Breakaway pilots' union threatening to strike against Virgin Atlantic right before Christmas

GiorgioMorara/iStock(NEW YORK) -- A splinter pilots' union is threatening to strike against Virgin Atlantic right before Christmas, demanding the airline recognize it at the negotiating table.

The Professional Pilots Union is threatening to walk out days before the holiday rush if the United Kingdom airline doesn't negotiate with the group and include it in a staff benefits review, a spokesman for the union told ABC News Saturday.

After 72 percent of its 400 members voted in favor of striking against the company, the union said it could strike as early as Dec. 22, it said in a statement. The strike could last into early January, the statement continued.

“All our members ... will be expected to abide by the vote and take strike action,” a spokesman of PPU told ABC News.

More than 300 of the pilots are active and currently flying planes, the spokesman said.

“It’s the last straw; Virgin Atlantic [has] consistently refused to [recognize] the PPU as a legitimate and independent union, essentially disenfranchising our members,” Steve Johnson, a spokesman for the union and a former Virgin and Red Arrows pilot, said in a statement. “Despite the rhetoric that consultations are inclusive of all staff and unions, in practice, this doesn’t happen."

The union formed in 2011 after hundreds of pilots were unsatisfied with how a larger union, the British Airline Pilots Association, represented them, the PPU said. Those members broke from the larger group and started representing themselves.

As for the threatened strike, Johnson added that the union hopes "Virgin acknowledge the mandate our members have given us, and help avoid strike action by [recognizing] the PPU and halt the benefits review that is so damaging to our [members'] long-term security.”

But Virgin Atlantic said its flight schedule during Christmastime won't be affected.

The airline said the number of pilots who voted in favor of striking amounts to 16 percent of its more than 900 pilots.

“A small group of pilots ... have voted to strike," a spokeswoman, Louise Gallagher, said in a statement. "However, all of our customers will be able to complete their journeys this Christmas as planned. This is our absolute priority.”

Virgin Atlantic added that PPU isn’t recognized by the Trade Union Congress, a federation of trade unions in England and Wales.

Meanwhile, PPU said it welcomes negotiations and solutions to so that it won't have to strike.

“Our door is -- and has always been -- open to Virgin to take the necessary steps to prevent any disruption for Christmas travelers,” Johnson said in the statement.

The British Airline Pilots Association told ABC News that it is aware of the threatened strike, but it has nothing to do with it.

“We know that the breakaway PPU is seeking recognition but that is their dispute, not ours," Balpa said in a statement.

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FCC investigating whether mobile carriers misrepresented their coverage

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai (Credit: Federal Communications Commission)(WASHINGTON) -- The Federal Communications Commission has launched an investigation into whether major mobile carriers submitted incorrect coverage maps to the agency, falsely representing the locations where their high-speed Internet was accessible.

The FCC's Mobility Fund Phase II program asked mobile providers to submit data "current, standardized coverage data" to determine where to allocate $4.53 billion over the next ten years to advance internet access in rural areas not currently served. Following more than 20 million speed tests, the FCC says those tests "suggested significant violations of the Commissions rules."

"My top priority is bridging the digital divide and ensuring the Americans have access to digital opportunity regardless of where they live," said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. "In order to reach [rural areas currently without sufficient Internet access], it's critical that we know where access is and where it is not."

The FCC did not cite specific carriers, but said it was looking into whether one or more had handed over inaccurate data.

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Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou will remain in jail as Canadian court outlines case against her

VCG/VCG via Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer and heir apparent to Chinese tech giant Huawei, will at least be spending the weekend in a Vancouver jail after a bail hearing on Friday.

Court was adjourned at about 4 p.m. local time with no decision made on bail, so the daughter of Huawei's founder will remain in custody. The hearing will resume at 1 p.m. on Monday.

The Crown prosecutor, who made the case that Meng be denied bail, argued that she is a “flight risk” with significant resources and no ties to Vancouver, per CTV.

