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Ukrainian Miners Win Their Wartime Strike, but Victory Looks Short-Lived

By Kateryna Semchuk - Open Democracy, October 21, 2022

On 6 October, Ukraine’s energy ministry dismissed Trotsko following pressure from a delegation of strikers that visited the energy minister twice. But some workers at the mine and the union representative fear this is not the end of their struggle against what they allege is a continuous corrupt attempt to take control of the mine.

“This is not a victory. Victory is when we mine an extra 1,000 tonnes of coal. This [whole situation] was a misunderstanding,” said Volodymyr Yurkiv, the mine’s previous director, who during the strike period was demoted to chief engineer. In the month of strike action, the mine could have earned five million hryvnias (£110,000), Yurkiv added.

Workers at Mine No. 9 have been fighting to keep Yurkiv – who was reinstated as director by the ministry on 8 October after Trotsko was dismissed – in office, as they say they are completely satisfied with his management. But Mykhailo Volynets, a Ukrainian MP who is also chair of the Independent Trade Union of Ukrainian Miners, is among those who think Yurkiv could be dismissed once again. He told openDemocracy that the latest events “are not the end of this story”.

“It will happen again,” Volynets said, claiming the energy ministry will try to appoint a new director at mine No. 9 for a third time. Volynets believes there are still corrupt insiders at Ukraine’s energy ministry, claiming the recent new managerial appointments have been made on behalf of the smotriashchiy.

After 18 Months, Striking Warrior Met Miners and Families Hold the Line

By Ericka Wills - Labor Notes, October 7, 2022

A somber bell toll broke the silence outside the West Brookwood Church in Tuscaloosa County, Alabama. The white-gloved hand of Larry Spencer, International Vice President of Mine Workers (UMWA) District 20, solemnly struck the Miners’ Memorial bell as the names of victims of mine-related deaths were read aloud.

“As we gather this evening for our service, it is appropriate that we remember in the past twelve months over 2021 and 2022 there has been tremendous heartache as the result of mining accidents across this country,” Thomas Wilson, a retired UMWA staff representative, announced from the podium. “Twelve coal miners’ lives have been snuffed out—also, 19 metal and non-metal miners—for a total of 31 fallen miners since we last gathered.”

The annual Miners’ Memorial Service commemorates not only those who left for work in the mines over the past year never to come home again; it also honors the 13 men who died in a series of explosions in Jim Walter Resources Mine No. 5 in Brookwood on September 23, 2001. Standing on the front lawn of the church in the shadows of mine tipples, families reminisced about gathering at the same location on that fateful day in September when they anxiously waited to hear if their loved ones had survived the blasts.

In 2001, the No. 5 mine was owned by Walter Energy. Today it is part of Warrior Met Coal, the company at the center of the UMWA’s 550-day strike, the longest and largest ongoing strike in the United States. As strikers, families, and community members gathered to remember the fallen miners, all were reminded that what is at stake in the Warrior Met strike is, literally, life and death.

Coal industry workers in Australia are taking their destiny into their own hands

By Léo Roussel - Equal Times, September 30, 2022

The coal industry is to Australia what the Second Amendment of the US Constitution (granting citizens the right to bear arms) is to the United States: it would be hard to imagine the country without it. With fossil fuels still accounting for 92 per cent of Australia’s energy mix, including 29 per cent for coal in 2021, the industry is still vigorously defended by lobbies, even in parliamentary circles and the corridors of ministries.

Australia’s conservative former prime minister Scott Morrison famously held up a piece of coal in Parliament in 2017, when he was finance minister, admonishing his colleagues not to be afraid of it. When he became prime minister, he also directly surrounded himself with lobbyists like John Kunkel, former vice-chairman of the Minerals Council of Australia, who he appointed chief of staff in 2018.

In the Hunter Valley, a region north of Sydney in the state of New South Wales, the local economy is still dominated by coal. From the mines to the cargo ships departing from the port of Newcastle, the industry directly and indirectly employs more than 17,000 people. “Newcastle is the world’s largest coal port,” says Dr Liam Phelan, a researcher at the University of Newcastle (Australia) specialising in the uncertainties and risks of climate change. “Coal mining has been a part of life here since white people arrived in Australia.”

For many years, mining projects were still supported and approved, not least by the Morrison government, which was widely condemned in Australia and around the world for its inaction on climate change. But the tides have begun to turn. In May 2022, voters ousted ‘ScoMo’ and returned Labor to power. The new prime minister Anthony Albanese has promised to make Australia a “renewable energy superpower” and to reduce the country’s CO₂ emissions by 43 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030 – a target that the scientists of the Climate Change Authority nonetheless still consider to be insufficient.

