Illinois Public Media News
(With additional reporting from The Associated Press)
Ford union autoworkers have approved a new four-year contract that's expected to bring 2,000 jobs to the Chicago region.
At first, it didn't seem like a slam dunk deal. Many workers complained the new contract reinforced an unfair two-tier payment system with part time workers doing the same work as full-timers and getting paid substantially less. The new contract included profit-sharing in lieu of pay raises, and many living in expensive metropolitan areas like Chicago wanted a cost of living pay increase.
Chicago's union workers were so against the contract that 77 percent of the South Side assembly plant voted against it last week; 70 percent at the Chicago Heights stamping plant did the same.
But as big 'yes' votes came in over the weekend from major facilities in Michigan and Kansas City, the scales began to tip tellingly in favor of the contract. Workers in Louisville, Ky., approved the agreement Tuesday, according to a post on the Louisville local's Facebook page. That was the last large local to vote, and it ensures the agreement will go into effect.
A final tally was not immediately available from the UAW Wednesday morning.
Richard Hurd, Professor of Labor Studies at Cornell University, said he's not surprised at all in the variation between plants on the vote. He said typically in votes for or against a contract, a local union leader holds a lot of sway.
Regarding the case of the Chicago plants' rejection, he thought it could go deeper.
"It could be that there are tensions in the facility and the vote reflects things other than the workers particular view towards the terms of the agreement. There may be bad relations between the current plant manager and workers, or between supervisors and workers. So workers less happy with situation will be more likely to vote against a contract," Hurd said.
The UAW represents approximately 41,000 hourly and salaried workers across 27 Ford manufacturing and assembling facilities in the United States. Now that the vote is in, the new four-year contract will begin moving forward. According to a UAW press release, it includes adding 5,750 new UAW jobs.
"These new UAW jobs mean more than 12,000 new jobs in total with jobs previously announced by Ford," said UAW President Bob King.
Chicago's two area plants are expected to reap 2,000 new jobs out of the deal by 2015. The agreement also promises $16 billion Ford is investing in new and upgraded vehicles and retooling plants.
A signing bonus for workers comes in at $6,000 dollars, which according to Hurd, is a big figure in these days of a depressed economy.
Now that the contract is approved, local unions will continue work on bargaining on behalf of individual plant agreements.
An expert on the operation of airports says forming a local authority with funding by local taxpayers might be one way Willard Airport can cut costs.
Jack Penning, who's with Portland-based Sixel Consulting, is laying out this and other options that don't include the University of Illinois. He made his suggestions Tuesday before the annual meeting of Champaign County's Economic Development Corporation.
Penning said Willard simply doesn't compete well with other nearby airports, largely because it doesn't involve the community, whereas Central Illinois Regional Airport in Bloomington is under the guidance of a local airport authority, and involves local property tax dollars.
"Because of that, there's a lot more community input into how the airport is run, because it's your neighbor running the airport," he said. "The airport here is run by the (U of I) Board of Trustees, which doesn't have single member from Champaign County outside of a student trustee. And so the people who use the airport, the people who live in Champaign County, really have very little say over how it's run."
Penning said in Bloomington, airlines pay about $1.50 per passenger, while they're paying more than $9 a passenger at Willard. He said the big difference is property taxes in Bloomington, as well as the U of I's wages and benefits to those who work at Willard.
Seamus Reilly co-chairs the EDC's airport committee. He said each of the consultant's suggestions offered greater possibilities for Willard.
"It's not so much that one or other governing structures is necessarily superior, but I think what came through was the fact that some of these other airports have a much stronger funding platform," Reilly said. "In other words, that they have money available and resources available to help develop the airport to move it forward."
Penning said the airport also has the option of being made part of the Champaign Urbana Mass Transit District, being operated through the Regional Planning Commission, or Willard could be operated by a private management firm. He didn't endorse one of the plans for Willard.
Penning's final report on Willard should be available for public review in about a month.
The city of Decatur is ordering the only taxi company in town to shut down over what the city manager calls violations of local codes.
The Herald & Review in Decatur reports City Manager Ryan McCrady ruled Friday that AOK Taxi used an unregistered vehicle as a taxi and failed to inform the city about changes in its fleet such as the junking of a number of cars that had fire damage.
McCrady said the loss of the taxi service would create a hardship, but he said his duty is to make sure the taxis are safe and well regulated.
AOK owner Anthony Walker said he is considering suing the city. Walker shut the company down for a while last year as he complained about city regulations.
The city of Champaign is giving people another option to pay for parking.
On Thursday, the city installed downtown parking meters that accept credit and debit card payments, in addition to coins. Patti Anderson, a management analyst with Champaign's Public Works Department, said pay stations were originally going to be set up on each block, but she said city officials decided to go a different direction.
"The customer doesn't have to walk down the block," Anderson said. "They don't have to wait in line if there are customers from other cars waiting to get their parking paid for. It's just simpler for them, and that's one of the main reasons we went with it. We think it's a convenience for the customer."
For now, 37 parking meters have been installed downtown, but Anderson said the city will review the smart meters six months from now to determine if there should be more. She said while the technology may change, parking rates will stay the same.
Patti Anderson Demonstrates How the Smart Parking Meters Work:
A spokeswoman for Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood says the former Illinois Republican congressman will leave the Obama administration at the end of the president's current term.
The spokeswoman, Jill Zuckman, said LaHood was asked about his intentions at a media luncheon Thursday. She said he gave no reason for his decision and hadn't discussed his intentions with President Barack Obama.
