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'Epic battle' or plain nuts?

Business | Workers at the world's largest walnut processing plant reached a new five-year contract in March, ending a 13-year strike

Issue: "Who will be the next pope?," April 16, 2005

The answer is a matter of perspective in Stockton, Calif., where workers at the world's largest walnut processing plant reached a new five-year contract in March, ending a strike that was far from ordinary.

When workers at Diamond of California first walked off the job, George Bush was president, but it wasn't George W. Bush, it was his father. That was Sept. 4, 1991.

"Nobody ever thought it would take this long," said Lucio Reyes, the secretary-treasurer for Teamsters Local 601. "The company didn't expect it. We didn't expect it. I think it was worth it in that we did accomplish something. Both parties now realize we have to work together. Everyone should be feeling good about this."

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Everyone? After 13 years, only 241 of the 600 striking workers voted on the new contract and 61 of them voted against it. And while former employees were given 10 days to return to their old jobs, most were forced to find work elsewhere during the 13-year strike, and automated machinery made many of their jobs unnecessary. Few of the displaced workers are expected to return.

So what was it that forced the impasse in 1991? It appears that union leadership was unhappy with the company's dime-an-hour raise and bonus package proposal. Because workers had taken a 30 percent pay cut in 1985, the union leaders believed employees deserved more as Diamond's fortunes improved.

With replacement workers, Diamond continued to prosper. And while Teamsters president James Hoffa called the strike one of the union's "epic battles" in 2000, many believe employees would have been better off had they accepted the original proposal.

Name game

Despite the popularity of its products, Microsoft continues to face battles with releasing its Windows XP operating system overseas.

In Europe, Microsoft was forced to release a version of XP without its media player because European Union regulators ruled the company violated antitrust legislation by locking out competitors. Microsoft is appealing a $665 million fine.

The new product in Europe will be called "Windows XP Professional Edition N" after the EU turned down all nine of Microsoft's name suggestions. Company officials aren't excited about the new name, but they're planning to move ahead so they can begin selling the new operating system to computer stores across Europe.

But the fight may not be over. EU regulators are now investigating complaints by software rivals that the new version is not fully compatible with their programs.

In India, Microsoft faces a different problem: piracy. Although Microsoft enjoys 90 percent market share in India, it is estimated that only two in 10 computers use licensed software.

In response, Microsoft developed a low-cost version of XP that it already sells in Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand. The "Wndows XP Starter Edition" enables users to run only three programs concurrently and offers lower-resolution graphics. It also lacks capabilities for home networking and multiple-user accounts.

Microsoft had planned to release the new system in June but is running into a language barrier. "We are still working on providing Indian language capability," said Ranjivjit Singh, the marketing and business operations director of Microsoft's Indian subsidiary. "You can't underestimate the huge development work involved."

Mr. Singh said the initial Indian version will support India's dominant Hindi language initially with nine other local languages added later.

Balance Sheet

· In its continuing efforts to avoid bankruptcy, Delta Air Lines is farming out the maintenance work for its airliners. The restructuring, which will eliminate nearly 2,000 jobs, is expected to save the company $240 million over the next five years.

· Stung by a recent rash of bad publicity, Taser International has heard some good news. A Zogby poll last month found that 77 percent of those questioned support the continued use of electronic stun guns by law-enforcement officials while 61 percent favor individual ownership of the devices. Taser is the only company with a patent to distribute the devices.

· In a move reminiscent of the blockbuster buyouts of the late 1980s, seven private investment firms plan to pay $11 billion in cash to acquire SunGard Data Systems Inc., the financial software powerhouse known for trading services and creating backup data systems in the event of a disaster.

· After serving five months in prison for her role in a stock-sale scandal, Martha Stewart is cashing in. Ms. Stewart has collected $75,000 in salary since her release and has been awarded $3.7 million from her company for legal expenses.

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