Your Story: A Public Employee’s Take on the Collective Bargaining Firestorm


Firefighter Kevin Horkan in his official fire department photo


Kevin Horkan from Euclid, Ohio is well-trained for an emergency. Next year will be his 30th as a firefighter. He’s a firefighter for the Cleveland Heights Fire Department, a paramedic and was a part-time policeman for 10 years.  Horkan is one of several thousand public employees at the center of the collective bargaining firestorm breaking out all across the Midwest. He’s understanding about people’s animosity towards unions, and pessimistic about their future.

Horkan, 53, is openly disapproving of Ohio Governor John Kasich. But, he says he thinks he knows firefighters and police officers who voted for him. “Democrats gave us what we have, collective bargaining, workers comp…, But, I think a lot of police officers tend to be pretty conservative.

Ohio residents are likely to vote this fall on whether to keep or kill SB5, the new state law limiting a union’s ability to bargain collectively. “I don’t think we’ll have the votes,” Horkin said. “I don’t think there’s enough support to get rid of the law.”

Horkan thinks economic pressure and conservative politics are pushing unions out, but he says he sees it as “a natural swing of the pendulum.”

“Sure, you see union officers being indicted, you read about union members who, back a few years were getting paid really well and not making a very good product,” he said. “And people are struggling. People get tired of it. Attitudes are ‘I want a house too, I want a job too, I want to feed my children’.”

As reflective as Horkan is about the forces that may have sapped union support, he does get a little worked up when asked how a lack of public support makes him feel, personally. “We risk our lives every day for people we don’t even know,” he said. “I would like people to know how my wife feels when I leave the house in the morning. I make $62,000 a year, and I have stability and a pension. Is that too much for what I do every day?”

States: Want More Jobs? Then Help Create Them

Jobs, jobs, and more jobs has become a mantra for recession-battered states around the Midwest. The solution? Get involved in helping businesses create them.

Former Michigan Gov. Granholm, center. Photo: Clinton Global Initiative

That was the message heard today in Chicago at the Clinton Global Initiative America, during a panel discussion on success stories. Its moderator: former Michigan Gov. Jennifer M. Granholm, whose state was hit hardest by the recent downturn.

Although Michigan has lost 500,000 jobs in the past few years, many of them in the auto industry, Granholm, a Democrat, said she focused on helping develop the next auto industry, namely electric vehicles.

By the time she left office last year, Granholm said Michigan had partnered with 18 companies involved in aspects of the electric vehicle’s underpinnings.

Continue reading “States: Want More Jobs? Then Help Create Them”

Midwest Memo: Regional Economy Still Grows, but Pace Slows

Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Mixed news for Midwest economy. The Midwest economy is still growing, albeit not at as fast a pace as previous months. That’s the conclusion of a report issued today from the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago. The Midwest Economy Index decreased to +0.83 in May from +0.94 in April. It remained above its historical trend for the 15th consecutive month.

2. Chicago mayor: 625 could lose jobs. If unions do not make concessions that help the city of Chicago save $16 to $20 million by tonight, Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel says 625 city employees could face layoffs. An agreement on labor concessions through the first six months of the year expires at midnight tonight, according to our partner station WBEZ.

3. SB5 opponents deliver signatures to Columbus. Protesters of an Ohio bill that limits collective-bargaining rights of public employees descended upon Columbus on Wednesday. Approximately 6,000 people delivered nearly 1.3 million signatures to the statehouse in hopes of placing a referendum on SB5 on the state’s November ballot, our partner Ideastream reported.

Manufacturing On The Front Burner At Clinton Forum

John Fernandez had some blunt words in Chicago Wednesday for a room full of manufacturing experts.

“Let’s be honest about how we got here,” said Fernandez, the assistant Commerce Department secretary for economic development. “We adopted a macro policy that said, ‘invented here, make it here, it doesn’t really matter.'” He added, “Where you make things makes a huge impact.”

CGI America Opening Plenary

Fernandez joined mayors, CEOs, labor leaders, economic development officials and consultants from across the United States at the two-day Clinton Global Initiative America, hosted by former President Bill Clinton and held at the Sheraton Chicago. Continue reading “Manufacturing On The Front Burner At Clinton Forum”

Wisconsin Public Employees Feel The Pinch of New Law

Wisconsin’s controversial collective bargaining law took effect today, and many public employees will feel the immediate pinch in their pay checks.

The law, officially Wisconsin Act 10, was published Tuesday by the state’s attorney general.

It limits collective bargaining on all but issues involving pay for most public workers, except for police and firefighters. It also requires employees to pay more for health care coverage and pensions. I talked about the new Wisconsin law with our friends at PBS Newshour. Continue reading “Wisconsin Public Employees Feel The Pinch of New Law”

Your Story: Felicia Ferrone, Chicago Designer




Felicia Ferrone and her partner hope their project “Shared Practice” will bring more attention to Chicago area designers and manufacturers

Designer Felicia Ferrone worked as an architect for six years in Milan, Italy before returning home to Chicago a year and a half ago. She now runs her own design practice and wishes Chicago had more of a reputation as a design center.

