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Until now, Right to Work laws have been the subject of legislative debate. But in Minnesota and Ohio, the issue faces the prospect of being put before voters this fall.

Map Courtesy EasterdayConstruction.com

Right to Work laws prohibit unions from collecting dues in a workplace, even when they represent its workers. Earlier this winter, Indiana became the first state in the Great Lakes to adopt a Right to Work, and the 23rd in the nation to do so.

Now, unions and other Right to Work opponents are vowing to go directly tio voters to plead their cause. Here’s a look at their strategy: 

Minnesota: The Republican-controlled legislature has begun considering an amendment to the state constitution that would add Right to Work provisions. The step is taking place over the objections of the state’s Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton.

On Monday, Right To Work opponents staged a protest at the capitol, filling hallways outside a committee hearing where the initial work took place. Regardless, a state Senate committee approved the measure, sending it on to a second committee.

It must still pass there, win Senate approval and go on to the House. A similar measure has been stalled in the lower chamber, and it isn’t clear whether the bill could pass. But because the measure would amend the constitution, it requires a referendum in November, so the legislature would not have the final say.

Ohio:The same group that fought Ohio’s law restricting public employee bargaining rights has vowed to take on the Right to Work issue. Our partner station ideastream reported on the efforts by We Are Ohio to keep a Right to Work law from taking effect in the state.

Meanwhile, in Indiana, Gov. Mitch Daniels contends the state’s new Right to Work law is already show results. Daniels told reporters on Monday that three companies have already decided to locate or expand in Indiana since the law was passed. Another 31 companies have expressed interest in coming to the state.

“I probably underestimated how important an addition to our already excellent business climate [right-to-work] was going to be,” Daniels said.

 

 

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is in the middle of a contentious recall fight, which has made headlines around the country.

But one story that hasn’t gotten as much attention is the ongoing criminal investigation involving a number of Scott Walker’s former staff members. The investigation is centered on Scott Walker’s time as Milwaukee’s county executive. So far, a half dozen of Walker’s former staffers have been charged with various crimes related to the mishandling of funds.

Walker has mostly remained above the fray. But Friday, Walker announced that he’s started a legal defense fund.

A spokesman for Walker told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that the governor has been told “he is not a target of this investigation.”

But the paper’s watchdog columnist, Daniel Bice, reports that there are very clear restrictions on when elected officials are allowed to create legal defense funds.

From Bice’s column:

“The only way you can set that up is if you are under investigation or being prosecuted,” said Michael Maistelman, an election lawyer who is representing former Walker aide Tim Russell in the John Doe investigation. “One can only draw the conclusion that either one of those two things is happening.”

The prosecutor in the case is, not surprisingly, not commenting. But Bice says investigators have been looking into possible election law violations for 22 months. One former Walker staffer has already pleaded guilty. Another one was due in court today on embezzlement charges, but couldn’t make it because of an illness.

Walker is expected to meet with investigators later this month.

Michigan’s 15-member congressional delegation doesn’t agree on everything, but it has reached a consensus on one thing: the need to save jobs at the state’s air national guard bases.

The Michigan Red Devils' emblem/via Wikipedia

Democratic and Republican lawmakers joined forces today to ask the Senate and House Armed Services committee to spare the bases, located in Battle Creek and Harrison Township.

The cuts at the outposts would mean the loss of 652 jobs, with 561 coming at Selfridge Air National Guard Base in Harrison Township, according to the Detroit Free Press. That’s the home of the 107th Fighter Squadron, known as the Michigan Red Devils.

A civilian group, the Selfridge Base Community Council, says eliminating the squadron would have a ripple effect on the community. (Beyond that, it has a very cool logo.)

Would you be affected by the base cuts?

Mt. Fuji, as seen from the bullet train/photo by Micki Maynard

A year ago, people in the Midwest were realizing the damage that the massive earthquake and tsunami had done to Japan. And, while the region affected by the earthquake is starting its long recovery, everyone here has learned some permanent lessons.

