Auto

Auto/Economy
3:07 pm
Wed September 28, 2011

UAW membership approves 4-year deal with GM

A view from GM's Headquarters. The UAW membership and GM have agreed to a four-year contract. The team from Changing Gears share their analysis.
user santoshkrishnan Flickr

Update - 3:07 p.m.

More thoughts on the newly ratified UAW-GM contract from Micky Maynard with Changing Gears:

General Motors gave some new details today on its just-ratified agreement with the United Auto Workers union. Among them: up to 25 percent of its workforce could be “two-tiers” — new hires at lower rates than veteran workers.

Changing Gears reporter Kate Davidson profiled two-tier workers last year. Right now, they’re only 4 percent of GM’s workforce, but the auto company clearly has plans for more of them.

There’s a caveat, though. In order for GM to hire more workers, auto sales have to pick up, company executives said during a conference call with Wall Street analysts. And it isn’t promising to hire the same number of workers as it sees sales go up: it will study its staffing needs and hire accordingly. 

The new contract runs through 2015 and caps the number of “two-tiers” at 25 percent at the end of the contract. It calls for the new hires to get a raise to nearly $20 an hour by 2015 (veteran workers are paid about $28 an hour now).

Other GM highlights:

  • The number of people working in its U.S. factories has dropped sharply. GM had 110,000 hourly production workers in 2005, according to its presentation. In 2008, the year before it filed for bankruptcy production, GM had 78,000 U.S. workers. Now, GM has just 49,000 hourly workers, or less than half what it had six years ago.
  • For the first time in 58 years, GM does not expect its pension expense to rise under the new contract. One reason is that newly hired workers will not be covered by GM’s traditional pension plan; they will receive a 401(k) retirement program instead.
  • GM says it still has 700 workers laid off from their jobs. They have first dibs on jobs at GM plants, including the workers it plans to hire when it reopens its factory in Spring Hill, Tenn. Once those workers have been offered the chance to come back, then GM will hire new workers, including temporaries.

Read more about the GM contract in The New York Times.

1:05 p.m.

More from Pete Bigelow of Changing Gears:

General Motors became the first domestic automaker to reach an official agreement on a new contract with members of the United Auto Workers union Wednesday afternoon.

The UAW said in a written release that 65 percent of production workers and 63 percent of skilled trade workers voted in favor of the agreement, which had been tentatively agreed upon Sept 16. A four-year contract provides a wage increase for entry-level workers, and goes into effect immediately.

The agreement would create 6,400 jobs in the United States, the release said.

“When it seems like everyone in America is getting cuts in benefits and paying higher co-pays and deductibles, we were able to maintain and improve on our current benefits,” said UAW vice president Joe Ashton.

GM CEO Dan Akerson is expected to hold a conference call with Wall Street analysts at 2 p.m.

12:37 p.m.

The deal is complete. UAW members officially ratified their contract with General Motors.

From the Detroit Free Press:

The UAW said today that its members have ratified a new four-year labor agreement with GM that gives workers a $5,000 signing bonus and is expected to preserve or add 6,400 U.S. jobs.

It is the first contract for 48,500 GM hourly workers since the automaker’s 2009 bankruptcy and restructuring.

The union said the vote was 65% in favor of the agreement among production workers, and 63% in favor among skilled-trades workers.

Economy
5:18 pm
Tue September 27, 2011

Postal workers hold rallies across the state

Dozens of postal workers rally in downtown Lansing
(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

 Postal workers delivered a message at more than a dozen rallies across Michigan today.   

Postal workers say they have a solution to the multi-billion dollar budget deficit that is threatening the future of the U.S. Post Office.  Postal officials say they are looking at closing hundreds of local post offices and mail processing centers as a way to reduce the red ink.  

Read more
Trade Mission
3:09 pm
Tue September 27, 2011

New Michigan-Japanese partnership to add jobs in Michigan

Gov. Rick Snyder meets with Takamichi Matsushita, president of Eco Research Institute of Tokyo (center). Pictured with Snyder is Carol Miller, right, of Midland Tomorrow, and ERI leadership officials.
Governor Snyder's office

On his trade mission to Asia, Governor Snyder praised a business partnership between a Japanese company and the Michigan Molecular Institute (MMI).

The partnership between Japan's ECO Research Institute (ERI) and MMI is expected to bring around 30 new jobs to Midland.

Snyder made his comments at the Japan Midwest U.S. Annual Conference today praising the partnership "as an example of the economic and technological benefits that Michigan and Japan stand to gain through greater cooperation."

