Spring Hill GM Plant Workers Go on Strike

Workers at the General Motors (GM) plant in Spring Hill went on strike last night, walking out of the plant and holding protests at its entrances, The Tennessean reports. This comes after stalled negotiations between GM and the United Auto Workers (UAW) regarding stagnant wages, idle plants and the rising cost of health care that led 50,000 union workers nationwide to go on strike. The strike has not affected Ford or Fiat Chrysler, whose UAW contracts were extended while the union tries to negotiate a deal.

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VW Workers in Tennessee Vote Against Unionization Efforts

Volkswagen (VW) workers in Tennessee recently voted down efforts to instill a labor union, The New York Times reports. Out of approximately 1,600 workers polled just over half opposed unionization, which the United Automobile Workers has been pushing since 2014. The chief executive in VW’s Chattanooga plant, Frank Fischer said of the move “Our employees have spoken … We look forward to continuing our close cooperation with elected officials and business leaders in Tennessee.” Gov. Bill Lee lobbied against unionization to workers at the plant, saying that the presence of a union would make it harder for the state to attract other businesses.

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Ageism and Multinational Corporations

Lawsuits against major corporations like Ikea and Volkswagen (VW) alleging discrimination against older adults are putting the ostensible practice of ageism under the microscope, according to a recent piece in Forbes. Multinational companies are becoming a lightning rod for such lawsuits, likely because of more stringent legal protections for American workers. IKEA is currently facing at least five age discrimination lawsuits, with four VW employees at its Chattanooga plant recently filing a lawsuit maintaining the company’s “Pact for the Future” program — touted as making VW “slimmer, leaner and younger” — is, in fact, a labor campaign designed to eliminate 30,000 jobs of employees mostly born between 1955 and 1960. Ageism can have more dire consequences in the U.S. compared to other nations, particularly European, where retirees enjoy subsidized pensions and universal health care.

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Mexico Becomes First Country to Approve New NAFTA Deal

Mexico recently became the first nation to ratify the new North American free-trade agreement (NAFTA), with its Senate approving the proposed rules in a landslide 114 to 4 vote, The Washington Post reports. Mexico remains a strong advocate of the program, which has been a huge boon to its economy, allowing 80 percent of its exports to flow into the U.S. Canada is also on board with the new NAFTA proposal, but is waiting to see how the agreement shakes out with leaders in the U.S. as ratification is pending on an agreement between the Trump administration and Congress. Mexico is currently the number one trade partner of the U.S.

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State Lawmakers to Consider Transparency Measures for Business Tax Incentives

State lawmakers are reconsidering state laws that keep information on business tax credits confidential, the Tennessean reports. Proponents of transparency will introduce a bill that would require companies seeking incentives to release tax information along with business grant details, an approach that advocates contend is essential for formulating good economic development policy. Gov. Bill Lee after a budget hearing last Friday for the Department of Economic and Community Development, referring to the release of tax information for these companies, said: "Under the right circumstances things would be made public, but until it's the right timing … If it may not allow a job creating deal to come to Tennessee, then we certainly would be smart about that so that we bring jobs here." Details of the legislation will be made public by the bill filing deadline on Feb. 7.

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Ballad Health Provides New Details Regarding NICU Plans in East Tennessee

Ballad Health has issued a new response to the Tennessee Department of Health regarding questions about its proposed changes for the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) in two east Tennessee hospitals, the Johnson City Press reports. In its response, Ballad provided specific details and statistics requested by former Health Commissioner John Dreyzehner. Under the proposed plan, newborns requiring Level III NICU services will be transported to Niswonger Children’s Hospital in Johnson City instead of current Level III hospital Holston Valley Medical Center, which will be downgraded to a Level I provider.

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Pilot Flying J Execs Sentenced to Probation

Four former Pilot Flying J sales executives who pleaded guilty to fraud charges will receive probation for their crimes, The Knoxville News Sentinel reports. Senior U.S. District Court Judge Curtis L. Collier on Wednesday ordered that Kevin Clark, Michael Scott Fenwick, Chris Andrews and Katy Bibee serve probation in lieu of jail time because of their cooperation with law enforcement and the fact the defendants suffered from “the shame, the embarrassment, the loss of jobs” that come with their conviction. Former Pilot Flying J President Mark Hazelwood so far has received the harshest punishment in the case, after Collier ordered him to serve more than 12 years in prison.

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Walgreens Assumes Operations of Fred's Pharmacies

Memphis-based discount retailer Fred’s has completed its multimillion-dollar deal with Walgreens, which will assume operations of pharmacies in 179 Fred’s stores, The Memphis Business Journal reports. Fred’s received $156.1 million in cash proceeds and an additional $20.6 million for its pharmacy inventory in the agreement, announced last September. According to a Jan. 24 filing with the SEC, “the company continues to use the proceeds received in the transaction to pay down the company’s existing indebtedness or for general corporate purposes.”

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Legal Startup Atrium Raises $65 Million

Justin Kan’s one-year-old legal firm and tech startup Atrium has announced that it has raised $65 million in an investment round led by Andreessen Horowitz, Forbes reports.  Over the past year, Atrium has served as the law firm for some of tech’s fastest-growing companies while providing technology to automate filings. It has also helped 250 clients raise a combined $500 million, including scooter company Bird, Alto and Sift Science. Atrium specializes in helping startups with startup financings, commercial contracts, blockchain and outside counsel.

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Director of Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Comes Under Fire After Closing Payday Lending Investigations

Mick Mulvany, director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, has recently closed investigations of payday lending companies in Kansas and South Carolina, causing concerns that the Trump administration is taking a lax approach to regulations on this polemic industry.
The CFPB, formed in 2011 amidst the aftermath of the Great Recession, is tasked with making sure banks, lenders, and other financial companies treat citizens fairly. In a memo released by Mulvany, he announced a new direction for the bureau stating "We don't just work for the government, we work for the people. And that means everyone: those who use credit cards, and those who provide those cards; those who take loans, and those who make them; those who buy cars, and those who sell them. All of those people are part of what makes this country great. And all of them deserve to be treated fairly by their government. There is a reason that Lady Justice wears a blindfold and carries a balance, along with her sword."
The move has been met with consternation from critics who believe Mulvaney may have a conflict of interest due to receiving campaign contributions from a number of payday loan companies. Payday lenders gave $31,700 in 2015-16 federal campaign cycle contributions to Mulvaney, ranking him ninth among all congressional recipients from the sector, according to data analyzed by the Center for Responsive Politics. When asked whether the contributions influenced his position on the rule and could pose a conflict of interest, Mulvaney said, "I don't think so, because I am not in elected office anymore."
Tennessee, who is among 25 states the US have already passed serious legislation to regulate the functioning of payday loans, has most predatory lenders in the U.S. according to a recent report. The same report found people without 4-year college degrees, home renters, African-Americans, and those earning less than $40,000 a year are most likely to use a payday loan.
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