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Posts Tagged ‘kentucky’

In Crosshairs of Right-to-Work, Kentucky Bourbon Makers Go On Strike

Thursday, September 20th, 2018

More than 50 workers in Kentucky are on strike due to a contract dispute with Four Roses, a bourbon maker with a distillery in Lawrenceburg and a bottling plant in Cox’s Creek. Workers say Four Roses is attempting to adopt a two-tier system that would reduce the benefits for new employees of the company. Members of three different unions walked off their jobs at these sites on September 7.

The move to establish a two-tier system is especially concerning to union leaders because Kentucky became a “right to work” state in 2017, which means that workers are no longer required to pay union dues. A reduction in benefits would presumably give new Four Roses employees less incentive to support the unions financially, potentially dealing an irreparable blow to the company’s organized labor. Since the law passed, 16,000 workers in Kentucky have opted out of paying their union dues.

The unions on strike are United Food and Commercial Workers 10D, United Food and Commercial Workers 23D and Service Employees International Union/National Conference of Firemen and Oilers.

Jeffrey Royalty is the president of the UFCW Local 10D. He told In These Times that the Four Roses’ two-tier proposal is designed to “short change the next generation.” According to Royalty, “For these corporations, ‘right to work’ really means ‘right to take.’ He added that this system will destroy any organization.”

Royalty’s position was echoed by Tim Morris, the political director of Greater Louisville Central Labor Council. Morris told In These Times that the “whole premise” of two-tier system was to “create a divide in the workforce … cause animosity, drive a wedge and make workers not want to stand up and fight when others are attacked.” Morris emphasized, “The people on strike know that to help future employees, they need to stand up for workers now.”

The strike is occurring at a time when tourists are flocking to the area for this week’s Kentucky Bourbon Festival, an annual gathering that features an event at Four Roses’ distillery. Royalty says support from the community has been “outstanding” and that many people have dropped off food and ponchos to the picketing workers.

Four Roses, which has existed since 1888 and was purchased by Japan’s Kirin Company in 2002, said in a statement regarding the strike, “A claim that we are proposing a ‘two-tier’ sick leave policy that discriminates against new hires is not true. We agree that the new hires would not receive the same sick leave benefits as current employees, but we believe the new hires’ program is better, not worse.”

Kentucky’s Supreme Court is currently considering a lawsuit launched by unions over the state’s “right to work” law. The unions are arguing that the law was passed in violation of the Kentucky Constitution. The “right to work” law was swiftly passed by the state’s GOP-controlled legislature and not put up for a popular vote. 

“It’s really not ‘right to work,’ it’s a right for employees to not pay their fair share for the costs of union representation,” Irwin Cutler, the attorney arguing the lawsuit, has argued. “What we see here is an effort to destroy unions, to weaken unions.”

Four Roses and the striking workers are slated to resume negotiations on September 21.

This article was originally published at In These Times on September 20, 2018. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Michael Arria covers labor and social movements.

Kentucky lawmakers put decisions on black lung treatments in hands of industry-paid doctors

Monday, April 9th, 2018

The political assault on science in the age of Trump has reached a point where even medical specialties are rising up in protest. Radiologists are fighting back against a new Kentucky law that excludes them from the black lung claims process for coal miners in the state.

Under the new legislation, if a miner files a black lung claim with the state, only a federally licensed pulmonologist can review the X-rays and ultimately make a diagnosis. Previously, radiologists could offer a diagnosis as well.

The legislation, part of a larger workers’ compensation bill signed into law by Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin (R) on March 30, is expected to make it more difficult for coal miners stricken with black lung disease to receive benefits for treating their disease and living with black lung. The workers’ compensation bill was supported by the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce and the Kentucky Coal Association. Labor groups strongly opposed it.

The American College of Radiology, a national organization representing more than 38,000 radiologists, said it is troubled that Kentucky lawmakers stepped in to determine who is qualified to read the X-rays of coal miners seeking compensation for black lung disease. A process is already in place to determine whether a physician is qualified to review black lung cases, the group said.

“To have that established process superseded by legislators and a political process is inappropriate,” American College of Radiology Chief Executive Officer William Thorwarth Jr. M.D., said in a statement emailed to ThinkProgress on Monday.

Thorwarth emphasized that politics should be left out of the black lung claims process. “We hope that the Kentucky legislature will rescind this new law and work with medical providers to save more lives,” he said.

