An Immigrant Restaurateur Recounts Her Journey To Louisville Wednesday, Mar 22 2017 

Businesses owned by immigrants in Kentucky generated more than $300 million in income in 2014, according to the think tank New American Economy. Communities nationwide observed Cities’ Day Of Immigration Action on March 21, where mayors across the country celebrated their foreign-born residents.

In Louisville, residents were encouraged to volunteer with groups that assist immigrants as well support immigrant businesses. I spoke to one of the commonwealth’s more than 7,000 immigrant entrepreneurs. Funmi Aderinokun is owner of African restaurant, Funmi’s Cafe. She talks about her journey from Lagos, Nigeria as well as her path to entrepreneurship.

Listen in the player above.

Trump Administration Files Motion Aimed At Controlling Consumer Protection Agency Saturday, Mar 18 2017 

The Trump administration has gone to court to try to bring the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau under its control. The bureau is an executive branch entity, but the president doesn’t have direct control over the six-year-old agency.

The Justice Department filed a brief with a federal appeals court in Washington on Friday, making the case that the structure of the agency violates the Constitution.

NPR’s Chris Arnold reports that, by law, the head of the bureau can be fired by the president — but only for “inefficiency, neglect of duty or malfeasance.” Chris adds:

“[The government argues that limit] means the consumer bureau could engage in ‘extreme departures from the president’s executive policy.’

“But that’s exactly the point, argue the CFPB’s defenders. They say that independence from political influence is crucial for a consumer watchdog regulator. Director Richard Cordray has said that preserving that independence is worth fighting for.

“Industry groups have objected to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau since it was created under the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act.”

Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, the chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, told NPR last month that bureau policies have hurt consumers:

“Free checking at banks has been cut in half. Banking fees have gone up. Working people are finding it more difficult to get mortgages.

“The bottom line is the best consumer protection [is] competitive, innovative markets that are transparent. Now, they need to be vigorously policed for force and fraud, but the agencies that do that need to be accountable. And instead, we’ve had this agency ruled totally unaccountable. It is a rogue agency.”

President Trump has larger targets in the financial services area, as NPR’s Yuki Noguchi and Tamara Keith have reported:

“[Trump] signed two directives on [Feb. 3], ordering a review of financial industry regulations known as Dodd-Frank and halting implementation of a rule that requires financial advisers to act in the best interests of their clients, according to a senior administration official who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity.

“Trump himself made his intentions clear in a meeting with small business owners Monday. ‘Dodd-Frank is a disaster,’ Trump said. ‘We’re going to be doing a big number on Dodd-Frank.’

“These executive actions are the start of a Trump administration effort to reverse or revise financial regulations put in place by the Obama administration and seen by Trump and his advisers as onerous and ineffective.”

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

#Blessed: How Louisville Developers Are Resurrecting Old Churches Thursday, Mar 16 2017 

Calvary Lutheran was a church in the Highlands.

The 18,000 square foot gothic edifice was built in 1927. And last year, real estate agent Tyler Smith sold it to developers for just under $600,000.  

As for Calvary Lutheran’s parishioners, Smith says, “They’re congregation really dwindled. And they had no interest in maintaining the real estate or being landlords. So they just wanted to dispose of the asset.”

Bar hoppers, startups and renters have been making use of former churches being converted into mixed uses. In the past few years, at least a dozen or so church structures in the city have attracted a different kind of congregation. Smith says it’s not only a sense of reverence that attracts developers to churches. There’s also a practical element.

A lot of churches have to have a large parking base or great access to parking,” says Smith. “So that’s what makes great church facilities as well as sanctuaries, meeting halls from a commercial real estate standpoint.”

Great Calvary Lutheran Church

A Trend Emerges

Calvary Lutheran is also in a prime location on Bardstown Road near shops, restaurants and other community centers.

And this trend of churches getting flipped into housing and business is happening in cities across the globe from Louisville to London. But it’s not likely every or even most church buildings will be converted to other uses anytime soon.

“Christianity is, globally on the rise,” says Steven Watkins, assistant professor of Christian Studies and Classics at the University of Louisville. “It’s still the largest world religion.”

