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United Mine Workers of America (UMWA)

Coal Mine Cleanup Works: A Look at the Potential Employment Needs for Mine Reclamation in the West

By Kate French - Western Organization of Resource Councils (WORC), July 2020

The collapse of the coal industry is devastating small communities across the Western United States, but reclaiming these mined lands quickly could create up to 4,800 full-time equivalent jobs per year in the critical two to three year period after mine closure according to our new report, Coal Mine Cleanup Works. The report estimates potential reclamation job creation for four Western coal states (Colorado, Montana, North Dakota, and Wyoming) and provides recommendations for decision makers to ensure cleanup is fully funded and employs the local workforce. 

These findings offer a rare bright light of opportunity for coal communities that are facing massive lay-offs and lost revenue as the coal industry crumbles. Reclamation is one of the few immediately available job opportunities for local workers after a mine shuts down, and the report finds that these jobs are ideally suited for current or former miners.

Coal Mine Cleanup Works key findings include:

  • Surface coal mine reclamation could create up to 4,800 full-time equivalent jobs per year in the critical two to three year period after mine closure. These potential yearly jobs represent up to 65% of the current surface mining workforce in the four-state region. 
  • Reclamation is one of the few immediately available job opportunities for local workers after a mine shut down, and the report finds that these jobs are ideally suited for current or former miners.
  • An important component of a just economic transition is having some immediate job creation solutions, like cleanup jobs, paired with longer-term job solutions.
  • Delayed and underfunded reclamation are the biggest hurdles to getting laid-off miners back on the job doing cleanup work.

Read the text (PDF).

Bargaining Electric Power: Miners, Blackouts, and the Politics of Illumination in the United States, 1965-1979

By Trish Kahle - Journal of Energy History, December 12, 2019

This article examines how the perils conjured by blackouts in American cities after 1965 became interpreted as a key point of political and bargaining leverage for the nation’s coal miners. The anxieties provoked by these blackouts –sexual deviance, urban unrest, spoiled food, lost productivity, and Cold War incursions– pointed to a broader crisis of American political and social life driven by the massive social changes which had taken place since the end of the Second World War. As the United States entered the 1970s, a long-range energy crisis appeared not only to secure the future of the once-imperiled coal industry in the United States, but also allowed miners to recast their union as a bedrock of national security rather than as one of the main sources of the nation’s labor unrest.

Evoking the threat of coerced darkness in the modern American home which had been designed for bright illumination, they also pointed to the figurative darkness of the coal mining workscape, described by one miner as “beating the devil at a game of hell”: the constant threat of black lung, disablement, and death. A form of collective bargaining leverage thus opened up a broader debate: how, given the deadly work of coal extraction, could energy be produced in a democratic society that guaranteed the right to life, liberty, property, and, increasingly, light? Did “one man” have to “die every day” to keep the nation’s lights on? This paper argues that miners used the framework of lights and darknesses to contend that mines must be made safe and energy democratized in order to stabilize the energy regime in crisis. In so doing, they framed a new politics of illumination which allowed them to navigate a new terrain of collective action.

Read the text (PDF).

A Just Transition: Workforce Development and Jobs for a New Clean Economy

By staff - Bioneers, August 21, 2019

We know that the climate imperative in front of us is to transition as rapidly and comprehensively as possible from a fossil fuel based economy to a global economic system that runs on clean energy. Among the thornier questions involved in this shift is how the bold new economic visions for this large-scale transformation can support working-class families whose livelihoods are currently tied to the fossil fuel-based economy.

“Just Transition,” is the phrase frequently invoked as the answer to this question. In this panel from Bioneers 2019, four leaders answer the question, “What does a Just Transition Mean?” They outline the need for and progress towards proactive labor policies to ensure an equitable future for families and communities. With:

This is an edited transcript from a panel hosted at the Bioneers 2019 Conference.

AFL-CIO Energy Committee releases letter opposing the Green New Deal

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, March 12, 2019

A letter, dated March 8, was addressed to Senator Ed Markey and Representative Alexandra Ocasio Cortez, and signed by  Cecil Roberts, president of the United Mine Workers of America , and Lonnie Stephenson, president of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, on behalf of the  AFL-CIO’s Energy Committee.  The letter  states :   “..the Green New Deal resolution is far too short on specific solutions that speak to the jobs of our members and the critical sectors of our economy. It is not rooted in an engineering-based approach and makes promises that are not achievable or realistic.”  “…We want to engage on climate issues in a manner that does not impinge on enacting other labor priorities, especially much-needed infrastructure legislation…”

How they would engage and what they would propose is contained in a position paper posted on the IBEW website, and drafted by the IBEW, UMWA, and five other unions in the electric utility, construction, and rail transport sectors.  The position paper,  Preliminary  Labor Positions on Climate Legislation , states their opposition to carbon tax legislation and grave concerns about the Green New Deal . It calls for comprehensive, economy wide climate legislation which would include an national emissions trading scheme, to be introduced no earlier than 10 years after enacting legislation, to allow for development of Carbon Capture Utilization and Storage (CCUS)  technologies.  It also calls for worker transition protections, including compensation and retraining.  The policy document was submitted to the House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee for the record of their  February 6th meeting:  “Time for Action: Addressing the Economic and Environmental Effects of Climate Change“.