Leaving energy transition aside, the Australian coal industry has already seen its exports slow in recent years, partly as a result of the trade war with China since 2020, while domestic demand has shifted to cleaner energy sources which are gaining ground. According to Clean Energy Council’s 2022 energy report: “The Australian renewable energy industry accounted for 32.5 per cent of Australia’s total electricity generation in 2021, which represented an increase of almost 5 percentage points compared to 2020.”

Global Climate Jobs Conference 2022: Fossil fuel workers and climate jobs

Global Climate Jobs Conference 2022: Jonathan Neale on the meaning of Climate Jobs

Supporting Coal Workers and Communities in the Energy Transition

By Sam Mardell and Jeremy Richardson - Rocky Mountain Institute, September 15, 2022

Across the United States, the transition from fossil fuels to a clean energy economy is accelerating and will be supercharged by the recent passage of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). The clean energy transition is creating widespread social benefits ranging from lower and more stable energy costs to improved air quality. However, without thoughtful planning, the shift to clean energy will harm workers who depend on fossil fuels for their livelihoods, as well as the communities where they live and work.

Policymakers have an opportunity to shape a clean energy transition that supports workers and communities instead of leaving them behind. The fossil fuel industry is central to the economic life of communities across the country, and the real risks these communities face in the clean energy transition — job loss, depressed property values, and reduced local tax revenue for social services and institutions — can be devastating. Well-designed, targeted, proactive, and long-term interventions can help diversify local economies and drive new economic activity that aligns the global need for rapid decarbonization with local visions and priorities.

And governments are beginning to take notice of this risk and opportunity. Over the past few years, seven states passed bills designed to support coal workers and communities facing economic transition. The IRA and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law of 2021 represent the largest set of investments and resources available to support energy communities in history. These laws could even eclipse 50 years of investments in economic development by the Appalachian Regional Commission.

Building on previous work by key stakeholders, we introduce a policy framework that outlines the risks facing fossil fuel workers and communities in the shift to clean energy and provides guiding principles for supporting them in the transition. RMI’s fossil fuel community recovery and revitalization framework can be used to assess the strengths and gaps in existing legislation and help policymakers and advocates develop and implement comprehensive, strategic policies to support a fair transition from fossil fuels.

RMI’s recovery and revitalization framework consists of three steps:

  1. Relief for fossil fuel workers and communities to alleviate losses of local revenue and jobs that occur immediately following fossil fuel facility closure
  2. Reclamation of remaining fossil fuel sites to prevent prolonged pollution risks and promote short- and medium-term job creation and local economic activity
  3. Reinvestment in fossil fuel communities to promote long-term economic resilience and diversification

Ukrainian Coal Miners Defy National Protest Ban to Go on Strike

By Kateryna Semchuk and Thomas Rowley - Open Democracy, September 14, 2022

Miners and management at a state-owned coal operation in western Ukraine have called a strike over what they say is an attempt to seize control of the mine.

The strike action at Mine No. 9 in the town of Novovolynsk continues the first major workers’ protest in Ukraine since Russia’s 24 February invasion and the Ukrainian government’s announcement of martial law, which forbids all protests.

Last month, the miners prevented a new director from taking up his post, citing his alleged link to an embezzlement scandal at another coal mine in the region.

They also claimed that his appointment had been made on the say-so of local smotriashchiy – a term for the Ukrainian coal sector’s network of corrupt unofficial overseers. That director denied any wrongdoing and stated he was not under investigation.

Now, they say, efforts to take control of the mine have reached a new level and the miners have gone on strike to protect their jobs and working conditions.

They describe a stark sequence of events. On 9 September, a new manager arrived at Mine No. 9 with a lawyer and a dozen private security guards.

Here’s How Appalachian States Can Create “Good-Paying, Union Jobs” Cleaning Up Mines

By Ben Hunkler - Ohio River Valley Institute, August 25 2022

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) earmarks $16 billion for cleaning up legacy damage from the coal and gas industries, an investment that Deb Haaland, Secretary of the Department of the Interior, has promised will create “good-paying, union jobs” across Appalachia.

Ohio River Valley Institute research shows that BIL funding could create as many as 4,000 jobs reclaiming coal mine damage, primarily in Appalachian counties with disproportionately high unemployment and poverty rates. But how will these jobs compare to the precarious, low- wage jobs that proliferate in the region? They may provide above-average wages, but they likely won’t be union and won’t pay enough to support a family.

Read the text (PDF).

NLRB demand for UMWA to pay Warrior Met Coal strike costs “outrageous,” threatens American workers’ right to strike

By staff - United Mine Workers Of America, August 3, 2022

The United Mine Workers of America today made it clear that it will vigorously challenge an outrageous assessment of damages made by the National Labor Relations Board Region 10 regarding the UMWA’s 16-month strike against Warrior Met Coal in Alabama.