Phillip Wheeler, an attorney in Pikeville, Kentucky who represents coal miners seeking state black lung benefits, said it’s possible the new law could be overturned on appeal. The law applies the rule only to workers who file claims for black lung and not workers in other industries who file benefit claims, Wheeler said Monday in an interview with ThinkProgress.

An appeals court could find that the law violates the constitutional guarantee of equal protection under the law by limiting the type of doctors who can be used in black lung cases, while workers in other occupations aren’t subjected to the same limits when they apply for worker’s compensation benefits.

The new law also could prove problematic because it drastically reduces the number of physicians in Kentucky permitted to read the chest X-rays when coal miners file a black lung claim, Wheeler said. Six doctors in Kentucky will now be eligible to conduct the exams, according to an NPR review of federal black lung cases. At least half of them “have collected hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars form the coal industry over the last 25 to 30 years,” Wheeler said.

“The three primary doctors that will be doing most of these exams have shown a distinct bias against coal miners through the years,” he said.

Physicians who read chest X-rays for work-related diseases like black lung — also called coal workers’ pneumoconiosis — are known as “B readers” and are certified by National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health for both federal and state compensation claims. B readers do not specifically have to be pulmonologists or radiologists, though they can be both.

Black lung is common term for several respiratory diseases that share a single cause: breathing in coal mine dust. Over time, black lung disease causes a person’s lungs to become coated in the black particulates that miners inhaled during their time in the mines. Their passageways are marked by dark scars and hard nodules.

The Kentucky Coal Association “basically drafted the legislation,” Wheeler said, explaining why the new law will likely make it more difficult for miners to win black lung claims cases.

The new Kentucky law coincides with the Trump administration’s decision to examine whether it should weaken rules aimed at fighting black lung among coal miners, a move the administration says could create a “less burdensome” regulatory environment for coal companies.

President Donald Trump pledged to end the so-called war on coal but has thus far done nothing to help coal miners who have spent years working in mines win black lung benefits.

Likewise, Kentucky lawmakers are showing a preference for industry profits over occupational health. Evan Smith, an attorney at the Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center in Kentucky, said in a tweet that the new law will keep the state’s coal miners from using “highly qualified and reliable experts to prove their state black lung claims.”

The law “looks like just another step in the race to the bottom to gut worker protections,” Smith said.

Black lung has made a comeback in recent years. The disease now sickens about one in 14 underground miners with more than 25 years’ experience who submit to voluntary checkups, according to a recent study, a rate nearly double that from the disease’s lowest point from 1995 to 1999.

Kentucky is one of the states that has witnessed the resurgence in the most advanced form of black lung disease, which is debilitating and deadly.

Lawmakers included the provision in the new worker compensation law even though radiologists are considered to be the most qualified among doctors certified to diagnose black lung disease.

State Rep. Adam Koenig, a Republican who represents a district in northern Kentucky, sponsored the legislation. He told NPR that, when writing the law, he relied on the expertise of those who understand the issue — “the industry, coal companies and attorneys.”

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on April 9, 2018. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Mark Hand is a climate and environment reporter at ThinkProgress. Send him tips at mhand@americanprogress.org

Teacher strikes close schools across Oklahoma and Kentucky

Monday, April 2nd, 2018

The red-state teachers rebellion that started in West Virginia continues to grow, with teachers in Kentucky and Oklahoma walking out on Monday after the Kentucky teachers shut down schools in nearly two dozen counties on Friday. In Oklahoma, dozens of school districts have announced closures for Monday, and many Kentucky schools are closed as well.

The Kentucky teachers are protesting a sudden retirement overhaul, while Oklahoma teachers are fighting for increased investment in their schools even after lawmakers voted them a substantial pay increase.

This package does not overcome a shortfall that has caused four-day weeks and overcrowded classrooms that deprive kids of the one-on-one attention they need,” Oklahoma Education Association President Alicia Priest said in a video posted on Facebook. “We must keep fighting for everything our students deserve.”

Arizona teachers, too, are calling both for pay raises and for increased education funding—and planning to take action if they don’t see improvements. Music teacher Noah Karvelis told NPR that he often has 40 students in a classroom with just seven pianos, and “The math just doesn’t add up. There’s no way to reach those kids. Every day you’re going home and you’re just feeling like, I failed. I failed these students. And that’s honestly the worst possible feeling any teacher could ever have.”