Meng's lawyer argued the opposite, saying she actually owns two homes in Vancouver -- though she spends only a few weeks in the city each year -- and that if she did flee it would bring dishonor to the company and her father.

"You can trust her," he argued.

The Crown said Meng’s arrest stems from a warrant issued in New York on Aug. 22 for alleged fraud offenses dealing with Skycom Tech and Huawei regarding dealings with Iran. She was arrested while traveling from Hong Kong to Mexico via Canada on Saturday. She faces extradition to the United States.

It was alleged in court documents that between 2009 and 2014 Huawei used an unofficial subsidiary, called Skycom, to transact business in Iran, in violation of U.S. and EU sanctions. During part of that time, Meng was on Skycom’s board and other Huawei executives were as well. Furthermore, as CFO, Meng misrepresented that Skycom and Hawei were the same company, and “deceived” U.S. banks into doing business that would violate U.S. sanctions on Iran, according to court documents filed Nov. 30.

The filing came one day before Meng's arrest in Vancouver.

The affidavit justifying the request said charges against Meng in the U.S. are "on serious charges of fraud involving millions of dollars. If convicted, she would likely face a sentence of substantial jail time."

In court, the Crown also referenced a 2013 Reuters report, which cites corporate records as showing Skycom attempted to sell embargoed HP computer equipment to Iran’s largest mobile-phone operator, and that the company had closer ties to Huawei than previously known. The Crown says in 2013 Meng misrepresented Huawei’s connection to Skycom to banking institutions.

Immediately following the report, Meng and others delivered a PowerPoint presentation which stated that "Huawei operates in Iran in strict compliance with applicable laws, regulations and sanctions." The court documents allege that was a lie.

Meng served on Skycom’s board between February 2008 and April 2009 and despite claims Skycom was "sold" in 2009, it was actually controlled by Huawei until at least 2014, according to the affidavit.

The court filing also alleges Meng was likely aware of the U.S.'s criminal investigation and didn't travel to the country intentionally to avoid arrest.

"US authorities believe that after in or about April 2017, Huawei became aware of a US criminal investigation into Huawei when Huawei US subsidiaries were served with a grand jury subpoena commanding production of, among other materials, all of Huawei's Iran-based business," the filing stated.

The filing continues, "As a result, Huawei executives began altering their travel patterns, to avoid any travel to or through the United States."

Meng herself had not visited the U.S. since March 2017, the month before they allegedly became aware of the investigation.

Stock markets plunged on Friday partly due to the arrest of Meng. The Dow Jones dropped 558.72 points on Friday, while Nasdaq, which is filled with tech companies, dropped 3 percent for the week. The Shanghai SE Composite Index was down almost 2 percent on Thursday, after news of Meng's arrest broke, but rallied slightly to close the week.

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Marlboro owner Altria to invest nearly $2 billion in cannabis company Cronos

Yarygin/iStock(NEW YORK) -- Altria Group, Inc., the owner of tobacco brand Marlboro, announced a $1.8 billion investment in cannabis company Cronos.

The deal would give Altria a 45 percent stake in Cronos, with the ability to increase ownership to 55 percent in the next four years. Altria will also have the right to nominate four members to Cronos Group's Board of Directors. That board will increase from five members to seven.

"Investing in Cronos Group as our exclusive partner in the emerging global cannabis category represents an exciting new growth opportunity for Altria," Chairman and CEO Howard Willard said in a press release.

The transaction is expected to close in the first half of 2019.

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Unemployment rate remains at 3.7% as 155K jobs added in November

Kameleon007/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- U.S. employers added 155,000 jobs to their payrolls in November, the Labor Department reported Friday morning, falling short of economists’ expectations.

Economists had anticipated seeing around 200,000 jobs added last month.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics said most of the job gains were in health care (32,000), manufacturing (27,000), and transportation and warehousing (25,000).

The unemployment rate, meanwhile, remained unchanged for the third straight month, holding steady at 3.7 percent -- a 49-year low.

