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Last year, it seemed unlikely. Now, Indiana looks bound to get a Right to Work law.

On Wednesday, the Indiana House followed the state Senate by approving Right to Work legislation. The action came just a day after Indiana’s governor, Mitch Daniels, delivered the Republican response to President Obama’s State of the Union address.

Both houses have to approve the same bill before it can go to Daniels for his signature. The Indianapolis Star says it’s likely that the Senate will consider the House version, because Republicans are in tighter control in the Senate. After that, Daniels can sign it into law — which he could do before the Super Bowl is played in Indianapolis on Feb. 5.

Right to Work laws prohibit unions from collecting mandatory dues. Labor unions say the laws make it much harder for them to organize, since workers don’t have to support them. Some political analysts say that weakens the unions’ political clout, too.

Indiana would be the 23rd state to approve Right to Work, and the first since Oklahoma approved a Right to Work law in 2011. Indiana also would be the first Right to Work state in the industrial Great Lakes. And, with Republican governors in Michigan, Wisconsin and Ohio, it probably won’t be long before the issue comes up for a vote in at least one of those states.

Earlier this week, we told you why Daniels decided to push for the bill this year. He says he was tired of seeing Indiana lose out on projects just because it wasn’t a Right to Work state. One of the projects the state lost, said Daniels, was the Volkswagen plant that went to Chattanooga, Tenn.

Do you think Right to Work legislation is now likely in other Great Lakes states? What’s your thinking on the issue?


whitehouse.gov

You might have heard something about a speech last night. From his claim that GM is back on top (rated “half-true” by PolitiFact.com), to his mention of a battery plant worker from Holland, Mich. (which, by the way, we’ve covered before), the Midwest got plenty of attention from the President during his State of the Union address.

And he’s not done with us. This afternoon, the President is in Cedar Rapids, Iowa to talk manufacturing jobs. He’ll also be traveling to Arizona and Nevada. This Friday, the President returns to the Midwest for a stop in Ann Arbor, Mich. This time, he’ll be talking about higher education.

During the State of the Union speech, President Obama said higher education shouldn’t be a luxury, and he’s committed to funding it. That was the carrot for colleges and universities. This was the stick:

“Let me put colleges and universities on notice: If you can’t stop tuition from going up, the funding you get from taxpayers will go down,”

The idea is similar to a law passed in Michigan last year for the state’s public universities. They raised tuition anyway.


The 2009 bankruptcies at General Motors and Chrysler were a historic moment for the Midwest economy. But a new memo published this week by The New Yorker shows that they were in danger of happening even sooner.

The insight can be found starting on page 36 of a 57-page memo by Lawrence Summers, written to President-elect Barack Obama on Dec. 15, 2008. The memo provides an in-depth look at the thinking that went into drafting Obama’s economic recovery plan.

At the time of the memo, Congress was considering emergency financing for car companies, who had been unable to borrow money from the nation’s banks. The Bush administration also was considering whether to use money from the Troubled Asset Relief Program, originally intended to rescue struggling banks.

Summers wrote, “Given GM and Chrysler’s current cash positions, it is overwhelmingly likely that one or both would be forced to file before or immediately after the New Year.” The Treasury Department, under President Bush, estimated the two companies would need $100 billion in bankruptcy financing.

“We believe that number to be wildly inflated,” Summers wrote.

In the end, the Obama administration provided $82 billion to finance the bankruptcies at GM and Chrysler, and pay for other assistance to dealers, suppliers and communities affected by the auto industry crisis.

Summers’ memo makes for interesting reading for anyone who’s followed the car companies’ bankruptcy and restructuring.


Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels got a lot of attention late last year when he finally came out in favor of a Right to Work law. Now, Daniels is suggesting that Volkswagen, in part, is the reason.

Speaking on Inside INdiana Business Television last week, Daniels said he was frustrated that his state was losing opportunities to compete for projects to other states that had Right to Work laws, which prevent unions from collecting mandatory dues.

Mitch Daniels Talks About Right to Work

One such project, according to the governor, was the assembly plant that Volkswagen recently opened in Chattanooga, Tenn. “I couldn’t get VW to return our call,” the governor said. “We’ve won on Honda, we won on Toyota, we’re clearly the fastest growing automotive state, and we couldn’t even get them to talk to us.”

Daniels. by the way, is giving the Republican response tonight to President Obama’s state of the union address.

Daniels was referring to Honda’s assembly plant in Greensburg, which opened in 2008, as well as Toyota’s two production sites. Toyota builds vehicles at its own plant in Princeton, and shares production with Subaru at its plant in Lafayette.

Tony Cervone, a spokesman for Volkswagen of America, declined comment via email.

Daniels’ decision to support a Right to Work law has caused an escalating debate in Indiana. Democratic lawmakers initially refused to attend hearings, even in the face of $1,000 a day fines.

