strike

Something happened in the auto industry recently that was mostly overlooked by the mainstream media – but which may have huge implications for the industry and the United Auto Workers union.  

Seven years ago, the UAW made a concession that I am convinced would have had Walter Reuther spinning in his grave.

They agreed to accept a two-tier wage system under which most new hires would be paid slightly less than half what long-time auto workers made.

Think about that.

This means most of them are earning less than $30,000 a year.  Can they buy a house with that salary?  Even buy one of the new cars and trucks they build?

You know the answer. Yet the union agreed, because it felt it had no choice.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

Union officials say a set of bills in Lansing are an attack on employees’ ability to strike and protest.

The state House Oversight Committee approved the legislation Tuesday. It now goes to the full state House.

House Bill 4643 would increase penalties for protesters who violate current picketing laws. It would also allow business owners to get a court order banning a demonstration without first having to prove picketers were doing something wrong.

Rep. Jim Townsend (D-Royal Oak) is the top Democrat on the panel. He called that language unconstitutional.

Miguel Vaca / Flickr

Many Detroit fast food workers are on strike today. Workers from restaurants across the city walked off the job at 6 a.m. this morning.

Organizers of the strike expect workers from 60 restaurants to participate. These include McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Subway, Little Caesar’s, Burger King, and Popeye’s.

According to the Associated Press and Detroit pastor, Charles Williams II, workers want $15 an hour, better working conditions, and the right to unionize. The strike’s organizers claim that most fast food workers currently make $7.40 an hour, which is minimum wage in Michigan.

The Detroit News has interviewed workers involved in the strike. Claudette Wilson, Detroit resident and an employee at a Burger King on Eight Mile, said:

"I make $7.40 an hour, the same as when I started working in the fast food industry three years ago. We're the fastest-growing job market in the country with the lowest pay."

Union workers at the Macomb Daily and Royal Oak Tribune newspapers are contemplating a possible strike and other job actions at the end of the month.

The Journal Register company owns the papers. It has announced plans to end its union contracts and probably make deep cuts in its union and non-union workforces, more than 800 people statewide.

Lou Mleczko is the president of the Newspaper Guild of Detroit. He says the unions, representing the union 175 members involved, met Sunday to agree on a strategy.

“We are not just going to sit idly by and let them terminate these contracts….and strip pay and benefits away from our members,” says Mleczko. 

Mleczko says the unions plan to start telling advertisers about their plans.

He says the unions may hold strike authorization votes before March 19th.

That’s the date of the next bankruptcy hearing for the Journal Register company.

cncphotos / flickr

Every Wednesday Morning Edition host Christina Shockley and Michigan Radio's political analyst talk about what's been happening when it comes to politics in the state.

User: Brother O'Mara / flickr

Snyder likely to veto handgun bill

"Governor Snyder has indicated he will likely veto a bill that would change the state's gun sales law. The bill would eliminate a state background check requirement for sales made over the Internet or at gun shows. Those account for close to half of all gun sales," Sarah Hulett reports.

House speaker Bolger criticized for his company's tax history

"State House Speaker Jase Bolger is facing harsh criticism about his business record from a liberal advocacy group. Progress Michigan released documents alleging Bolger’s company, Summit Credit Service, failed to pay more than $100,000 in taxes and fees between 1997 and 2000. The papers include liens from the Michigan Treasury Department, the state Unemployment Agency, and the IRS," Jake Neher reports.

Striking Detroit workers suspended and face firing

Thirty-four striking Detroit employees of the water and sewage department who went on strike this week have been suspended and face firing. It's illegal in Michigan for municipal workers to strike. Sarah Cwiek reports that, "City officials plan to largely privatize the water department over five years, and cut up to 80-percent of its staff."

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

More than 60 union workers at Grand Rapids Gravel Company are beginning their third week on strike over a proposed wage cut. Now the private company has security to protect replacement workers and equipment.

About a dozen union workers glare at a replacement worker hauling a load of gravel out of the pits they usually work in. One security guard video tapes us talking as the hauler leaves the pits.

user Waldszenen / wikimedia commons

More than 200 American Red Cross workers in Michigan went on strike this morning.

Staff members represented by the Office and Professional Employees International Union Local 459 and Teamsters Local 580 walked out because of a dispute over health care benefits.

The strike affects blood collection centers in Kalamazoo, Jackson, Lansing, Flint and parts of northern Michigan.

Monica Stoneking is communications manager for the Great Lakes Region of the American Red Cross.

She says the strike will impact an already-low blood supply.

