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A new angle The head of the UAW says the union will try to get voters to approve an amendment to the Michigan constitution to ban Right to Work legislation. Right to Work bans employers from agreeing to mandatory union membership for their workers.

Taking them to task A new task force is declaring war on corruption in Detroit, according to the Detroit Free Press.  An FBI official says corruption in the city is “generational, systematic, part of the culture.”

Total recall Wisconsin election officials say recall votes will have to wait until at least June.

Some gain, still pain Illinois added jobs again last month, proof that the state is recovering – but at a “painfully slow rate,” according to the Chicago Tribune.

Hold the confetti CNNMoney takes a look at manufacturing in Ohio, and says the “good times are back (sort of).”

Movies move on Interest in Michigan as a movie-making destination continues to drop. The state dramatically cut back its film incentives last year.

Happy Birthday Chicago turns 175 years old on Sunday!

New high (tech) schools Five giants of the tech world are teaming up to open six new high schools in Chicago. Students at the high schools will stay for six years, and leave with an associates degree in a high tech field.

Jet jobs Michigan Governor Rick Snyder says the state could lose 600 jobs if the Air Force moves its A-10 fighter planes away from the Selfridge Air National Guard base.

Signature move Opponents of Michigan’s emergency manager law say they have enough signatures to put the issue on the ballot, and let voters decide whether the law should stand. Partner station Michigan Radio reports the signatures will be turned in today for certification.

Mine on the mind Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is hitting the road to help promote a controversial mining bill. The bill would open up a new mine in northern Wisconsin. The bill passed the state Assembly, but it now appears to be headed for a close vote in the Senate.

Right to Work in court Opponents of Indiana’s new Right to Work law will get their day in court. Attempts to overturn Right to Work have failed in other states. But activists say Indiana’s law was passed in a hastily, and it contains provisions not found in other Right to Work laws. Both sides will make their case at a preliminary hearing on Monday.

Drilling down into the numbers A new study says shale gas and oil will add $5 billion to Ohio’s economy over the next two years. The Cleveland Plain Dealer reports the study was commissioned by the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, on behalf of the Ohio Shale coalition. The study predicts the boom in shale drilling will happen about 10 times faster than previous studies predicted.

Manufacturing promises Reuters asks economists whether the new political focus on manufacturing will actually create jobs. The answer is, basically, no.

Driving downloads The state of Ohio is spending $10 million to increase its broadband internet speeds tenfold between colleges and universities.

It’s over After 13 weeks, the Cooper Tire lockout in Findlay Ohio is finally over. The Toledo Blade reports that workers approved a new five-year contract yesterday. They could be back in the plant later this week.

Split opinions Yesterday, we asked “Who gets credit for the bailout?“ Meanwhile, the BBC looked into why opinions of the auto industry bailout are split, even in Michigan.

Want to become a landlord? The federal government has a new plan to auction off foreclosed homes owned by Fannie Mae and turn them into rental homes. Chicago is one of the first cities where it will happen.

Ready for a recall Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has decided not to challenge any of the 1 million recall signatures filed against him. That means the recall election will almost certainly move forward.

Something fishy The US Supreme Court once again declined to weigh in on the debate over what to do about Asian Carp. Partner station WBEZ has the story.

UAW speech President Obama will give a speech to UAW members at a conference in Washington this morning. The event starts at 11:45, and you can watch it live here.

Big day There’s something going on in Michigan today. What was it? Maybe Michigan Radio can help.


Last month, Changing Gears’ Niala Boodhoo took a look at Wisconsin, a year after Republican Gov. Scott Walker won legislation that strips most public employees of their bargaining rights.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker

Now, The Atlantic Monthly is weighing in with its own take on Walker, and it had a tidbit that caught our eye. Staff writer Molly Ball asked Walker if he supported a Right to Work law, like the one that recently passed the Indiana legislature.

Walker replied, ”Not oppose it, it’s just not something we’re pursuing right now.” He went on, “It’s not something I’m pursuing right now, nor have any plan of pursuing.”

That sounds almost word for word what Michigan’s Republican governor, Rick Snyder, says about a Right to Work law, which would prevent unions from collecting mandatory dues when employees decline to join.

Lawmakers in Michigan are proposing Right to Work legislation, but Snyder says it is a divisive issue,  adding it isn’t appropriate in Michigan in 2012. He says the issue could distract from his agenda of fixing the state’s economy.

Ohio’s Republican governor, John Kasich, whose efforts to eliminate public employee bargaining rights were overturned by voters, also has said Right to Work is not on his to-do list, although lawmakers have proposed the measure there, too.

