A Year After The Uproar, Labor Protests Continue in Wisconsin

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.

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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. Continue reading “A Year After The Uproar, Labor Protests Continue in Wisconsin”

One Year Later, Still Singing In Wisconsin

It’s been a year since people first started filling the Wisconsin capitol building to protest changes in the state’s collective bargaining rules. Every day at noon, a group that calls itself the “Solidarity Singers” gathers at the Capitol. Reporter Niala Boodhoo took this video on a reporting trip there last week. Tomorrow, Niala will have a story looking at what’s changed. For now, though, check out the Solidarity Singers.

Teaching After a Year in the Crossfire

David Dolsen (l), Jason Gumenick (center) and Lila Howard (r) sit in Saline High School.

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It’s been a tough few years for teachers. Classes are bigger. Pay is down. Benefits cost more. And, in the last year, teachers across the Midwest have been at the center of collective bargaining fights in Wisconsin and Ohio. With all that, we wanted to know what it’s like to be a teacher today. So, three generations assembled in Lila Howard’s classroom at Saline High School near Ann Arbor. Howard is about to retire after years teaching AP Psychology. Jason Gumenick teaches government and is in the middle of his career. Then, there’s David Dolsen, a college freshman, who had both of the others as teachers.

Continue reading “Teaching After a Year in the Crossfire”

Midwest Memo: Detroit Suburbs Seek Spurned Transit Money, Wisconsin May Revisit Controversial Case

Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Contenders seek spurned transit funding. The city of Troy, Michigan rejected federal funds to build a mass-transit center. Now other suburban Detroit municipalities are lining up in hopes of claiming part of the $8.5 million. A U.S. Congressman pledged to have the money allocated to Royal Oak and Pontiac. The Detroit Free Press reports today a high-speed “turnaround area” for buses could be built in Pontiac while a rail facility could be built in Royal Oak. Meanwhile, Troy has faced a backlash for its decision. Gov. Rick Snyder wrote a letter saying he was “disappointed” in the decision, and Magna International, which employs more than 1,000 in Troy, said it will no longer seek expansion or job creation in the city.

2. Wisconsin fight not over yet? The Wisconsin Supreme Court could be asked to reopen a controversial case about collective bargaining legislation because a justice who presided in the original hearing received free legal service from an attorney involved in the case. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports Dane County district attorney Ismael Ozanne is “taking a hard look” at asking the Supreme Court to reopen the case. Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman cast the deciding vote in a ruling that said state legislators had not violated the open meetings law when mulling the controversial legislation, which allowed a decision to limit collective bargaining for public workers to stand.

3. EPA mandates could cost Ohio. Many utilities in Ohio and elsewhere must cut 90 percent of the mercury emitted from their power plants under toughened air pollution limits announced Wednesday by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. “This is a great victory for public health, especially the health of our children,” said an EPA spokesperson. Industry representatives say the new rules mean more expensive electricity for customers and job losses because older plants may shut down rather than overhaul. The Columbus Dispatch says Ohio typically ranks No. 1 in the nation for the amount of toxic pollutants emitted by industry, largely because of power plants that burn coal.

Efforts To Recall Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker Begin Tonight; Both Sides Already Anticipate Fraudulent Activity

At midnight tonight, opponents of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker will kick off efforts to recall him from office.

The group United Wisconsin intends to start gathering signatures needed to force a recall election at that time after filing paperwork with the state. A pajama-party rally is planned at the state capitol in Madison. Other groups are planning an anti-Walker rally at his home in Wauwatosa, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Organizers must gather more than 540,000 signatures by Jan. 17 to set a recall in motion. United Wisconsin says it will attempt to gather 600,000 to 700,000 to allow for leeway in case some signatures are not allowed.

To that effect, the state’s Republican Party will be watching. On Monday, GOP leaders announced they’ve started the new Recall Integrity Center, a website devoted to scrutinizing signatures, according to The Capitol Times. Voters are encouraged to submit videos, photos or other reports of signatures or aspects of the signature-gathering process they deem suspect.

Continue reading “Efforts To Recall Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker Begin Tonight; Both Sides Already Anticipate Fraudulent Activity”

Ohio Voters Reject Issue 2 and Repeal SB5: Here’s What Comes Next

Fresh off a lopsided defeat on the Issue 2 referendum, Ohio Gov. John Kasich conceded his signature law that limited collective-bargaining rights of public employees might have been “too much, too soon” for voters.

Now, the question is whether he’ll introduce similar legislation in bite-sized parts.

Despite the fact Issue 2 fell in Tuesday’s vote, 61 percent to 39 percent, polls suggest Ohio voters would support portions of the original law, widely known as Senate Bill 5. Republicans still maintain legislative majorities. More importantly: economic woes that led to SB5 still exist, and budget deficits still need to be solved.

