Of jobs, Walmart, raccoons, geese and tomatoes | Arkansas Blog

Of jobs, Walmart, raccoons, geese and tomatoes

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Rather than wait for the open line roundup this evening, I decided to dump some mid-afternoon news briefs on you rat cheer.

* BLUE CROSS JOB LOSS: Durango last night mentioned hearing of a coming job loss at Arkansas Blue Cross on Medicare claims processing work. I checked in with the company today and learned this was announced in November, but, in part because the contract award to a Pennsylvania firm has been challenged (not by Blue Cross) and the change in processing has not been made yet, work continues in Arkansas. About 330 jobs are at issue, a Blue Cross spokesman told me. The workers all are aware of the coming change, perhaps to occur by this summer. The government is consolidating processing in fewer centers. Arkansas had handled about three states; the new contractor will handle eight. A final job impact isn't known. More on the open comments line last night.

* WALMART WATCH: Barriers went up this week on the parking lot of the former Harvest Foods on Cantrell Road in Riverdale, signaling that work is finally beginning on the Walmart planned there, something of a blend of a super center with a neighborhood market.

* WISCONSIN SCANDAL: More bad publicity for Republican Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin. Now it's charges against aides for, among others, stealing money from funds to honor the military and to help families of troops killed in the Middle East. Bad hires by the guv, it would appear.

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* COON SUPPER CONTINUUM: Gillett lost its high school and the football team for which the famous Coon Supper was long held. And U.S. Rep. Marion Berry, who long hosted a pre-supper politicians' confab at his farm, has retired and been receiving treatment for cancer. But the traditions live on. The Coon Supper will be Saturday night, Jan. 14, at the Gillett gym and continue to benefit the community. A pre-event, invitation-only gathering will be held again at the Berry farm, put together by Gabe Holmstrom and Ben Noble. Berry himself will be at the Mayo Clinic and unable to attend, according to Facebook messages.

* NLR GOOSE CHASE UNDERWAY: Hired border collies have started work rousting Canada geese from Burns Park. The Democrat-Gazette's Gavin Lesnick reports (no pay wall). He says the dog handler drove the birds over to Little Rock. We hope Fern is at work at Rebsamen.

* TIM GRIFFIN DEMAGOGUERY WATCH: U.S. Rep. Tim Griffin has joined an orchestrated right-wing chorus alleging all kinds of nefarious plots in the Air Force's decision (Griffin naturally blames President Obama) to contract with Sierra Nevada Corp. to buy training and attack planes that will be made in partnership with Brazilian manufacturer Embraer. Griffin suggests bidder Hawker Beechcraft — which has a plant in Little Rock to outfit business jets, not Air Force attack planes — got a raw deal. The Air Force says Hawker couldn't meet specs. Snopes has already taken a look at the Soros conspiracy nuthouse angle. The question, it seems, is whether you tend to believe Timmy G or the Air Force, which saw an "unacceptable mission capability risk" in going with Hawker.

* SETTLEMENT IN FOREIGN WORKER CASE: Last summer, a federal judge ruled for the Southern Poverty Law Center and awarded $2 million against Candy Brand LLC, an Arkansas firm that hired foreign workers as tomato packers in Bradley County. The company routinely cheated workers on wages, the court ruled. Today came word of a settlement of the class action suit — filed over payments from 2003 to 2007 for 1,900 workers — for $1.5 million. The deal was filed in federal court in El Dorado.

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