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Contracts covering United Auto Workers members at the Detroit auto companies expire tonight and the pace is stepping up.

Sergio Marchionne, the Fiat chief executive who also oversees Chrysler, flew back to the United States from Germany, skipping a meeting with Chancellor Angela Merkel, according to the Detroit News.

UAW President Bob King says he’s confident a deal can be reached by the deadline, although it’s not unusual for talks to go on longer.

There can’t be strikes at General Motors and Chrysler, due to agreements reached when the companies received federal bailouts. And while the UAW could walk out at Ford, the cordial relationship there makes a strike highly unlikely.

So, what are the big issues at stake in these talks? I talked to WBEZ’s Venture program this week about the negotiations.

[/audio]

Essentially, there are two big issues of importance to the two sides.

One is the future of newly hired workers, who are called two-tiers within the industry. They earn sharply lower wages than veteran workers, even though they work on the same assembly line. Our Kate Davidson profiled two-tiers last year.

These workers earn about $14 an hour, versus $28 for workers who were hired a few years ago. The UAW wants that base wage to go up. The companies, however, say they need to stay competitive with non-union auto workers in the United States, and beyond, where wages as low or even lower.

The other issue is health care. Before 2007, UAW members paid very little for health care coverage. Their benefits, while not as rich now, are still better than those received by workers at many other companies across the United States. However, these benefits cost the car companies hundreds of millions of dollars a year, and they are determined to save money.

The UAW’s ranks at the auto companies are vastly smaller than they once were. About 120,000 people work on assembly lines at the three companies, versus nearly 1 million at the peak in 1978. And, the role of the auto industry has diminished as part of the regional economy, according to the Federal Reserve.

As we’ve been reporting all month, big changes are taking place in manufacturing, where companies are taking new approaches and need virtually no workers.

But there are still auto plants in Detroit and Chicago, as well as other parts of Michigan, Indiana, and Ohio, where people are watching closely to see what happens with these negotiations.

Are you paying attention to the talks? Predictions on the outcome?


John Hill runs Midwest Mold. When his operators go home, some machines keep working.

Imagine going home out at night while your computer keeps doing your job. That’s the basic idea behind a trend in manufacturing called “lights-out machining.” You punch out. The machines keep working. It’s a way to make a lot more product with a lot fewer people … and fewer jobs. Here’s the story of two Michigan companies that are trying to boost productivity and stay competitive by turning out the lights and going home.

First, a little perspective. Man’s love/hate relationship with automation has been around a long time.  Take the 1936 classic Modern Times.

Charlie Chaplin is in a frenzy. He’s tightening bolts on the factory line. The boss straps him into a person-feeding machine, so his hands can keep working while his mouth eats lunch. It’s a nightmare of productivity, where men are captive to machines. But manufacturers today have a different vision.

“At the end of the shift, my operators go home. Their machines continue running in the building with nobody in it,” says John Hill.

Hill owns a small business called Midwest Mold Services. The company designs and builds metal molds for plastic parts. These parts wind up in cars, medical devices, and even as the emblem on the back of a Cadillac. Hill says in the old days, shaping these metal molds was a job for one machine and one operator.

Now one operator programs multiple machines to carve steel almost continuously. Largely unattended. Lights-out. This is only part of John Hill’s business, but it’s the part that puts his productivity per actual employee on steroids. He says that productivity keeps his prices competitive and keeps 30 people in good jobs.

“If I was more, you know, it’s all about me, I could get rid of five more guys and buy two more machines and say life is good,” he says. “But it’s hard to tell somebody they don’t have a place here anymore.”

Corey Greenwald's machines are shaping intricate designs in metal blocks, largely unattended.

When it comes to manufacturing, productivity and jobs are two lines that don’t play together well on a graph. Corey Greenwald learned that the hard way. Twenty years ago, he got a degree in automated manufacturing technologies, but found that people fought it.  They said it would take away jobs. And you know what?

“They were right, they were absolutely right,” he says.  “What they didn’t know is that it wasn’t going to be their biggest enemy. Their enemy was gonna be developing countries around the world that had really cheap labor.”

