, were quite capable of putting their threat into effect,” the UAW stated.

The UAW has until March 7 to back up its claims with evidence, at which point the NLRB regional director in Atlanta will decide whether to investigate.

Anti-union groups have recently filed objections with the NLRB to the UAW’s challenge.

Over the years, the five-member governing board of the NLRB has been friendlier to unions when a majority of its members were Democrats, and less so when Republicans were in control.

President Barack Obama recently got a majority of Democrats appointed to the NLRB board.

(Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh, Peter Henderson and Dan Grebler)

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