"That's about 700 units of blood every day that the Great Lakes region needs to collect," Stoneking says. "And if our staff members are on strike, we are limited as to the  number of blood drives we are able to hold."

Stoneking says blood donations are also lower because fewer people donated during Michigan's recent nice weather, because students have been been on spring break.

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Once again American Red Cross workers are poised to strike in Michigan.

The strike could affect 65 counties in Michigan.

Ten days ago, two unions gave notice of their intention to strike against the American Red Cross Great Lakes Blood Services Region. It would be the third job action in the last two years.

The union members have been working without a contract for the past four years. The two sides remain far apart on several issues.

Monica Stoneking is a Red Cross spokeswoman. She says the Great Lakes Blood Services Region must collect 700 units of blood a day to meet demand.

“If we have less blood drives being held…then that’s going to further impact our blood supply… and it’s already at a low level," says Stoneking.

Stoneking says if a strike takes place they will have to import blood from other Red Cross regions to meet the need.

Photo courtesy of KidRock.com

An unlikely musical guest will headline a one-night-only concert in May to benefit the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.

Michigan musician and rapper Kid Rock will headline the fundraising concert. The goal is to raise $1 million for the DSO; the orchestra faces a deficit of more than a $2 million this year.

Kid Rock will share the stage with his own Twisted Brown Trucker band and the DSO. They’ll play orchestral arrangements of some of Kid Rock’s hits, with DSO music director Leonard Slatkin conducting.

© GM Company

UAW members in Lansing voted this week to authorize a strike at a General Motors plant.  

Local 602 reported tonight that 86 percent of its members voted to authorize a strike at GM'S Lansing Delta Township plant.

Union leaders say they hope the vote will encourage both sides back to the bargaining table.

The union and GM have been unable to reach an agreement on several workplace issues.

The plant produces the Chevrolet Traverse, GMC Acadia and Buick Enclave.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Workers at the American Red Cross Mid-Michigan chapter are on the picket line, after a strike deadline passed without a deal.

Red Cross spokeswoman Monica Stoneking says the strike will drastically reduce blood collection efforts in 65 Michigan counties:

"In the Great Lakes region alone, we need to collect about 700 units of blood every day to meet the hospital needs and the needs of the patients we serve, and not being able to collect those blood products really puts our blood supply in jeopardy," said Stoneking.

Stoneking hopes negotiations will resolve the standoff soon.

"We're preparing for at least ten days," said Stoneking. "We're calling on other regions that aren’t affected by the union to increase our blood collection so that our national blood supply is healthy."

The strike affects about 280 nurses and staff who handle blood. They’ve been working without a contract since 2008.

Union officials say the two sides are far apart on many issues.

Talks are scheduled to resume September 17.

Andrew Kuhn / Central Michigan Life

The administration and faculty of Central Michigan University have been unable to negotiate a contract. Tenure and tenure track faculty called for a stoppage and didn’t attend the first day of classes. But then a judge yesterday ordered tenured and tenure track faculty back to the classroom after ruling their strike illegal.

In today's Newsmaker interview we talk with Laura Frey, Faculty Association President.

Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

The musicians of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra have agreed to return to work after a six-month strike.

They ratified the $34.3 million, three-year contract this afternoon. The deal includes an initial 25% pay cut for the musicians the first year. Starting musicians used to earn $104, 650 their first year; they'll earn $79,000 under the new contract.

There’s an additional $2 million pot of money which management will use to pay musicians for optional community outreach work and educational programs that include teaching, coaching and chamber music.

Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

The Detroit Symphony Orchestra musicians returned to the stage today for a rehearsal - their first since they went on strike last October.

The orchestra is rehearsing for two concerts this weekend, both of which sold out almost instantly. Leonard Slatkin, the DSO’s music director, says it helped that the tickets were free. He says "the real test is going to come next season when we try to see if we can sustain the positive energy that's been a result of this settlement."

Leonard Slatkin, who was uncharacteristically quiet during the strike, says he’s very excited to be back. He says as the DSO moves forward, it will have a bigger and stronger presence not only in Detroit, but in the suburbs, too:

"Another plus of the strike is more people that didn’t know about us, know about us! We were in the news all the time, and we need to capitalize on that. An orchestra is an institution that only appeals to a relatively small percentage of a given population in any city; now we at least have a recognizable name."

Slatkin says people will begin to the see the "hand-print" of what the new model for the orchestra will be as we move into the Spring season, and he says "no decisions will be taken without the complete consent of the orchestra."

Mumu Entertainment / Flickr

Rehearsals are scheduled this morning for musicians at the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. The DSO musicians ended their six-month strike earlier this week after they reached a tentative agreement on a new contract with DSO management.

