News briefs from around Kentucky at 1:58 a.m. EDT

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

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GM auto workers vote to allow strike in Kentucky

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - Workers at the General Motors plant in Kentucky that assembles Corvettes voted Tuesday to authorize a strike over lingering safety concerns, but a local union leader said he hopes the differences can be resolved without a walkout.

Union members voted overwhelmingly to give union leaders the green light to call a strike if necessary. About 800 union workers were eligible to vote, and more than 90 percent of those casting ballots backed the strike authorization, said Eldon Renaud, president of United Auto Workers Local 2164

Renaud said issues involved were safety and quality control.

He said there have been several “near misses” that could have resulted in serious injuries for assembly line workers at the Bowling Green plant. The union also worries that the elimination of quality control positions will affect the integrity of the plant’s quality procedures, he said.

Renaud said he was confident the strike-authorization vote would get the “immediate attention” of management, resulting in stepped up negotiations.

“We’re like everybody else, we’re strike-shy,” he said. “Nobody wants to have a strike. Who really benefits by it?”

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State workers describe sexual harassment

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - Former state Rep. John Arnold will not be punished on charges that he sexually harassed three state employees over four years.

Four of the five Legislative Ethics Commissioners present for Tuesday’s hearing voted to find Arnold guilty on three counts of abusing his position as a public official. But state law says the commission cannot do anything unless it has five “yes” votes. Commissioner Elmer George - appointed by Democratic House Speaker Greg Stumbo a few months ago - voted no on all counts.

During Tuesday’s hearing, three state workers - including two staff members of the House Democratic leadership - described how Arnold, a Democrat, touched them inappropriately during a four-year period in what they said was a pattern of sexual harassment left unchecked by their supervisors and legislative leaders.

“You just have to take a spanking on the butt. You have to take having your underwear pulled. You have to take being verbally assaulted, and nobody is going to care about it,” Yolanda Costner, executive adviser to House Majority Whip Tommy Thompson, said after the hearing. “You want to keep your job and your position? Keep your mouth shut.”

Arnold did not attend Tuesday’s hearing. But his attorney, Steve Downey, argued that Arnold is suffering from early signs of dementia, as diagnosed by his doctors. He called Arnold’s behavior - “if it occurred,” he clarified - “sophomoric and boorish and puzzling.” He pointed to sworn testimony from Arnold’s doctors urging him to not run for re-election in 2012 because of his declining health.

“This was completely out of character for him,” Downey said. “Mr. Arnold’s filters have been turned off.”

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