LaHood was congressman for 14 years until retiring in 2008, and a top aide to former House Minority Leader Bob Michel before that.
He had a reputation in Congress as a moderate who tried to foster greater cooperation between Democrats and Republicans. While those skills made LaHood an attractive Cabinet choice, he has become better known as a plain-speaking advocate for safer driving and job-creating transportation projects.
A University of Illinois official assisting in efforts to build a campus-wide bicycling culture says national recognition should serve as leverage for more improvements.
The League of American Bicyclists this week proclaimed the Urbana campus as one of six new Bicycle Friendly Universities. In the past, the organization has recognized cities and businesses for the same honor.
U of I Sustainability and Transportation Coordinator Morgan Johnston says the league used amenities like the total miles of bike lanes on campus, and the amount of parking and storage for that designation. She says the designation is exciting, but hopes to use it to make bike facilities on campus much better.
"By receiving this designation, we're really going to need more resources to get the facilities up to current standards," said Johnston. "We now know what they should be, but we still need the funding to get it done. And so I'm really hoping that we can leverage this award to be able to find the funding needed to put in the updated bicycle lanes and paths."
She says the bronze award should also allow the U of I to place bike lanes in the street, and cut down on side paths.
"By doing that reduction, we'll actually have the ability to keep the off-road paths better maintained," she said. "For example, the path that goes across the (Urbana campus) quad. The paint is fading on all of our paths, and we want to paint them as bike lanes, but with no motor vehicle lanes between them."
Johnston says she hopes to tap a sustainability fund that was in the works about a year ago through the University of Illinois Foundation. Johnston says a completed bike plan should now allow the Foundation to reach out to donors
Willard Airport at Champaign will be adding the Fort Myers Florida area to its passenger air schedule this winter.
Georgia-based Vision Airlines will be flying twice-weekly round trips between Willard Airport and the airport at Punta Gorda, Florida --- about 25 miles northwest of Fort Myers. The service will launch on December 19th, and run until the end of next March. Boeing 737 aircraft will be used for the route.
Vision Airlines Sales and Marketing Director Clay Meek says their service is aimed at leisure customers seeking a warm-weather getaway --- and he thinks the Monday and Friday flights will be a good fit for the Champaign-Urbana area.
"You're looking at 150 seats twice a week, about 300 seats a week," Meek said. "And it's falling on the proper days. So you're looking at a Monday-Friday, so people can get a very inexpensive getaway for the weekend, or midweek travel, or of course they can stay a whole week. The numbers line up that it should be successful."
Meek said their service will save passengers the trouble of connecting to flights at larger airports, and fares for the non-stop flights will be as low as $99 one way. He said Vision Airlines could consider other service to Willard Airport, if the Fort Myers/Punta Gordo flights prove popular.
Bruce Walden of the University of Illinois, which operates Willard Airport, said the new flights will be handy, not just for reaching Fort Myers, but for visiting the eastern Florida coast from Sarasota to Naples.
Illinois State Police officials are warning drivers cops will be out in full force this holiday weekend.
About 100 roadside safety checks are scheduled across the state in an effort to crack down on drunk driving. Over the past five Labor Days, 25 people have died from drunk drivers in Illinois.
Bob Park, with the state's Department of Transportation, said the number of fatalities from drunk drivers over the holiday weekend have dropped over recent decades.
"The culture has changed," Park said. "When you take a look at the statistics and you look at the death rate, I mean, having the lowest death rate sinec the 1920s, obviously what we're doing is working."
Police warn that most drunk driving incidents happen at night. Drivers caught under the influence could face jail time or have their license suspended.
A long overdue new plane from Chicago-based Boeing is one step closer to taking flight. The airplane maker got word Friday from the Federal Aviation Administration that the new Dreamliner 787 is safe and in compliance with federal regulations.
Joe Schwieterman is a professor of transportation at DePaul University.
He said the Dreamliner is the most notable new plane to come out in decades.
"This is a real milestone for Boeing," Schwieterman said. "It had lots of delays, but this shows the project has reached where it needs to go and they've got a lot of airplanes on order. I think we'll see a bit of a surge in order activity now that it's truly airworthy."
Boeing's new 787 has been delayed for a variety of reasons for the past three years. The company has more than 800 orders for the light-weight, fuel efficient airplane. A Japanese airline says it wants to start regular service with the plane on Nov.1.
Illinois drivers may soon see tollway fares nearly double, as the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority board could vote on the increase at a meeting Thursday.
The proposal would bump tolls for I-PASS users from 40 cents up to 75 cents - a nearly 86 percent increase. Drivers paying with cash would still have to shell out double the I-PASS amound, or $1.50.
The Illinois Tollway says all those extra quarters would add up to $12 billion to fund a massive, 15-year construction program. The plan calls for widening a long stretch of I-90, from near O'Hare Airport to Rockford. It would also finally allow for an interchange at the Tri-State Tollway and I-57 - two roads that cross each other, but don't connect.
For commuters, tollway officials say that would ultimately mean less time stuck in traffic. Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn, who gets to appoint tollway board members, has said he supports the increase. Supporters of the plan say it would also create much-needed construction jobs. But critics have reportedly said the toll hike is larger than what's needed to fund the road projects.
The tollway board meeting Thursday comes after several public hearings around the state. If the capital plan is approved, the hike would go into effect on the first of the year.
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