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Kathleen Kraninger confirmed to head Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Kathleen Kraninger was narrowly confirmed by the Senate to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Thursday, putting an end to an ongoing debate about the leadership of the agency.

Kraninger, who served as the director for general government programs at the Office of Management and Budget, was confirmed by a 50-49 vote down party lines. Her critics fear her confirmation will lead to further unraveling of the bureau's power that began under current acting director Mick Mulvaney.

"Unfortunately Kathy Kraninger has no consumer protection or financial regulation experience so we are expecting her to simply follow Mick Mulvaney’s playbook," said Mike Litt, the consumer campaign director of US PIRG, a consumer financial watchdog group. "He has tried to defang and defund the bureau so future directors can't carry out its mission."

Mulvaney was serving simultaneously as the acting director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and as the director of Office of Management and Budget since he was tapped for the position in a controversial move by President Donald Trump last year. Mulvaney had previously been a vocal opponent of the bureau's work.

While at the bureau's helm, Mulvaney has rolled back much of the bureau's power. He has dismissed a 25-person advisory board designed to monitor the agency, dropped several ongoing cases that were being brought by the enforcement arm under the former director and has suggested changes to the leadership and funding structures of the agency.

Litt said his group expects Kraninger will only continue to further deregulate the agency.

Trump tapped Kraninger to lead the bureau in June. The administration and Republicans who backed the nomination have said she is qualified for the job, pointing to her management experience at Management and Budget, where she was helping to oversee the Homeland Security and Justice departments' budgets.

"Given her depth and diversity of public service experience, I have the utmost confidence that she is well prepared to lead the bureau in enforcing the federal consumer financial laws and protecting consumers in the financial marketplace," said Sen. Mike Crapo, who chairs the Senate Banking committee where Kraninger testified in July.

But at that hearing, Democrats criticized her for her management experience there, alleging she had been a part of helping to execute a policy by Trump that had separated children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Kraninger said repeatedly that she had no role in setting the zero-tolerance policy. But when questioned further, she said she could not speak about what advice she had given to agencies on implementing the policy.

"I asked over and over under oath and all I got was dodgeball," Sen. Elizabeth Warren -- who helped to create the bureau -- told reporters after the July hearing. "For every Republican who spoke out against the policy of separating mothers and their babies at the border, they should be willing to vote 'no' to give a giant promotion to the woman who oversaw that policy."

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was created by Congress in 2011 as the consumer watchdog arm of the Dodd-Frank Act in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis.

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New tax code may help your side hustle

LPETTET/iStock(NEW YORK) -- With the end of the year fast approaching, you have a few weeks left to make moves to help boost next year's tax refund or at least minimize how much you're going to have to pay to Uncle Sam.

ABC News' Good Morning America spoke to Nathan Rigney from the Tax Institute at H&R Block to guide us through all the major changes, help explain it in an easy way and see how your side hustle will be affected with all the tax law changes that were enacted last year.

“For many of us, we are going to have a considerably different tax outcome than we had last year,” he said.

The Side Hustle

Taxes will change dramatically for Uber drivers, tutors, photographers, freelance journalists or anyone freelancing on the side.

Rigney said there is a new benefit called the "qualified business income deduction."

"If you freelance, you can deduct up to 20 percent of that profit," he said. "So if you make $60,000 in income from a side business, you could get up to $12,000 deduction. And that's after all your business expenses are deducted."

Those expenses can include travel, depreciation of your car if you use it for your business, products you use for work and more.

Full-time Employees Might Suffer

Major changes went down for people employed full-time. So much so that Rigney warned that people looking to move from full-time to freelance work to take part in tax breaks better watch out, because the IRS is watching closely to make sure everything is above board.

Here's what full-time employees have to worry about:

The standard deduction for a single person almost doubled from $6,350 to $12,000 ($24,000 for a married couple), so if all your itemized deductions (that haven't been cut) plus state and federal taxes withheld don't add up to $12,000, you're better off going the standard route.

