Striking workers' sign
Steve Rhodes/Flickr

Michigan Radio has been covering stories from across the state regarding labor and contract disputes. From the strike of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra to the dispute between the City of Flint and its Firefighters Union , it seems that workers and management are having a difficult time finding common ground these days. So, we wondered, do strikes increase during a down economy? We assumed they did. Well, as they say, that's we get for assuming. As it turns out, the struggling economy may have actually reduced the number of labor disputes resulting in strikes. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were fewer work stoppages affecting 1,000 or more workers in 2009 than in any other year since 1947, when the collection of this data began.

The White House is ramping up its efforts to get Congress to approve extended unemployment benefits for out-of-work Americans. Michigan's unemployment rate in October was the second-highest in the nation, at 12.8% . The president's Council of Economic Advisers released a report that touts the need for extending benefits. The report says for the typical person getting unemployment, the benefits make up a third of the household income. As Presidential adviser Cecilia Rouse noted: And in those 42% of households where the unemployed person was the sole wage earner, it's about 90 percent of the income. So it's quite an important source of income for these families. The report says about 620,000 people in Michigan received benefits through October. Republicans in Congress say the cost of extending the benefits is too high. They want to look at budget cuts and tax cut extensions first.

Job search seminar in Ohio
flickr user Daniel Johnson / Flickr

We all know Michigan has been going through tough times. An unemployment rate of nearly 13%. Jobless benefits expiring for tens of thousands of people. Deep spending cuts coming to state and local governments. But it may be tougher than you've thought. The Detroit New reports: Department of Human Services officials say the need to help the state's poor and jobless is greater than it has been in nearly seven decades, but they're helping as many as they can with less resources. "In this economy...

Michigan’s economy stumbled in October. Comerica Bank’s monthly gauge of Michigan’s economic activity shows a slight dip in October. The state’s economy spiked up in September. Comerica Bank chief economist Dana Johnson says Michigan’s economy has essentially been flat for the past four months. Johnson says: As has been the case in the national economy over the second half of the year, growth in Michigan has been sluggish and uneven. Looking ahead, the Michigan economy is poised to make modest gains in coming months, against a background of gradually accelerating national growth. The Michigan Economic Activity Index weighs nine, seasonally-adjusted indicators of real economic activity. These indicators reflect activity in the construction, manufacturing and service sectors as well as job growth and consumer outlays.

Willow Run Factory and B-24 bombers.
U.S. Army Signal Corps

It was ground zero for the "arsenal of democracy" in the 1940s. Henry Ford built the giant Willow Run factory to manufacture B-24 bombers in World War II. Later GM took over the building making everything from Chevy trucks, the Caprice, the Nova, Corvairs, and transmissions. Today, the materials inside the plant are being auctioned off as part of the "Old GM's" bankruptcy reorganization (old GM is now known as the Motors Liquidation Company ). It's the second of three auctions. The last one...

Car lot
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Ford sales are up 24% , Chrysler sales are up 17% , and GM's are up 11% . It's been a good news week for the "Big Three" (can we still call them that?). Chrysler and GM also announced they plan to hire more workers in Michigan, and the Brookings Institution says Metro Detroit is recovering. Here are some figures from a number-laden Detroit News article on auto sales: Sales for Chrysler's Jeep brand were up 58 % for November compared to a year ago Ford's year-to-date sales total 1.74 million vehicles - growing at a pace double the industry average Ford's F-Series trucks were up 26 % GM's big brand Chevrolet was up 18 % for the month compared to a year ago, its sales strengthened by the new compact Cruze and popular Equinox and Silverado

Chrysler headquarters in Auburn Hills, Michigan.
flickr user fiatontheweb / creative commons

Today executives at General Motors announced they plan to add 1,000 jobs in Michigan. Now, Chrysler executives have announced they also plan to add 1,000 jobs. The Wall Street Journal reports: About 60% of the hires will be employed directly by Chrysler, while 40% will work through various contract agencies, said Lisa Wicker, Chrysler's recruiting chief. Most will be employed at the company's headquarters in Auburn Hills, Mich, she said. The automaker plans to hire engineers and other in high...

Seniors find meaning in music

Nov 29, 2010
Kyle Norris / Michigan Radio

http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/national/local-national-937685.mp3 In the basement of a church in Grand Rapids, there's a rehearsal for the Beginners Swing Band. Most of the musicians here are in their sixties and seventies.

Michigan retailers have been busy this weekend with the beginning of the holiday shopping season. But Monday could be a very big day as well.

The National Retail Federation coined the term ‘Cyber Monday’ five years ago to describe the growing trend of holiday shoppers flooding store websites on the Monday following thanksgiving. A recent survey found more shoppers planned to shop online Monday than stand in line on the Friday after Thanksgiving.
Tom Scott is with the Michigan...

Volunteers serve Thanksgiving at DeVos Place
Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

More than 600 volunteers served people in need a hot Thanksgiving meal today in Grand Rapids. Thousands of homeless, elderly, sick and downtrodden came for the feast. Bill Genest is wearing a couple coats, gloves, a warm hat and worn-out blue jeans. He brought all his belonging with him in a black backpack. This is not how he normally gets something to eat. “To be honest with you, I fly a sign,” Genest said. He says the cardboard sign says ‘homeless vet’. “I am a homeless vet. It’s hard to...