There’s a simple explanation for the education underfunding:

  • Arizona cut personal income tax rates by 10 percent in 2006, cut corporate tax rates by 30 percent in 2011, reduced taxes on capital gains, and reduced taxes in other ways over the last couple of decades.
  • Oklahoma cut personal income tax rates starting in 2004. The top income tax rate fell from 6.65 percent to 5 percent, with the latest drop taking effect in 2016 even as the state faced a $1 billion shortfall. Oklahoma also substantially reduced its severance tax on oil and gas, increased tax exemptions for retirement and military income, exempted capital gains income from taxation, and abolished the estate tax.

Disrespect for teachers is certainly at play in Republican-controlled states that pay salaries that leave teachers working second, third, and even sixth jobs, but it’s not just that. It’s also disrespect for students combined with short-term thinking that will harm people and economies. But hey, rich people will have really low taxes.

And that’s why teachers are fighting.

This blog was originally published at Daily Kos on April 2, 2018. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at Daily Kos.

What You Need To Know About The Michigan GOP’s ‘Right-To-Work’ Assault On Workers

Monday, December 10th, 2012

On Thursday, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) backtrackedon his commitment to avoid so-called “right-to-work” legislation and by the end of the day, both the Michigan House of Representatives and the Michigan state Senate had introduced and passed separate bills aimed at the state’s union workforce.

Michigan Republicans claim the state needs the measure to stay competitive with Indiana, where lawmakers passed “right-to-work” last year. In reality, though, such laws have negative effects on workers and little effect on economic growth. Here is what you need to know about the state GOP’s campaign:

THE LEGISLATION: Both the state House and state Senate passed legislation on Thursday that prohibits private sector unions from requiring members to pay dues. The Senate followed suit and passed a different but similar measure that extends the same prohibition for public sector unions, though firefighters and police officers are exempt. The state House included a budget appropriations provision that is intended to prevent the state’s voters from being able to legally challenge the law through a ballot referendum. Due to state law, both houses are prevented from voting on legislation passed by the other for five days, so neither will be able to fully pass the legislation until Tuesday at the earliest.

THE PROCESS: Union leaders and Democrats claim that Republicans are pushing the legislation through in the lame-duck session to hide the intent of the measures from citizens, and because the legislation would face more trouble after the new House convenes in January. Michigan Republicans hold a 63-47 advantage in the state House, but Democrats narrowed the GOP majority to just eight seats in November. Six Republicans opposed the House measure; five of them won re-election in 2012 (the sixth retired). And Michigan Republicans have good reason to pursue the laws without public debate. Though the state’s voters are evenly split on whether it should become a right-to-work state, 78 percent of voters said the legislature “should focus on issues like creating jobs and improving education, and not changing state laws or rules that would impact unions or make further changes in collective bargaining.”

THE CONSEQUENCES: While Snyder and Republicans pitched “right-to-work” as a pro-worker move aimed at improving the economy, studies show such legislation can cost workers money. The Economic Policy Institute found that right-to-work laws cost all workers, union and otherwise, $1,500 a year in wages and that they make it harder for workers to obtain pensions and health coverage. “If benefits coverage in non-right-to-work states were lowered to the levels of states with these laws, 2 million fewer workers would receive health insurance and 3.8 million fewer workers would receive pensions nationwide,” David Madland and Karla Walter from the Center for American Progress wrote earlier this year. The decreases in union membership that result from right-to-work laws have a significant impact on the middle class and research “shows that there is no relationship between right-to-work laws and state unemployment rates, state per capita income, or state job growth,” EPI wrote in a recent report about Michigan. “Right-to-work” laws also decrease worker safety and can hurt small businesses.

Union leaders are, of course, aghast at Snyder and the GOP’s right-to-work push. “In a state that gave birth to the modern U.S. labor movement, it is unconscionable that Michigan legislators would seek to drive down living standards for Michigan workers and families with a law that will do nothing to improve either the state’s economic climate or the quality of life for Michigan residents,” RoseAnn DeMoro, the executive director of National Nurses United, said in a statement.

This post was originally posted on December 7, 2012 on Think Progress. Reprinted with Permission.