Watkins says that growth in Christianity is primarily in Latin America, Africa and parts of East Asia. The biggest areas of growth tend to be charismatic Pentecostal in nature. In Europe, the religion is seeing a decline. As for the U.S., Watkins says, “Church attendance here is not nearly as in decline as in Europe.” But he says, “It is slightly declining.”

(Red dots on the map represent area churches that are no longer being used for church services.)

According to Pew Research Center’s Religious Landscape Study in 2014, about 23 percent of Americans identified as religiously unaffiliated. That’s up from 16 percent in 2007. In Kentucky, the religiously unattached is about the same at 22 percent.

“Secularity/atheism is on the rise in the United States,” says Watkins. “That’s the data, but it’s kinda a slow rise. It’s not going off the cliff or anything but it’s definitely increasing.”

Take a declining congregation mixed with an old dwelling to maintain, it’s no wonder many churches are selling off their antique properties. 

That’s what happened to the Metropolitan Community Church of Louisville. The congregation used to be housed in a cute building with a red door on Highland Avenue in the Highlands. But in September 2015, they moved to a nondescript leased office space in West Buechel outside the Watterson.

The new home of Metropolitan Community Church

Reverend Colleen Foley is the senior pastor.

“It was basically because it was an old church building,” she says. “It had originally been a Lutheran church that was built in the late 1800s and it was becoming quite costly to maintain.” 

The congregation was already small at about 50-60 people. And the members were getting older. So with a less-than-blessed income from church goers, tithes decreased. It just didn’t make sense to stay on Highland Avenue.

“The purpose of the church is to do more than just maintain a building and that was all we were doing at that point,” she says.

Foley also sees a future trend for denominations to save money and maximize space.

“I think you’re gonna start seeing more and more churches sharing a church building, different denominations even,” she says. “So the cost is spread over more people. Really, what’s the purpose of having a church building that’s used maybe only Wednesday night for choir practice and Bible study and on Sundays?”

In the meantime, there’s a new kind of flock gathering in bygone sanctuaries. The building on Highland Avenue will eventually become apartments and a media studio. And a block away, people pack another former church nightly.

“When we moved in here, and we still love beer, but we worshiped beer. We traveled the world in search of beer. It really did become a religion for us in a sorta way,” says Lori Beck, co-owner of Holy Grale with Tyler Trotter.

Holy Grale, formerly Unitarian Chapel House

Before being re-christened into a bar, the structure was an old Unitarian Chapel House built in the early 1900s. The church outgrew the space and the building became many things including a textile business, printing business and a rare bookbinder. Right before Holy Grale it was a hot dog place.

With its wooden tables, stained glass windows, religious paraphernalia and austere walls, the couple incorporated the building’s origins into the bar’s aesthetic.

“When we saw the building up for lease, we immediately contacted the landlord,” Beck says. “And we did not intend to open a religiously-themed craft beer bar but we did want to pay respect to the original architecture story of the building.”

But even though a holy congregation has left the building, Beck talks about the lingering sentiment she wants bar-goers to feel when they walk into Holy Grale.

“I think that most people get a sense of warmth and comfort when they walk in,” she says. “There’s a soul, I guess, to the building. And when we talk about respecting the architecture, I think that’s what we’re talking about is allowing the soul of the building to be felt and not mess with it too much.”

And it’s that feeling of sanctity that buyers of church buildings want to keep in tact.

U.S. Employers Added A Robust 235,000 Jobs In February Friday, Mar 10 2017 

The U.S. added 235,000 jobs in February, while the unemployment rate nudged down a tenth of a percentage point to 4.7 percent. The monthly report released Friday by the Bureau of Labor Statistics fell roughly in line with economists’ expectations: Healthy economic growth continuing January’s strong showing.

The number of unemployed Americans saw little change last month, as well, hovering at roughly 7.5 million people.

At the same time, the January payroll number was revised to 238,000 jobs, up from last month’s initial estimate of 227,000.

Solid gains in construction, manufacturing and health care helped drive February’s robust numbers. And there was cause for optimism in wages, as well: Average hourly earnings are up 2.8 percent from a year ago.

