Flight attendants OK deal with US Airways

TEMPE - Flight attendants at Tempe-based US Airways approved a new contract on Thursday that wraps up some unfinished business from the airline's 2005 merger with America West, and gets them started on the next merger, with American.

Eighty percent of flight attendants voted to approve the deal, according to the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA. They had rejected two previous tentative agreements, although the most recent vote in September was very close. The new deal includes terms that address the proposed merger with American Airlines.

US Airways said that within 30 days, talks will begin to lay out a plan for a combined contract to cover flight attendants at US Airways and American. Those four-way talks will include both airlines and both flight attendant unions.

The Association of Professional Flight Attendants represents roughly 16,000 workers at American, while US Airways said it has 6,800 flight attendants.

The airlines are aiming to close the merger by the end of September.

Palo Verde N-plant remains dominant

PHOENIX - Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station set another record in 2012 for producing more megawatt-hours of electricity than any other U.S. power plant, beating its previous best performance, The Arizona Republic reports.

It was the 21st consecutive year the plant produced more power than any other generator in the country. Some power plants have the capacity to produce more power at once, such as the Grand Coulee Dam in Washington, but they do not run as consistently throughout the year as Palo Verde.

The power plant 50 miles west of downtown Phoenix has three reactors, each of which must be refueled every 18 months. Combined, they generated 31.9 million megawatt-hours of electricity last year. One megawatt hour is enough electricity to serve about 250 homes for an hour.

The plant is operated by Arizona Public Service Co., the largest of seven owners stretching from Texas to California, each of which receives a portion of the plant's output and share in its costs.

Optimism increases as jobless claims drop

WASHINGTON - The number of Americans seeking unemployment aid fell by 22,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 344,000, indicating that the job market may be picking up.

The four-week average of applications dropped 6,750 to 355,000, the Labor Department said Thursday.

Stronger hiring is one of the reasons economists expect more growth in 2013 after a disappointing October-December quarter.

Economy barely grew in Q4; rebound likely

WASHINGTON - The weakest quarter for the U.S. economy in nearly two years may end up being a temporary lull.

Economists think growth has begun to pick up on the strength of a sustained housing recovery and a better job market.

The economy grew at an annual rate of just 0.1 percent from October through December, a government report Thursday showed. That's only slightly better than the Commerce Department's previous estimate that the economy shrank at a rate of 0.1 percent. And it's down from the 3.1 percent annual growth rate in the July-September quarter.

Economists said the weakness last quarter was caused by steep defense cuts and slower company restocking, which are volatile.

Residential construction, consumer spending and business investment - core drivers of growth - all improved. Steady job growth will likely keep consumers spending, despite higher Social Security taxes that have cut into take-home pay.

Jacob Lew becomes Treasury secretary

WASHINGTON - Jacob Lew was sworn in Thursday as the nation's 76th Treasury secretary, a day before across-the-board government spending cuts kick in that could slow down the U.S. economy.

The Arizona Republic; The Associated Press