Friday, February 27, 2015

Kentucky, the No. 3 coal-producing state, has no working union miners, with closure of Patriot mine

There are no longer any union coal miners in Kentucky — the nation's No. 3 coal-producing state. The last remaining union miners were laid off by Patriot Coal in Western Kentucky on New Year's Day, marking the first time in a century that the state was without union coal miners, Whitney Jones and Erica Peterson and Whitney Jones report for Louisville Public Media.

Coal jobs have been rapidly declining in Eastern Kentucky, from 14,100 in in 2009 to 7,288 last year. Western Kentucky, which had fared much better, losing only 16 coal jobs in 2014, has already been hit hard in 2015 by the recent closure of two Patriot mines that employed 600. 

"The decline of unions is a nationwide trend that applies to organized labor of all types," Peterson and Jones note. "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."

"Kentucky Coal Association President Bill Bissett said the United Mine Workers of America was successful in many ways in obtaining better working conditions and benefits for members; so much so, that most miners don’t see the union as essential anymore," the reporters write.

That's especially true with younger miners, said third-generation Eastern Kentucky miner Deke Hampton. He told a reporter, “When you throw in union dues that you’re required to pay, you throw in the fact that someone else can determine whether you work or whether you do not work, there’s a lot of factors that keep the younger guys from even considering it.”

The UMWA declined to comment, but Kentucky mine-safety lawyer Tony Oppegard "said the coal miners’ union still has a vital role," the story says: “It’s much harder for a miner at a non-union mine to stand up for safety,” he said. "In theory, federal safety laws mean coal miners can’t be discriminated against for refusing to work in unsafe conditions, Oppegard said. But in practice, those laws are lacking." (Read more)

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