1) We are all connected. To borrow a phrase from the Symphony of Science, the earthquake on the coast of Japan reminded us of how closely linked everyone is on earth. The earthquake disrupted parts and vehicle production for automakers overseas and in the United States for months — and had a significant impact on the Midwest.

In the Midwest, our Niala Boodhoo found that 160,000 people in the Great Lakes states worked directly for Japanese based companies. She reported on the impact for Morning Edition.

All across the region, companies, charities and even chefs stepped forward to help people affected by the disasters in Japan, sending everything from portable toilets to gas tanks and of course, cash. At Takashi, in Chicago, an all-star team of restaurant owners from around the city stepped up to cook a meal whose proceeds benefited the American Red Cross. 

2) Recovery is not instantaneous. We live in a world of the 24-hour news cycle, where word of events happening in one place can be beamed around the world within seconds via Twitter and Facebook. But the comeback for Japanese companies has been a step by step process.

One example is the automobile industry, which is vitally important to our region. Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Mitsubishi and Subaru all have factories and employees in our states.

In March 2011, the same month as the earthquake, Japanese automakers held 40 percent of American sales, according to statistics from Autodata, Inc. By June, with parts and vehicle deliveries disrupted, that fell to 30 percent of the market.

Last month, Japanese automakers held 37.8 percent, their highest share since the earthquake, but they are not yet back to where they were.

3) Diversify your production base. Over the past year, Japan’s currency has been at an all time high against the U.S. dollar. That, plus the disruptions caused by the earthquake, is causing a number of auto companies to hasten the shift of production from Japan to the United States.

Toyota told journalists in Toronto last month that it is looking at shifting Lexus and Prius production east from Japan, due to the super-strong yen.

That’s on top of a $400 million expansion that’s taking place at Toyota’s Princeton, Ind., plant, which will become its only global location for the Highlander, a sport utility vehicle. And, Toyota’s new plant in Blue Springs, Miss., which opened in November, is already up to its full component of 2,000 workers.

Honda is expanding in Ohio, where it’s building a new engine and transmission family. It also will build the NSX sports car, which returns in 2015 for the first time in a decade, at a new facility in Marysville.

4) Know your nukes. The weeks-long crisis at Japan’s nuclear power plants caused many Midwesterners to realize that our region also relies in part on nuclear energy. There are 24 nuclear power plants around the Great Lakes, including 11 reactors in Illinois.

Michigan has four, Wisconsin has three and Ohio has two. There are none in Indiana. Meanwhile, the U.S. Energy Information Administration offers an in-depth look at each state’s nuclear power status. Here are their entries for MichiganIllinoisOhio, and Wisconsin.

 

 

Buffalo's Delaware Park. Credit: flickr user efoxsolomon

As populations shrink and our cities reassess themselves, many people are looking at the damage that freeways did to urban life.

Our Dan Bobkoff looked at that discussion in Cleveland a year ago, and now Buffalo is considering the same kind of move for the Kensington Expressway.

According to the Buffalo News, a coalition of businesses, civic institutions, block clubs and neighbors, including the Buffalo Museum of Science, the Wendt Foundation and the Olmsted Parks Conservancy, wants to re-connect the neighborhood to what was once the Humboldt Parkway.

The Parkway was designed by Frederick Law Omstead, the architect of Central Park in New York City and Belle Isle park in Detroit. It connected what was then called The Parade – now called Martin Luther King Park – with The Park, now called Delaware Park.

But the construction of the Kensington in the 1960s caused the destruction of a canopy of tall shade trees that lined the parkway, and sliced through the neighborhood, creating a concrete canyon.

Now, the Reclaiming Our Community Coalition envisions putting a cover over 1.2 miles of the expressway from Best Street to East Ferry Street and then planting a promenade of trees, shrubs and greenery. The tab would be around $465 million.

Members of the group met Thursday to finalize their response to a state Department of Transportation draft design study for the project.

