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General Electric Seeking Wage Freeze At Appliance Park

General Electric is asking union workers at its Appliance Park plant in Louisville to agree to a wage freeze in exchange for job security and other benefits.

If the 21-hundred union workers at Appliance Park approve the freeze, GE says it will add 100 new jobs this year and to not outsource any products until the freeze and union contract expire in June 2011.

GE had previously hoped to spin off its appliance division into another company. Spokesperson Kim Freeman says that’s still possible, but the wage freeze is necessary to keep the plant in operation for the immediate future.

“If the company does decide to sell or to spin us off, it doesn’t really matter,” she says. “We have got to make Appliance Park more competitive so that we can be here regardless of what happens in the future. We need to secure our long-term future here by making ourselves more competitive.”

Appliance Park lost $72 million last year. Union leaders declined to comment on the negotiations, but Freeman says the workers seem receptive to the idea.

“They understand that they’re really voting on the future of Appliance Park,” she says. “We need to do everything we can as quickly as we can to make Appliance Park more competitive for our long-term future.”

The union will vote on the measure Wednesday.

Salaried workers at the plant have already had their pay rates frozen.

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EFCA Debated At Forum

The debate over the Employee Free Choice Act reached the Louisville Forum Tuesday.

Among other things, the EFCA would allow workers to bypass the secret ballot vote when choosing to organize.

Louisville Plate Glass President Bill Stone said eliminating the secret ballot would allow for coercion from union bosses.

“We have a secret ballot now, let’s leave it alone,” he said. “It isn’t broke, let’s not fix it.”

Kentucky AFL-CIO president Bill Londrigan countered Stone by saying such intimidation is rare.

“Since 1935, only 42 cases of union intimidation have been filed and adjudicated,” he said. “As opposed to the 20 thousand plus cases against corporate intimidation and abuse that goes on every year.”

The EFCA does allow workers to vote by secret ballot if 30% of them request it. Two versions of the legislation have been introduced in Congress.

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AFSCME Members Rally For Neighborhood Place Workers

Members of the union that represents some state social workers will rallied in downtown Louisville Thursday.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees organized the demonstration to ask state government to keep social workers in the city’s Neighborhood Place outreach centers.

Union spokesperson David Patterson says the state plans to move the social workers to the L&N Building downtown later this year.

“At a time when people are most in need, I think it’s more important than ever for social workers to be out on the front lines reaching the people who need their help most than being taken out of the community and brought into a large facility,” he says.

Patterson says the plan to move about 170 social workers goes into effect July 1st.

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Unions Want Details On Shortfall

Local union leaders are asking Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson to provide more details about the city’s projected $20 million budget deficit.

The mayor is asking the unions representing many city workers to make concessions in order to close the budget shortfall.

Louisville Professional Firefighters Union President Craig Willman says he wants to see a more detailed spending record before agreeing to concessions. He believes there are funds available to shore up the deficit without affecting labor.

“It took us two years to get a contract. Two years to get a contract with a cost of living – not even a cost of living – raise, 2%,” he says. “Two years of negotiations with the city of Louisville and now they want us to give it back in a week. It’s not right.”

Willman suggests the city use money for capital projects to cope with the shortfall. A spokesperson for the mayor says some capital projects will be delayed and others are being paid for with borrowed money that can’t be spent on debt.

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New OSHA Oversight Set For Arena

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has signed a new oversight agreement for the Louisville downtown arena. OSHA will forgo random inspections and instead review the sight quarterly. The arena’s construction firm must in turn keep dedicated staff on site to monitor safety.

Bill Carey of the Kentucky Labor Cabinet helped organize the new agreement,  a concept that has been used on other large scale projects. He says many smaller projects don’t have similar agreements because they can’t afford the safety staff.

“It doesn’t really allow for shortcuts or going around something,” he says. “You really have to do it the right way, the correct way. It’s an investment, a financial investment as well as a time investment.”

If violations are found on the arena site, OSHA will stop construction instead of issuing a fine.

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KY Jobless Rate Up In June

Kentucky’s unemployment rate climbed again in June to 6.3%-compared to the national average of 5.5%. More Kentuckians are looking for jobs mainly because of losses in the manufacturing sector—including the automobile industry. The unemployment numbers also include those affected by the housing slump, such as furniture and appliance manufacturers. State labor analyst Justine Detzel says some of those jobs are gone for good.

“There are a number of companies that have moved work overseas in the last year that are laying off workers because they’re trying to find cheaper labor elsewhere. But sometime’s it’s just a temporary layoff and then they’ll return to work a month or two later,” says Detzel.

Manufacturers have shed nearly 11,000 jobs since this time last year. Some employment sectors have added jobs in Kentucky, including retail, transportation, and utilities. Indiana’s unemployment rate also climbed more than a percent to 5.8%.

On the Web: From the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, a table showing current unemployment rates by state, including historical highs and lows.