Reaction:  The Washington Post reported:  “AFL-CIO criticizes Green New Deal, calling it ‘not achievable or realistic’” (March 12)  and  in a follow-up piece , “Labor opposition to Green New Deal could be a big obstacle” ( March 14).  The United Mine Workers re-posted the Washington Post article .  Friends of the Earth, in its reaction to the March 8 letter, states “one-fifth of the unions that make up the AFL-CIO energy committee commented on the Green New Deal”,  and,  “With the energy committee’s position, the AFL joins climate deniers like the Koch brothers, the Republican Party and Big Oil. We encourage the AFL and other unions within it to rethink this position.”

Labor Unions and Green Transitions in the USA

By Dimitris Stevis - Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces to Respond to Climate Change, February 27, 2019

“In broad terms there are now two camps amongst US labour unions with respect to climate change and renewables (the two not always related). On one side, are those unions that believe that something needs to be done about climate change and that renewables are a good strategy. On the other side are those that are opposed to meaningful climate policy –even as they claim that climate change is a problem.”

This report outlines the deep cleavages with respect to climate policy but also argues that the views of unions are more complex and contradictory than the opposition-support dichotomy. Additionally, it seeks to understand what explains the variability in union responses to climate change and policy. What can account for the contradictions evident amongst and within unions?

Read the report (PDF).

The Teacher Strike in West Virginia: Interview with IWW Teacher Michael Mochaidean

By Radical Education Department - It's Going Down, March 12, 2018

The Radical Education Department talks with West Virginia wobbly Michael Mochaidean, who has also spoken with IGD several times, about the recent teachers’ strike.

West Virginia has been rocked by a statewide strike by teachers, bus drivers, and other school employees.  Today, March 2nd, the strike enters its seventh day.

Beginning on February 22nd, workers shut down public schools in all 55 of West Virginia’s counties, rejecting abysmal and declining teacher pay and the state’s attack on public employees’ health insurance.  The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), one of the unions helping to organize the strikers, reports the following worker demands:

  • A natural gas severance tax that creates a self-sustaining source of revenue for PEIA [Public Employees Insurance Agency] and public employee pay.

  • No regressive taxes, which ultimately affect working-class families more than the wealthy elite.

  • A permanent tabling to any and all legislation pertaining to co-tenancy and joint development, which allow large natural gas industries to engulf local landowners.

  • A pay raise of 5% per year over the next half decade.

  • A permanent tabling to any and all legislation pertaining to charter schools, voucher systems, and any attempts to privatize public schools.

On February 27th, Governor Justice announced an agreement with three of the major teacher unions in the state: a 5% pay increase for teachers as well as a 3% increase for state employees generally. Union officials and the governor alike pleaded for school employees to return to work, despite the fact that key demands remain unmet.

On March 1st, however–defying the governor and official union leaders–teachers refused to return to work, swarming the capitol and chanting “It’s not over.”

Meanwhile, that same day, even the modest pay raise was refused in the state legislature.

(Following) is an interview conducted via email between John Schultz of RED and Michael Mochaidean, a West Virginia teacher and member of the IWW.

West Virginia: Extend the Strike, Build Long Term Power

By West Virginia IWW members - It's Going Down, February 26, 2018 (includes a February 27 update, below)

What follows is a proposal for how to extend the strike unfolding in West Virginia. To hear our interview with a striking teacher, go here.

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The statewide strike of teachers in West Virginia that started on February 22nd is a model for teachers and other working-class people across the US of how we can struggle together for what we need. It is a desperately needed example of mass working-class solidarity in a time when the rich are attempting to fracture us even more. It is also an important model of the kinds of strikes we can wage when we realize that the existing labor laws (the same ones that the rich are trying to destroy anyways) are traps designed by the rich to tie our arms behind our backs and hold us back.

Some teachers and supporters in West Virginia are organizing through the IWW to spread a revolutionary unionist perspective in the current strike, to expand the strike and strengthen the militant mood of the teachers, and to build for long-term organization that is not reliant on politicians or bureaucrats. They will begin by distributing a leaflet to encourage teachers and other members of the working class to extend and expand the current struggle, and they will be looking for openings to expand on that organizing.