“There is no bailout because, frankly, there’s no money,” Kasich said, according to The Columbus Dispatch, perhaps words that set up the legislative agenda to follow in 2012.

Continue reading “Ohio Voters Reject Issue 2 and Repeal SB5: Here’s What Comes Next”

John Kasich And Ohio Republicans Prepare For Issue 2 Defeat And Aftermath

On the night before a statewide referendum on his signature accomplishment to date, Ohio governor John Kasich spoke to a friendly Tea Party audience of approximately 300 members in northeast Columbus.

He didn’t mention Issue 2 or SB5 until the final two minutes of his hour-long speech.

Although pollsters have predicted voters would repeal the Republican-backed law that limits collective-bargaining rights of public employees by double-digit margins for weeks, it was the first signal from Kasich himself that he expected such an outcome.

Continue reading “John Kasich And Ohio Republicans Prepare For Issue 2 Defeat And Aftermath”

Ohio’s Issue 2: A Roundup Of Ongoing Election Day Coverage

Across Ohio, voters are headed to the polls today to determine the fate of Issue 2, a referendum on a controversial state law that limits the collective-bargaining rights of public employees.

Here’s a roundup of ongoing coverage of the vote on Issue 2 from around the Buckeye State:

From The Columbus Dispatch: Issue 2 is expected to drive voters to the polls at higher numbers than other non-presidential election years. Franklin County, which encompasses the greater Columbus area, reached a record number of absentee-ballot requests this year at more than 88,000. The Dispatch reports voter turnout is expected to be far higher than the 31 percent of registered voters that cast ballots in 2009.

From Ideastream: Our partner station in Cleveland examines the advertising campaigns mounted by pro-and-anti Issue 2 interest groups. Depending on the vantage point, Issue 2 will harm education. Or save it. It will bolster police forces. Or ruin them. Ideastream reporter Ida Lieszkovsky reports that the ads bring a lot of emotion to the issue, but little concrete information. “There’s usually some truth in there that they’re hanging it on, but sometimes there’s also quite a bit of reach to get the spin,” Robert Higgs, editor of PolitiFact Ohio tells Lieszkovsky.

From the Cincinnati Enquirer: The respective campaigns for and against Issue 2 and its legislative predecessor, Senate Bill 5, have taken perhaps an interesting turn in the final hours. Union opponents of the bill boldly spoke of defeating the referendum at a union hall in Hamilton County. “We are going to shove Senate Bill 5 down the throats of John Kasich and his ilk,” said Howard Schaitberger, president of the International Association of Firefighters.

In a speech to 300 Tea Party supporters in Eastgate, Gov. Kasich spoke for an hour Monday night. He didn’t mention Issue 2 until the final two minutes of his speech, according to The Enquirer.

From The Plain Dealer: The U.S. Justice Department has sent election observers to Lorain County today to ensure that county officials keep a commitment to provide Spanish-language ballots.  Last month, the county’s Board of Elections agreed to provide the ballots as part of a lawsuit settlement with the DOJ. The Plain Dealer reports bilingual ballots and bilingual poll workers will be provided in targeted precints.

From Politico: Democrats were stung in Ohio in the 2010 elections, losing the governorship and five congressional seats. This year? They’re planning on using traction from the Issue 2 as a springboard into the national 2012 elections.  James Hohmann writes, “Obama is still polling badly in Ohio, but his campaign has capitalized on perceived Republican overreach to bring recalcitrant liberals back into the fold.”

Midwest Memo: Cook County Anticipates At Least 1,000 Layoffs, Wisconsin Plans Public Employee Two-Year Pay Freeze

Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Sales up at Ford, forecast down. Ford’s third-quarter sales rose 14.1 percent year over year to $33.1 billion, the company said Wednesday morning. But the automaker’s global production plan of 1.37 million vehicles is below the 1.44 million anticipated by analysts, and investors had sold off Ford shares in morning trading, according to the Detroit Free Press. The gap came as a result of “a lower outlook in South America, Asia Pacific and Europe,” Morgan Stanley analyst Adam Jonas wrote.

2. Cook County plans layoffs. Cook County executives unveiled a budget that called for more than 1,000 layoffs to help narrow a projected $315 million deficit, according to our partner station WBEZ. Saying “there’s been nothing easy about this,” board president Toni Preckwinkle said hospital funding and the county’s jail population would be reduced in additional savings measures. She is also trying to convince the county’s union workers to accept furloughs to save $40 million instead of layoffs.

3. Wisconsin public employee pay freeze ahead? Wisconsin state employees may face a pay freeze over the next two years if lawmakers support a proposal from Gov. Scott Walker. The new proposal comes months after Walker required public workers to pay more for their pensions and health insurance while also eliminating almost all collective bargaining. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports another change in the proposed legislation would award overtime only for actual hours worked, after a newspaper investigation revealed how prison guards gamed the overtime system to boost their pay.