Whitney Jones

Whitney grew up listening to Car Talk to and from her family’s beach vacation each year, but it wasn’t until a friend introduced her to This American Life that radio really grabbed her attention. She is a recent graduate from Union University in Jackson, Tenn., where she studied journalism. When she’s not at WKMS, you can find her working on her backyard compost pile and garden, getting lost on her bicycle or crocheting one massive blanket.

For the first time in about a century, no union coal miners are working in Kentucky. The state’s few remaining union miners were laid off New Year’s Eve when Patriot Coal’s Highland Mine in Western Kentucky shut down, the United Mine Workers of America confirmed.

“Appalachia was always a really tough nut for the union to crack, and I think maybe Kentucky was the toughest nut of all,” said labor historian James Green, author of a new book about West Virginia’s mine wars.

In retrospect, the fight to unionize Harlan County’s Brookside mine in 1973 was one of the last stands for the union in the commonwealth, Green said. The struggle was immortalized in the Oscar-winning documentary “Harlan County, USA.”

The decline of unions is a nationwide trend that applies to organized labor of all types. In 1983, 20 percent of American workers belonged to some sort of labor union, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics notes. By 2014, that number had fallen to 11 percent.

But Green said the decline of the coal workers’ union is one of the starkest in the country.

“The steel and auto industries have managed to regroup and regain some hold,” he said. “Still, most General Motors workers are [members of the United Auto Workers union]. You can’t say that about most coal miners.”

Credit http://401kcalculator.org / Flickr (Creative Commons License)

The Kentucky Retirement Systems billed Hopkins County more than $51,000 last month for so-called pension spiking, or artificially raising employees’ wages to increase their benefits, but county officials are disputing the matter.

Hopkins County Attorney Byron Hobgood said the Kentucky Retirement System bill is for a retiree who lost wages during a long medical leave and then received a pay increase the following year when he returned to work.

Hobgood said the legislation against pension spiking shouldn’t apply to this situation.

“The evil that it was designed to prevent was where, for example, you have a person that was a state employee and that for whatever reasons they were able to inflate artificially, not because of a promotion that was bona fide or a career advancement,” he said. “They’re doing the same job at the place but yet their salary goes up a whole lot in the last 5 years so that they could get a larger pension.”

Hopkins County Treasurer Cindy Jones disputed the KRS bill but current law doesn’t allow citing unpaid medical leave and the subsequent pay increase as exceptions from pension spiking.

Ted Eytan/taedc / Flickr (Creative Commons License)

A Madisonville North Hopkins County High School transgender student is working on a petition to allow him to use the bathroom he chooses instead of the handicap one made available for those who identify as transgender.

School officials haven’t yet received the petition, but say they’ll seek legal guidance although they aren’t aware of any laws regulating bathroom use.

Meanwhile State Senator C.B. Embry filed a bill this month requiring students use the restroom corresponding to their anatomical gender.

Fairness Campaign Director Chris Hartman says the bill comes after a Louisville high school allowed a transgender girl to use the women’s restroom and locker room, which he says is the best option.

“When we force a trans student to use a private restroom, a handicap facility, what that does is it says you are so different that we don’t know how to accommodate you other than to isolate you and force you to use this restroom that’s all yours,” Hartman said.

Embry filed the bill after the Kentucky Family Foundation approached him with a draft of it.

Alliance Corporation

An Alliance coal mine in Hopkins County is set to close in early 2016 as the Elk Creek site runs out of coal. But Madisonville-Hopkins County Economic Development Corporation President Gerald Cook says the closure will likely have a minimal impact on the community.

“Some of the other areas they have ramped up and are doing well in their other locations and actually expanding in some of those areas,” he said.

Cook says the announcement was a surprise, but not unusual.

Nearly 370 people work at the Elk Creek mine.

“If those employees are transferred to some of their other operations around here, and there are a lot of operations going on around here now, if they’re transferred into the others well there’s going to be a negligible impact to the community.”

Mine officials would not say if any layoffs are expected.

 

Hopkinsville High School has refused to run three students’ senior yearbook quotes that reference their LGBT lifestyles, and one of them has filed a petition against the school board saying its discrimination.

Credit Katie Brady / Flickr (Creative Commons License)

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has found about half of ground chicken is contaminated with salmonella, and the agency is proposing new standards to reduce the bacteria by 30 percent.

The new rule would mean more testing, which John-Mark Hack says is more expense for the processor. He is a co-founder at Marksbury Farm Market in Garrard County.

“As a company that employs 36 Kentuckians, any additional expense is significant to us,” Hack said. “We’re not a mulit-million dollar, multi-national poultry processor that can easily absorb those kind of expenses.”

The USDA increased standards for whole chickens in 1996, but now knows the chance of salmonella increases as chicken is processed. The further processed meat like chicken wings and breasts make up 80 percent of the chicken available for purchase.

More than 1,500 western Kentucky and northwestern Tennessee residents gathered at Fort Campbell Tuesday night to share concerns about potential cuts.

Office of Mine Safety and Licensing

In a new rule issued this week, the Mine Safety and Health Administration is requiring underground coal mines to equip their continuous mining machines with proximity detectors

The technology shuts off the equipment if a worker gets too close. Kentucky Coal Association President Bill Bissett says the Alliance owned company called Matrix has developed the technology. He says many Alliance mines, which make up a third of those in Kentucky, already have proximity detectors.

“It is anymore a fairly common sight, you know, along with the methane detectors,: said Bissett.  "When you’re underground you often see them now.”

Mine operators will have up to 36 months to retrofit their continuous mining machines and train employees to use them. The rule goes into the Federal Register January 15th and becomes effective 60 days later.

National Transportation Safety Board Investigators begin work Sunday following a fatal plane crash Friday in Western Kentucky.

The twin engine plane crash killed Marty and Kimberly Gutzler, their 9-year-old daughter Piper and her 14-year-old cousin Sierra Wilder. Seven-year old Sailor Gutzler survived and walked nearly a mile before reaching a home to report the crash and seek medical attention for her minor injuries.

A western Kentucky dermatologist says he sees multiple cases of skin cancer a day as the U.S. Surgeon General is warning of a steady increase of people with the disease.

Pages