Daniels said in the interview that their protests are justified. “Both sides ought to be heard from. I think the Democrats are within their rights to make a gesture of how strongly they felt, and to say let’s stretch this out a little further. It’s a good process and we’ll accept whatever outcome that comes.”

As the debate continues, companies like Remy International in Pendleton are weighing whether to invest in Indiana, or move elsewhere. Stateline.org looked at the situation for Indiana’s companies and its political future.


Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker

Wisconsin’s Republican governor, Scott Walker might have preferred to forget last week, when a truck filled with more than 1 million recall signatures showed up in Madison. But over the weekend, Walker got a pep talk from one of the state’s most fiery orators.

Former governor Tommy Thompson, a Republican who is running for the United States Senate, threw his enthusiastic support behind Walker and his efforts to curb collective bargaining rights for public employees, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported.

His pro-Walker comments came at a rally in Wauwatosa.

According to the paper,

“In the middle of the speech, Thompson took off his blue sportcoat to reveal a red Wisconsin coat with a large W. “We are a red state and we are not going to let them take it back to a blue state,” Thompson said.

“We are Wisconsin. We are Republicans. We’re taking our state back. The only thing better than Scott Walker winning the first time is Scott Walker winning the second time. We are going to show them once and for all that we are for real and we are not going back.”

Thompson concluded, “W is for Win, W is for Walker and W is for Wisconsin.”

Meanwhile, the Wisconsin Web Cam, showing state accountability board staffers verifying the petition signatures, is getting bigger than ever. Its parody Twitter account now has 1,201 followers (although it’s still only following the Reverend Al Sharpton).

Signature verification in Wisconsin becomes a Web darling.

If you checked it out last week, here’s an explanation of what those staffers are doing.


Signature verification in Wisconsin becomes a Web darling.

Wisconsin Web Cam

Forget live streams watching the giant panda in Edinburgh, or the weather in Chicago. The newest Internet plaything is the Wisconsin Web Cam.

The camera shows members of the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board, or GAB, verifying more than 1 million signatures delivered earlier this week by opponents of Gov. Scott Walker, seeking his recall in November.

Although the work is essentially repetitive, and the staffers solemn, the GAB cam has become an instant must-see for political junkies in Wisconsin and elsewhere. It has its own parody Twitter account — @recallcam — and some watchers keep track of their favorite verifiers.

That might seem the ultimate waste of time. But, given the high stakes involved, others see it as a civics lesson. As the Associated Press put it, “You know you live in a state consumed by politics when a webcam showing bureaucrats silently shuffling around a nondescript room feeding papers into a scanner attracts tens of thousands of viewers.

Our friends at NPR’s The Two-Way blog have more, if you’re as fascinated as we are.

So, click on the link above (not the photo, that’s a screen grab) and enjoy due process at work.


Michigan Film Incentives: In our very first story, Changing Gears told you about The Film Factory — the race between our states to attract movie productions. But last year, Michigan capped its film incentives, and the result was immediate, reports The Atlantic Cities. Only 84 productions applied for incentives in 2011, and just 22 were approved. That compares with 119 applications in 2010, when 66 were approved.

Ohio Police: Tiny Woodmere, Ohio, is known for having one of the highest ratios of police to residents — one officer for every 50 residents. But Woodmere now may shut its police force and hire protection from nearby Orange, Ohio, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Its mayor feels the half-square mile village can no longer afford the $1.2 million cost. Orange, which surrounds Woodmere, plans to charge $500,000, the mayor says.

Wisconsin Web Cam: Wisconsinites have been riveted by the debate over recalling Gov. Scott Walker. So much, that a Web Cam showing bureaucrats counting recall signatures has become a hit. The Associated Press reports that watchers have given nicknames to the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board who are reviewing the signatures, and the Web Cam has gotten its own Twitter account, @recallcam. (The account is following just one person: The Reverend Al Sharpton.)


Flint Plan: Michael Brown, the emergency manager of Flint, Mich., unveiled his plan yesterday for reducing an $11.3 million deficit. Not surprisingly, one of his top priorities is to overhaul bargainingagreements with city unions, something an emergency manager is allowed to do under Public Act 4, passed last year by the Michigan Legislature. Brown also wants to reopen the city jail, which closed in 2008.

Wisconsin Candidates: Democrats are raising their hands for the opportunity to challenge Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who appears to face an almost certain recall election this fall. Former Dane County chief executive Kathleen Falk said the 1 million signatures submitted by opponents to Walker on Monday convinced her to run. State Senator Tim Cullen of Janesville also plans to enter the race.