About the Author: Travis Waldron is is a reporter/blogger for ThinkProgress.org at the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Travis grew up in Louisville, Kentucky, and holds a BA in journalism and political science from the University of Kentucky. Before coming to ThinkProgress, he worked as a press aide at the Health Information Center and as a staffer on Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway’s 2010 Senate campaign. He also interned at National Journal’s Hotline and was a sports writer and political columnist at the Kentucky Kernel, the University of Kentucky’s daily student newspaper.

"Wal-Mart is Not a Feudal Manor"

Friday, November 30th, 2012

The manager at the Southside Walmart in Paducah, Ky., might have figured he’d quashed the protest at his store.

After all, he made James Vetato and three other OUR Walmart picketers leave from near the front door.

The quartet retreated, but to regroup at the entrance road to the busy shopping center the Walmart store anchors.

They redeployed under a big blue and white Walmart sign and held up hand-lettered placards reading, “ON STRIKE FOR THE FREEDOM TO SPEAK OUT,” “RESPECT ASSOCIATES DON’T SILENCE ASSOCIATES,” “ULP [unfair labor practice] STRIKE” and “WALMART STOP BULLYING ASSOCIATES WHO SPEAK OUT.”

Vetato, his wife, Trina, Rick Thompson and Amber Frazee were among many members of Organization United For Respect at Walmart — “OUR Walmart” for short — who struck and walked picket lines at stores in a reported 100 cities and towns in 46 states on Thanksgiving night and on Black Friday, the busiest shopping day of the year.

The group, which numbers thousands of current and past Walmart employees across the country, wanted to focus national attention on Walmart’s abuse of its workers, Vetato said.

The world’s richest retailer, Walmart is known for paying low wages to its employees, called “associates.” In addition, Walmart is fiercely anti-union.

Said Trina Vetato:

“People honked and waved to show their support, and they slowed down to read the signs. Some people stopped and told us they supported what we were doing.”

Vetato works at the Southside store. Her husband did, too, until he said management drove him to quit.

Frazee is employed at another Walmart in historic Paducah, where the Tennessee and Ohio rivers merge. She and Vetato expect retaliation from Walmart management.

“They said that there will be consequences,” Vetato said. “I’ll probably get fired or put on suspension or something. But it’s well worth it to me.”

Frazee agreed. “All we want is respect,” she said.

The Vetatos, Frazee and Thompson handed out leaflets explaining, “We are the life-blood of Walmart, yet we are not always treated with respect.”

Some of the literature outlined a “Declaration of Respect,” which nearly 100 OUR Walmart members, including James Vetato, delivered to Walmart’s top management at company headquarters in Bentonville, Ark.

The declaration calls on Wal-Mart management to

— Listen to associates.

— Respect associates and recognize their right to free association and free speech.

— Allow associates to challenge working conditions without fear of retribution.

— Pay a minimum of $13 an hour and make full-time jobs available for associates who want them.

— Create dependable and predictable work schedules.

— Provide affordable health care.

— Furnish each associate a policy manual that ensures “equal enforcement of policy and no discrimination” and affords every employee an “equal opportunity to succeed and advance in his or her career.”

The four Paducah protestors brought a cardboard box filled with OUR Walmart literature. They said management tried to keep it out of the store. Shoppers helped get it in.

“On Thanksgiving night, a community member took one of the fliers and taped it to the front of his shirt and walked through the store to get the word out to everybody,” Trina Vetato said.

Thompson, a Pittsburgh union activist, came to Paducah to join the picket line. When a member of management tried to stop him from handing out leaflets, another customer came to his aid.

Explained Thompson, a member of Vacaville, Calif.-based International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1245:

“The manager started bullying me for peacefully disseminating information, which I had the right to do. When the customer saw the manager walk away, she said ‘Give me a stack of those. I’ll take them in for you and pass them out.'”

Thompson said OUR Walmart is not trying to drive Walmart out of business. “We are not asking a single customer to turn away. We are fighting to win respect and improve working conditions for all associates.

“We want employees to have a chance to form their own association and have their own concerted actions without retaliation and unfair treatment. Walmart is not a feudal manor. The associates are not serfs. Walmart does not own every aspect of their lives.”

This post was originally posted on November 24, 2012 at Union Review. Reprinted with Permission.

About the Author: Berry Craig is a recording secretary for the Paducah-based Western Kentucky AFL-CIO Area Council and a professor of history at West Kentucky Community and Technical College, is a former daily newspaper and Associated Press columnist and currently a member of AFT Local 1360. His articles can also be featured on AFL-CIO NOW.

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