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United Airlines and the union representing its mechanics reached a tentative agreement, averting a strike that likely would have begun today. Negotiators for the International Association of Machinists & Aerospace Workers are recommending approval when members vote on the deal March 5. It provides raises of up to 37 percent - the first in eight years. That's the same amount members rejected last week, but the new contract also drops a provision that obligates mechanics to accept future pay cuts if other unions agree to them as part of United's recovery plan.

Southwest Airlines, the only major US carrier not losing money, announced plans to hire 4,000 more workers this year. The Dallas-based airline indicated it believes it will be able to choose from a pool of experienced applicants laid off by rival carriers in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Southwest said it expects 250 of the new hires will be pilots, 1,200 cabin attendants, and the rest assigned to other duties.

In what may herald a new wave of mergers in the telecommunications industry, Ciena Corp. agreed to acquire ONI Systems for just under $1 billion in stock. San Jose, Calif.-based ONI specializes in optical networking for metropolitan areas, while Ciena's strength lies in long distance and switching. The combined company - to be called Ciena and based in Linthicum, Md. - will have 3,700 employees and about $1.8 billion in annual sales.

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AES Corp., one of the world's leading independent electricity producers, announced it will cut spending by $490 million and divest assets, while reducing its presence in Latin America. The Arlington, Va.-based company, which has interests in 180 plants on four continents, said sales of assets, such as an Illinois utility Cilcorp and stakes in facilities in Indiana and the Dominican Republic, would raise as much as $1.5 billion in cash.

The world's largest bank announced it will close at least 100 branches and lay off 10,000 workers over the next four years in an effort to overcome unprofitable loans. Mizuho Holdings Inc. of Tokyo has $1 trillion in assets. But its share price has fared worse than the Nikkei-225 index amid Japan's latest recession and investor unhappiness at the overall status of the banking industry. Mizuho is the product of a 2000 merger among Fuji Bank, Industrial Bank of Japan, and Dai-ichi Kangyo Bank that will not become complete for another two months.

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