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The law that caused thousands of protestors to descend on Madison, WI, has been shot down. But the legal battle won’t end.

Associated Press photo

Dane County circuit court Judge Maryann Sumi said today she is freezing the law, called Act 10, because Republicans legislators on a committee did not follow the state’s open meetings law.

The law, championed by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, significantly limits collective bargaining rights for state employees, except for police and firefighters.

There was no court hearing before Judge Sumi issued her 33-page opinion. According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Sumi wrote, “The Legislature and its committees are bound to comply with the open meetings law by their own choice. Having made that choice, they cannot now shield themselves from the provisions that give the law force and effect.” She was appointed to the bench by former Gov. Tommy Thompson.

Scott Walker recall table, Madison Farmer's Market

There are several options still open to supporters of the law. They can appeal to the state Supreme Court. And they also can take the issue back to the legislature, which can reconsider the measure. But given the uproar over the measure that rattled Madison during the winter, the next steps are bound to get plenty of attention.

Union supporters, what’s your next step? And people who support the bill, tell us what you’d like to see happen now.

Say the name Patricia Wells to a foodie, and they’ll immediately mention her guide to Paris and her French cookbooks. Say Patricia Wells to a Midwestern foodie, and you’ll get the response, “she’s from Milwaukee.”

Patricia Wells, by Micki Maynard

This week, Wells is on her home turf, visiting Chicago and Milwaukee in conjunction with her latest book, Salad As A Meal: Healthy Main Dish Salads For Every Season, just published by William Morrow.

Wells, a long-time journalist for the New York Times and International Herald Tribune as well as an author, is a perfect subject for Reinvention Recipes. Over the past decade, she’s reinvented herself and her approach to writing about and preparing food.

I bought my first Wells book, The Food Lover’s Guide to Paris, years ago, and used it to plan many trips to Paris. She followed it with books on bistro cooking, Provence, and another version of her food lover’s guide, this time for all of France. Those books were laden with rich recipes that reflected classic French cooking, even though many people did not cook that way on a regular basis.

But in the middle of the last decade, Wells made a dramatic change in her lifestyle. She lost 30 pounds by shifting away much of the butter and cream laden recipes that permeated her cookbooks, and placing more emphasis on olive oil, herbs, flavored salt and vegetables.

She began to go jogging in the Jardin du Luxembourg, the Paris park, and sought new approaches to healthier meals. When I attended her cooking school in 2007, we used butter just once in a week of lessons, but had vegetables at every meal, often drizzled with flavored oils. (But it wasn’t Spartan: we also drank a lot of wine.)

Wells’ previous book, Vegetable Harvest, was the first she wrote since adopting her new regime. Salad As A Meal is the next step her healthier approach. “It’s a continuation, without hitting people over the head about it,” Wells said at a book signing in Chicago this weekend. “I’m saying, ‘this is good food. Try it.’”

One of her goals is to change the perception of salad from a side dish to centerpiece. She also wants her readers to think of salads as an opportunity to be creative. “This is not a book about salad bars, where you just pile things on a plate,” Wells said.

Along with salads, the book has recipes for tarts, breads, and other accompaniments. But its centerpiece is the idea of salad as a main course, something many Americans have adopted anyway. “Half the time, when you go to a restaurant, that’s what you have,” Wells said.

Her timing is ideal for farmers’ market season, which is getting off to a bit of a late start this year around the region thanks to lingering snowstorms. But as soon as spring peas and asparagus arrive, recipes from the book await. “It’s spring, and people are thinking about” salads, Wells said (even if they’re also dusting off their cars and decks).

Wells’ approach also is in line with food trends in the United States, where restaurants like The Greenhouse Tavern in Cleveland work closely with local farmers. Times readers will remember a wildly popular feature story by Mark Bittman, 101 Simple Salads for the Season, that ran in 2009.

Because she’s based abroad, however, Wells may not be as famous in America as our celebrity chefs and cookbook authors, like her friend Ina Garten, aka The Barefoot Contessa. But she has a firm following, through her website, her Facebook page, and her blog, which recently featured fellow Parisienne Olivia de Havilland. She also is now on Twitter, @patriciawellsfr.

This month, Wells’ hometown paper, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, profiled her in a piece called “Living the Foodie Dream.”

A busload of her fans from Lansing, Mich., drove three and a half hours to Chicago to see her this past Sunday, and a steady stream of autograph and photo seekers thronged her at Spice Market, a shop in Chicago’s Old Town.

Fans greet Wells

Wells returns the enthusiasm. Arriving in Chicago this weekend, she took a long walk up Michigan Avenue and enjoyed spotting new buildings and businesses that were not there on her last visit. “It’s so vibrant,” Wells said of the Windy City. “It looked so clean and lovely — and you have a new mayor!”