The two companies will form a new company called ECO Bio Plastics Midland Inc. The new company will produce bio-plastic pellets made of compound  mixes of plastics and micron-sized dry powder made from shredded paper.

These pellets will be used as packaging materials, food service products, heat insulation applications, and toys.

The Midland Daily News quoted James Plonka, president and CEO of Michigan Molecular Institute:

Plonka noted EBP has chosen a site for the new Midland facility, with the expectation to break ground before November and to begin production next summer.

“Midland is a good location for the demonstration facility for a couple reasons,” Plonka said. “First, because of the paper shredding services provided by the Arnold Center, Midland, is an excellent source of paper feedstock. And secondly, some of the most innovative plastics research in the world occurs in Midland. It’s a natural fit.

The plan calls for the initial paper-plastic composite production facility to produce 10 million pounds per year, with the ability to grow to 100 million pounds per year, Plonka said.

Auto
11:34 am
Tue September 27, 2011

NHTSA investigating possible Jeep air bag problem

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is investigating the airbags in Jeep Liberty vehicles from 2003-2004 .
IFCAR wikimedia commons

WASHINGTON (AP) - Federal regulators are investigating reports that the air bags on some Jeep Liberty sport utility vehicles are suddenly going off without a crash happening.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says on its website that in four of seven confirmed cases, the front driver-side air bag went off, while in three, both the driver- and passenger-side air bags deployed.

The investigation involves an estimated 387,356 vehicles made during the 2002 and 2003 model years. Five of the seven reports involved injuries.

Some owners said they saw the air bag light come on, or intermittently come on, before the air bags went off.

Auto/Economy
6:51 pm
Mon September 26, 2011

UAW, Ford talks heat up

Ongoing contract talks between the UAW and Ford are heating up.

The union has indicated it expects more for workers from the only Detroit automaker to avoid bankruptcy.

Since Ford is the best-positioned of the three US carmakers, union leaders expect to get better terms from that company than from GM and Chrysler.

Read more
Economy
12:59 pm
Mon September 26, 2011

Snyder in Tokyo: Michigan retooled for trade

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder has told a Tokyo audience of Midwestern and Japanese business and political leaders that Michigan is "a very different place" than it was when he
took office in January.

A statement released Monday by Snyder's office says the Republican governor told the annual meeting of the Japan Midwest U.S. Association that legislative and policy changes should "open new doors for trade" between Michigan and Japan. Changes cited by Snyder include repealing the Michigan Business Tax and adopting a two-year balanced budget.

Snyder's eight-day, three country trade mission that began Sunday includes stops in Japan, China and South Korea.

The international trade trip is Snyder's first as governor. The former Gateway computer executive and venture capitalist took office Jan. 1.

Auto/Economy
7:30 am
Mon September 26, 2011

Ridership on The Rapid bus system surpasses 10 million

The Rapid Central Station is the first LEED certified transit facility in the United States.
Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

The public transportation system in greater Grand Rapids is celebrating a record number of riders this year. The Rapid is operated by an authority made up of Grand Rapids and 5 surrounding suburbs; Wyoming, Walker, Grandville, East Grand Rapids, and Kentwood.  

Barbara Deming waits for a bus at The Rapid Central Station which is packed every morning and afternoon on the weekdays. Deming has ridden the bus nearly every week since moving back home to Grand Rapids from a small town up north 7 years ago.

Read more
housing
6:45 am
Mon September 26, 2011

Housing advocates, landlords argue over housing code changes

There are roughly 4,000 vacant homes in the city of Grand Rapids. In February, Grand Rapids Public Schools had to cancel classes for several days after a major snow storm because of unplowed sidewalks.
Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

Dozens of rental property owners and housing advocates are expected at a meeting in Grand Rapids this week. The rise of foreclosures could prompt the city to change parts of its housing code.

The city inspects rental properties with two or more units. They check for fire alarms, peeling or chipping lead paint, and other safety hazards. But single family homes for rent are exempt from inspections.

Read more
Auto/Economy
10:54 am
Sun September 25, 2011

Four Midwestern governors in Asia for trade

(Springfield, IL)  Governor Rick Snyder is in Asia on a trade mission to China, Korea and Japan.  He’s not the only Midwestern governor there.  The governors of Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois and Indiana's Lt. Governor are also taking trade delegations to Asia. 

The four Midwestern governors will be meeting  in Japan with Japanese and other Asian political and business leaders.   They’re working to kick start trade with Asian countries.  China is particularly important because it’s one of the few nations where the economy is growing.