Walker acknowledges he supported Right to Work when he was in the Wisconsin legislature. In the Atlantic interview, he goes on to say that “private-sector unions have been our partner in the economic revival we’ve had in this state. A bigger issue is the impact the public-sector unions have had on the taxpayers. And that’s essentially what we have in Wisconsin — right-to-work in the public sector.”

Walker may be trying to seem more moderate, since he is likely to face a recall election. His opponents collected more than 1 million signatures in an effort to put the matter on the ballot. Once the signatures are counted, an election could be held this spring,


UAW President Bob King referred last week to a “new movement for social justice” this spring, and now we know what he’s talking about. The UAW’s Facebook page on Thursday features a big photo promoting the 99% Spring, sending its readers to a new Web site called The99Spring.com.

The 99% Spring Protest Movement Gets Organized

The site speaks directly to the protests that took place in Wisconsin over Gov. Scott Walker’s push to eliminate collective bargaining rights for public employees. There’s a letter from its organizers, who include King, as well as a variety of union, political and other groups.

Declares the site, “In the tradition of our forefathers and foremothers and inspired by today’s brave heroes in Occupy Wall Street and Madison, Wisconsin, we will prepare ourselves for sustained non-violent direct action.”

From April 9-15, the site says, its supporters will gather across the country — “100,000 strong, in homes, places of worship, campuses and the streets to join together in the work of reclaiming our country.”

The site says there will be training programs to a) tell the story of the economy b) learn the history of non-violent direct action and c) launch campaigns to win change.

There’s nothing more specific, but the site adds,

This spring we rise! We will reshape our country with our own hands and feet, bodies and hearts. We will take non-violent action in the spirit of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Gandhi to forge a new destiny one block, one neighborhood, one city, one state at a time.”

Are you interested in participating in protests? What do you think about this approach?


This is the second in a two-part series about what’s changed for public workers in Wisconsin, one year after labor protests gripped the state (part one is here).

Niala Boodhoo

Cory Roberts says he worries what will happen to his fellow firefighters after a number of towns in Wisconsin have tried to balance their budgets by increasing pension and healthcare costs for public safety workers.

The Capitol building in Madison is amazing – anyone can just walk in. And in Madison, people often do just visit, like Brian Austin, who often brings his children here.

Austin is a detective with the City of Madison’s police department. He was also one of the tens of thousands who packed this building in protest when Gov. Walker proposed limiting union rights for public workers. The law – Act 10 – passed anyway. So Austin says when he goes into the building now, he can’t help think of it as a “completely different” building – and he means that in both a positive and a negative way.

His ambivalence is because he says Walker has brought the Wisconsin workers together – even though they’re suffering now.

The Wisconsin state worker’s union estimates that some 22,000 public employees are taking home 13 percent less pay since the law has taken effect. As it was written, public safety workers like police officers were supposed to be exempt.

But now, police and firefighters are finding, they, too, are facing increased pension and health care costs.

“We knew there was going to be a slippery slope,” says Jim Palmer, executive director of the Wisconsin Professional Police Association, the state’s largest police union.

“Economic conditions that are impacting Wisconsin aren’t going to go away,” Palmer says. “And we knew that if municipalities in this state continue to see a shortfall, and if police and firefighters are the only ones with collective bargaining rights, we would be next.”

Last fall, the city of Madison saved more than $2 million when the mayor asked police and fire unions to renegotiate their contracts. Now, workers are contributing three percent more to their pensions and are paying for their own uniforms. In return, no one was laid off or furloughed.

Palmer – the union rep – says that’s how collective bargaining is supposed to work. But it’s hasn’t been so agreeable elsewhere.

In a decision that’s yet to be announced, the Wisconsin police union and Eau Claire County have gone before the state labor board over police contracts there. Eau Claire’s corporate counsel, Keith Zehms, says the county is simply following the law.

“Our position is based on the change that the state legislature made in the law last summer,” Zehms says.

Zehms isn’t talking about Act 10. He’s referring to the state budget. It contained language allowing municipalities leeway in negotiating health care contracts for all of its workers – including public safety.

And that’s why some local governments are saying police and firefighters have to pay more on health care costs – regardless of what the union says. So the unions are fighting back. As of now, there are at least three court cases going on in Eau Claire, but also Milwaukee and Green Bay.

At issue is whether the unions have the right to bargain over health care costs – how much workers pay for deductibles and premiums.

Back at the capitol building in Madison, Detective Austin walks outside to where about one hundred people were singing. It’s a noonday protest that has occurred every day since last Feb. 14, when the protests really began. Austin isn’t the only public safety worker in the crowd.