Wells will be in the States a little longer, and then it’s back to Paris to work on her next project. She’s updating The Food Lover’s Guide to Paris once more.

Here are two salad recipes from Patricia Wells, via The Today Show:
Chicken Salad with green beans
Crab Salad with lime zest

Have you tried a Patricia Wells recipe? Which of her cookbooks do you own?

Skip Turner and Billie Rohl work at U of M's Labor Studies Center. They may have to turn over a lot of email soon. They say they're happy to do it.

ANN ARBOR — So what do the words “Scott Walker,” “Madison,” and “Maddow” have in common?  They are among the search terms included in an open records request for the emails of labor studies professors and staff at three public universities in Michigan – Wayne State University, Michigan State University and the University of Michigan.

The Freedom of Information Act request comes from the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a conservative think tank.  The center is also asking to review any emails to or from the professors that refer to the collective bargaining situation in Wisconsin.  At first, Ken Braun, the man behind the FOIA request, wouldn’t say why.


Mysterious?  Perhaps not.  Braun is the senior managing editor of Michigan Capitol Confidential, the Mackinac Center’s online newsletter.  In one post from last year,  Braun wrote this of the Labor Studies Center at Wayne State University:

“This obscure corner of the taxpayer-supported university does a lot that resembles progressive political agitation rather than teaching and research.”

I asked Ken Braun whether his FOIA request had anything to do with that entry, titled “Wayne State’s ‘Wholly Owned Subsidiary’ of Big Labor”.

“I don’t comment on FOIA investigations,” he said.  “That is an interesting article, however.”

Here was Rachel Maddow’s take on the whole Mackinac matter (pronounced “mackinaw” by Michiganders).  Remember, Maddow is one of the search terms in the Michigan FOIA.

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Michigan academics aren’t the only ones under scrutiny.  Last month, the Republican Party of Wisconsin requested emails from William Cronon, a historian critical of Governor Scott Walker’s push to weaken public sector unions.

In both states, the lines got drawn fast.  On one side: an apparent concern about the use of public resources for political advocacy.  On the other: fear of academic intimidation and reprisal in a politically charged climate.

Cary Nelson is the National President of the American Association of University Professors.  He falls in the latter camp.


Nelson is also an English professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.  He says that, in academia, FOIA requests for financial documents and contracts are fairly common, while broad requests for emails are not.  But when asked for an example of an academic FOIA request that revealed serious wrongdoing, he told this story about his own institution’s use of email:


Over at U of M’s Labor Studies Center, the staff says they have nothing to fear or hide.  Billie Rohl is the center’s program administrator.


Ken Braun of the Mackinac Center says intimidation is not his goal.  Just yesterday, Braun went on an AM radio program and revealed the specific motivation behind his FOIA request.  He said that he was indeed investigating what he called partisan political activity at Wayne State University’s Labor Studies Center.

Marick Masters, Wayne State’s director of labor studies, previously told The New York Times that, “This looks like an attempt to embarrass us.  I haven’t engaged in any partisan activities here.”

In the past, the center has described itself like this:

“The Labor Studies Center is a comprehensive labor education center committed to strengthening the capacity of organized labor to represent the needs and interests of workers, while at the same time strengthening the University’s research and teaching on labor and workplace issues.”

But you won’t see that description on the center’s website today.  As of this morning, the site is under construction.

Read the rest of this entry »

Personal income per capita has grown nationwide over the last ten years by 5.7 percent, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA). Yet, Americans are not really any better off, because that growth is due to an increase in tax-exempt benefits. That’s what Donald Grimes, an economist at the University of Michigan Institute for Research on Labor, Economics, and the Economy has found. For a look at how Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Ohio residents are faring, scroll to the graphs below.

Tax exempt benefits, also known as nontaxable transfer payments, include programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, health insurance, unemployment, welfare and disability benefits provided by the government and employers. It you subtract those nontaxable transfer payments from the equation, U.S. income actually decreased. In fact, U.S. taxable income per capita fell by 3.4 percent, from $32,403 in 2000 to $31,303 by 2010.

Grimes said the personal income data as calculated by the BEA is misleading, “because it’s including all of these transfer payments and so it’s essentially artificially inflating our sense of well-being.”

Grimes said the bad news does not end there. Nontaxable transfer payments continue to grow, while taxable income continues to shrink. Essentially, more and more people are relying on programs like Medicare and Medicaid, while the population paying for those programs is shrinking.

He said if this trend continues, “we would eventually end up in a crisis where all of the earned income is taxed in order to pay for the transfer benefits. At some point the benefits that people are getting in terms of transfer payments has to grow at a much smaller rate. It’s sad, but it’s just a mathematical inevitability.”