Michigan retailers are optimistic that holiday sales will be better this year. The first real test comes this week. Thanksgiving is such a pivotal time for Michigan retailers many aren’t waiting for their customers to finish their turkey dinners. K-Mart, Sears and other retailers plan to be open on Thanksgiving day. Many other stores, like Banana Republic and the Gap will open their doors Thursday night. "No one’s even waiting for the day after Thanksgiving anymore," says Tom Scott, with the...

Unemployment line in California
Michael Raphael / Flickr

The Associated Press reports that the state "will stop taking new extended unemployment benefit applications after Saturday because Congress has failed to renew the program." An effort to extend the benefits did not pass the House of Representatives last week. Republicans blocked the extension because the measure would have added $12 billion to the federal deficit. Representative Charles Boustany, Republican of Louisiana, was quoted in an AP article saying, “the fact is, we can both provide...

RMS Titanic at the docks
author unknown / creative commons

Chris Knape has a piece in the Grand Rapids Press about hedge fund manager and bar owner, Mark Sellers. Sellers moved back to Grand Rapids around three years ago where he owns the bars Hopcat , Stella’s Lounge and Viceroy . Knape details how Sellers, founder of Sellers Capital Management, Inc. , orchestrated a hostile take over Premier Exhibitions, Inc. , after its stock began to plunge. Premier Exhibitions is a publicly traded company that owns and operates the popular traveling museum...

Monument to steel in Gary, Indiana
Michael Puente / Changing Gears

By Michael Puente, Changing Gears All this week, Changing Gears has been looking at reinventing Pittsburgh. We recently heard how Detroit has borrowed some of its ideas. In its final report, they head to Gary to see if this smaller Steel Town can learn from its industrial mother, Pittsburgh. They found old habits are hard to break. Pittsburgh and steel began a courtship in the late 1800s. That courtship would eventually produce a lovechild: Gary, Indiana. In the early 20th Century, Pittsburgh...

Detroit entreprenuer Judy Davids
Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

All week we’ve been looking at the reinvention of Pittsburgh . Now, we move west to see whether the ideas that worked there can work in other places. One such city is Detroit. Like Pittsburgh, Detroit has always faced a challenge in convincing its talented citizens to stay. Many business owners try to buck the odds and keep their businesses in the city, only to find the hurdles too high. Others find it is simply too daunting to head out on their own. Judy Davids’ story starts out like a lot...

The New York Stock Exchange
Roland Weber / Creative Commons

Update: 5:10pm The New York Stock Exchanged closed. AFP News reports "GM stocks closed at 34.19 dollars, up 3.6 percent from GM's initial sale price announced on Wednesday, but below session highs of 35.60 dollars a share." Update: 3:00pm The Detroit News reports the GM executives who attended the opening day for GM stock on the New York Stock Exchange bought hundreds of shares in the company themselves. GM North American chief Mark Reuss called it an emotional day, saying he was proud to work for GM and thanking taxpayers for giving GM "a second chance." The News reports the GM execs will head back to Detroit "after today's events in order to attend a private employee celebration at the company's Renaissance Center headquarters." Update: 11:04pm GM executives rang the bell and played a recording of a Chevy Camaro revving its engine to open trading at the New York Stock Exchange this morning. As of this writing, the stock, bought during the IPO at $33 per share, has jumped to $35 per share in trading. Here's how it's tracking next to Ford's stock (F):

GMC SUVs in a car lot
user ep_jhu / Creative Commons

The Center for Automotive Research released a report today that analyzed the government bailouts of General Motors and Chrysler. $80 billion was given to the auto companies. To date $13.4 billion has been repaid. Tomorrow the GM "initial public offering" is expected to raise another $22 billion. The reports authors say that even if the government doesn't get all of the $80 billion back, the government's investment will still have been worth it. The report concludes: The updated analysis...

Timothy Geithner at the White House Correspondents Dinner in 2009
Jay Tamboli / Creative Commons

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that GM's IPO tomorrow could be a biggy: General Motors Co. said Wednesday that it will increase the size of its initial public offering by about 30% to 478 million shares, which could make it the largest global IPO in history. The automaker's biggest investor, the United States Government, is anxious to sell off a good portion of its stake. We, the taxpayers, own about 61% of GM right now. After tomorrow's stock sale, we're expected to own around 26% of...

Reinventing Pittsburgh: Part 3

Nov 17, 2010
Erika Katz

Drive east from downtown Pittsburgh and you’ll pass a church. At least, it was a church. Today, the alter has been replaced with stainless steel casks of beer, and the pews are now a bar and tables. It’s another Pittsburgh transformation. Saint John the Baptist Church is now the Church Brew Works . It’s one of those places people tell you: you have to go when you visit Pittsburgh. So, it wasn’t a hard sell to get a bunch of young professionals to meet there. One of them is Robb Myer. He’s 35,...

