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Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. First UAW rejects Ford deal. UAW Local 900, which represents workers at three Detroit-area auto plants, has narrowly rejected a tentative contract agreement with Ford, the Associated Press reported today. Local 900 was the first to vote on the agreement reached last week, and 51.1 percent of 2,582 voters nixed the deal. More votes are scheduled this week and next week. Bill Johnson, bargaining chairman of the Michigan Assembly Plant, tells the AP that workers are angry the contract does not restore some items lost in previous concessions.

2. Michigan State creates economic development center. The U.S. Economic Development Administration has given Michigan State University a $915,000 grant to create an economic development center that will focus on innovative ways to generate Michigan jobs. MSU will partner with other colleges, local and regional governments, private businesses and other groups to identify innovative ideas and practices. Rex LaMore, the head of the initiative, said many economic development practices have become outdated in what has become a knowledge-based economy.

3. Construction begins on Chicago rail project. Fourteen Amtrak, 78 Metra and 46 freight trains vie for rail space each day near 63rd and State Street in Chicago. On Tuesday, workers broke ground on a $133 million project aimed at breaking that bottleneck. U.S. Senator Dick Durbin tells our partner station WBEZ that the project allows for expanded Amtrak service around the Midwest, and will create more than 1,500 jobs. But one union laborer who watched Tuesday’s groundbreaking was skeptical of that number. “They say they’re going to hire from the community, but I’ve been hearing this for years,” Bob Israel tells the station. “It’s just a dog-and-pony show. Trust me.” The project, called the Englewood Flyover, is due to be completed in 2014.


When contract negotiations stumbled last month between the United Auto Workers and Chrysler, the automaker’s CEO Sergio Marchionne criticized his union counterpart in a public letter. When deadlines passed, he declared new ones rather than continue open-ended extensions. Now he wants to remove a cap on the number of entry-level workers.

UAW president Bob King has already reached agreements with General Motors and Ford this fall. Negotiations with Marchionne and Chrysler will likely be the most arduous yet.

“Chrysler is in a different situation because their balance sheet isn’t as beautiful and the profits haven’t started to fall in,” Kristin Dziczek, a labor analyst at Ann Arbor, Mich.-based Center for Automotive Research, tells Bloomberg News while explaining Chrysler’s harder-line stance.

According to her organization, Chrysler’s hourly labor costs, including benefits, averaged $49 per hour, compared with $56 at GM and $58 at Ford before the contract negotiations began, according to the Detroit Free Press. Chrysler has not yet returned to profitability since emerging from bankruptcy in 2009.

King said the UAW brings some leeway to the negotiating table, but that “we’re not going to give one company an economic advantage over another company,” he tells the Detroit News. “… But as flexible as we were at Ford and did some things differently, we’re flexible at Chrysler.”


Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. UAW and Ford reach tentative deal. The United Auto Workers union has reached a tentative agreement with Ford Motor Co., announced Tuesday, that calls for $6,000 in signing bonuses and the creation of 5,750 new jobs at plants in the United States. Workers could vote on the agreement by the end of the week. “The American auto industry is on its way back,” UAW President Bob King said in a statement, adding the jobs will be added by the end of 2012. Crucial to the deal was consensus on entry-level wages of approximately $17 per hour. The tentative agreement means that Chrysler is the only automaker of the Big Three without a deal.

2. Coal at a crossroads. Coal produces nearly half the electricity used in the United States, but benefits associated with coal are outweighed by pollution and health problems that cause more economic harm than good, according to a recent study from the American Economic Review. Our partner station Ideastream begins a multi-part series today examining the economic impact of coal and its future in the Midwest. First up in the series: the natural gas boom has given coal added competition. Coal’s share of the nation’s electricity production was at its lowest level in more than 30 years through the first quarter of 2011.

3. Wisconsin announces microgrid project. On Monday, Wisconsin officials announced a new project that aims to make the state a national center for energy microgrids, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. By using energy storage devices and battery systems, microgrid “energy islands” maximize the use of energy from renewable sources, according to the newspaper, and could help if main power grids are disrupted. Several Milwaukee-area companies and the state’s four largest engineering schools are among the participants in the project.


Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. UAW nears Ford deal. Local leaders in the United Auto Workers union have been called to Detroit for a Tuesday meeting, a “strong sign” that a contract has been reached with Ford Motor Co., according to the Associated Press. A UAW spokesperson said Monday that no deal has been finalized, although the union is hoping it will have one to present at tomorrow’s meeting. The four-year deal is expected to be more lucrative than the one UAW workers reached with General Motors last week, and include profit sharing instead of annual wage increases.

2. Emanuel hosts airline leaders. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel will hold a summit today with airline executives. He will discuss what kinds of improvements they’d like to see in Chicago’s workforce and infrastructure to maintain the city’s status as a transportation leader. United Air Lines and Boeing are based in Chicago, and American Airlines uses O’Hare as one of its major hubs. “I do not want to just sit on that lead. I want to build it,” Emanuel said last week. The CEOs of United, American, Boeing and electronic-booking agent Orbitz, as well as government officals, are expected to be in attendance.

3. Chicago native wins Nobel Prize. Bruce A. Beutler, a genetics professor born and educated in Chicago, is one of three winners of the Nobel Prize for Medicine. The prizes were announced Monday. Buetler was born in Chicago and earned his medical degree from the University of Chicago in 1981. He currently works at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, Calif, where officials credit his groundbreaking work in immunology for the prize. “I awoke in the night, looked at my cell phone and saw that I had a message that said, ‘Nobel Prize,’” Beutler told the San Diego Union-Tribune.


Members of the Local 602, employed at the Lansing Delta Township Assembly plant above, voted against ratifying a new contract between UAW and General Motors. (Photo courtesy GM).

DELTA TOWNSHIP, Mich. – Auto workers at the Lansing Delta Township Assembly plant make some of General Motors’ most popular vehicles.

The GMC Acadia, Chevrolet Traverse and Buick Enclave are all produced inside this 3.4-million square-foot facility on the outskirts of Lansing, which is Michigan’s state capital.

In August, when GM announced an 18 percent sales increase from 2010, GMC led the turnaround with a 40.3 percent increase. Chevrolet had gained 15.8 percent.

So when contract negotiations began last month, the plant’s 3,430 hourly workers expected they’d be sharing in the company’s improved position. But when they saw the proposed deal between the United Auto Workers and GM, many members of UAW Local 602 here felt jilted instead.

They rejected the deal — a rarity for a contract approved by two-thirds of GM workers nationwide.

“The concessions we’ve made were supposed to be concessions, and with the stroke of a pen, they’ve made it all permanent,” said Jan Ward, a long-time employee who voted against the contract. “We did whatever we had to do to make them viable. Now they’re more than viable, and they just snubbed our nose, and said, ‘Too bad for you.’”

The majority of workers here agreed. Among Local 602 members, 66 percent of production workers and 57 percent of skilled trade workers voted against the contract.

In national voting, the percentages were nearly reversed: Sixty-five percent of UAW production workers and 63 percent of skilled trade workers approved the agreement, which was ratified Wednesday. Of the 81 UAW locals participating in the voting, Local 602 was one of only three to vote against the contract.

As first-shift workers at the Delta Assembly plant departed Wednesday afternoon, they cited a variety of reasons for the local departure from national sentiment. Some said concern over local union issues had spilled into voting on the national vote. (Local 602 president Bill Reed could not be reached for comment).

But the most-cited reason for the negative swing in Lansing was a feeling by veteran workers that they gained nothing from the contract.

“We’re really disappointed that GM didn’t give more back to us after all we’ve given to them,” said Larry Larner, employed by the company for 35 years. “They’ve always said they don’t like the adversarial approach. If they don’t like it, why don’t they come to us and say, ‘Look, we realize you gave up a lot, and we’ll try to give back to you.’”

Veteran workers got no raises, although there are raises in the contract for recently hired workers, known as “two-tiers.” Cost of living allowances, which were lost as part of the GM bailout, remain a thing of the past.