Over those same twenty years, the U.S. lost about six million manufacturing jobs. Today, Corey Greenwald has restored a few of them. He runs a lights-out machine shop called Hard Milling Solutions, in Romeo, Michigan. He says the technology gave him his life back.

“Now, we don’t even have to check in on the machines unless they call us,” he says.

Take the other weekend. Sunday afternoon.

“I’m on Lake Michigan at the beach with my kids,” he says, “and my phone starts going off. And I’m thinking what is that?”

Check the blackberry … it reads something like:

“V56-1, email notification.”

Which means that particular machine has stopped. Greenwald can then go online and look at the machine through a surveillance camera. He can log into the machine itself and diagnose the problem. He can recalculate and reload the program, from Lake Michigan or Bangladesh. The only he can’t do remotely is press start. Someone still has to go in for that.

Greenwald uses video surveillance to monitor his machines. He can check these feeds from almost anywhere on earth.

Back at Greenwald’s machine shop, 5:30 p.m. rolls around and Jeff Bond closes up for the night.

“Just shut the lights off for lights-out machining,” he says. “Actually, it’s a good feeling when you go home and they’re all running like that. It’s almost like having a night shift crew without having one.”

As all the workers leave for the night, I stay for a minute, just to listen. The shop hums with the sound of the new manufacturing: machines running through the night, though I’m the only person here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Forty-five percent of Americans define themselves as middle class, according to an ABC News poll in 2010. Those polled generally agreed upon some basics of a middle-class lifestyle: They worked in stable jobs, owned homes in safe neighborhoods, owned at least one vehicle, saved a little for retirement and college tuition.

“That set of things is becoming increasingly unattainable for a lot of people,” said Amy Hanaurer, executive director of Policy Matters Ohio, who spoke to The Columbus Dispatch as part of the newspaper’s wide exploration of what it means to be middle class that was published last week.

The topic is a central and divisive one in Ohio, where presidencies have historically been decided and a current debate rages over Senate Bill 5, a piece of controversial legislation that limits the collective bargaining rights of public employees. Special-interest groups fighting the legislation all claim they’re working on behalf of the middle class.

As part of a five-day series, experts told The Dispatch that globalization has battered the nation’s manufacturing sector, which once formed the crux of Ohio’s middle class. The median wage has declined in Ohio more than any other state since 2000, according to census figures.

In the wake of that economic devastation, The Dispatch sought out to define the middle class. You can find out what they learned, how Ohioans have coped with the recession, how they’ve reinvented themselves and lowered their expectations.

(The archive of the entire series can be found here).

The series raises important questions about how Americans view themselves in the aftermath of the Great Recession – and how they handle the ever-present fear of a double-dip recession on the horizon.

Do you consider yourself middle class? At what income level did you arrive in the middle class? What are hallmarks of a middle-class lifestyle? We’d like to hear from you.


Forty-five percent of Americans define themselves as middle class, according to an ABC News poll in 2010. Those polled generally agreed upon some basics of a middle-class lifestyle: They worked in stable jobs, owned homes in safe neighborhoods, owned at least one vehicle, saved a little for retirement and college tuition.

“That set of things is becoming increasingly unattainable for a lot of people,” said Amy Hanaurer, executive director of Policy Matters Ohio, who spoke to The Columbus Dispatch as part of the newspaper’s wide exploration of what it means to be middle class that was published last week.

The topic is a central and divisive one in Ohio, where presidencies have historically been decided and a current debate rages over Senate Bill 5, a piece of controversial legislation that limits the collective bargaining rights of public employees. Special-interest groups fighting the legislation all claim they’re working on behalf of the middle class.

As part of a five-day series, experts told The Dispatch that globalization has battered the nation’s manufacturing sector, which once formed the crux of Ohio’s middle class. The median wage has declined in Ohio more than any other state since 2000, according to census figures.

In the wake of that economic devastation, The Dispatch sought out to define the middle class. You can find out what they learned, how Ohioans have coped with the recession, how they’ve reinvented themselves and lowered their expectations.

(The archive of the entire series can be found here).

The series raises important questions about how Americans view themselves in the aftermath of the Great Recession – and how they handle the ever-present fear of a double-dip recession on the horizon.

