In Conversation

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Kentucky’s unions, labor laws, worker safety and the plight of the coal industry were among topics of discussion on this week’s In Conversation.

Today’s guests were:

The AFL-CIO’s Bill Londrigan spoke about the benefits of labor union membership and the various services his union provides. Londrigan said some unions are seeing sharp gains in membership among younger workers.

“They realize their options to improve their situation at work are very limited, and their only option to improving it is through collective bargaining and organizing together,” Londrigan said.

Professor Ariana Levinson says it’s too early to make any judgements on whether Kentucky’s “right-to-work” law, enacted in 2017 is causing fewer workers to join unions.  The law prohibits companies from requiring worker to pay union fees as a condition of employment.

“But we can see that the number of people represented by unions has decreased significantly more than the ones that belong to unions,” Levinson said. “Which tends to support [the] assertion that people are not opting out of membership but what is happening is that union jobs are being lost by plant closures or moving abroad or other economic circumstances.”

Erica Peterson | wfpl.org

From left to right, In Conversation host Rick Howlett, Bill Londrigan of the Kentucky State AFL-CIO and U of L labor law professor Ariana Levinson.

Eleanor Klibanoff with the Kentucky Center for Investigative reporting spoke about her work investigating workers safety issues in the commonwealth. Her series, “Fatal Flaws”, found that Kentucky’s state worker safety agency failed to hold employers accountable for worker deaths. She talked about her follow-up reporting, including “a lot of promises made” by new leadership in the Labor Cabinet that changes were coming.

Sydney Boles with the Ohio Valley ReSource joined us from Whitesburg, Kentucky, where she has been reporting on the coal industry, and the recent bankruptcy of Blackjewel Coal that has left miners owed back pay and scrambling to pay bills. Some of them have blockaded a railroad line for nearly three weeks, demanding their compensation. Boles says “energy is waning a bit” at the site, but the “anger and frustration that spurred the protest remains really strong, I think.”

Join us next week for In Conversation as we discuss the pending purchase of Jewish Hospital by the University of Louisville.

Rick Howlett is WFPL's Broadcast Editor and also produces feature and general assignment radio stories.