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"We were just waiting to sell this town and pack up our stuff and be gone." --Joe Lapple, who, with wife Elizabeth, sold the 19th century, 82-acre town of Bridgeville, Calif., for $1.8 million on eBay In the 1800s, miserly businesses often paid workers in scrip, redeemable only at a company store. It didn't buy much, but it was a good deal for employers. Now, United Airlines (UAL
) has brought the practice into the modern age. Although bankrupt, it's paying independent directors solely in company stock.
The practice began in October, while UAL fought to stay out of bankruptcy. Since then, UAL's six outside board members have received about 47,000 shares, including 4,538 on Dec. 23--two weeks after the airline went into Chapter 11. When issued, the shares were worth $93,600. Now, they're worth $67,200, a 28% drop. While the shares can be traded, no directors have sold. UAL's compensation committee chair, retired US West CEO Richard McCormick, got the most: 10,355 shares, worth $20,475 when granted, now worth $14,807.
The directors aren't grumbling--perhaps because UAL CEO Glenn Tilton has taken his lumps, too. He got 1.15 million options and 100,000 restricted shares when he agreed to head the airline in September. Still, Tilton got a $3 million signing bonus and $4.5 million in trust funds available at the end of his five-year contract. And those sweeteners were in cash. Can there be many jobs riskier than flying 50-year-old planes through black smoke, trying to put out wildfires raging in the mountains below? Pilots would want to make sure their life insurance premiums are paid up before lift-off.
Sadly, that's not an option. Aerial firefighters--who help save lives, homes, and businesses--can't get affordable life insurance. Last summer, six aerial firefighters were killed in crashes, leaving behind five widows and five children.
The government outsources air-tanker missions to the lowest-cost private operators, who usually don't provide life insurance for their employees. Public-safety-officer assistance is supposed to help families of employees or volunteers who are killed while serving a public agency. But the Bureau of Justice Assistance has ruled that air-tanker pilots are ineligible because they're contractors.
Now, several groups, including the Associated Airtanker Pilots, are lobbying Congress to change the rules. Lawmakers would be wise to act fast. Frustrated pilots are defecting in droves, says the AAP's Robert Fish. Meanwhile, a severe drought in the West and a hundred-year buildup of dead timber in forests make aerial firefighters more crucial than ever. Says Fish: "We're losing them at the exact moment we need them most." The move to digital broadcasting has been sluggish, but that isn't fazing dot-com billionaire Mark Cuban. Last year, he said he would spend $100 million to launch the first nationwide high-definition TV channel. With HDTV prices below $1,500, sales soared 56% in November, to a total of 2.2 million units since January, and are expected to top 10 million by 2006, according to the Consumer Electronics Assn.
Since it debuted to DirectTV subscribers in September 2001, Cuban's HDNet has aired sports, travelogues, and documentaries. But now, Cuban is trolling for shows from TV's low-tech past. Early in 2003, he'll be airing reruns of Hogan's Heroes, the 1960s sitcom about World War II POWs. Unlike newer shows shot on video, Hogan's is on 35mm film, which converts smoothly to HDTV. When Cuban tested the show earlier this year, he says he received thousands of e-mails and realized that older shows could give him a jump in HDTV programming. "People were just crying for anything in HD," he says. Next on his wish list: Green Acres and Charlie's Angels.