|Tim Miller worked in William Station No. 9 mine here in Western Kentucky when it was non-union and endured and survived such a tragedy first hand:
Tim Miller doesn't buy the coal industry's claims that nonunion mines are as safe as union mines.
He survived a 1989 methane gas explosion and fire that killed 10 other miners at the nonunion William Station No. Nine Mine in his native western Kentucky. Miller helped recover the bodies.
From 1979 to 1997, Miller dug coal 1,000 feet underground at the mine and can't forget the human toll: 28 fatalities in 18 years.
One common thread all these disasters seem to share is that they blatantly violate the law and knowingly put the workers they employ at risk when they do not have the protection of a union:
Inspectors had cited the Upper Big Branch and Dotiki mines for multiple safety violations. Ultimately, the Pyro mine superintendent pleaded guilty to hiding hazardous conditions at the mine and attempting to cover them up.
So, what happened at the Pyro mine after the workers voted union in 1997?? The numbers speak for themselves:
We finally organized that mine in 1997. It was bankrupt then. But it lasted almost seven more years under the UMWA banner. There wasn't a single death from the time we organized the mine until it closed.
In fact, this is no coincidence. There are many factors at work that make union mines safer than non-union ones. One of these factors is that in union mines workers actually have a say in their own safety:
In a UMWA mine, you have a real say when it comes to safety issues. Members of our safety committee that are elected by their fellow union workers travel with mine inspectors.
And while non-union companies will try to say that their workers have a right to withdraw themselves from any situation they deem unsafe, the truth of the matter is actually quite different. They do so almost always at the risk of their jobs:
I know the law says you have the right to withdraw yourself from an unsafe area. But in a nonunion mine, you know if you do withdraw, or if you speak out about safety problems, your days on the job are numbered. The company might not fire you right away. But they'll get you in one of those bogus layoffs. So people are scared to speak out-scared they won't have a job if they do.
However, union miners CAN withdraw themselves from any situation they feel unsafe without the dreaded fear of becoming unemployed:
Because they are in the union, safety committee members can point out problem areas the company hasn't addressed and not fear retribution from the company, Miller said. Also, any UMWA miner can leave a work area he or she feels might be dangerous, again without having to worry about retaliation, he added.
You see, unions care about their workers because they are fellow workers that have banded together for better wages, benefits and yes, safer working conditions. While companies will try and paint unions as evil and just there to take away precious profits the truth of the matter as shown by the sad news from the mining industry in the last month is that if it comes to spending some precious profits to make workers safe, companies simply do not care. It is cheaper for them to pay the fines and keep endangering the lives of their workers.
That is why when disasters such as occurred at the Massey and Dotiki mines happen, I consider them akin to murder or at least manslaughter. These folks know that their mines are unsafe they just do not care. It will not be their family members being carted dead out of a mine:
We cut the curtains off, wrapped them around the bodies and pinned the curtains with nails. We put them on a flat car and carried them out-about seven miles. It was a long way.
Unions are not only essential in providing a path for millions of American workers to the middle-class but in particularly dangerous professions in many cases they are the only thing that stands between working in safe conditions or working in areas where profit has dictated that just a few workers can be sacrificed for the greater good of profit. Let us hope more American workers in all professions realize this again very soon.