As NPR’s John Ydstie reports for our Newscast unit, the economy had already shown signs of momentum ahead of Friday’s report. Growth in construction jobs had helped a private sector report earlier this week exceed expectations.

John explains that part of that boost might arise from anticipation of policies President Trump has promised: a combination of hefty tax cuts and infrastructure investment.

“President Trump won’t be shy about claiming credit for a good number even though his main economic policies are not yet in place,” John notes. “However, the expectation of big tax cuts and infrastructure spending may have contributed to some additional hiring by businesses.”

Trump, who dismissed government jobs data as exaggerations or a “hoax” before he took office, retweeted the conservative news aggregator Drudge Report on Friday. That tweet linked to a Bloomberg report and said simply: “GREAT AGAIN: +235,000.”

“It’s definitely a solid report,” said Tara Sinclair, economist at George Washington University, tells The Washington Post. “This is the kind of number that the Federal Reserve was looking to receive before their meetings next week.”

Partly on the strength of recent jobs reports, Fed Chair Janet Yellen said in December that the central bank expects to bump its benchmark interest rate three times in 2017. The Fed’s announcement predicted “only gradual increases” in the rate, NPR’s Bill Chappell noted at the time.

February’s healthy report likely will do little to dissuade the Fed from this course when it meets next week to vote on raising the interest rate.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Pro-Business Workers’ Compensation Bill Put On Hold Monday, Mar 6 2017 

A bill that would limit workers’ compensation benefits has been paused after passing the state House of Representatives last week.

House Bill 296 would allow employers and insurers to stop paying workers’ compensation benefits if an injury isn’t resolved within 15 years. The bill was scheduled for a Senate committee hearing on Monday morning but was not taken up as lawmakers try to hammer out a compromise.

Sen. Alice Forgy Kerr of Lexington said a new version of the legislation might be heard this week.

“I think what we’re looking at with all workers’ comp issues is to weigh out how we’re working to help the injured worker versus how are we helping and benefiting businesses and their concerns,” said Kerr, chair of the Senate Committee on Economic Development, Tourism and Labor.

Those with permanent disabilities or amputations would continue to receive lifetime benefits under an amendment to the legislation approved by the House.

The legislation is opposed by injured workers and unions.

Nicolai Jilek with the Kentucky Fraternal Order of Police said the bill would lead to poorer employee performance.

“If you want to have a successful business or if you want to have a successful police department, you’ve got to have employees or police officers that are able to show up to work and are healthy that feel free to meet all the requirements of their job,” he said.

Kerr said there might be a carve out for police officers who make workers’ compensation claims in a substitute version, but lawmakers were still discussing the issue Monday afternoon.

The current legislation would also allow employers to refuse coverage if symptoms appear beyond four years of the original injury, and workers would have to file claims for cumulative trauma within five years of an injury.

Supporters of the legislation say it would help cut back on workers’ compensation fraud.

Humana Eliminating Jobs In Louisville Wednesday, Mar 1 2017 

Health insurance giant Humana is cutting jobs in Louisville as part of a corporate realignment just two weeks after a $37 billion merger deal with Aetna collapsed.

The company confirmed in an email Wednesday that it would “phase out” positions that no longer fit with its new strategy, which centers on its Medicare Advantage business and services for seniors living with chronic conditions.

According to a source at Humana not authorized to speak about the company, job cuts that came Wednesday were directed at management-level positions. Humana spokeswoman Kate Marx would not share details about which positions were eliminated or how many employees were affected.

Marx said the company would work to place anyone laid off at a new job at Humana.

“Any Humana associate affected by this realignment of our resources is offered up to 60 days to obtain another position within the company, and severance and outplacement assistance if a new position is not secured,” she said via email. “Humana’s Louisville employment of 12,500 remains the same.”

Marx said Humana doesn’t know how many positions will ultimately be eliminated at its Louisville locations because some employees can choose to move to different roles in the company.

Humana and Aetna announced they were terminating their merger bid on Feb. 14, after a federal judge blocked the merger on anti-trust grounds, saying it would lead to higher prices and fewer choices for seniors seeking Medicare Advantage plans.