Reinventing Pittsburgh: Part 2

Nov 16, 2010
Zach Morris / Creative Commons

When Dennis Yablonsky took over Pittsburgh's main development group last year, everyone was telling him it was time to brag.
"You know, we should be doing some kind of marketing campaign to let people know about Pittsburgh," people told him, "because you keep seeing those old images all the time."

The city had moved on from its smoggy steel mill days. How could he tell the world? Then, two months into his post at the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, anyone...

Old General Motors Headquaters
Historic American Buildings Survey

General Motors (GM) will be in the news a lot this week, so if you sat out the GM story up until this point, here's a quick summary to get you caught up. Today's General Motors is not your father's General Motors. The old GM went bankrupt. The company couldn't pay its bills (they had some big ones). But instead of letting the whole company collapse, a court stepped in to reorganize the auto giant (under chapter 11 bankruptcy). The court split the old GM in two. The Bad GM - the bad part of GM...

Reinventing Pittsburgh: Part 1

Nov 15, 2010
User 1sock / Creative Commons

When I first got to Pittsburgh, I did something foolish. I pulled over in a parking lot, grabbed my microphone and digital recoder, and headed straight for tailgating Steelers fans.

"Mind if I grab you for a second?" I asked a fan.

I was asking for it. I had come to Pittsburgh straight from Cleveland. The cities share steel, snow, and mutual hatred on the football field.

Even worse, they just happened to be playing the Clevleand Browns that day.

A man...

Screen grab of New York Times web page
Screen grab from the New York Times

It's easy to criticize. Now you're in charge. The New York Times has created a slick little interactive tool that displays different solutions to the country's projected budget deficits. Raise the Social Security retirement age to 70? You shave $247 billion off the 2030 projected deficit. Allow the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy to expire? You shave off $115 billion The tool gives you a clear picture of which measures put a big dent in the deficit, and which ones are a drop in the bucket. They...

Former GM Wyoming Stamping Plant
Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Michigan Radio's Lindsey Smith covered the auction at the former GM Wyoming Stamping plant. The plant closed in June 2009 as part of GM's bankruptcy. The auction was held on Wednesday and Thursday of this week. The auctioneers said they'll sell off anything leftover today. Smith said it was easy to get lost as she took photos of the more than 2 million square foot building. Here's an audio slideshow she put together:

A handwritten letter from President Barack Obama
Gary Zimet / Moments in Time

A woman from Monroe, Michigan made news last week when she sold her hand written letter from President Barack Obama for $7,000. The dealer who bought the letter, Gary Zimet of Moments in Time , is hoping to fetch $18,000 for the " exceedingly rare handwritten Obama letter ." Zimet told me that most correspondence from Obama is signed by an " autopen " making the letters worthless in value. He said he's received several serious inquiries for the letter already. Jennifer Cline first wrote Obama...

Knight, Tom
Gerry Leslie / Homeless Management Information Systems

In 2008, the state estimates there were a little more than 86,000 people without a home. Half of them were families. Resource Genesee helps people who are homeless, or in danger of becoming homeless, get the help they need to get back on their feet. Instead of waiting for homeless people to come to them, Tom Knight goes out looking for people in Flint who need help. But he says the recession has hit so hard theres not enough resources to take care of the growing homeless community.

Ashley Steele and her son Richard Peake
Kate Davidson / Changing Gears

By Kate Davidson of Changing Gears Five years ago this month, a group of anonymous donors made a radical promise to Kalamazoo, Michigan. They would pay for almost every public school graduate to go to a state-supported college or university. Our Changing Gears project has been profiling towns across the region as they try to reinvent themselves for the new economy. Here, they take a closer look at the Kalamazoo Promise. Five years ago this month, a group of anonymous donors made a radical...

restaurant week in GR

A number of Grand Rapids restaurants are booked this weekend thanks to the new event celebrating great dining at a reasonable price.

San Chez sous chef Daryl Rector prepares for the night shift. Weve got verduras y tortas for the vegan crowd. Its a spicy black beans & quinoa cakes with roasted vegetables and this avo-cumber sauce, Rector explains. Thats a fake yogurt that we make with avocado - basically puree that, add acidity and sweetness and you cant really tell the...

Courtesy Russ Hicks

Two big changes recently happened to Russ Hicks. His wife Carol was diagnosed with cancer and passed away. “I tell you right after Carol died I was completely rudderless and almost berserk. There was a time, a week afterward, at work where they said ‘you 'gotta go home and we'll drive you home!'” Shortly after that, Hicks got laid off from his job of 22 years at a factory warehouse. “And so here I am, within a year’s time I’d lost my wife and my job.” To deal with his grief he got some...

Time is running out again for many Michiganders living on unemployment benefits. Hundreds of thousands of Michiganders have spent nearly two years surviving on unemployment checks as the state struggles with a double digit jobless rate. But time may be running out for those benefits. Congress has passed several extensions but may not this time. Norm Isotello is with the state department of Energy, Labor and Economic Growth. He concedes there is an argument that extended benefits may get in...