The state study proposes five alternatives for the expressway, including doing nothing, adding new guardrails and paint costing about $2 million, filling in the expressway and creating a boulevard, which would cost $35 million, a partial deck, which would cost about $170 million, or the group’s plan.

What’s going on in your community? Are there any moves afoot to close or replace aging freeways?

 

Michigan’s Republican governor, Rick Snyder, says a Right to Work law is not a priority for his administration, and a number of Midwest governors agree. But the Michigan legislature has taken aim at a tenet of collective bargaining for the state’s teachers. 

On Wednesday, the Republican controlled legislature sent Snyder a bill that that prohibits public schools from automatically collecting dues from teachers and other school employees’ paychecks. The step affects teachers and employees from kindergarten through high school.

Supporters say the legislation will free up schools from doing the bookkeeping for unions, and require union members to write separate checks, or arrange for the money to be withdrawn from their accounts.

The ability to pay union dues via deduction has long been a method used by organized labor to encourage people to sign up. Labor leaders often have worried that if it’s difficult to pay dues, many people won’t bother.

“It could not have been a worse day,” David Hecker, the president of the Michigan branch of the American Federation of Teachers, said in a email to his members. (Read and listen to Changing Gears’ coverage of the issues facing teachers.)

Hecker said he believed the step was in retaliation for a petition drive that labor groups have launched to keep the state from enacting a Right to Work law.

These laws, like the one that recently took effect in Indiana, prohibit unions from automatically collecting dues from employees, even when the union represents their workplace.

Michigan unions want voters to consider a proposal this fall that would keep the state’s current closed shop status intact. In Michigan and many other Great Lakes states, employees must pay union dues when their work place is organized, whether or not they join the union.

Gary Chaison, a professor of industrial relations at Clark University in Worcester, Mass., says he expects to see Republican-controlled legislatures try the same tactic as Michigan lawmakers, in the battle over union rights.

Such specific campaigns are easier than trying to strip public employees of all their collective bargaining rights, which worked for Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker last year, but which backfired in Ohio. Voters there repealed a law signed by Ohio Gov. John Kasich that took collective bargaining rights away from public employees.

The broad efforts “aren’t worth the bother,” Chaison said.

 

 

 

 

Of course, Michigan and Ohio will always be rivals — some might even say enemies on the football field, at least. But when it comes to politics, these two Great Lakes states are sisters under the skin. 

Last night’s Super Tuesday primary showed just how alike the two states are.

As he did last week in Michigan, Mitt Romney again squeaked out a victory in Ohio’s Super Tuesday primary. As he did last week, Rick Santorum showed that his strength lies with the most conservative Republicans, many in rural areas and in smaller towns.

And both men face the prospect that no matter what they did in the Michigan and Ohio primaries, President Barack Obama could beat either one come November.

Some tidbits from last night’s returns:

  • As in Michigan, Santorum led Romney in polls conducted in the weeks before the Ohio vote, only to see Romney close the gap and take a narrow victory. That might suggest polls are wrong, but it also shows that the Romney campaign believes in the “swoop and run” theory. It waits until the end to marshall its resources, and then pelts voters with ads and candidate appearances. So far, it’s worked in Michigan and Ohio.
  • Endorsements make a difference, for both candidates. In Michigan, Romney secured the endorsement of Gov. Rick Snyder about 10 days before the election. That helped with conservatives and moderates. In Ohio, Santorum was endorsed by the state’s attorney general, Mike DeWine, who switched his support from Romney. Even though Santorum ended up losing, the margin was much closer than it might have been without a high profile endorsement.
  • Shifts in population meant candidates had to get out of their comfort zones. It was easy in the past for Republicans to focus on suburban Oakland County, Mich., and Kent County, which encompasses Grand Rapids. But there are now Republicans flung all over the state, including the Upper Peninsula. Santorum campaigned there and nearly got every county. While Ohio’s biggest county remains Cuyahoga, candidates can’t only campaign there and expect to win. Franklin County, around Columbus, and Hamilton County in southern Ohio are must wins, too.