The Louisville-based company also announced that day it was pulling out of health insurance exchanges created under the Affordable Care Act, instead shifting more of its focus toward senior care.

Last month, Insider Louisville reported that the company was eliminating positions in Florida and Ohio.

The job cuts come a little more than a week after top Humana executives dumped hundreds of thousands of company shares worth nearly $74 million.

After Obamacare: Thousands Of Jobs Hinge On Affordable Care Act Decisions Tuesday, Feb 28 2017 

Alexandra Kanik | Ohio Valley ReSource

As Congress considers repealing the Affordable Care Act, health professionals in Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia grapple with what that might mean for a region where many depend on the law for access to care. This occasional series from the ReSource explores what’s ahead for the Ohio Valley after Obamacare. See more stories here >>

 

Since the expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, the health care sector has grown by more than 19,000 jobs in the Ohio Valley region. And some economists who focus on health care policy are warning that many of those jobs could well hang in the balance as Congress considers changes to the Act.

Alexandra Kanik | Ohio Valley ReSource

One of the ACA’s effects in the Ohio Valley region has been to sharply reduce costs for what’s called uncompensated care — that’s the cost of caring for the uninsured.

Dustin Pugel is an economist at the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, a nonpartisan research center. He said in Kentucky’s rural hospitals there’s been about a $150 million decrease in uncompensated care costs just in the first quarter after Medicaid expansion. He worries that if the ACA is repealed more people will lose their health insurance, and hospitals will have to cover that cost again.

“We would definitely see hospitals getting squeezed more and more, and that would be devastating for their budgets,” Pugel said.

Pugel said Medicaid expansion payments more than made up for the loss of what are known as disproportionate share hospital payments — the other method by which hospitals were reimbursed for charity care. Those payments from the federal government used to make up for the cost of caring for the uninsured but largely were phased out when more people became insured.

Pugel said even when those payments went away hospitals were still better off because they were getting more money from newly insured patients.

Those changes to hospital finances allowed them to expand programs and add personnel.

“In the first few years of medicaid expansion in Kentucky there were 13,000 hospital jobs alone that grew in the state. Whereas before it was flatlined,” Pugel said.

pre-post-aca-medicaid-enrollment-v2Alexandra Kanik | Ohio Valley ReSource

Pugel said if the ACA is repealed a lot of those people will likely lose their jobs. Kentucky could have the second highest rate of job loss, with estimates of almost 56,000 jobs being eliminated. West Virginia could lose 16,000 jobs by 2019. Ohio stands to lose more than 50,000 jobs if the ACA is repealed.

Kat Stoll is with the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy. She said West Virginia doesn’t have the room in its state budget to pick up the cost of covering hundreds of thousands of people who would lose their health insurance if Congress moves forward with the repeal of the ACA. She said sick people still get sick, but without insurance they will put off seeking care until it is an emergency, which is usually more costly.

“People will die and the people who do get treatment will put a tremendous burden on our hospitals and providers in our rural state,” Stoll said.

West Virginia gained about 6,500 healthcare jobs since the state expanded medicaid in 2014.

A number of competing plans have emerged in Congress that might replace some or all of the ACA. Stoll said the replacement plans she has seen leave a lot to be desired.

After Obamacare: Rural Health Providers Nervous About Affordable Care Act Repeal Monday, Feb 27 2017 

Alexandra Kanik | Ohio Valley ReSource

As Congress considers repealing the Affordable Care Act, health professionals in Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia grapple with what that might mean for a region where many depend on the law for access to care. This occasional series from the ReSource explores what’s ahead for the Ohio Valley after Obamacare. See more stories here >>

 

Mike Caudill runs Mountain Comprehensive Care Corporation in five eastern Kentucky counties. Many of his 30,000 patients gained insurance through Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act. No one knows if or when those folks might lose coverage. But, Caudill said, the impact could be considerable.

“I don’t want to be a Chicken Little that the sky is falling. On the other hand, neither do I want to stick my head in the sand,” he said. “A lot of it is the unknown. We don’t know what is going to happen.”