You can support their organizing by donating here. Funds raised will be used to print agitational materials, to cover travel costs related to organizing, to rent spaces or cover child-care for meetings, and to cover other costs related to building a militant and organized presence among teachers and working-class people in West Virginia.

The text of the leaflet they will be distributing is below. We also welcome anyone in West Virginia, or any teachers anywhere, or anyone else, to download the PDF and distribute it in your workplaces, schools, churches, and neighborhoods.

The Power of Working Class Solidarity

What Do We Face?

Jim Justice and the Republican-dominated legislature seek to cut state funding to the Public Employees Insurance Agency (PEIA), increasing premiums over the next several years, and eliminating teacher seniority while opening up the possibility of charter schools to privatize public education in areas in most need of quality public servants. The goal for this legislature is to utterly decimate public sector labor, reap obscene profits through private charter school investments which lack accountability measures, and ultimately reduce the quality of education in the state.

We know that both Democrats and Republicans no longer have a need for a highly-educated workforce. Instead, they seek to create a system of obedient workers who can perform the menial tasks asked of them by their corporate masters without questioning the powers that be. Careers that provide meaningful employment with a steady wage and quality health care no longer exist for the many. They have been replaced, over the course of the past few decades, with a series of half-hearted promises by both parties. If we do not act NOW to halt this reactionary legislation, we will ultimately lose our future – our children’s future – to big business and the corporate-controlled parties.

In sum, we face the daunting challenge to confront elitism in our political party system and the legislation they seek to create. BUT, we cannot create a new destiny simply by voting out one party and replacing it with another. For substantive change to occur, we must FIRST organize around our common destiny as workers.

Trump's Insistence on Coal Revival Finds Pushback Even In Coal Country

By Julia Conley - Comon Dreams, October 30, 2017

President Donald Trump pledged to end the "war on coal" by slashing regulations and putting coal miners "back to work." New research, however delivers a rebuke to the moves, indicating that they're harming the very mining communities he's professing to help—and that Americans in "coal country" are far more willing to adapt to new sources of employment.

"I'm beginning to see some real enthusiasm, particularly among young people in small communities in West Virginia, to begin looking for something beyond coal," said one West Virginian who was interviewed by three researchers at Indiana University for the study.

The team interviewed residents of two coal mining towns in the state in July 2016, as then-candidate Donald Trump was making repeated campaign promises to put coal miners back to work by fighting regulations put in place by the Obama administration.

In their resulting report, to be printed in the March 2018 edition of Energy Research and Social Science, the researchers said they found that the federal government would better serve former coal mining communities by investing in professional development programs, education, and healthcare services rather than pushing for deregulation of the coal industry.

One respondent who participated in the researchers' focus groups said, "Coal is probably not coming back, or if it is, it's not what it once was, so I'm going to learn as [many] new and exciting things as I can. I want to get a degree, so I'm more hire-able later on."

Meanwhile, Trump has heralded his rollback of Obama-era rules that limited pollution from coal-fired power plants, assuring supporters that regulations were the cause of the coal sector's 71 percent employment drop since 1985. The researchers found that as many Trump critics have stressed, it's unlikely "that these policy changes will drastically affect the country's current energy transition."

The loss of coal jobs has resulted far more from greater demand for less expensive, cleaner energy production methods like solar and wind power, than from environmental regulations, the study notes.

While Trump has frequently visited Appalachia to tell citizens he will bring their jobs back and retain the deeply-embedded culture of coal mining that exists in the region, the authors of the study found "substantial evidence that Appalachian coal communities are working to shed the culture of coal and develop new opportunities and an evolving conception of identity based on these opportunities," said researcher Sanya Carley.

"I think longer term, it is an opportunity, despite all the pain that people feel to finally diversify our economy, to be healthier, and diversify how we create energy ourselves, to be a kind of a healthier, more vibrant place," one study respondent said of the shift to new sources of energy.

The authors of the study urge the Trump administration to join former coal towns in finding new opportunities for economic development, education, and professional growth for citizens.

After years of decline, the crippling disease is rebounding, worse than before

By Dan Radmacher - Appalachian Voices, August 22, 2017

“There is an epidemic here in Southwest Virginia, in Eastern Kentucky, in Southern West Virginia,” says Ron Carson, director of the Black Lung Program at Virginia’s Stone Mountain Health Services. “Miners are getting sicker and dying at a much younger age. A lot of people are going to be shocked when they see the numbers.”