Toyota Milestone: It may be hard for car buffs to believe, but Toyota’s plant in Princeton, Ind., will turn 14 years old this year. And this week, it built its 3 millionth vehicle. The factory, in southwest Indiana, makes the Sienna minivan, which was the best selling family van in the United States last year. It has 4,100 workers and an annual payroll of $288 million.

Rock Hall: Dead Heads, listen up: the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland will celebrate the Grateful Dead this spring with an exhibit called The Long Strange Trip. It opens April 12, giving you plenty of time to launder your tie-dye t-shirts and get out your Jerry Garcia ties.


Many experts thought the Midwest states would never see Right to Work laws. After all, the modern union movement has deep roots here, and unions remain in force even as membership has dropped elsewhere.

Right to Work States/Source: Drscoundels.com

But Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels is pushing hard for a Right to Work law, which would eliminate the requirement that people pay dues if a union is formed where they work. And, some lawmakers in Michigan want to push for it there, even though Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder says it is not a priority.

Jack Lessenberry, the political commentator for our partner station Michigan Radio, tackled the subject today. You can hear his commentary on their Web site, and read it here.

Jack writes,

Governor Rick Snyder has no interest in attempting to make Michigan a “right-to-work” state, which means one where it is illegal for employers to sign labor contracts requiring their workers to pay union dues. But some Republicans in the legislature disagree, and may try to get a right-to-work bill passed this year.

There’s also the possibility of trying to put something on the November ballot, a constitutional amendment, perhaps, that would outlaw the union shop in this state. It’s unclear whether there is really going to be any serious effort to make that happen.

But if there is, I can tell you this.  Attempting to make Michigan a right-to-work state might be the biggest present anyone could give the Democrats in this election year.

That would anger unions and get them to pour money into campaigns like never before. And it would make a lot of workers very anxious, especially after the unions launched a campaign to tell them how their paychecks would shrink if this were to ever become a right-to-work state.

That could well mean an electoral disaster for the Republicans in November. Now, if they go ahead and do this anyway, the legislative Republicans will have proven one thing:

Elephants don’t have long memories after all. They should be thinking back to what happened only a dozen years ago. Betsy DeVos, then the state Republican chair, and her husband Dick were strong backers of a ballot initiative that would have made school vouchers widely available in troubled districts statewide.

Governor John Engler, who was also a Republican, thought this was a horrible idea. He knew it would infuriate the teachers unions, who would spend heavily to defeat it. Worse, it would cause a larger-than-expected flood of mostly Democratic voters to the polls.

But the DeVoses and their allies wouldn’t listen. They got a voucher amendment on the ballot that November.  The result was a disaster for the Republicans. The voucher amendment lost by a landslide, which pretty much ended Betsy DeVos’s political career. But that wasn’t the only effect. Michigan had been rated a toss-up between Al Gore and George W. Bush in that famous election. But thanks to the huge turnout of Democrats, Gore won the state fairly easily, by nearly a quarter-million votes.

What was even worse was that the flood of anti-voucher voters allowed Debbie Stabenow to win a come-from-behind upset victory over Republican U.S. Senator Spencer Abraham. The anti-voucher sentiment was so strong it prevented the legislature from doing what Engler was really interested in; allowing more charter schools.

Governor Snyder knows all this. He also doesn’t think right-to-work is necessary for Michigan’s economic recovery. Only a small minority of private sector workers are unionized today. In today’s auto industry, new UAW members make barely half as much as before.

Yet there are some in the legislature who just want to sock it to the unions — and who know that if the union shop were destroyed, unions would lose vast sums in dues that they now sometimes spend trying to defeat candidates they don’t like. Earlier this week, the Jackson Citizen-Patriot, a newspaper that traditionally has favored right-to-work, ran an editorial saying this was not the time.

Republicans who are interested in winning in November might be well advised to listen.


Proponents of the drive to recall Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker needed 540,208 signatures to put the issue on the November ballot. Yesterday, they arrived at the Government Accountability Board in Madison with more than 1 million signatures, virtually guaranteeing voters will consider the proposal.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker

If it gets on the ballot, the recall Walker initiative would be the first such vote in Wisconsin history, and only the third in the nation’s history. Voters kicked out California’s governor, Gray Davis, in 2003, and North Dakota governor Lynn Frazier in 1923.

The subject has riveted Wisconsin politics and means the debate over Walker’s push to eliminate collective bargaining rights for most public employee unions will continue through the fall.

But there are hurdles, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported. For one thing, no Democratic candidate has emerged as the leader to challenge Walker. The Wisconsin governor, meanwhile, has had plenty of time to prepare for a recall election, and has been raising funds around the country.

And, Republican party officials say they’ll scrutinize every signature, amid reports of people signing petitions multiple times.

Read up on Wisconsin and its turbulent year here. Then, tune in for our coverage Feb. 1 when Niala Boodhoo looks at Wisconsin a year after Walker took office.