The Symphony's first post-strike concert is scheduled for Saturday night. From the Associated Press:

The dispute was over how deep a pay cut the musicians would have to take to help the struggling symphony balance its budget. The musicians were offering to accept a 22 percent cut, while management sought and then imposed a 33 percent cut.

In an announcement on the DSO's website, DSO Music Director Leonard Slatkin said:

“As we return to our home, I’m confident that the artistic product will continue at the highest possible level. There is much to be done but the DSO will emerge a healthier and stronger institution."

While historians debate just when and why Detroit began to decline, it’s much easier to say what its high point was: July 28, 1951. That was the official 250th anniversary of Detroit’s founding, and the city was at its peak.

Detroit had nearly two million people. It was rich, vibrant and strong. President Harry Truman came all the way from Washington to speak - a rare occurrence then - and the city then celebrated with a five-hour long parade. And there was other good news, too.

"The Detroit Symphony Orchestra was being revived. Founded when the city had less than two hundred thousand people, it had been disbanded during the Great Depression. But now it was back, and on October 18th, it thrilled fans with its first concert."

Everybody knew then that to be a truly world-class city, you had to have a world-class symphony orchestra.

Back in the jazz age, Detroit had one of the nation’s best orchestras. They had been the first orchestra to have a concert broadcast on the radio. They were regulars at Carnegie Hall. And for eight years, they were broadcast regularly to a nationwide audience.

Then hard times came, and people forgot how important a symphony is for a while. Some people evidently lost sight of that again last year, when the symphony’s season was destroyed by a six-month long strike caused by money problems.

The symphony has huge debts, big deficits, and a shrinking donor base. Everyone agreed the musicians had to take a massive pay cut, but the question was, how massive?

While I am not an expert on cultural economics, it is clear that neither side did much to help their public image during the work stoppage, and management’s handling of public relations was especially bad, as one board member admitted to me.

ZUU Mumu Entertainment / Flickr

Update 6:36 a.m.:

From the AP: Musicians' spokesman Greg Bowens says the tentative agreement was reached late Sunday. He says musicians will vote this week on whether to ratify the deal.

6:27 a.m.:

The Detroit Symphony Orchestra says a tentative agreement has been reached with striking musicians that could resolve a six-month strike, the Associated Press reports. From the AP:

Management spokeswoman Elizabeth Weigandt tells The Associated Press in an e-mail Monday morning that details of the agreement reached following talks over the weekend weren't being immediately released.

A message seeking comment was left with musicians spokesman Greg Bowens... Musicians had said they were given a deadline of last Friday to settle the strike or face losing the summer performance season and jeopardizing the fall season.

Musicians have been on strike since October 2010.

MaxiuB / creative commons

The Detroit Symphony Orchestra board gave management and its striking musicians until today to reach an agreement in order to avoid canceling the orchestra's summer season.

But according to a DSO press release issued at 5:37 p.m. today, the two sides will continue talks through the weekend:

Conversations with the Musician's leadership via phone and email have been robust this entire week.  TheDSO agreed to get together to work through the remaining issues as soon as acceptance of terms proposed by one of our intermediaries had been acknowledged by both parties.  The DSO agreed to these terms on Monday.  The DSO learned this afternoon that the musicians have accepted this framework as well and we will be scheduling a face-to-face meeting this weekend to resolve all other remaining issues.  A decision regarding our summer season is on hold pending the outcome of these meetings. 

Earlier this afternoon we spoke to Greg Bowens, the musicians' spokesperson. He said the head of the United Auto Workers and the AFL-CIO have shown their support for the striking musicians:

"The longer that things delay, the more national attention and pressure is put on the DSO to settle this situation."

The current $34-million, 3-year contract under negotiation is similar to a proposal musicians rejected back in February.

A state law that would require punishment for Michigan teachers who go on strike appears to be on a fast-track in the state legislature, Steve Carmody reports. Republican State Representative Bill Rogers has authored one of two bills that would require a two year license suspension and a large daily fine for striking teachers. Carmody reports:

Rogers expects the anti-teacher strike bills will move quickly through the legislature and may reach the governor's desk before a possible statewide teachers' strike next month. The state's largest teachers' union is mulling possible job actions, including teacher walk-outs, to protest cuts in school funding and other issues.

A press release on Rep. Rogers' website explains the rationale behind the measures:

Teacher strikes put the education of students and teachers' jobs at risk and have recently been encouraged by Michigan Education Association (MEA) President Iris Salters. Striking is illegal in Michigan, although penalties for doing so are hard to enforce.