Alexandra Kanik | Ohio Valley ReSource

Caudill runs federally qualified health centers, providing primary and preventive care such as doctor’s visits and vaccinations. They also support community programs including a day care and a service providing fresh fruits and vegetables to 700 people who are chronically ill. If there are significant changes in his revenue because of a repeal of the ACA, Caudill said, those programs that improve the quality of life in the community would be the first to go.

Courtesy Mountain Comprehensive Care

Mike Caudill.

Caudill is not alone. There are hundreds of federally qualified health centers in West Virginia, Kentucky and Ohio. And there are hundreds of rural hospitals providing inpatient and emergency care dependent on government funds to function.

President Donald Trump’s pick of Dr. Tom Price to lead the Department of Health and Human Services is worrisome, said Caudill. In Congress, Price supported big changes in Medicaid and Medicare. Price has also been a consistent foe of the ACA, also known as Obamacare.

“Certainly it gives us some concerns about how it will impact community health centers in general but also us in particular here in Kentucky,” Caudill said.

How To Get Paid

There are hundreds of federally qualified health centers in West Virginia, Kentucky and Ohio. And there are hundreds of rural hospitals providing inpatient and emergency care.

Michael Topchik works for IVantage, a health care research group. He said rural health is a system in jeopardy.

“Right now, I think, we are at a nadir of the ability of that safety net to provide that care in a way that meets local folks’ needs,” he said.

Courtesy Mountain Comprehensive Care

Dr. Van Breeding, director of clinical affairs, examines a patient at Mountain Comprehensive Care Corporation.

The problem is that both health centers and rural hospitals are dependent on federal dollars to survive. In Kentucky they receive about 70 percent of their revenue from Medicare and Medicaid. Elizabeth Cobb of the Kentucky Hospital Association said financial constraints are forcing rural hospitals to close.

“There has been an increase in the loss of rural hospitals nationwide, and that’s very alarming,” she said.

According to the University of North Carolina’s NC Rural Health Research Program, Kentucky has 16 hospitals at risk for financial distress. West Virginia has two. Ohio, currently, has none. The report does not name the at-risk hospitals and did not expand upon the reasons for the different rates of risk.

Simon Haeder is an Assistant Professor of political science in the John D. Rockefeller IV School of Policy & Politics at West Virginia University. He said Southern states in general have had a greater struggle to provide health care to large, poor sections of their populations. Kentucky, he said, seems to share more characteristics with Southern states. And, he said, in some ways Kentucky hospitals have seen greater benefits from the ACA because so many more rural poor are now insured.

Photo illustration courtesy Kentucky Hospital Assoc.

Rural hospital leaders say they face an uncertain path without the ACA.

Rural Challenges

There are a lot of common challenges that rural hospitals share and a hospital closure can have a disproportionate effect for rural communities. Transportation is a practical challenge in rural areas, said the Kentucky Hospital Association’s Cobb. A large number of people in rural communities lack access to a car, public transportation is scarce, and additional travel could mean people simply won’t get care. And she said you can also lose something else when you have to leave home — something intangible but no less important.

Alexandra Kanik | Ohio Valley ReSource

“It can separate you from your family and from your support community both physical support and emotional support,” she said.

Plus, she said, people in rural communities are often sicker and older than patients at other hospitals. Many who received health insurance under Obamacare had chronic illness that had gone untreated for a long time.

The hospital has to have the technology to treat those patients. IVantage’s Topchik said as medical technology gets more expensive, a hometown hospital may need to shift to only providing emergency services and outpatient care. That may be the only way to survive.

Changing Times, Changing Health

Caudill agrees times have changed.

“I wish it could be like in the old days of ‘Marcus Welby,’ where a person would walk in and see a doctor and it never would show them paying a bill,” he said.

But Caudill just spent $350,000 for a 3-D mammogram machine. It will also require thousands of dollars a year in maintenance. But it provides the care his people deserve, he said

Topchick said these tough choices that rural hospitals and clinics struggle with are often absent from the national debate.

“There really is a tale of two cities,” he said. “There is just not an even distribution. Our country is clearly divided or a rural and urban front.”

