labor

Katie Myers | Ohio Valley ReSource

In the Ohio Valley, the stresses of the COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing labor shortage have encouraged workers to join what many say is a national and growing wave of labor actions.

Workers across industries, in steel, health care, nonprofits and food service, have joined in calling for increased health benefits and safety measures on the job, saying contract negotiations have yielded unsatisfying results. 

Union organizers say this is a significant moment, even for a region with a long history of industrial unionism. 

In Huntington, West Virginia, hospital workers at Cabell Huntington Hospital and steel workers at Special Metals are on strike. In Elkview, West Virginia, staff of locally beloved fast food chain Tudor’s Biscuit World are unionizing. Meanwhile, leadership of the nonprofit organization Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition recently elected to fold the organization rather than sign a union contract with its staff.

heavenhilldistillery.com

A strike at one of the world’s largest bourbon producers is entering its fourth week.

The stalemate is over a proposed contract at Heaven Hill Distillery in Bardstown.

United Food and Commercial Workers Local 23D rejected the proposed five-year contract offered by Heaven Hill Distillery based in large part on concerns about possible expanded weekend shifts.  

The walkout involves about 420 members of the union. 

The Bardstown distillery signaled that it wanted to assign new hires to nontraditional schedules that would include weekend work, but the union is concerned about how those shifts would be covered if new employees are not available. 


Creative Commons

Kentucky’s economy has largely weathered the coronavirus pandemic so far, though the number of people working is still far below pre-virus levels and the Delta variant threatens to cause more problems.

The state’s unemployment rate in June—the last month available—was 4.4%, far below the national rate of 5.9%.

But University of Kentucky economics professor Michael Clark says the unemployment rate doesn’t account for people who aren’t looking for work and have dropped out of the labor force.

And he says some workers still aren’t rejoining the labor force for a range of reasons like feeling unsafe at work, inability to get childcare and soon-to-expire enhanced unemployment benefits.

Sydney Boles | Ohio Valley ReSource

It’s a quiet, foggy morning on Highway 119 in Cumberland, Kentucky. A railroad track runs along the highway, and here, Sand Hill Bottom Road crosses the tracks and turns to the right, leaving a rough triangle of gravel spattered with trash. 

You can hear crickets chirping, birds twittering, cars passing on 119. A billboard advertises Portal 31, a coal town tourist attraction. 

If you didn’t know any better, you’d think this was just a nondescript intersection in a nondescript bit of highway. But one year ago, this intersection played host to a two-month long protest of a kind that hadn’t been seen in coal country for decades.

 


Sergio Martinez-Beltran | WPLN

Members of the United Auto Workers union in Spring Hill cited the future of temporary workers at General Motors as a main reason why many of them voted against a deal meant to end the weeks-long strike with the automaker.

The Spring Hill local has rejected the proposal 51% to 49%, in one of the first votes on the contract nationwide.

Beth Bigley, 44, has been in the picket line for the last six weeks. She voted against the tentative agreement presented on Monday, mostly because she feels temporary workers are still not getting what they deserve.

Autoworkers From Closed Plants Fight New GM Contract

Oct 22, 2019
Lisa Autry

If they can close our plant, they can close yours, too.

That's the message from workers at three shuttered General Motors factories that didn't get new products under the tentative contract agreement reached last week between GM and the United Auto Workers, who have been on strike against the company across the U.S. for over six weeks now.

About 2,000 employees who once worked at GM transmission plants near Baltimore and Detroit and a small-car assembly plant in Lordstown, Ohio, will repeat that message this week as 49,000 union members vote on the new four-year deal.

Approval could end the walkout that has crippled GM's production and cost the company an estimated $2 billion.

GM Workers to Stay On Picket Line Until Vote on New Contract

Oct 18, 2019
Lisa Autry

Striking General Motors workers will stay on the picket lines for at least another week until they vote on a tentative contract with the company.