Do you consider yourself middle class? At what income level did you arrive in the middle class? What are hallmarks of a middle-class lifestyle? We’d like to hear from you.


Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Goodbye Cleveland, hello Chicago. A Cleveland-area steelmaker could receive more than $1 million in financial incentives to move its headquarters to downtown Chicago, Crain’s Chicago Business reported this morning. JMC Steel Group Inc. could bring 50 new employees in the move. Chicago’s Community Development Commission will hear a proposal to provide $1.1 million in incentives Tuesday. Crain’s writes the approval would “represent another victory for Mayor Rahm Emanuel,” who has touted several job victories since taking office.

2. Ford faces UAW strike. A Wednesday deadline looms on contract talks between United Auto Workers officials and Detroit automakers, although representatives on both sides say the discussions could be extended. UAW president Bob King tells our partner station Michigan Radio that a strike is not a “goal” of the talks, but others believe a strike could happen at Ford. Gary Walkowicz, a bargaining committeeman, says union members deserve to receive cost-of-living adjustments surrendered during the recession.

3. Obama will speak in Ohio. President Obama will continue the campaign for his $447 billion jobs bill in Columbus, Ohio, today. He’ll emphasize part of his proposal that marks $25 billion for school building and renovation while speaking at Fort Hayes Arts and Academic High School. It’s part of Obama’s plan to fight for the American Jobs Act on the turf of his Republican counterparts. The Ohio visit, in House Speaker John Boehner’s home state, comes four days after Obama visited House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s district in Richmond, Va.


Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Goodbye Cleveland, hello Chicago. A Cleveland-area steelmaker could receive more than $1 million in financial incentives to move its headquarters to downtown Chicago, Crain’s Chicago Business reported this morning. JMC Steel Group Inc. could bring 50 new employees in the move. Chicago’s Community Development Commission will hear a proposal to provide $1.1 million in incentives Tuesday. Crain’s writes the approval would “represent another victory for Mayor Rahm Emanuel,” who has touted several job victories since taking office.

2. Ford faces UAW strike. A Wednesday deadline looms on contract talks between United Auto Workers officials and Detroit automakers, although representatives on both sides say the discussions could be extended. UAW president Bob King tells our partner station Michigan Radio that a strike is not a “goal” of the talks, but others believe a strike could happen at Ford. Gary Walkowicz, a bargaining committeeman, says union members deserve to receive cost-of-living adjustments surrendered during the recession.

3. Obama will speak in Ohio. President Obama will continue the campaign for his $447 billion jobs bill in Columbus, Ohio, today. He’ll emphasize part of his proposal that marks $25 billion for school building and renovation while speaking at Fort Hayes Arts and Academic High School. It’s part of Obama’s plan to fight for the American Jobs Act on the turf of his Republican counterparts. The Ohio visit, in House Speaker John Boehner’s home state, comes four days after Obama visited House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s district in Richmond, Va.


Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Bridge gains political spotlight. Some experts estimate that billions of dollars in goods, perhaps as much as 4 percent of the nation’s GDP, at some point cross the Brent Spence Bridge, which spans the Ohio River between Cincinnati and northern Kentucky. On Thursday, President Obama highlighted the bridge as one that could be repaired as part of his jobs recovery plan. The prominent mention was perhaps a bit of political gamesmanship – House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky could be in the cross-hairs of their constituents if they voted against the $2 billion overhaul, which currently lacks federal funding.

2. Middle-class crunch. The Columbus Dispatch spent five days last week exploring what it means to be middle class in Ohio. The definition varies widely, but the newspaper concludes the key measures show that Ohio’s middle class is much smaller than people realize, and “the group is shrinking.” As one employee at a barber shop in suburban Dayton said, “The middle class? I’m not sure it exists anymore.”

3. Detroit earns dubious title. In July, The New York Times profiled the youth movement under way in Detroit. This week, Good Magazine followed up and declared the Motor City as one of the best places to be “young and broke.” It cited the fact the city’s vibrant community activism scene is led by young people, and that Detroit has earned a reputation for hustle, art and low cost of living. And also, of course, there’s lots of young people who are doing quite well for themselves.