Carson has been working with researchers from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health to put hard numbers to this deadly resurgence, and he says they have been astounded by the number of cases Carson’s clinic is seeing of progressive massive fibrosis cases, the most serious form of black lung disease.

In a report from similar research released last December, NIOSH researchers found a cluster of 60 such cases from one Eastern Kentucky radiology practice over a nine-month period — three times the number of cases the national Coal Workers’ Health Surveillance Program found from 2011 to 2016.

Around the same time the NIOSH report was released, an NPR investigation by Howard Berkes aired that identified more than 1,000 cases of progressive massive fibrosis during the past decade — 10 times the number officially recognized by the federal government.

Complicated black lung is debilitating in the extreme, Carson says. “Some young miners come in to this clinic in wheelchairs because they don’t have enough breath to walk,” he says. “We have miners at age 28 with eight years of exposure to coal dust waiting for a lung transplant.”

Progressive massive fibrosis, like other forms of black lung disease, cannot be cured and is eventually fatal. Carson says the clinic focuses on easing the miners’ suffering. “We make every effort to give them a better quality of life,” he says. “Therapists do pulmonary rehab and work on patient education. They talk to them about winterizing their lungs — cold air has drastic effects on this condition.”

Jill Hutchison, the first director of the Black Lung Clinics Program in West Virginia and retired CEO of the West Virginia Primary Care Association, said the number of miners treated in West Virginia’s 18 black lung clinics increased by 26 percent last year.

“Black lung is not going away,” she says. “It is an ugly disease. It’s heart-breaking to watch a miner struggle just to breathe. The clinic’s helping black lung patients use medicine, dietary recommendations and exercise to improve their quality of life as much as possible.”

The Coal Industry is a Job Killer

By Basav Sen - CounterPunch, April 28, 2017

When Donald Trump announced he was rolling back the Obama administration’s signature climate rules this spring, he invited coal miners to share the limelight with him. He promised this would end the so-called “war on coal” and bring mining jobs back to coal country.

He was dead wrong on both counts.

Trump has blamed the prior administration’s Clean Power Plan for the loss of coal jobs. But there’s an obvious problem with this claim: The plan hasn’t even gone into effect! Repealing it will do nothing to reverse the worldwide economic and technological forces driving the decline of the coal industry.

And the problem is global. As concern rises over carbon dioxide, more and more countries are turning away from coal. U.S. coal exports are down, and coal plant construction is slowing the world over — even as renewables become cheaper and more widespread.

To really bring back coal jobs, Trump would have to wish these trends away — along with technological automation and natural gas, which have taken a much bigger bite out of coal jobs than any regulation.

Could domestic regulation have played some role in the decline of coal? Sure, some. Rules limiting emissions of mercury and other pollutants from burning coal, and limiting the ability of coal-burning utilities to dump toxic coal ash in rivers and streams, likely put some financial pressure on coal power plants.

However, those costs should be weighed against the profound health benefits of cleaner air and water.

Cleaning up coal power plants (and reducing their number) leads to fewer children with asthma, fewer costly emergency room visits, and fewer costly disaster responses when massive amounts of toxic coal ash leach into drinking water sources, to name just a few benefits. Most reasonable people would agree those aren’t small things.

There’s also the fact that the decline in coal jobs, while painful for those who rely on them, tells only a small part of the story. In fact, there are alternatives that could put hundreds of thousands of people back to work.

Here are a few little-known facts: Coal accounts for about 26 percent of the electricity generating capacity in our country — and about 160,000 jobs. Solar energy accounts for just 2 percent of our power generation — and 374,000 jobs.

In other words, solar has created more than twice as many jobs as coal, with only a sliver of the electric grid. So if the intent truly is to create more jobs, where would a rational government focus its efforts?

It’s not just solar, either. The fastest growing occupation in the U.S. is wind turbine technician. And a typical wind turbine technician makes $25.50 an hour, more than many fossil fuel workers.

By rolling back commonsense environmental restraints on the coal industry, Trump is allowing the industry to externalize its terrible social and environmental costs on all of us, giving the industry a hidden subsidy. He’s also reopening federal lands to new coal leases, at rates that typically run well below actual market value.

By subsidizing a less-job intensive and more established industry, Trump’s misguided policy changes will thwart the growth of the emerging solar and wind industries, which could create many, many more jobs than coal. In fact, hurting these industries by helping coal might even result in a net job loss for everyone.

Then again, maybe this was never about jobs. Maybe the administration’s intent all along was to reward well-connected coal (and oil and gas) oligarchs who make hefty campaign contributions. If so, that was a good investment for them.

For ordinary working people — and for our planet — the cost could be too much to bear.

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