Factory-level officials from the United Auto Workers union voted to recommend the agreement to members at a daylong meeting in Detroit Thursday. But they also voted not to return to factories unless members approve the deal.

About 49,000 workers have been on strike for more than a month, paralyzing GM's U.S. factories and costing the company an estimated $2 billion.

Updated at 5:10 p.m. ET Monday

Talks between General Motors and union officials representing tens of thousands of striking autoworkers restarted Monday in hopes of driving both sides to an agreement on issues including workers' wages, health care and profit-sharing.

After several hours, union officials representing nearly 50,000 workers acknowledge negotiations remain in neutral.

On Labor Day, Miners Mark Historic Union March

Sep 3, 2019
Emily Allen

Ninety-eight years ago, thousands of pro-union miners marched toward West Virginia’s Logan County, to protest abuses by coal operators in what was then a largely anti-union territory.

The marchers were met at Blair Mountain in Logan County by an army of men, fighting on behalf of anti-union mine guards and local law enforcement. The battle was so heated that then-president Warren Harding called in Army troops to restore order.


Amina Elahi

Union leaders responded Monday morning to Mayor Greg Fischer’s request that workers agree to a pay freeze in the next fiscal year, as Louisville tries to figure out how to plug a $35 million budget hole.

They said the requested “true zero” wage increase is unacceptable, but they don’t blame the mayor for asking.

The union leaders instead placed blame on the Metro Council members who voted against a tax increase last month that would have helped offset the shortfall that the administration says is driven by rising employee health care and pension costs. That decision leaves the city to find savings in its next budget. This year’s general fund is $626 million.

Wikimedia Commons

The Kentucky House of Representatives has passed a bill that would once again allow employers to force employees to sign arbitration agreements as a condition of employment.

Kentucky is currently the only state in the country that doesn’t allow employers to impose the agreements, which require employees to settle disputes privately instead of suing in court.

Rep. Angie Hatton, a Democrat from Whitesburg, said that the bill erodes the constitutional rights of employees.

J. Tyler Franklin

Amazon employee Andre Woodson made his way among yellow bins traveling through a vast warehouse filled with boxes and envelopes to be packed, sorted and shipped. In Amazon-speak, this is a “fulfillment center.”

“Our Jeffersonville, Indiana, fulfillment center is about 1.2 million square feet, which is equivalent to about 28 football fields,” Woodson explained.

About 2,500 people work here. But looking out across the floor it’s sometimes hard to find a human among the boxes, bins and conveyor belts. Often they’re working closely with the machinery. At a packing station an employee is surrounded by boxes and envelopes of different sizes.


Becca Schimmel

New data shows Kentucky is seeing an increase in counties that have more workers than available jobs. The U.S. Department of Labor report shows most of the Kentucky counties with a high labor surplus are in the more rural parts of the state.

The DOL issues the report at the beginning of every federal fiscal year. To be designated as one of these areas, a city or county has to have an average unemployment rate of 20 percent or more above the national rate for the past two calendar years.

Rhonda J. Miller

A $1 million grant awarded to the Kentucky Labor Cabinet is aimed at increasing the amount of registered apprenticeships throughout the state.

The purpose of this new funding is to help the state establish relationships with third-party organizations and connect apprentices with employers. The grant will also allow the Labor Cabinet to compensate businesses for expenses related to the required training and diversify the pool of apprentices in Kentucky.

Wikimedia Commons Corey Coyle

While exact statistics are unknown, it’s estimated that about 60 percent of farmworkers in the United States are undocumented immigrants. But amid growing labor shortages in large agricultural states and President Donald Trump’s promise to assemble a “deportation task force,” farmers nationwide have voiced concerns that stricter immigration laws could break the backbone of America’s agricultural economy.

For that reason, proposed legislation called the Agricultural Worker Program Act, now widely referred to as the “Blue Card Act,” has garnered a lot of national media attention of late.

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