Madison firefighter Cory Roberts says he’s there because even though his union has reached an agreement with his city, he’s worried about his colleagues elsewhere.

“People say you have amazing benefits,” Roberts says. “but, you know, those were negotiated in lieu of wages at some point.”

Roberts is holding a sign that says “Recall Scott Walker.” Last month, Wisconsin Democrats turned in one million signatures to recall Walker. His Republican supporters have until the end of this month to challenge the signatures.

Austin and Roberts both said something you hear echoed more than a few times by public safety workers in Wisconsin. Before last year, they stayed out of politics. But now, they’re actively engaged – trying to get the governor voted out of office.


The nation was riveted on Madison, Wisconsin last year when tens of thousands of people protested Gov. Scott Walker’s proposal to dismantle most union rights for state and local workers. Walker was successful. Now, a year later, how have those changes made life different in Wisconsin? Changing Gears has been taking a look at the impact state governments have on everyday life, and I take a look at Wisconsin in the first of two reports.

The Solidarity Sing Along outside the Capitol building in Madison, Wisc. (Niala Boodhoo)

It’s noon, and on the steps of the Capitol building in Madison, Wisconsin, about 100 people are gathered in a circle, singing labor songs like “If I Had a Hammer” and “Solidarity Forever”. They have a conductor, drummer, someone passing out songbooks and even a cymbals player. It’s been dubbed the Solidarity Sing-A-Long.

People wave signs protesting Gov. Scott Walker as they walk. Some signs call for his recall.

Last Valentine’s Day, when the sing-a-long began, thousands of workers were protesting at the Capitol. They were trying to get legislators to stop Walker’s proposal to take away collective bargaining rights for state workers.

Wisconsin was one of the first states in the country to allow its public workers to unionize. Dues were taken right out of their paychecks, and they were represented by unions that bargained over wages, pensions and health care contributions.

When Act 10 passed last March, the unions remained, but their collective bargaining power was gone. Now, members have to opt into the union, instead of opting out.

Walker declined requests to be interviewed for this story. But in his State of the State address last week, he provided his perspective on what he was facing last year, when Wisconsin’s budget deficit was about $3.6 billion.

Act 10 was referred to as the Budget Repair Bill.

Today, Walker claims Wisconsin has a balanced budget. (Whether or not the budget is actually balanced is controversial in Wisconsin. Walker’s spokesman directed me to this website. But a recent LaCrosse Tribune editorial offers another view.)

Walker was interrupted several times by hecklers during his speech. But he was met with applause and cheers when he noted Wisconsin’s unemployment rate, which has dropped from 7.5 percent to 7.1 percent, is the lowest it’s been since 2008.

“We’re turning things around,” he said. “We’re heading in the right direction.”

Paul Wright has worked for Wisconsin's Dept. of Corrections for 24 years. (Niala Boodhoo)

State worker Paul Wright sees things differently.

“He turned around and stabbed us in the back,” said Wright, a 24-year veteran of the state’s corrections office. He said he, like most corrections officers, voted for Walker.

Since last July, Wright estimates he has made about $900 less a month because of increased pension and health care contributions.

In his case, the loss in income means Wright’s son is going to a local community college instead of the University of Wisconsin. He hopes his son will eventually be able to transfer to the more-expensive school.

And Wright says he’s actively involved in politics for the first time. He helped collect signatures for the petition to recall Gov. Walker. Under his Packers sweatshirt, he showed me a red “Recall Walker” shirt. He has five of them, so he can wear one every day of the week.

Wright makes $26 an hour. That’s almost twice the average hourly pay for most state, county and municipal workers, according to Wisconsin’s state employees union, AFCSME Council 24.

“We now have folks who utilize food banks, food stamps, are living on the edge, paycheck to paycheck,” said Martin Bell, its executive director, adding the average pay of its members is about $14.50 an hour.

Before Act 10, the union represented 22,000 state workers. Now that workers have to sign up voluntarily, about half have done so. Beil is on the road most of the time recruiting them back into the union.

Too bad it was too cold for frozen custard. (Niala Boodhoo)

About 50 miles east of Madison, in Delafield, I stopped by the Wholly Cow Frozen Custard downtown. Delafield is between Madison and Milwaukee. The shop’s closed in the winter – it was 25 degrees when I was there, and owner Jan Stoffer says people don’t eat enough ice cream in the winter to keep it open.

Jan and Jim Stoffer are small business owners in Delafield, Wisc. (Niala Boodhoo)

Jan and her husband, Jim run the business together. In the winter, Jim works for the state teaching part-time at Waukesha Community Technical College. Jan is a business consultant. The couple don’t exactly see eye to eye on Walker.