Charlie Wheeler was a long time statehouse reporter in Illinois.   He says  the chief executive officer of a state can carry symbolic weight in trade negotiations.

“And I think it makes a lot of sense for the Governor of Illinois, of Michigan and any other Midwestern state, any state in the union for that matter, to try and open up more markets in China, to establish the kind of personal relationships that in the business world often help to carry out these negotiations.”

The governor of North Carolina will be  next in the parade of U.S. governors touring Asia. She leaves for a trade mission there next month.

Economy
4:01 pm
Sat September 24, 2011

Fruit and vegetable oasis finds it hard to survive in a "food desert"

There are plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables at Witherbees Market. What they need are customers.
(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Fifteen months after it opened, Flint’s first downtown grocery in 30 years is struggling to stay open.    

Witherbees Market was intended to serve the needs of people living in downtown Flint. The downtown zone, like many other urban areas in Michigan, has been described as a "food desert", with little access to fruits, vegetables and other fresh food.   

Read more
Economy
11:15 am
Sat September 24, 2011

Agencies look for new funding to help poor pay for heat

About 95,000 Michigan residents needed help to pay their home heating costs last year.
uppermichigansource.com

LANSING -- Social services groups are scrambling to

prevent thousands of low-income Michigan residents from having

their heat cut off after a program that helped pay overdue utility

bills for the poor lost its funding.

 

A court struck down the financing system used by the program in

July, and lawmakers haven't enacted a new one. With the aid money

running out as winter arrives, officials are temporarily drawing on

other funds to tide over needy families.

 

Read more
Economy
4:29 pm
Fri September 23, 2011

Snyder to promote Michigan agricultural products on Asian trip

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder
Michigan Radio

Gov. Rick Snyder departs Saturday on a week-long Asian trade mission with stops in Tokyo, Beijing, Shanghai and Seoul.

The governor will attend a meeting of the Japan Midwest U-S Association early next week. His itinerary also includes lots of private meetings with business executives in Japan, China, and Korea.

But the governor says he does not anticipate many big announcements. 

Read more
Economy
9:40 am
Fri September 23, 2011

Wayne County and U of M Health System agree to share forensic services

Pathologists at the Wayne County Medical Examiner's Office have been working to keep up with a case load that is one of the largest in the country - around 2,500 autopsies each year. They've been doing this at a time when the office's budget has been cut by 20 percent over the last 4 years.

Now, the University of Michigan Health System and Wayne County officials have announced they'll share resources to save money and improve educational opportunities.

From the Associated Press:

The University of Michigan Health System and Wayne County have agreed to partner for forensic services at the county medical examiner's office.

Officials said Thursday that the 3-year deal will save county taxpayers $1.5 million and provide the University of Michigan's Pathology Department with additional training.

The combined staff will help move along the high-volume of autopsies in Wayne County.

County Medical Examiner Carl Schmidt and other Board of Pathology-certified pathologists would become employees of the school. The medical examiner's office would remain under county governance.

Schmidt said his office is one of the busiest in the country with about 2,500 autopsies each year. He said funding has dropped from $8.1 million in 2007 to $6.2 million to $5.7 million for the 2011-2012 fiscal year.

The partnership is expected to start on October 1.

It won't prevent layoffs at the Wayne County Medical Examiner's Office. From a University of Michigan Health System press release:

The agreement would require five of the 31 employees at the Wayne County Medical Examiner’s Office to be laid off. However, three of the five employees will continue employment with Wayne County government and one will retire.

transportation
3:05 pm
Thu September 22, 2011

Lawmakers expect changes to how Michigan pays to fix roads

A 2-mile section of I-196 was widened and reconstructed in the middle of downtown Grand Rapids in 2010. The project cost $40 million and closed the freeway for seven months.
Ifmuth Creative Commons

A new study shows the conditions of Michigan’s roads will continue to decline unless the state can come up with a lot more money to maintain them. More than a third of Michigan’s roads are in poor condition.

The study was released this week by a bipartisan group of state lawmakers. It shows the state needs $1.4 billion more each year for at least 85-percent of roadways to be in good or fair condition.

Read more
Economy
2:49 pm
Thu September 22, 2011

Too many brain surgeons, not enough machinists?

Author Joel Kotkin says Michigan needs more mid-level workers, like welders, plumbers, machinists and office workers.
earl53 Morguefile

An expert in economic trends says Michigan needs more people with mid-level skills, not advanced degrees. 

Author Joel Kotkin says too many people in Michigan go to four-year colleges and come out with a lot of debt and no marketable skills.

