Business

Louisiana and Metro Baton Rouge business news.

Until this spring, California port truck driver Alex Paz was considered an independent contractor. He had paid for fuel and registration of a truck, but the truck itself was owned by the trucking company. Some months, after the company deducted his costs, he ended up owing the company money.

"I didn't feel like I was working for myself," he says.

Under pressure from Paz and the Teamsters Union, the company reclassified him as an employee.

"It's a lot better because now you get paid. You know you're an employee," Paz says.

The buzzing phone or ding of an email from the bedside table might be standard these days. But a long-awaited proposal that would increase the number of employees eligible for overtime pay could mean more companies curtailing the use of work email after hours.

When Nicholas Castillo was hired as a bank branch manager several years ago, he was told his $30,000 salary came with expectations.

When you flip on a light switch, odds are, you're burning coal. But as the fracking boom continues to unleash huge quantities of natural gas, the nation's electric grid is changing. Power plants are increasingly turning to this low-cost, cleaner-burning fossil fuel.

Bill Pentak stands in the middle of a construction site, looking up at his company's latest project towering overhead — a new natural gas power plant.

President Obama is once again poised to go it alone on labor policy, this time on overtime. The Labor Department is expected in the coming weeks to release a rule making millions more Americans eligible for overtime work — currently, all workers earning below $455 a week, or $23,660 a year, are guaranteed time-and-a-half pay for working more than 40 hours a week. The law may raise that as high as $52,000, Politico reports.

Imagine you're on the highway. You glance into the cab of the 18-wheeler next to you — and there's no driver. That day might be getting closer.

Automaker Daimler unveiled a truck last week that drives itself, called the Freightliner Inspiration. But the truck is not yet entirely autonomous.

Look at the oil business and you'll notice it's mostly men. That's a problem for an industry that needs legions of new workers to replace retirees in coming years.

The industry hasn't always treated women fairly, but now it needs them.

The oil business just 30 years ago was a lonely place for the few women who chose to work in it. Rayola Dougher, senior economic adviser at the American Petroleum Institute, says attending industry conferences made that clear.

Oil prices hit a new high for the year Wednesday — closing at just under $61 a barrel. They've been rallying for a month, but nobody's predicting $4-per-gallon gasoline anytime soon. And some analysts say weak demand will send oil prices down again.

The recent rise follows an historic drop in prices, which were as low as about $45 a barrel less than two months ago.

So to understand what's going on now, let's look at what sent prices tumbling in the first place

In 2010, just after the BP oil well in the Gulf of Mexico exploded, seafood restaurants were bombarded with questions from concerned diners: "How bad is the spill?" "Is this from the Gulf?" "Is it safe?" Demand for Gulf seafood tanked.

"You have to remember, that was literally weeks and months on end when you could turn on the TV at any time of day and see an oil well leaking unabatedly into the Gulf of Mexico," says Brett Anderson, feature food writer for Nola.com.

Monday, April 20 marks the fifth anniversary of the 2010 BP oil spill that sent millions of gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

The vast majority of U.S. workers haven't seen any real wage gains since the recession. But that's starting to change, at least for low-income workers.

This week, fast-food giant McDonald's announced it will pay workers $1 more than the local minimum wage.

It joins some of the nation's other largest employers, including Wal-Mart, Target and TJX, the parent company of Marshalls and TJ Maxx. All say they will be boosting pay to at least $9 per hour this year, and some will go to $10 next year.

For Wal-Mart alone, that's a pay raise for half a million Americans.

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