“This is a slap in the face not just to the workers who are fighting for better jobs at Warrior Met Coal, but to every worker who stands up to their boss anywhere in America,” UMWA International President Cecil E. Roberts said. “There are charges for security, cameras, capital expenditures, buses for transporting scabs across picket lines, and the cost of lost production.

“What is the purpose of a strike if not to impact the operations of the employer, including production,” Roberts asked. “Is it now the policy of the federal government that unions be required to pay a company’s losses as a consequence of their members exercising their rights as working people? This is outrageous and effectively negates workers’ right to strike. It cannot stand.”

The union entered into a settlement agreement in June with NLRB Region 10 regarding charges the company had made about picket line activity in order to save striking members and families from days of hostile questioning by company lawyers. On July 22, the NLRB sent the union a detailed list of damages totaling $13.3 million dollars, more than 33 times the estimated amount NLRB lawyers had initially indicated would be assessed.

Warrior Met has reported millions of dollars in costs it has incurred over the course of the strike. “It appears that Warrior Met wants us to reimburse it for those costs, including costs it incurred before the strike even began,” Roberts said. “What’s extremely troubling here is that the NLRB appears to have taken up the company’s cause without a second thought.

“I want to be clear: Warrior Met Coal instigated this strike and has brutally extended it through its sustained unwillingness to reach a fair and reasonable agreement at the bargaining table,” Roberts said. “We have no intention of paying its costs for doing so. The right to strike in America must be preserved. We will fight this at every level, in every court. We will spend every penny of our resources rather than give in to something like this from the NLRB, Warrior Met or any other entity.”

As Illinois Coal Jobs Disappear, Some Are Looking to the Sun

By Kari Lydersen - In These Times, May 26, 2022

While Illinois phases out coal, clean energy jobs hold promise—both for displaced coal workers, and those harmed by the fossil fuel economy.

Matt Reuscher was laid off a decade ago from Peabody Energy’s Gateway coal mine in Southern Illinois, in the midst of a drought that made the water needed to wash the coal too scarce and caused production to drop, as he remembers it.

Reuscher’s grandfather and two uncles had been miners, and his father — a machinist — did much work with the mines. Like many young men in Southern Illinois, it was a natural career choice for Reuscher. Still in his early 20s when he was laid off, Reuscher ​“spent that summer doing odds and ends, not really finding much of anything I enjoyed doing as much as being underground.”

By fall of 2012, he started working installing solar panels for StraightUp Solar, one of very few solar companies operating in the heart of Illinois coal country. He heard about the job through a family friend and figured he’d give it a try since he had a construction background. He immediately loved the work, and he’s become an evangelist for the clean energy shift happening nationwide, if more slowly in Southern Illinois. With colleagues, he fundraised to install solar panels in tiny villages on the Miskito Coast of Nicaragua, and he became a solar electrician and worked on StraightUp Solar installations powering the wastewater treatment center and civic center in Carbondale, Illinois — a town named for coal. 

Solar installation pays considerably less than coal mining, Reuscher acknowledges, but he feels it’s a safer and healthier way to support his family — including two young sons who love the outdoors as much as he does. 

“You work with people who are really conscious about the environment. That rubs off on me and then rubs off on them,” Reuscher notes, referring to his sons.

Illinois has more than a dozen coal mines and more than a dozen coal-fired power plants that are required to close or reach zero carbon emissions by 2030 (for privately-owned plants) or 2045 (for the state’s two publicly-owned plants), though most will close much sooner due to market forces. Reaching zero carbon emissions would entail complete carbon capture and sequestration, which has not been achieved at commercial scale anywhere in the United States. 

Coal mines also frequently lay off workers, as the industry is in financial duress, though Illinois coal is bolstered by a healthy export market. A ​“just transition” — which refers to providing jobs and opportunities for workers and communities impacted by the decline of fossil fuels — has been an increasing priority of environmental movements nation-wide, and was a major focus of Illinois’ 2021 Climate and Equitable Jobs Act (CEJA). The idea is that people long burdened by fossil fuel pollution and dependent on fossil fuel economies should benefit from the growth of clean energy. Reuscher’s story is a perfect example. 

But in Illinois, as nationally, his transition is a rarity. Solar and other clean energy jobs have more often proven not to be an attractive or accessible option for former coal workers. And advocates and civic leaders have prioritized a broader and also difficult goal: striving to provide clean energy opportunities for not only displaced fossil fuel workers, but for those who have been harmed by fossil fuels or left out of the economic opportunities fossil fuels provided.

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