Larner said he reluctantly voted in favor of the contract. After years of union concessions in bargaining, he said, “We managed to keep what we had.” But his weariness in the face of those continued retreats mirrored the demeanor of many workers who voted no.

“We’re getting beat up,” said one 30-year employee who requested his name be withheld. “I don’t believe the union bargained in good faith. They’re looking out for themselves. GM is looking out for itself. And we’re not getting any help from either side.”

Veteran workers, their numbers diminishing, felt squeezed.

In 2005, GM had 110,000 hourly production workers, according to a presentation by CEO Daniel Akerson to Wall Street analysts Wednesday. Today, GM has approximately 49,000 hourly workers, less than half from six years ago.

The UAW said in a written statement the new deal will create 6,400 new jobs in the United States. But under terms of the contract, up to 25 percent of GM’s workforce can now be comprised of “two-tiers,” entry-level workers who will make about $8 less per hour than veteran counterparts. Now, two-tiers comprise 4 percent of the overall workforce.

Veteran employees at Delta Assembly fear a gradual wave of two-tiers, a slide in their own standard of living and a reduced vision of whatever comes next.

“ I don’t see where we gained anything in this, really,” said Tammy, a 26-year veteran who only gave her first name. “I thought maybe they’d get our cost of living back for us. That didn’t happen.”

She continued. “It only catered to the entry-level workers. The union let them agree to it. So where do you think we’ll be in a few years? We’re going to be dinosaurs.”

 


GM logo. Photo by Chris via Flickr.

General Motors gave some new details today on its just-ratified agreement with the United Auto Workers union. Among them: up to 25 percent of its workforce could be “two-tiers” — new hires at lower rates than veteran workers.

Changing Gears reporter Kate Davidson profiled two-tier workers last year. Right now, they’re only 4 percent of GM’s workforce, but the auto company clearly has plans for more of them.

There’s a caveat, though. In order for GM to hire more workers, auto sales have to pick up, company executives said during a conference call with Wall Street analysts. And it isn’t promising to hire the same number of workers as it sees sales go up: it will study its staffing needs and hire accordingly. 

The new contract runs through 2015 and caps the number of “two-tiers” at 25 percent at the end of the contract. It calls for the new hires to get a raise to nearly $20 an hour by 2015 (veteran workers are paid about $28 an hour now).

Other GM highlights:

– The number of people working in its U.S. factories has dropped sharply. GM had 110,000 hourly production workers in 2005, according to its presentation. In 2008, the year before it filed for bankruptcy production, GM had 78,000 U.S. workers. Now, GM has just 49,000 hourly workers, or less than half what it had six years ago.

– For the first time in 58 years, GM does not expect its pension expense to rise under the new contract. One reason is that newly hired workers will not be covered by GM’s traditional pension plan; they will receive a 401(k) retirement program instead.

– GM says it still has 700 workers laid off from their jobs. They have first dibs on jobs at GM plants, including the workers it plans to hire when it reopens its factory in Spring Hill, Tenn. Once those workers have been offered the chance to come back, then GM will hire new workers, including temporaries.

Read more about the GM contract in The New York Times.


General Motors became the first domestic automaker to reach an official agreement on a new contract with members of the United Auto Workers union Wednesday afternoon.

The UAW said in a written release that 65 percent of production workers and 63 percent of skilled trade workers voted in favor of the agreement, which had been tentatively agreed upon Sept 16. A four-year contract provides a wage increase for entry-level workers, and goes into effect immediately.

The agreement would create 6,400 jobs in the United States, the release said.

“When it seems like everyone in America is getting cuts in benefits and paying higher co-pays and deductibles, we were able to maintain and improve on our current benefits,” said UAW vice president Joe Ashton.

 


Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. UAW contract with GM nears approval. Late Tuesday night, it appeared members of the United Auto Workers had inched closer to ratifying a four-year contract agreement with General Motors. As voting neared a close, at least 18 major locals supported the deal while three had opposed it, according to the Detroit News.  GM CEO Dan Akerson will host a conference call with Wall Street analysts to discuss the deal this afternoon. Talks at Ford continue, while discussions with Chrysler “continue to lag,” according to the newspaper.