Grimes said even returning to 2000 level tax rates, before the tax cuts imposed by former President George Bush and extended by President Barack Obama, would not be enough.

The situation may be even worse in the Midwest. Even before the recession, the region has struggled with attracting and keeping its youth, while the older population is increasingly relying on those nontaxable transfer payments like Medicare and Medicaid. Around our region, that disparity between the number of people relying on nontaxable transfer payments and the number people paying for those programs is growing especially quickly.

Grimes predicts some painful decisions have to be made on the Federal level very soon to answer his question, “where are we going to get the money to pay these transfer payments?”

You can see some of the data Grimes collected in some maps below. “Modified personal income” equals personal income with social insurance taxes (such as social security, Medicare, Medicaid) added back in. Be sure to play around with the data through time by changing the year in the bottom left drop down menu.







New laws on collective bargaining are in the spotlight across the Great Lakes. In the past few weeks, Michigan, Wisconsin and now Ohio have taken steps to limit or eliminate collective bargaining rights for public employees. Indiana and Illinois are having their own debates. How do the measures compare, and what could come next? Our friends at PBS Newshour have the latest, and Changing Gears answers your questions.

Wisconsin State Capitol. Photo by Jeremy M. Farmer.

Q: Why is there such a focus on collective bargaining rights for public employees?

A: Budget crises and politics. Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin all face large budget deficits, and their new Republican governors have laid out proposals that include wide-ranging cuts. In Wisconsin and Ohio, Gov. Scott Walker and Gov. John Kasich campaigned on promises to limit or eliminate collective bargaining rights for public employees, saying that would give the state and its communities the greatest flexibility to cut costs.

Unions, on the other hand, have seen these efforts as a matter of political philosophy rather than cost-saving measures. They say these politicians have used unions as a scapegoat for deeper problems caused by the weak economy.

In Michigan, Gov. Rick Snyder has avoided calling for the elimination of public employee  collective bargaining rights, although he has proposed steep spending cuts in his state budget proposal. But, he still signed a law affecting some public employees.

Q: What has each state done? (Thanks to Tracy Moavero for the question)

A: In Wisconsin, Walker signed legislation that eliminates collective bargaining rights for most state employees, with the exception of police and firefighters. The legislation originally was contained in a broader budget proposal, but Democratic lawmakers left the state in order to prevent a vote on that bill. After days of vehement protests at the state capitol, the appropriations provisions were stripped from the bill. That led to passage of the new law.

In Ohio, the legislature appears on the verge of final passage for Senate Bill 5. The state House approved an amended version on Wednesday that may soon go to Kasich for his signature. (Our partner ideastream has the latest.) It will limit collective bargaining rights for 350,000 public employees, including police and fire personnel. Unions can negotiate wages, hours and working conditions, but cannot bargain collectively for benefits. It also eliminates binding arbitration and bars public employees from striking. State employees can decline to pay union dues, and vote more easily to decertify a union.

In Michigan, Snyder signed legislation providing sweeping new authority to emergency managers, state-appointed administrators who take charge of the operations of a troubled community or its school system. Three communities — Pontiac, Ecorse and Benton Harbor — have emergency managers, as does the Detroit school system.

Under the law, the emergency managers have the authority in 2012 to cancel provisions in contracts covering public employees. An emergency manager can request to have an entire contract thrown out, and a decision would be made in conjunction with the state’s treasurer. (Michigan’s treasurer is Andy Dillon, a Democrat, who was speaker of the Michigan House.)

Q: What kind of workers are affected by the new laws? (Thanks to Amanda Black)

In Wisconsin, about 420,000 people are employed by the federal, state and local governments, according to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. Federal employees are not affected by the new law, and estimates are that Wisconsin has about 175,000 state and local public employees. Walker excluded most public safety officers from his proposal, saying that the state had to ensure its residents’ security.

In Michigan, the law affects only employees in communities that are run by a state-appointed emergency manager. For Pontiac, Ecorse and Benton Harbor, that means public works employees, animal control officers and others. Detroit has approximately 5,000 full-time teachers affected by the law.

Ohio’s public employees include police, fire, teachers, school custodians and many other types of jobs.

Q: What has been the reaction?

A: The Wisconsin law was immediately challenged in the courts. A judge issued and renewed a restraining order blocking its implementation. But Walker has implemented some of its provisions, including one that stops payroll systems from automatically removing union dues from public employee checks. State officials say they do not think the courts can enjoin the new law.

However, Walker said Thursday the state would stop implementing provisions of the law pending the outcome in the courts.

In Michigan, unions have staged protests outside Snyder’s office over the emergency manager law, which he signed over the objections of Michigan Democratic lawmakers.


More questions? We’ll be happy to answer them. Post in the Comments section, tweet us @ChGears or post to our Facebook page.






