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.
The Indiana governor held a press conference on Monday to reflect on accomplishments made in the latest legislative session. He talked about getting approval for full-day kindergarten, a smoking ban and a new agreement to have Amazon collect Indiana sales tax. He also talked about Right to Work, the most controversial, and significant, change in Indiana law in the past year.
Daniels said, after passing Right to Work, three companies have decided to expand their business in Indiana. Only one company, the MBC Group, has been identified publicly. Daniels said even more companies are in negotiations with the state, thanks to Right to Work.
“I probably underestimated how important an addition to our already excellent business climate this was going to be,” Daniels said during the press conference.
There’s just one thing: the one company Daniels named that expanded because of Right to Work didn’t actually expand because of Right to Work.
Until now, Right to Work laws have been the subject of legislative debate. But in Minnesota and Ohio, the issue faces the prospect of being put before voters this fall.
Right to Work laws prohibit unions from collecting dues in a workplace, even when they represent its workers. Earlier this winter, Indiana became the first state in the Great Lakes to adopt a Right to Work, and the 23rd in the nation to do so.
Ohio power State regulators in Ohio have overturned electricity price increases they approved in December. But, as partner station WCPN Ideastream reports, the fight isn’t over. Meanwhile, a trash to energy plan in Cleveland is showing signs of life, despite strong opposition.
Right to Work, right away Indiana is expected to be the first state in the industrial Midwest to become a Right to Work state. And it could happen as soon as today. Right to Work rules prohibit companies from negotiating contracts with their unions that make union membership mandatory. Instead, workers will have a choice whether to join the union. Business leaders say the changes will make Indiana more competitive. Union leaders say the changes will let some workers benefit from union bargaining without having to pay to support the union. They say it will ultimately weaken the union.
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.
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.
Proponents of the drive to recall Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker needed 540,208 signatures to put the issue on the November ballot. Yesterday, they arrived at the Government Accountability Board in Madison with more than 1 million signatures, virtually guaranteeing voters will consider the proposal.
If it gets on the ballot, the recall Walker initiative would be the first such vote in Wisconsin history, and only the third in the nation’s history. Voters kicked out California’s governor, Gray Davis, in 2003, and North Dakota governor Lynn Frazier in 1923.
Three stories making news across the Midwest today:
1. Groupon gets mixed reviews. Three investment banks that sold Groupon’s initial public offering in November have mixed views of the company’s stock. Credit Suisse analysts rated the stock “neutral” in research reports released today. Morgan Stanley advised its clients to wait to buy shares of the Chicago-based company until the stock price fell, according to our partner station, WBEZ. Only Goldman Sachs rated the stock a “buy.” Banks that lead an IPO traditionally deliver favorable ratings. Shares were sold to the public at $20 each in the IPO, and traded at $22.20 this morning.
2. Saab files for bankruptcy. Concerned that its technology could land in the hands of Chinese competitors, General Motors blocked a sale of Saab, which subsequently filed for bankruptcy. Experts tell the Detroit Free Press that the 60-year-old company will likely be sold off in parts. Saab CEO Victor Muller purchased the company from GM in 2010 intent on restoring it. But GM still owned some technology licenses for the car, and feared that reorganizing the company through Chinese and Russian financing could mean the technology would be used by competitors. Saab filed the bankruptcy in southwestern Sweden.
3. Harley-Davison layoffs begin. Harley-Davidson Inc. has started sending layoff notices to hourly workers in its Milwaukee-area manufacturing facilities as part of its plan to reduce its headcount by 26 percent, according to the Chicago Tribune. The company plans to lay off approximately 250 of its 950 union workers, and then will hire 150 to 250 temporary employees to handle seasonal production increases. The company expects to save $50 million per year. The move comes as part of CEO Keith Wandell’s push to make the company and its workforce more flexible while courting a wider set of buyers.
For years, Indiana’s Republican governor, Mitch Daniels, has resisted efforts by fellow Republican lawmakers to implement Right to Work legislation. But now, Daniels is making a Right to Work law one of his legislative priorities for 2012.
Right to Work laws mean employees do not have to join a union, if it is formed in their workplace, nor do they have to pay union dues. (To see Right to Work states, click here.)
Under “closed shop” laws in effect in Michigan, and other northern states, employees must either join a union when one is certified, or pay dues. Some people say that forces them to become union members against their will, since they must pay dues anyway.
Daniels, in a presentation Thursday laying out his goals for the new year, said Indiana needs the law because he believes it will lead to increased job opportunities. Daniels said the nation’s 22 Right to Work states enjoy faster job and income growth, and have lower unemployment rates.
Three stories making news across the Midwest today:
1. Wisconsin shipbuilder adds jobs. A northeast Wisconsin shipbuilder plans to double its workforce over the next 18 months after winning a contract with the U.S. Navy, according to our partner station WBEZ. Marinette Marine, located on the shores of Lake Michigan, will add 1,100 more employees as it builds 10 new ships under a contract for approximately $4 billion. “Seven hundred of those are hourly wage earners,” says company president Charles Goddard. “They’re union employees. They’re steel-fitters. They’re welders, pipe-fitters, electricians, they’re painters.” The ships, called Littoral Combat Ships, mark a new direction for the Navy toward smaller vessels able to navigate in shallow water.
2. Indiana will consider right-to-work law. State Republican leaders will attempt to turn Indiana into a right-to-work state during the upcoming legislative session. “I do expect an intense debate,” GOP House Speaker Brian Bosma told our partner station WBEZ. Republicans say the legislation would set Indiana on more competitive footing in enticing businesses to relocate. Such right-to-work legislation would end requirements that force workers to join unions or pay dues as a condition of employment, according to the station. Democrats fought similar legislation during the last legislative session, and dispute that there would be economic benefits. “House minority leader Patrick Bauer said, “This could be the eventual decline and fall of Indiana being an economic, viable state.”
3. Kasich touts Ohio job gains. In the past week, Gov. John Kasich has announced the arrival of more than 1,700 new jobs at three locations across Ohio. On Monday, he was on hand as material-handler Intelligrated announced it would add 200 technical and engineering jobs over three years in suburban Cincinnati. It was the third such announcement Kasich had attended this week, seemingly marking a shift in his strategy since SB5 was repealed by voters, says The Columbus Dispatch. “What that illustrates is that we’re starting to get our act together in the state of Ohio,” Kasich told the newspaper. “We’ve got a long way to go, but we’re answering the bell.”