He says that’s created another problem:

"Even in Michigan, with all the unemployment that you’ve had, skilled workers are in short supply, in manufacturing, in medicine, these sort of what we might call middle-skilled jobs, jobs that might take a certificate, maybe a couple years in community college,” Kotkin says.

Read more
Auto/Economy
12:09 pm
Thu September 22, 2011

Moody's considers GM credit rating upgrade

GM might get a credit upgrade from Moody's.
user paul (dex) Flickr

DETROIT (AP) - Moody's Investors Service is considering upgrading General Motors Co.'s credit ratings based on improvements in its finances and the expected ratification of a new contract
with the United Auto Workers union.

GM currently has a Ba2 corporate family rating and a Baa3 secured credit rating from Moody's. Both are several notches below investment grade. GM lost its investment-grade ratings in 2005,
when it was losing billions of dollars.

GM and the UAW reached a tentative agreement on a new contract last week. Workers are expected to finish voting on it by next Thursday.

Moody's said that after an initial review, it expects the contract would let GM remain competitive in North America. The deal would pay workers a $5,000 ratification bonus and profit-sharing
checks, but it helps GM lower costs by not giving annual raises to most workers and offering buyouts to clear out older, more expensive workers.

"A critical issue in our review is whether the new contract will preserve's GM's new-found  competitiveness and support its ability to contend with increasing volatility in the global economy," said Bruce Clark, a senior vice president at Moody's.

Moody's review also will consider GM's long-term commitment to the discipline it has adopted since its 2009 government bailout and bankruptcy. Moody's said it will look at whether GM will continue
to limit production and incentives, improve quality and limit acquisitions and shareholder returns in order to strengthen liquidity.

GM's stock fell 72 cents, or 3.4 percent, to $20.56 during a broader-market selloff. The Standard & Poor's 500 was down 3 percent in late morning trading.

Economy
8:42 am
Thu September 22, 2011

New census data: More Mich. residents in poverty

New census data show more Michigan residents are living in poverty.

The 2010 numbers from the American Community Survey released Thursday show the poverty rate rose from 16.2 percent in 2009 to 16.8 percent in Michigan. The percent of children under 18 in poverty in Michigan rose from 22.5 percent to 23.5 percent.

In Detroit, 37.6 percent were in poverty and 53.6 percent of children.

Median household income fell more than 1 percent from 2009 to $45,413 as more people worked in the lower-pay service industry than in manufacturing.

Help shape stories on this topic. Answer our news questions related to this story:

Are you losing cash assistance benefits on October 1?

Have you tried to get a job in manufacturing?

Changing Gears
11:03 am
Wed September 21, 2011

Midwestern union workers have hope for their jobs

Navistar Springfield, Ohio plant manager Jim Rumpf with one of the four models of trucks now produced at the plant.
Niala Boodhoo

Navistar builds trucks across North America, at non-union factories in the South and Mexico, as well as union shops in the Midwest. The UAW members at the Navistar plant in Springfield, Ohio say a year of changes has made them competitive with those non-union plants – and they’re optimistic about the future.

In the final assembly department at Navistar’s Springfield, Ohio, plant, Veronica Smith is helping her team put the finishing touches on a truck. The cab is being mounted to its frame.

Read more
Auto/Economy
10:24 am
Wed September 21, 2011

Moody's downgrades Fiat's credit rating

Fiat's credit was downgraded by Moody's.
Fiat USA

MILAN (AP) - The ratings agency Moody's has downgraded the credit rating Fiat SpA citing financial risks tied to the integration with Chrysler Group LLC.

Moody's on Wednesday downgraded the Italian automaker to Ba2 from Ba1.

The ratings agency said it expects integration of the two automakers will mean they will have "to support each other in the event of financial difficulty."

Fiat took an initial 20 percent stake in Chrysler in exchange for engine technology and management prowess. It currently holds a 53.5 percent share.

Moody's said it made the downgrade even though Fiat does not guarantee Chrysler's debt, and that the two companies' finances remain separate.

Auto
7:30 am
Wed September 21, 2011

The latest on UAW contract negotiations

Union leaders at General Motors' factories across the U.S. are endorsing a tentative contract with the automaker. 

In an unprecedented press conference yesterday, UAW President Bob King discussed details of the 4-year-contract. The rank-and-file will vote in the coming days. General Motors is the first automaker to reach a deal with the UAW. And,  these negotiations are the first since the federal government stepped in to help GM and Chrysler through bankruptcy in 2009.

We caught up with Tracy Samilton, Michigan Radio's auto reporter, to talk about the tentative contract and what it means for GM, the UAW, and the state's economy.

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