The national debate over Obamacare has largely focused on a couple of items: the ACA mandate that everyone have health care; and rising premiums many pay for their insurance. Haeder, the WVU political scientist, said that debate misses some important facts. Private insurance rates and the rates for those who get insurance through their employers have been going up for decades, long before the ACA took effect.

Part of what the ACA has done, Haeder argues, is to highlight the effects some demographic shifts in the country have on insurance systems. Many rural areas now have a higher percentage of people who are sicker and older, as many younger, healthier folks have gone elsewhere for jobs.

“All the problems of rural America are just highlighted in accessing health care,” he said.

Coal Country Concerns

Courtesy Mountain Comprehensive Care Corporation

Teresa Fleming.

Teresa Fleming is the financial officer for Mountain Comprehensive Care. Despite the campaign rhetoric, she doesn’t think it’s likely that President Trump will bring back mining jobs to eastern Kentucky’s coal country. And she fears coal families in her community will suffer further under an ACA repeal.

“The Affordable Care Act came at the right time and basically correlated with the mine layoffs,” she said. “So that gave our patients safety or at least some security that they would have some kind of coverage so they could go see their providers.”

It is a security under threat in a shifting health care landscape that could also threaten health care jobs, often the biggest source of well-paying jobs still available in rural communities.

The ReSource’s Benny Becker contributed to this report.

Labor Movement: Will ‘Right-To-Work’ States Attract More Businesses? Monday, Feb 20 2017 

The Ohio Valley region once helped give rise to the labor movement. Now it’s shifting toward what’s known as right-to-work law. West Virginia and Kentucky have passed right-to-work laws and Ohio is considering a similar bill.

One of the big selling points for right-to-work proponents is that the law can attract new businesses. But opponents argue that there is little evidence to support the claim and that the potential benefits come at too high a cost to workers.

Big Choices

Mike Mullis is a site selection consultant who has spent 25 years helping global corporations, such as Toyota, pick the places where they will build major projects. He said some companies – particularly in manufacturing – will perk up when they hear the words “right to work.” However, that doesn’t mean businesses will come flocking to a state.

“The thing that is misunderstood by many people is that right to work does not guarantee you projects,” Mullis said,“it simply guarantees you more opportunity.”

He said other factors are more important, such as the skill of the workforce, infrastructure, and transportation. Mullis supports right to work, but he notes many oversimplify its connection to workplace growth.

Becca Schimmel | Ohio Valley ReSource

A worker in a Bowling Green, Kentucky, manufacturing facility.

A Business Perspective

Simply put, right-to-work laws prohibit a company or union from requiring workers to become union members as a condition of employment. The laws states pass also often go a step further. They eliminate the requirement for non-union workers to pay what are called “fair share fees.” Unions strongly object to that — as we’ll hear in a moment.

But Kenneth Troske, an economics professor at the University of Kentucky, said he thinks right-to-work laws should help states attract businesses.

“[It] sends a signal to businesses that, as a state, we are trying to make ourselves more open and friendly and flexible as possible for businesses that want to locate here,” Troske said.

He said businesses like the promise of flexible workplace schedules which can increase productivity.

“That’s essentially what the research shows, is that when plants become unionized, you see a decline in their productivity,” Troske said.

Troske acknowledges that right-to-work laws are a “mixed bag” because, as unions argue, the flexibility that employers want can lead to exploitation of workers, which is why they need the protection of unions. But Troske argues that new businesses that locate in right-to-work states are competing with other businesses for the same pool of skilled workers. That means that even if wages drop it will not be as dramatic as opponents of the law suggest.

Businesses considering relocating do want to know about right-to-work status, he said, even if the region’s skilled workforce remains a top concern. Troske pointed out that the effect of right-to-work laws in the Ohio Valley region are not clear because the changes are too recent.

Lisa Autry, WKU Public Radio

A rolling protest against Kentucky’s right to work law.

The Workers’ View

Ross Eisenbrey is vice president of the Economic Policy Institute, a nonprofit think tank focused on the needs of middle and low income workers. He said right-to-work laws have never been shown to make a difference in employment growth and he is skeptical of claims that the laws do much to attract new business.

“Corporate CEOs who answer surveys about the factors that determine where they locate, don’t even have right-to-work in the top ten factors that influence their decisions,” Eisenbrey said.