Charitable contributions like donating clothes and out of pocket medical expenses are still fair game to deduct, but full-time employees lost out-of-pocket business expenses, which is big.

Meals and flights you used your own money for and thought about deducting instead of charging to your corporate card are no longer an option. So, check with your company and see if you can still be reimbursed somehow.

You can still also deduct things like state and local income tax and property taxes but the limit is $10,000. This is also a change, as in the past, there was no limit.

Last Second Changes

With a few weeks left, there are still some things you can do to reduce your tax bill. And if not, these are good to know for next year:

  • Notice a nice little bump in your weekly pay? Well, that's because withholdings changed. This means a lower refund at the end of the year or more you have to pay, so check with your company and start withholding more if you'd like to.
  • Elect to contribute more to your 401(k) through your company. You can increase the pre-tax money you contribute to your retirement account, and this will lower your paycheck, but also lowers the amount on which the government can tax you.
  • If you have investments like bitcoin or stocks that are worth less then when you bought them, you can sell at a loss, and that will lower your tax for the year. Don't go giving your investments away, but it's an option.

Of course, for detailed ways to prepare or help your taxes out, consult your personal accountant or other places you get your taxes done.

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Fashion house Ted Baker rocked by 'forced hugging' allegations

J2R/iStock(LONDON) -- Fashion retailer Ted Baker has launched an investigation into widespread allegations of workplace harassment, after claims surfaced that employees had been subjected to “forced hugs” by the company’s CEO and founder Ray Kelvin.

The company has enlisted the services of law firm Herbert Smith Freehills to lead an independent external investigation. The law firm’s findings and recommendations will then be considered by a non-executive committee of board members. The committee will be chaired by Sharon Bayley, 50, a non-executive director who joined the company in June this year.

The firm Herbert Smith Freehills, which Ted Baker officials said has had no previous dealings with the company, confirmed to ABC News that they were involved in the proceedings, but declined to comment further on the ongoing investigation.

The allegations were collated by workplace campaigners Organise, a group which claims that there is a “culture of harassment.”

The group says it has now sent more than 100 anonymous reports of harassment to Ted Baker’s board, which include allegations of “forced hugging.”

Organise filed a petition with the board of directors at Ted Baker to launch an investigation into the reports titled “Scrap the forced 'hugs' and end harassment at Ted Baker”.

“Put an end to forced 'hugging' by the CEO,” the petition said, referring to Kelvin. “It is part of a culture that leaves harassment unchallenged.”

Organise alleges that the company “has done nothing with the reports of harassment to date,” adding that “harassment at Ted Baker is well documented but wilfully ignored by those in charge.”

At the center of the controversy is the 62-year-old founder of Ted Baker, Ray Kelvin. He has been CEO of the brand since its launch in 1988.

Kelvin has a reputation in London for eccentricity.

Before an interview with business magazine Marketing Week in 2016, Kelvin reportedly hugged the male interviewer for over a minute, and then joked “don’t report me for sexual harassment.”

The company has taken a hit in the stock market as a result of the allegations, which were published in the Observer on Sunday.

On Monday, shares fell by 15 percent. Shares then fell a further 10 percent the next day, before a 3 percent rise when the independent investigation was announced on Wednesday, according to the Financial Times.

Ted Baker officials said they were taking the allegations “very seriously” in a statement.

“We have always placed great importance on our culture," the statement said. "It is critically important to us that every member of our staff feels valued and respected at work.”

“We do not believe these reports are reflective of the organization we have all worked hard to develop over the last 30 years," it continued. "The Non-Executive Committee will carefully consider the content and recommendations of their report.”

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Dow ends flat, paring early losses after Chinese tech exec's arrest

Caroline Purser/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- The Dow Jones Industrial Average ended flat Thursday, paring intraday losses of nearly 800 points that were stoked by fears of a sidelined trade deal after a Chinese telecom executive was arrested in Canada on behalf of the U.S., adding to concern about trade tensions with China.

