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"This could be a disaster for U.S. competitiveness." --Vivek Wadhwa, founder of two tech startups, lamenting that the proposed immigration reform package formula allows too few skilled workers into the country, as reported by the Associated Press

You may have noticed an unusual McDonald's commercial while watching the recent NBA playoffs: "A high school kid takes a job at McDonald's," says a woman sitting at a McDonald's (MCD) booth, morphing from coiffed, suited-up executive into teenage fry jockey and back again. "And years later that kid who was working at one McDonald's now leads thousands." Next, her name and title appear: "Karen King, President, McDonald's USA East Division."

If Human Resources at McDonald's and other entry-level employers can't make frontline staff believe their jobs are rewarding and fun, perhaps the marketing departments can. More and more, retail chains are asking marketers to take on what were traditionally HR tasks, from recruitment drives to newsletters explaining health benefits. Doing so, they hope, will get employees to stick around longer--and treat customers better.

McDonald's figures its ad is a win-win: talking up career ops for its employees while sending a positive message out into the world. Building an "employment brand" is "absolutely critical," says Richard Floersch, McDonald's HR chief. That's especially true for a company long associated with the dead-end synonym "McJob." Besides the TV spot, the company has produced print ads in Britain with headlines like "McFlexibility" and "McOpportunity."

Over at Delta Air Lines (DAL), which exited bankruptcy protection on Apr. 30, the marketing folks are also selling the company to employees--in this case, trying to convince workers that Delta is making real progress. In addition to launching a major ad campaign in which Delta employees attest to all the ways the airline has improved, the company invites staffers to parties celebrating each new route opening. "Staged correctly," says Tim Mapes, Delta's vice-president for marketing, publicity about the new routes offers "a tangible sign things are turning around."

Staples (SPLS), meanwhile, is trading on its "Easy" campaign--those ubiquitous ads in which office workers breeze through tedious tasks by pushing a red "Easy" button. HR communications now feature the "Easy" button logo and are written in a breezy, helpful tone. Says HR Vice-President Dave Almeda: "It's impossible to tell where HR ends and marketing begins."

Does all of this work? Yum! Brands reports that its turnover, once among the worst in the industry, has improved dramatically since it began marketing its pride message to counter staff at Taco Bell and KFC. One thing is for sure: Raising spirits is cheaper than raising salaries.

Care to bet on whether Rupert Murdoch will snare Dow Jones (DJ)? Or on the likelihood of a Sirius (SIRI)-XM (XMSR) satellite radio merger? You can--on the HedgeStreet Exchange. Beginning on May 25, the San Mateo (Calif.) market will offer contracts on seven potential or rumored deals.

Traders buy the merger and acquisition contracts, valued at $100 each, if they think a particular merger will occur by Sept. 28. They sell contracts if they think it won't. If the odds are long on, say, a Microsoft (MSFT)-Yahoo! (YHOO) team-up, a trader pays just a few dollars for a contract. It would cost more in the case of a likelier deal.

Other potential combinations available as contracts: Hershey (HSY)-Cadbury Schweppes (CSG), NASDAQ (NDAQ)-Philadelphia Stock Exchange, and a merger of the International Securities Exchange (ISE) with either NYSE or Deutsche Borse.

Missing from HedgeStreet's offerings is the merger that could result from the heated contest for the Chicago Board of Trade between two rival bidders: the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) and the IntercontinentalExchange (ICE). That's because others, Chicago's U.S. Futures Exchange and Ireland's Intrade, got there first with $1,000 and $10 contracts, respectively. The betting so far on those exchanges? Investors give the CME a 72% to 81% chance of winning the CBOT.

To track their audience, networks rely on Nielsen ratings and Web content providers tally page view numbers. But creators of digital billboards, posters, and retail store displays have a harder time counting eyeballs.

Now, Kingston (Ont.)-based Xuuk is offering a four-inch-square box that it says can do just that. The device, eyebox2, is studded with diodes that flash lights--invisibly--to induce a "red eye" effect in viewers. A camera in the box, which can be discreetly incorporated into a digital poster, tallies all the red-eyes within a 30-foot-range.

Roel Vertegaal, an assistant professor of human-computer interaction at Queen's University and Xuuk's CEO, says a few major digital-signage companies, as well as Web ad-tracking firms, are testing the device. Xuuk has also demonstrated the product at Google (GOOG)--a company, he notes, that "is very interested in eye tracking in general." The $999 device isn't perfect. "If you come back in 10 minutes, you'll be counted as a different person," Vertegaal acknowledges. Anticipating privacy concerns, he says, he made sure the eyebox2 "knows as much about you as the sensor that opens the door at the supermarket."

