In the Region

Contractor, owners pay fines

A farm-crew contractor and the owners of a New Jersey blueberry farm agreed to pay $28,499 in fines to resolve two separate cases involving living conditions for farmworkers and child labor. Brothers Anthony and William DiMeo, owners of Columbia Fruit Farms Inc., Hammonton, also spent $1.5 million to build new dormitories and shower facilities for the workers at their farm. The contractor, crew leader Sorel Rinvil, had been cited for using unsafe vehicles and unregistered drivers to bring hundreds of workers

from Florida to the farm. Anthony DiMeo said he has chartered regular licensed buses to transport the workers this season. Several young children were spotted on the fields, the U.S. Labor Department said. DiMeo's lawyer, Frank Olivo, said the children had run out to visit their parents and were not working. The cases were based on investigations conducted in 2008, 2009, and 2010. - Jane M. Von Bergen

Blank Rome joins with Houston firm

Blank Rome L.L.P. said Wednesday it would merge with the nine-lawyer Houston firm Abrams Scott & Bickley L.L.P., adding to its office there. The firms expect to complete the merger by the end of the month. Blank Rome said the addition of five partners and four associates from Abrams Scott & Bickley would boost its commercial, products-liability, employment, appellate, and public-entity litigation practice. - Chris Mondics

Insurer expands into Phila. area

Farmers Insurance Group Inc., Los Angeles, has expanded into the Philadelphia area with the opening of an office in King of Prussia, where it will train agents. The office already employs 35, including 30 hired from the area. The company,

which calls itself the third-largest insurance group in the nation, said it expected to hire 50 agents this year,

and as many as 100 agents in each of

the next four years. Each agent is expected to hire two staff people, the company said. The grand opening of the King of Prussia AgencyPoint is being celebrated Thursday. - Harold Brubaker


Fitch warns of U.S. downgrade

Fitch Ratings is warning that it might downgrade U.S. debt if lawmakers fail to increase the nation's borrowing limit before the government runs out of money. The rating agency said it would put the debt on watch for a possible downgrade in early August, if lawmakers have not reached a deal. The Treasury Department said it would exhaust its stopgap measures to delay a default Aug. 2. Moody's Investors Service made an announcement similar to Fitch's last week. Standard & Poor's did so in April. - AP

Senate votes to let Fed trim fees

The Senate voted to let the Federal Reserve slice the fees that stores must pay banks each time a customer swipes a debit card, handing merchants a victory over banks in a lobbying battle over billions in revenue. Senators supporting the financial institutions' efforts to head off the proposal fell six voters short of the 60 needed to prevail. The vote was 54-45. The fees now average 44 cents per transaction and mean $16 billion annually for banks and credit-card companies, according to Federal Reserve data. The Fed has proposed holding those fees to a maximum of 12 cents per swipe. - AP

Congress to hold Boeing hearing

A Republican-led House committee plans to hold a June 17 hearing in South Carolina on a federal board's suit alleging Boeing Co. retaliated against Washington state union workers by building a plant in the Southern, right-to-work state. The move by committee chairman Darrell Issa (R., Calif.) escalates the fight between the National Labor Relations Board, which now has a majority of Democratic appointees, and Boeing and GOP elected officials. The U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government said the hearing would be held in North Charleston, home to the new 787 passenger-aircraft assembly line. The board sued Boeing in April, saying the manufacturer located its assembly line in South Carolina to retaliate against Washington state union workers who went on strike in 2008. The NLRB wants the work returned to Washington. - AP

Delta changes bag fee for troops

U.S. troops returning from Afghanistan posted a YouTube video complaining that they had to pay Delta Air Lines $2,800 out of pocket to check extra bags, prompting an onslaught of online comments critical of Delta and at least one boycott effort. The video went online late Tuesday. By Wednesday afternoon, Delta had posted a blog message saying it had revised its bag-fee policy for troops. The airline had been allowing troops traveling coach class three free bags, but was imposing a $200 fee on a fourth bag. Now Delta says fourth bags will be free. - AP

Germany calls for Greek bond swap

Germany's finance minister said private creditors must share the burden of more financial help for Greece in any deal to keep the country from defaulting on its debts. In a letter to top officials, Wolfgang Schaeuble proposed a bond swap that would extend debt repayments by seven years, giving Athens more time to reform its economy. The European Central Bank had opposed such a move, saying it could spread turmoil through the continent's financial system; ratings agencies have warned it could be considered a default. Meanwhile, Greek unemployment hit 16.2 percent in March from 15.9 percent in February, Greece's statistics agency said. - AP

Facebook feature prompts complaint

Privacy-rights group Electronic Privacy Information Center said it would complain to the Federal Trade Commission over Facebook Inc.'s facial-recognition feature for photo tagging. "Tag Suggestions" uses facial-recognition software so when a user posts a new photo to a Facebook page it suggests names of people to tag based on pictures in which they have already been identified. A spokesman for Facebook declined to comment on the center's plans to complain to the FTC. Facebook made turning off the feature "easy," he said. - Bloomberg News

Yields unchanged on money funds

The average seven-day yield on taxable money-market funds was 0.02 percent

this week, unchanged from last week, according to iMoneyNet Inc. The average yield on tax-free funds was 0.02 percent this week, unchanged from last week. - Rhonda Dickey