Jim Stoffer applauded the governor’s political will in seeing Act 10 get passed.

“This guy inherited a lot of problems from Gov. Doyle,” he said. “You can’t just continue to spend money forever”.

Jan Stoffer, who used to be a teacher, disagrees. She said her husband’s comment sounds reasonable until you realize that money is being taken away from teachers, while corporations continue to make a lot of money. And she thinks it’s not just teachers – it will only get worse for all state workers.

“When they were trying to push this through, and they said, ‘Oh, don’t worry it’s not going to affect the firefighters and the police officers’. But it’s the old slippery slope. If you’re going to make that be the rule ofr a certain group, it’s going to trickle down to others. How can it not?

Remember the Solidarity Singers who are still protesting in Madison? I’ll be reporting next on police officers and firefighters who were singing, too – even though these changes weren’t supposed to affect them.

*This story was informed by the Public Insight Network. Add your story here.


Talking Points Memo, an influential political blog, is estimating that as much as $100 million could be spent on the recall fight involving Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker.

$100 million and this turkey is yours

It quotes analysts saying spending could be two or three times the $44 million that candidates and their supporters spent during state Senate recall races last year. Walker, at least, is getting ready for a pitched battle. He raised $4.5 million in just over a month, and has more than $2 million on hand, according to TPM.

But, given the state of our economy, that got us thinking: what else could $100 million pay for in the Midwest? We found all kinds of things that carry that price tag.

Detroit Schools’ Deficit. A year ago, the Detroit Public Schools were $327 million in the red. Now, the deficit has been reduced to $89 million, according to Roy Roberts, the district’s emergency manager.

But it wouldn’t be handing us back any change. The steps the district took to reduce its shortfall means it has to pay about $20 million a year in interest, so it will have a use for the money left over from the $100 million.

Loans in Cleveland. Last week, the The Cuyahoga County Council launched a $100 million fund designed to build businesses and create jobs.

According to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the county is offering 11 types of loans. Five types of loans, including those to attract investors for start-ups, redevelop properties and to lure large companies, will be accepting applications immediately. The others are expected to start over the next four months.

A Bunch of Robots. Ford Motor Company is spending $100 million to install laser vision robots at three factories, including the Michigan Assembly Plant in Wayne and the Chicago Assembly Plant.

The robots are meant to give the company a more accurate reading of the way its parts fit together, helping it improve quality and reduce wind noise.

Turkeys in Indiana. Farbest Foods of Huntingburg, Ind., may spend that much to build a turkey processing plant in Vigo County, as well as a feed mill and a brooding hub.

Before it can make the investment, though, it needs to sign contracts with 60 to 70 farmers in central Indiana and east-central Illinois.

Your turn: how would you spend $100 million in the Midwest?

Dustin Dwyer · The States Of Our States

January 27th, 2012


So far, three Midwesterner governors have delivered their state of the state addresses. The image above is a word cloud created from the prepared texts of the speeches in Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin. As usual, the speeches offer optimistic visions of what each governor has accomplished in the past year, and what they’re capable of accomplishing this year. We’ll be tracking what the rest of the Midwest governors say in their speeches. And, as we parse through what’s been said and unsaid in the speeches so far, we want to know: What do you think of your governor’s speech? Were you surprised by anything, or did it all sound like what you’ve heard before? Let us know in the comments.


Party like it’s 1998 Ford is reporting its highest annual earnings in over a decade. The Wall Street Journal says the auto industry’s profits are part of its new math: sell fewer cars, make more money (subscription required).

Curiouser and curiouser Keeping track of Wisconsin politics gets more complicated by the day. While the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board is still busy counting recall petitions against Gov. Scott Walker, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that two of the governor’s former aids have been charged with illegal campaigning. The charges are part of an ongoing “John Doe” investigation of Walker’s staff during his time in county government. Despite the investigation and the recall threat, Walker’s poll numbers are rising.

Meanwhile, in actual economic news, the Wisconsin Assembly voted to ease the way for a proposed Iron ore mine in the state’s northern region. Republicans say it will create jobs. Democrats say the changes could lead to environmental harm.

190 Acres of transformation In Cuyahoga County, Ohio, a 190-acre industrial site represents, in microcosm, the changes facing the Midwest. Officials in the town of Beachwood are hoping to rezone the property as the industrial sector declines and other sectors grow. Officials say they want to see the property used for health care, retail and residential investment.

Obama talks higher ed President Obama will be in Ann Arbor, Mich. today to talk about his ideas for higher education funding.