In his jobs speech to a joint session of Congress last night, President Obama made it clear he’s betting on small businesses and government-works projects to create jobs. Prior to the speech, we asked people across the Midwest which industry they would bet on to turn around the economy. Several were on the same page as the President. Although many of them lacked his optimism, and think small business is a safe bet.

William Mayor of Barbeton, Ohio said, “I doubt that any single industry, in the normal sense of the word, can salvage our economy.”

Jeremy Peters of Ypsilanti echoed that sentiment. “Economic prosperity will only come from teamwork,” he said. Rather than picking an industry, Peters would like to see officials focus “on a plethora of small businesses across all genres and offering help and credits where needed.”

The Midwest, still battling the effects of the auto industry’s collapse, could be understandably gun shy about hitching its dreams to a new economic magic bullet. But whether its American optimism or desperation, plenty of people said if they had money to invest, they would bet on a variety of industries including: wind power, high-tech, bio-medical, advanced manufacturing, alternative energy, tourism, and yes, even autos.

Individuals aren’t the only ones ready to try to pick an economic winner. Educational institutions and local and state governments across the Midwest have put significant amounts of money into certain industries. Sometimes, there are federal dollars being leveraged as well.

A few examples of these investments can be found in Western Michigan spending hundreds of millions of state and federal dollars to attract advanced battery manufacturing companies.  Northeastern Ohio and the Detroit Metro area are still investing heavily in auto manufacturing, and Ann Arbor is working on cultivating a culture to nurture tech start-ups.

Thomas Sudow of Beachwood, Ohio would put his money on the bio-medical industry. “The Midwest has a reputation of making things and a lot of the skills needed to manufacture medical device are located in the Midwest,” he said. Both the Cleveland area and West Michigan in particular are investing heavily in health care, building new facilities and trying to attract biomedical device manufacturers.

Policy makers across the region are willing to make such broad and deep investments in the hopes that more jobs can be created. In Washington, D.C, President Obama called on Congress last night to pass his job bills quickly. The bill faces an uncertain future, as do many of these emerging industries in the Midwest.


Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Cuts coming in Illinois. Gov. Pat Quinn is expected to outline deep cuts to the Illinois budget today, according to our partner station WBEZ. Quinn said he must make the cuts to stay within the budget approved by lawmakers. Parole officers and tax collectors appear on the list of likely cuts. Administrators said proposals have been shared with the General Assembly this week.

2. Ohio may halt fracking. A Democratic state senator in Ohio has introduced legislation that would mandate a two-year moratorium on the controversial practice of hydrofracking according to our partner Ideastream. Sen. Michael Skindell says the quiet period would give the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency time to study the practice. A spokesperson from the Ohio Oil and Gas Association says a halt would worsen the state’s unemployment rate.

3. Head of AFL-CIO leaving. Mark Gaffney, the head of the Michigan’s largest labor coalition for the past 12 years, told the Detroit Free Press today that he would not seek another four-year term at Michigan’s AFL-CIO convention in October. “I’m going to leave the fight on the front lines to others,” he told the newspaper. He is expected to be replaced by former UAW official and Wayne County consultant Karla Swift.


It’s a truism of Wall Street that September and October often bring the sharpest downturns in financial markets. Given that pretext, it’s easy to understand why so many investors, government officials and unemployed workers are jittery about this week’s economic developments.

This perhaps marks a key stretch in shaping the direction of the nation’s economy.

On Wednesday, the Labor Department issued an encouraging report that companies advertised the most jobs in three years and slowed layoffs. Also on Wednesday, the Federal Reserve said in its latest beige book that economic activity in most parts of the U.S. has been sluggish and, in some regions, weakened considerably amid a manufacturing slowdown.

Those reports set the stage for President Obama’s prime-time speech Thursday night before a joint session of Congress, in which he’s expected to outline a $300 billion proposal that addresses the country’s 9.1 percent unemployment rate.

Officials familiar with the White House plans tell The Associated Press the president will propose a one-year extension of a payroll tax cut and an extension of expiring jobless benefits. Other possibilities include public works projects, tax credits for businesses that hire the unemployed and continuation of other tax breaks for businesses.

Our partner station WBEZ previewed Obama’s speech and what Americans might expect to hear – as well as the reactions that may follow.