Changing Gears is a public media project about the future of the industrial Midwest. Each week, reporters Dan Bobkoff in Cleveland, Niala Boodhoo in Chicago and Kate Davidson in Ann Arbor cover issues of interest to the Great Lakes region. Changing Gears also sponsors public events and conversations.
Just plane sad The Ohio National Guard is making its case to try to save its fleet of C-27J cargo planes. Partner station WCPN Ideastream reports that nearly 800 jobs will be lost if the plane is discontinued as planned.
Earlier this month, Indiana became the latest state to go right-to-work. That means unions can’t force non-members to pay dues. It was a different story seventy-five years ago. The United Auto Workers was in its infancy, with little power. Then, workers at a Fisher body plant in Flint sat down on the job. After 44 days, the UAW became the official bargaining agent for auto factory workers. Many credit the protest with ushering in an era of strong unions and a better standard of living for workers.
Union workers celebrate the anniversary this week at their annual White Shirt Day. MLive reports 500 people attended the event at Flint’s UAW Local 651 Friday. UAW President Bob King used the occasion to call for new protests and action from his members. Faced with a possible spread of right-to-work legislation to states like Ohio, and what he sees as right-wing Republicans attacking workers’ rights, King said the union will soon train its members to take part in nonviolent, but possibly illegal demonstrations across the nation, according to the Detroit News. No word on whether those protests will involve sitting down on the job, like their forbearers in the 1930s.
Flint Plan: Michael Brown, the emergency manager of Flint, Mich., unveiled his plan yesterday for reducing an $11.3 million deficit. Not surprisingly, one of his top priorities is to overhaul bargainingagreements with city unions, something an emergency manager is allowed to do under Public Act 4, passed last year by the Michigan Legislature. Brown also wants to reopen the city jail, which closed in 2008.
Wisconsin Candidates: Democrats are raising their hands for the opportunity to challenge Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who appears to face an almost certain recall election this fall. Former Dane County chief executive Kathleen Falk said the 1 million signatures submitted by opponents to Walker on Monday convinced her to run. State Senator Tim Cullen of Janesville also plans to enter the race.
Toyota Milestone: It may be hard for car buffs to believe, but Toyota’s plant in Princeton, Ind., will turn 14 years old this year. And this week, it built its 3 millionth vehicle. The factory, in southwest Indiana, makes the Sienna minivan, which was the best selling family van in the United States last year. It has 4,100 workers and an annual payroll of $288 million.
Rock Hall: Dead Heads, listen up: the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland will celebrate the Grateful Dead this spring with an exhibit called The Long Strange Trip. It opens April 12, giving you plenty of time to launder your tie-dye t-shirts and get out your Jerry Garcia ties.
All across the Midwest, cities and suburbs are tackling the problem of Empty Places. Throughout November, Changing Gears took a look at some of the challenges and solutions involved in transforming property from the past.
In Flint, Mich., Kate Davidson found there may be no better example of how the industrial Midwest is changing than the site of the old Fisher Body Plant No. 1. It’s one of the factories that was occupied by sit-down strikers in the 1930s. The plant made tanks during World War II. It was later closed, gutted and reborn as a GM design center. But GM abandoned the site after bankruptcy and the new occupants don’t make cars. They sell very expensive prescription drugs.
Three stories making news across the Midwest today:
1. Midwest Economy Gains Ground. The Midwest Economy Index showed improvement in the regional economy in October for the first time in six months, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago. The monthly index, a combination of 134 state and regional indicators, ticked upward from -0.37 to -0.33. Manufacturing was the only sector measured to make a positive contribution to the index at +0.20, although it had ebbed from +0.23 in September. The pace of manufacturing activity decreased in Iowa and Wisconsin, but increased in Illinois and Michigan. Indiana held steady. The service sector and consumer spending showed improvements overall, while construction and mining activity fell.
2. Emergency Manager Takes Over Flint. Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder appointed an emergency financial manager for the city of Flint on Tuesday. On Thursday, Flint’s former mayor, Michael Brown, will begin serving in the position. Under the state’s revamped emergency manager law, Brown will have authority to control the city’s operations and finances, including the power to terminate employee contracts, merge departments and reduce pay. It’s the second time an emergency manager has been appointed in Flint, which had a $15 million deficit in the 2010 fiscal year. Emergency managers are already in place in Benton Harbor, Pontiac, Ecorse and Detroit Public Schools.
3. Illinois Lawmakers Reject Incentives Bill. Two of Chicago’s most visible companies, CME Group and Sears Holdings Corp., have threated to move elsewhere if they weren’t given tax incentives to stay. Illinois lawmakers are calling their bluffs. The Illinois House of Representatives rejected a bill, 99-8, that would have provided $200 million in incentives Tuesday, the final day of the legislature’s fall session. House Republicans wanted the bill to focus solely on tax breaks for businesses they hoped would lead to job growth, while Democrats wanted tax relief for workers and low-income families included, according to the Chicago Tribune. Gov. Pat Quinn said “ample” time remained to reach a deal, but in a written statement, a Sears spokesperson said, “Our timeline for making a decision about our future by the end of the year has not changed.”
FLINT — There may be no better example of how the industrial Midwest is changing than the site of the old Fisher Body Plant No. 1 in Flint, Michigan. It was one of the factories sit-down strikers occupied in the 1930s. The plant made tanks during World War II. It was later closed, gutted and reborn as a GM design center. But GM abandoned the site after bankruptcy and the new occupants don’t make cars. They sell very expensive prescription drugs. [display_podcast]
There’s one group of experts who can always tell you the history and significance of an old factory. They’re the guys at the bar across the street.
Dan Wright is still a regular at The Caboose Lounge. He worked at Fisher Body No. 1 briefly in the 1970s.
Three stories making news across the Midwest today:
1. Biden champions jobs bill. Vice President Joe Biden made two stops in Michigan on Wednesday, touting President Obama’s $447 billion jobs bill. In a visit to Flint, Biden noted the city’s rise in murders, rapes and fires that occurred as police and fire staffing levels dropped. “That is a witch’s brew,” Biden tells Businessweek. “That is a mixture for a cancer in the city.” Later, during a stop in Grand Rapids, the vice president said economists believe the American Jobs Act would create 2 million jobs next year. Flint Mayor Dayne Walling said federal funding recently helped the city hire six police officers, but more are needed.
2. Chicago budget proposal chops services. On Wednesday, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel unveiled a budget that called for taxes on tourists and suburbanites, close three police stations, streamline garbage collection, cut library hours and double water bills for the average household by 2015, according to the Chicago Tribune. “I’ve taken on a tremendous amount of political sacred cows,” Emanuel said during a presentation to the City Council. “Not once, not twice, not three times, not four times, but multiple times across the budget.”
3. Hydrofracking permits soar in Ohio. The pace of permits being issued for hydrofracking in Ohio has quickened. The Columbus Dispatch reports today that 27 permits were issued for drilling in the Utica Shale formation underneath Ohio from July to September – more than half the total number issued since 2009. Meanwhile, Democrats in the state House said yesterday they would seek a moratorium on hydrofracking in the state until the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency completes a study on the controversial drilling’s effects on air and water.