Ferrone thinks what has kept Chicago from being better known is its Midwestern work ethic.

“Everyone is just busy working, instead of clamoring for attention,” she said.

Ferrone and her business partner David M. Krell are now trying to bring more attention to the city’s designers and manufacturers. They have just launched a new project called Shared Practice. It’s a web-based project in which designers share resources and publicize what they’re doing.

Ferrone got the idea when she was selected to show several pieces at a downtown gallery last year. She designed her pieces and wanted to try to get them all made locally. “I was totally surprised,” she said. “We were able to get everything made within a one-mile radius of the downtown loop, except for one piece, and that we had made in Indianapolis.”

She says there are very few places that can manufacture high-end materials and pieces in the United States, so many designers still send their designs to be made in Europe. She thinks if Chicago would stop underselling itself, it could gain part of this lucrative market, which includes the manufacture of, for example, Ferone’s own “Tuck” benches, which sell for about $5,800 each.

Ferrone and Krell plan to expand Shared Practice to other cities, including New York, this fall. But Ferrone says she is happy to be working in Chicago. “I came back here for a job. And I thought, ‘I’m giving up a lot for this.’” But, she later added, “I’ve never been so professionally satisfied in my life.”

She thinks Chicago can continue to make design a much larger part of its economy and identity. “The impact of design is everything from Millenium Park to the many schools that are teaching design, to the manufacturers that make the pieces,” She says. “It is so important to this city.”

Midwest Memo: Green light for Detroit’s light rail, controversial Wisconsin law takes effect

Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Controversial Wisconsin law takes effect today. After months of passionate protests and debate, a controversial law that limits collective-bargaining rights of public employees in Wisconsin goes into effect today. The law cuts wages by approximately 8 percent, and strips employees of almost all bargaining leverage. Wisconsin AFL-CIO secretary treasurer Stephanie Bloomingdale tells our partner station WBEZ the unions aren’t done fighting. “This union-busting measure will not go unanswered,” she said.

2. Green light for Detroit’s light rail. Detroit leaders and federal officials have reached an agreement on the route of light-rail service from the city’s center up Woodward Avenue. Officials from the city administration tell the Detroit Free Press the route is a “compromise” and some financial backers of the $500-million project may not be happy. Officials say the route combines the need for speed and neighborhood development.

3. Help wanted in Ohio manufacturing sector. Ohio has lost more than 350,000 manufacturing jobs in the past decade, but some companies still looking to hire say they can’t find qualified workers. The problem? One human resources director tells our partner Ideastream that workers must multitask and need new training. Ned Hill, a dean of Cleveland State’s Levin College, says “the notion that someone can just walk in and learn a machine in a few hours and be up to speed … if that happens, that’s the exact job that’s going to be automated and disappear.”

Midwest Memo: Ohio bill allows businesses to withdraw 5 million gallons a day from Lake Erie

Here are three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Ohio wrangles over water rights. Despite the opposition of two former Republican governors, two natural resource directors and environmentalists, the state senate could vote as early as today to approve a bill that allows businesses to withdraw up to 5 million gallons of water per day from Lake Erie. Our partner station Ideastream reports critics of the measure believe it violates the Great Lakes Compact.

2. Chicago mayor seeks union concessions. His predecessor counted on $32 million in labor concessions to balance the 2011 city budget. But with six months remaining in the year, an agreement between Chicago city officials and public employee unions is about to expire. New mayor Rahm Emanuel is negotiating with union leaders to save $16 million over the next six months, WBEZ reports. The current agreement expires Thursday.

3. Moderate growth expected in Upper Midwest. Citing rising employment, expanding manufacturing and increasing consumer spending, the Minneapolis Federal Reserve issued an upbeat economic forecast for the Upper Midwest on Monday. The report predicted moderate growth over the next 12 to 18 months, but drew skepticism from several other economics, who believe data does not support the favorable outlook.

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing works to temper high expectations

In the 1950s, more than 1.8 million people resided within the 140 square miles that comprise the city of Detroit. Some sixty years later, the city’s population has tumbled to 713,777, according to 2010 U.S. census figures.

The geography hasn’t changed.

From deploying police officers to demolishing vacant structures, the mechanics of governing a spread-thin population have become a central challenge for the city’s mayor, Dave Bing. He doesn’t sugarcoat the glum news for remaining residents: The city must shrink.

Mayor Dave Bing wants to reshape Detroit.

“We cannot continue to support every neighborhood in the city of Detroit,” he said last week while speaking at the Charles H. Wright African American Museum. “We don’t have the funding to support everybody.”

Far from using grandiose rhetoric, Bing has delivered unpopular sound bytes on a regular basis since taking office in May 2009. Halfway through his term, one of his biggest accomplishments just might be tempering expectations.

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