House Bill 4466... will fine the Michigan Education Association $5,000 per teacher for each full or partial day that public school employees are engaged in a strike or strike like activities. The bill also orders employees to pay a fine in the amount equal to one day of pay for every day or partial day in which an employee participates in a strike...

House Bill 4465... requires that state superintendents suspend a teacher's license for a period of two years or permanently revoke their license, if caught breaking existing strike laws.

"This legislation discourages teachers from striking by putting teeth into the current strike law," said Rogers, R-Brighton. "We need to put the focus back onto educating our children. Children are the ones who suffer from teacher strikes and this legislation makes sure those who choose to participate face consequences for their actions."

Governor Snyder says he hopes teachers won’t authorize their union to call a statewide strike in response to his budget plans. Snyder proposed a $470 per-pupil-cut in state education spending earlier this year.

State lawmakers are on a Spring break until April 11th.

Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

The Detroit Symphony Orchestra musicians strike is now in its 26th week and the remainder of the season has been canceled.

The New York Philharmonic, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, and many other orchestras around the country have announced their 2011-12 orchestra season, and tickets are already on sale.

The Detroit Symphony Orchestra has not been able to announce its upcoming season because of the current musicians' strike.

Mark Clague says that’s too bad because season subscriptions are an orchestra’s bread and butter.

Nate Luzod / creative commons

Detroit Symphony Orchestra musicians said last week they would return to the stage if management agreed to binding arbitration. But management has yet to agree…so the musicians are still on strike.

Roland Zullo is a labor specialist at the University of Michigan. He says binding arbitration is all about persuasion; which side can best convince a panel of the merits of their bargaining proposals:

"If management looked at their proposal carefully, weighed it against what’s happening elsewhere in the industry and saw that they were on weak ground, they might refuse arbitration."

Zullo says it would "be good for the public" for management to accept binding arbitration "and get the Detroit Symphony Orchestra back up and operating again."

In a statement, a DSO spokeswoman said management proposed several ways to return the musicians to work.

Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

Earlier this week, the DSO striking musicians say they’re willing to come back to work without a contract if management agrees to binding arbitration.

Greg Bowens is a spokesman for the musicians:

"It was a very difficult, gut-wrenching decision.  Something we would have thought was un-thinkable a week ago today. They are trying to extend the hand of friendship in an effort to end the strike under the conditions management had previously imposed."

On today's Artpod, we'll look at what kind of role social media played during the five month labor dispute between the two sides.

screen shot / DSO facebook fan page

As the fight between Detroit Symphony Orchestra management and musicians drags on for the fourth month, another fight of sorts is playing out on facebook.

Before the strike vs. now

The DSO  facebook fan page used to function like a typical fan page - stories about visiting conductors, upcoming concerts, and news about the orchestra’s Tiny Tots series.

But as the strike progressed, management has turned the DSO facebook fan page into a strike-update page, posting about negotiations and contract proposals. (The Detroit Symphony Orchestra musicians have their own facebook page and post their viewpoints there.)

Some, like DSO Executive director Anne Parsons, describe the DSO facebook fan page as "a pretty active place to be." DSO conductor Leonard Slatkin commented on the page's level of "vitriol" at one point in a Detroit News Article.

Nate Luzod / Creative Commons

Now that the striking Detroit Symphony Orchestra musicians have rejected management’s final proposal, many are wondering: What’s next for the organization?

Management 'suspended' the orchestra's current season, and doubts are swirling around the 2011-12 season.

Detroit Symphony Orchestra musicians
Nate Luzod / creative commons

Governor Jennifer Granholm and U.S. Senator Carl Levin issued a joint letter Thursday detailing the framework for a possible resolution between Detroit Symphony Orchestra management and its musicians who have been on strike since October 4.

Granholm and Levin's proposal called for a 3-year deal that would cost a total of $36 million.

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.

Musicians perform
Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

The striking Detroit Symphony Orchestra musicians will play three holiday concerts outside of Orchestra Hall. The musicians have been on strike since Oct. 4, and since then have played several concerts in metro Detroit to raise awareness and money for the strike.

DSO management has cancelled concerts at Orchestra Hall through Nov. 28.

Photo Courtesy of ZUU Mumu Entertainment

Amind a continuing strike by its musicians, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra has canceled concerts through November 28th.  The Associated Press reports:

ZUU Mumu Entertainment/Creative Commons

Informal discussions have resumed between striking members of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and their managment.  In seperate statements released today, both sides said the talks are aimed at getting the

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