The earthquake in Japan touches our region in a number of ways. One of them is in nuclear power.

The Midwest, defined by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission as Region III, has an extensive network of nuclear power operations. There are 24 nuclear reactors at 16 sites across seven states, and 19 research and test reactors.

Among the states we cover at Changing Gears, Illinois leads, by far, with 11 nuclear reactors, including two each at Braidwood, Byron, Dresden, LaSalle County and the Quad Cities, and one at Clinton. Several of those reactors are the same age and type as the ones in trouble in Japan. Our partner station WBEZ looked at the situation Monday morning.

Michigan has four nuclear reactors — D.C. Cook unit one and two, and Palisades, both located on Lake Michigan. There also is the Fermi plant on Lake Erie. Wisconsin has nuclear reactors in three locations — Kewaunee and Point Beach, which has two. Ohio has two, Davis-Besse in the Toledo area, and Perry, which is north east of Cleveland. Indiana has none.

It’s possible to visit the Cook plant, in Michigan, which allows school groups to take tours. The plants also have emergency preparedness plans, like the one at Perry in Ohio.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Energy Information Administration offers an in-depth look at each state’s nuclear power status. Here are their entries for Michigan, Illinois, Ohio, and Wisconsin.

UPDATE: The measure has passed the State Assembly

Wisconsin has already seen its share of drama over collective bargaining rights for public employees. But the situation has become even more heightened, due to an unexpected move by Wisconsin Republicans.

In Wisconsin, a very public battle is raging over the collective bargaining rights of public sector workers. So what's next for the private sector?

On Thursday, the Wisconsin state assembly approved a revised version of legislation that cleared the state senate late Wednesday. It removes collective bargaining rights for most public employees. Gov. Scott Walker has pledged to sign the bill as soon as possible. The assembly’s action began after protesters were removed from the capitol building.


Republican senators took what had been a budget bill and stripped it of the fiscal elements that required a quorum for a vote. That meant the bill could pass without the presence of Democratic senators, who left the state for Illinois to avoid a vote on the original measure.

Listen to live coverage from our friends at Wisconsin Public Radio here.

Now, the bill only contains provisions that will strip public employees from most of their bargaining rights. It looks certain to pass, much to the anger of protesters who have descended on the state capitol in Madison.

There are questions over whether the measure will stand up to court scrutiny, as well as whether the senators’ action was legal.

What do you think of the Republican tactics? Do you think other states will take similar steps?


Collective bargaining rights for public and private sector employees are a hot button issue in our region. On Tuesday March 8, Changing Gears hosted a region wide call-in show and live chat discussing the issues facing workers in Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana and elsewhere.

Wisconsin Public Radio’s IdeasNetwork joined Changing Gears partners Michigan Radio, WBEZ and ideastream Cleveland for the one-hour show, hosted by Steve Edwards of WBEZ.

Steve Edwards, WBEZ

Changing Gears Senior Editor Micki Maynard and NPR’s David Schaper were in the Chicago studios with Steve. We also heard from Gary Chaison of Clark University, Kate Bronfenbrenner at Cornell, Ohio labor leader JoAnn Johntony and Ed Buker, a retired Michigan CEO.

Callers weighed in on both sides of the collective bargaining issue and discussed the economic, political and social issues at play.

Miss the show? Take a listen and let us know what you thought. Should we do more shows on this topic?

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.

Union employees are under fire in states like Wisconsin and Ohio, where some lawmakers are saying it’s time to do away with collective bargaining. Some business community members also think unions are keeping those states from being competitive. But union members say they’ve fought long and hard for their bargaining rights, and intend to hold on to them.

Photo courtesy of Ohio Public Radio.

And then there’s the issue of Right to Work laws. Should Midwestern states embrace what’s long been a staple of the South? Changing Gears’ Kate Davidson took a look at that this week.

Now, we want to hear from you. TODAY at 2 pm ET/1 pm CT, Changing Gears presents “Hard Labor” a look at the contentious issues in the debate of union rights.

Tune in to Changing Gears stations WBEZ in Chicago, Michigan Radio and ideastream Cleveland. WPR, Wisconsin Public Radio’s Ideas Network, also is carrying the broadcast.

Steve Edwards of WBEZ will host, and Changing Gears senior editor Micki Maynard will be in the studio. Guests will include several experts on unions and Right to Work, including:

Gary Chaison – Professor of Industrial Relations at Clark University

Kate Bronfenbrenner – Director of Labor Education Research at Cornell University

Ed Buker – Former CEO of Tecumseh Products

JoAnn Johntony – President of the Ohio Association of Public School Employees

You can also join us on our LIVE WEB CHAT here at to talk with our team. We want to hear from you. Call (888) 968-7677 and join us here.