With two big Midwest states finished, the spotlight in our region will now turn to the illinois primary on March 20. The Chicago Sun-Times points out that Santorum went to high school in Mundelein, making him the only candidate with ties there. Will that give him any edge?

Chicago skyline, by flickr user bryce_edwards

President Obama shook up his home town yesterday when the White House announced it’s moving the G-8 summit from Chicago to Camp David instead.

Today, the President tried to soothe some ruffled feathers. His decision to shift the summit wasn’t a slap at Chicago’s preparations, he told an afternoon news conference. Rather, he’s never had world leaders come to Camp David, and wanted the opportunity to talk in a relaxed setting.

“We’re still going to be showing up with a whole bunch of world leaders,” Obama said, referring to the NATO summit that will still be held there. “I always have confidence in Chicago ability to handle security, whether it’s Taste of Chicago or Lapalooza or most championships.”

(The president was referring to Lollapalooza, the annual alt-music festival that’s held in Grant Park. Chicagoans on Twitter immediately took notice. Tweeted Peter Sagal: “Lapalooza? LAPALOOZA?”)

From the beginning, scheduling both the G-8 and NATO summits in Chicago back-to-back was all about putting the city on a global stage. No city had hosted both since London in 1977. Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the former White House chief of staff, lobbied his old boss to get the summits.

But now that the President has decided to move the G-8 summit, and leave Chicago with the less-prestigious and less-contentious NATO summit, what does it mean for the city? Since it was all about the city’s image anyway, it means whatever people say it means.

Here’s our guide to how people have reacted:

There’s no question that Toledo Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur is a champion of the auto industry, as befits a veteran Democrat with a big Jeep plant in her backyard — the one that President Obama visited last year.

President Obama speaks at an assembly plant in Toledo in June, one of seven trips to Ohio during his presidency.

And people far outside Ohio know Dennis Kucinich for the presidential campaign that made him a character on Saturday Night Live, as well as his tenure as the “boy mayor” of Cleveland.

Tomorrow, one of them won’t be running for another term in Congress. Kaptur and Kucinich are among 11 sets of Congressional representatives who are facing off against each other in primary races this year. Seven involve Democrats; four involve Republicans, according to Roll Call.

The reason is redistricting. Ohio lost two congressional seats because its population dropped in the last U.S. Census, one of them Kucinich’s 10th district, which was primarily Cleveland.

Kaptur’s 9th district, which encompassed mainly Toledo, was re-drawn to include an eastern slice of Kucinich’s old district.

The 9th district is now a strip along Lake Erie that runs from Lucas County on the western end to Lorain County to the east.

If he hoped to stay in office, Kucinich had to head west to campaign in what is primarily Kaptur’s district.

Despite his national fame, the 9th district is unfamiliar territory for Kucinich, while Kaptur has thrived there in her nearly 30 years in the House.  A number of pundits are predicting he will lose in today’s contest.

The situation creates unease among Democratic party loyalists, who have to choose between two members of Congress who are well-known in Ohio.

To be sure, their personalities are different. ““Dennis is John Belushi in ‘Animal House,’ ” Dennis Eckart, a former Democratic congressman from Cleveland, told The New York Times. “Marcy is the librarian who tells folks to be quiet and get their homework done.”

The pair have stretched in their debates to describe the differences between them. According to Roll Call, Kucinich accused Kaptur’s campaign of stealing his yard signs. Kaptur accused Kucinich of belittling Toledo, because of a radio advertisement that proclaimed “maybe in Toledo politics, facts don’t matter.”

 

 

Ohio voters are going to the polls today as part of Super Tuesday. We’d love to hear why you voted the way you did. Are you voting on issues, or personalities?

Cast your vote first, and then take our survey.

And check out some responses from Michigan voters in last week’s primary.