The Dow recovered on hopes that the Federal Reserve would slow rate hikes, traders said.

The index closed 0.3 percent lower at 24,948 points.

"Investors initially took the arrest of Chinese telecom giant Huawei’s chief financial officer as a negative signal on U.S.-China trade relations only to erase most of those losses by the close on hopes the Fed will slow its interest rate hikes to boost the economy," Alec Young, managing director of Global Markets Research, FTSE Russell told ABC News.

The tech heavy Nasdaq ended half a percent lower at 7,188 points, and the S&P 500 also closed the day basically flat, down 0.2 percent at 2,696.

The market is still down for the week on nagging concerns that a trade deal with China would not be reached. Fears of an upcoming recession also persisted.

Canadian authorities arrested Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou on behalf of the U.S. over the weekend. Huawei is the world's largest telecommunication equipment company and second largest smartphone maker behind Samsung. Wanzhou is the founder's daughter and heir apparent.

Huawei is also an example of what the Trump administration is targeting in its trade dispute with China. It receives preferential treatment and is heavily subsidized by the Chinese government while purchasing technology from U.S. companies like Qualcomm.

The move by the U.S. is related to concerns that Beijing could be using Huawei's technology to spy on Americans. The Justice Department also believes Huawei is violating U.S. sanctions against Iran.

The political moved rattled investors.

"Traders are reducing the odds of a trade deal with China since the arrest of Huawei’s CFO," Michael Matousek, head trader at U.S. Global Investors, told ABC News. "Also, talk about the probability of recession has been gaining traction due to the yield curve getting close to inverting."

The spread on the yield curve is the difference in the yields between the two-year government note minus the 10-year government bond.

"When interest rates for shorter-term securities is greater than the longer-term securities, borrowing becomes more expensive, so consumers tend to slow purchases and businesses have less expansion. In time, this causes a slowdown in the economy and possibly a recession. Investors seem to be worried that the possibility of a recession might be looming," Matousek added.

President Trump had tweeted over the weekend that a deal had been reached. But his administration could not provide any details, stoking market concerns about the overall economy.

Doubts over a trade deal with China contributed to the Dow's drop of 800 points on Tuesday.

Markets were closed Wednesday for a federal holiday in honor of the late President George H.W. Bush.

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Tyler Perry pays off layaway items at 2 Georgia Walmart stores

Milkos/iStock(ATLANTA) -- Entertainment mogul Tyler Perry just shared some good news for some lucky shoppers in Georgia.

The 49-year-old actor and filmmaker paid for layaway items at two Walmarts in the state — the store’s East Point and Douglasville locations.

In a video posted to Twitter, Perry told his 5.6 million Twitter followers that if you had an outstanding layaway item at either location before 9:30 Thursday morning, it is now paid.

"I was trying to do this anonymously, but due to some circumstances — y’all know nothing stays secret these days," he said in the video.

Walmart confirmed to ABC News that Tyler Perry wrote checks totaling approximately $430,000 between the two stores.

In order for the shoppers to receive the items Perry paid for, they must pay one penny.

"You gotta go into the Walmart, get your layaway and pay a penny, one penny, and you get your layaway," Perry said in the video post. "I know it’s hard times. A lot of people are struggling and I’m just really, really grateful to be able to be in a position to do this."

"So, God bless you, go get your stuff and Merry Christmas," Perry added.

The company was quick to express its gratitude for his act of kindness.

"Talk about a Merry Christmas! Tyler Perry just reminded everyone of the true meaning of the season. THANK YOU! #SparkKindness," a representative for Walmart tweeted.

Perry was inspired to join in the spirit of giving this holiday season after seeing “Good Morning America’s” story on New Orleans Saints owner Gayle Benson.

Benson, 71, recently paid for nearly $100,000 worth of layaway items at a Walmart in New Orleans.

Benson is the sole owner of the Saints. Her husband and the team’s former owner, Tom Benson, passed away in March.

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