2. SB5 opponents link law to Jim Crow. We Are Ohio, the organized labor coalition seeking to repeal Senate Bill 5, is airing a radio ad in six urban markets that says Gov. John Kasich has led Ohio back to America’s Jim Crow past.  A portion of the ad states, that Kasich and other politicians “have passed two laws to take us back to the days of Jim Crow,” passing laws that make it more difficult for minorities to vote. In addition to SB5, a law that weakens collective-bargaining rights of public employees, the ad targets House Bill 194. Republican leaders tell The Columbus Dispatch the ad is race baiting. Democrats disagree. “It’s harsh wording, but it’s not necessarily inaccurate,” an Ohio State professor tells the newspaper.

3. Rahm rejects key budget-trimming ideas. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel responded to a watchdog report that offered ideas on how to trim the city’s budget deficit by saying that suggestions to raise income, sales and property taxes are “off the table.” He also rejected the possibility of turning Lake Shore Drive into toll road. Emanuel said some of the other of 63 suggestions are “promising” and will receive “serious consideration,” according to our partner station WBEZ. This is the second year in which the inspector general has produced a budget options report.


Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Ohio eyes energy jobs. Ohio Gov. John Kasich hosted an energy summit Wednesday on the Ohio State University campus that brought together members of the oil and gas industries, utilities officials and environmentalists. The Plain Dealer reports there was widespread enthusiasm over the prospect of Chesapeake Energy Corp. investing $200 billion in Ohio that could bring more than 200,000 jobs. Kasich held some skepticism. “I want to make sure we are steady in this,” he told the newspaper. “I don’t want to get ahead of the curve.”

2. Ford next in UAW talks. While United Auto Workers began to vote today on a four-year deal reached last week with General Motors, the UAW has shifted its focus to negotiations with Ford. The only U.S. automakers that avoided bankruptcy in 2009, Ford workers will likely expect more lucrative terms than the ones reached in the GM deal. Reuters reports there’s some resentment among UAW Ford workers over the $26.5 million compensation package Chief Executive Alan Mulally received, one that UAW president Bob King called “morally wrong.”

3. Wisconsin median income plummets. Adjusted for inflation, median household income in Wisconsin plunged 14.5 percent between 1999 and 2010, according to U.S. Census Bureau Data released today. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports the median household income dropped, when adjusted, from $57,316 to $49,001 last year. “The middle class is taking a beating,” Timothy Smeeding, director of the Institute for Research on Poverty at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, tells the newspaper. “We were manufacturing our pants off. But times are changing.”

 


Are the Wisconsin protests becoming public employees’ equivalent of the Sit Down Strike in Flint, Mich.?

Flint sit down strikers

Download audio file (848-convo-with-Ashby_20110209.mp3)

Professor Steven Ashby at the University of Illinois made the comparison Wednesday on Changing Gears’ partner station WBEZ.

Speaking with Alison Cuddy, the host of 848, Professor Ashby said the Wisconsin protests may be seen as historically significant as the events at General Motors in 1936 and 1937.

 

It’s an interesting analogy, because the sit down strike resonates with labor historians as the moment that the fledgling United Automobile Workers took root at the Detroit car companies. And, while Flint got the most attention for the sit down strike there, the protests actually spread from Atlanta to Kansas City and Cleveland, just as the protests in Wisconsin have resulted in others across the Great Lakes states.

In the same way that Flint helped the UAW, Professor Ashby argues that the protests in Madison have given public — and private sector — unions a rallying point. Whether they can lead to preserving or growing union membership remains to be seen, however.

Meanwhile, if you’d like to know more about what went on in Flint, the Detroit News has a compendium of the strike here. And you can hear voices of some of the sit down strikers here.

Do you remember the sit down strike, or do you have relatives who took part? We’d love to hear your memories or any stories they’ve handed down.