He doubts that businesses the issue to a priority in deciding locations for investment because only 6 percent of private sector workers are unionized. And he warns that anyone hoping that the law will bring a dramatic increase in manufacturing jobs and new businesses will be disappointed.

“I don’t believe for a minute that that’s an important factor in a business decision about where it locates,” Eisenbrey said.

Eisenbrey pointed to economic evidence showing that right-to-work laws come at a cost in the form of weaker unions and lower wages. He said unions lead to higher wages, and generally have an impact of increasing wages by 10 to 15 percent compared to non-represented employees.

“As right-to-work reduces union finances and weakens the union’s ability to represent workers over time, wages go down,” Eisenbrey said. “And that’s what will happen eventually in West Virginia and Kentucky.”

Eisenbrey noted that while business-friendly legislators vote for right to work laws, many voters don’t. Historically when right to work laws are put to a statewide vote, they typically don’t pass.

Ohio’s experience with right-to-work proposals offer an example, he said. Such laws were first introduced in Ohio’s legislature in 1958 and didn’t pass. The legislature passed a law eliminating collective bargaining in 2011 only to have it overturned by a statewide vote later that year. Now the legislature is considering a right-to-work provision once again.

West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Teamsters leader Ken Hall with other labor leaders at a rally against West Virginia’s right to work law.

A Court Challenge

In West Virginia, a group of unions is suing the state over its right-to-work law, which passed last year. A judge placed a stay on the new law shortly after it was signed. Ken Hall is general secretary-treasurer with the Teamsters, one of the unions involved in the lawsuit.

Alexandra Kanik | Ohio Valley ReSource

“If this was good for workers, why is it that eight of the ten states with the lowest per capita income are right-to-work states?” Hall said. “Why are the majority of the top 15 states with the highest rate of poverty right-to-work states?”

The union challenge to West Virginia’s law largely has to do with the effects on non-union employees in a unionized workplace. A little history helps to explain this.

The U.S. Supreme Court decided in a case in the 1970s that employees can’t be forced to join a union, but non-union employees could still be made to pay fair share fees for the benefits of a union workplace, such as collective bargaining.

Right-to-work laws often go a step further by eliminating the requirement for non-union members to pay what are called fair share fees, which are lower than full union dues. But the unions are still responsible for collective bargaining for those employees, and must defend them in the event of a grievance.

Hall feels it’s unfair that non-union workers get something for nothing. He said it means  that right-to-work laws will weaken unions and hurt workers far more than they help an area generate new business.

The unions expect a decision on their challenge to West Virginia’s law in a couple of weeks. Kentucky is just beginning to implement its law and Ohio is just reviving debate on the issue. The real effect of right-to-work laws in this region once dominated by union labor remains to be seen.

Trump Picks Alexander Acosta As New Choice For Labor Secretary Thursday, Feb 16 2017 

President Trump has named R. Alexander Acosta as his replacement for labor secretary nominee. Trump’s earlier pick, fast-food executive Andrew Puzder, withdrew his nomination on Wednesday afternoon after losing support on both sides of the aisle.

Acosta has been dean of the law school at Florida International University since 2009. He’s been a member of the National Labor Relations Board and was U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida. Prior to that, he was an assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division during the George W. Bush administration.

His tenure there was not without controversy. Acosta filed a brief defending an Ohio law that allowed people to challenge the legitimacy of a voter at a polling place, even though the Justice Department was not involved in the case, as the Los Angeles Times reported in 2004.

While U.S. attorney, Acosta’s office was reprimanded by a federal judge after it was revealed that prosecutors there had illegally recorded conversations with the attorney of a doctor accused of illegally prescribing painkillers. Acosta said he had instructed his employees not to do that again.

If confirmed, Acosta will be the first Hispanic member of the president’s Cabinet.

Puzder, CEO of CKE Restaurants — including Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr., had been scheduled for a confirmation hearing on Thursday after multiple delays. He faced criticism for his record his management of the company and for more personal issues, including a since-retracted domestic abuse allegation from his wife and hiring a housekeeper who came to the U.S. illegally.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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