U.S. sports investors, facing overpriced franchises at home, see nothing but net in England, where they're snatching up soccer clubs in the powerhouse Premier League. GE's (GE) $230 billion commercial financing arm also wants a chunk of the action, teaming with London-based Hermes Sports Partners to set up a financing unit to cash in on all the activity.

GE made a Premier League play two years ago--investing almost $40 million in sports tycoon Malcolm Glazer's $1.6 billion takeover of storied Manchester United. Glazer, who owns the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers, was the first American to buy a league club. Soccer teams Liverpool and Aston Villa are also owned by U.S. investors. Now Stan Kroenke, co-owner of the St. Louis Rams, is mulling a hostile bid for Arsenal--a top Premier League team in which he has a 12% stake.

With 2006 revenues of $2.5 billion, the league represents an "attractive and fast-moving" industry for U.S. investors, says Ken Goldsbrough, head of GE's European media, communications, and entertainment unit.

Contract negotiations between a bakery and its employees became a bit too heated last spring, according to a lawsuit filed on May 7 in an Ohio Court of Common Pleas. John Masters, a lawyer for Teamsters Local 336 in the union's labor talks with Schwebel Baking of Youngstown, says he was assaulted by Stephen Sferra, an attorney for the bakery. Sferra allegedly choked and punched Masters and knocked him to the floor of a hotel conference room as the two sides argued over pension provisions. In August, Sferra pleaded no contest to charges of disorderly conduct.

Masters' suit claims that Sferra's firm, Duvin, Cahn & Hutton (since merged into prominent employment law shop Littler Mendelson), cultivated an image of being "tough guys." Negotiating labor agreements is a "stylized, formalized art," Masters, 49, told BusinessWeek. "Sometimes you yell and scream at somebody, but I've never seen anyone close to putting their hands on anybody." Masters is seeking damages for pain and suffering. Former Duvin partner Robert Wolff (now a partner at Littler), denies Masters' allegations and says that Sferra is "a decent gentleman in every sense of the word." He declined to comment on the disorderly conduct plea. And the contract? Less than a month after their lawyers tangled, the two sides agreed on a new pact.

Who knew a brickmaker could have such a light touch? Vienna-based Wienerberger, the world's largest brick producer, is depicting its up-and-down 2006 in an annual report with an unusual cover. Viewed from one angle, it shows an arid landscape and the words, "In some ways it was a bad year." Tilted slightly, the cover morphs into a bucolic scene. ("In other ways, it was a good year.") Inside, the motif continues, with employees looking despondent over an 8% decline in U.S. sales caused by the housing slump, then quaffing Champagne to celebrate 22% growth in Europe. Market-share numbers get the same treatment (above). Wienerberger has put out humorous annual reports since 2004 to try to make bricks click with investors. (Last year, CEO Wolfgang Reithofer was shown hanging on to a pole in a high wind, to illustrate how global turbulence was buffeting the company.) Explains corporate communications head Thomas Melzer: "A brick is not the most sexy product in the world."

Instead of jamming their thumbs on tiny buttons, some mobile-phone gamers are swinging and tilting their handsets to throw darts or roll a marble through a maze. That's because these games include a motion-recognition component from Sunnyvale (Calif.) software maker GestureTek. Once downloaded onto a Verizon camera phone, at $9.95 a pop, the games work by having users shake or wave their handsets the way they would a Nintendo Wii, the blockbuster video game system that tracks players' body movements.

In Japan, where many tech trends are born, DoCoMo, one of the world's largest mobile providers, is set to release Sharp (SHCAY) and Panasonic (MC) handsets preloaded with GestureTek's gesture recognition software. Later this year in the U.S., Verizon's camera-equipped phones will be able to get GestureTek downloads that allow for flipping through photos or surfing Web sites with a wrist flick. And by 2008, GestureTek plans to release software that enables users to just wag their fingers in front of the phone's screen to point and select--or to wave a sword if they are slaying dragons between calls.

The UAW hasn't opposed Cerberus Capital Management's bid for Chrysler, despite an earlier stance against private equity buyouts. Can private equity be a friend to labor?

"A private equity buyout doesn't have to be unfriendly to labor. Finding innovative ways to pick up pension and health-care costs can do a lot to foster the friendship."—Alan Krueger, Bendheim Professor of Economics and Public Policy, Princeton University

"Leveraged buyouts inherently pressure firms to underinvest and break promises to employees. But labor will always work with LBO firms prepared to build companies and treat workers fairly."—Richard Trumka, Secretary-Treasurer, AFL-CIO

"Private equity can provide opportunities for all—especially its companies' workers—and still make good returns. Or it can fuel economic inequality, to the detriment of America's interests."—Andy Stern, President, Service Employees International Union


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