This article was written by Cath Kestler, resident of Silver Creek. It can also be found in the (Dunkirk) Observer Today
A good wage in exchange for a hard day’s work is what used to be the norm, but not anymore. Coal miners, in my opinion, is one of the most dangerous jobs out there with little or no regards for safety or health concerns from the employers and the actions of the said employers speak volumes.
Coal miners face a plethora of dangers related to working in what often amounts to unsafe, cramped facilities. The constant threat of injury to miners includes falling objects, equipment malfunctions, and roof collapses. The threat of physical injury is a real concern, though this is not the only threat that miners face on a daily basis. Miners run a profound risk of respiratory damage through the high levels of dust and other chemical particulates which are rather prevalent in deep coal mining.
The communities located within the proximity of mining operations face a broad array of health concerns due to several factors. The use of explosives creates a great amount of dust which affects the respiratory health of nearby communities. The explosives are made of chemicals which have been linked to poisoning of local area residents. Underwater water tables are capable of fracturing and often lead to contamination of drinking water by heavy metals, mine drainage, and methane gas.
In spite of all the above mentioned risks, let’s not forget about the overall mental health and the effect it has on a family that has it’s breadwinner in constant danger on a daily basis.
Alpha Natural Resources is one of the four largest coal companies located in the US that have filed for bankruptcy last year. This company unveiled a plan to pay its top executives multi-million dollar bonuses over a period of six months to slash benefits for workers and to dodge environmental clean-up requirements resulted from their filing for bankruptcy.
When 2014 loomed over the horizon, it was apparent that Alpha was on the verge of financial collapse; they paid their CEO Kevin Crutchfield close to $8 million and former President Paul Vining more than $4.5 billion. Other top executives were promised a $2 million retention bonuses for staying on the job through August 2016; thus to ensure the “high-level” performances they have shown in the past. One would think that their bloated salaries they collected would cover this…
You should question, why dole out millions to the same executives that bankrupted the coal giant to begin with? These executives proposed to eliminate health insurance, disability and other benefits for mine workers to save the company money to protect the company’s cash reserves and to have the cash on hand to assure those same executives receive their bonuses. This questionable move would hit hard more than 4,500 already disabled former employees, non-union retirees, and their families extensively.
Money comes before workers and Alpha isn’t alone in letting down the American workers that literally built the company to line the pockets of the wealthy. I wouldn’t stop to say the lives lost padding the bank accounts of the executives that probably have never been near the actual mines, let alone get their hands dirty.
Peabody Energy, in an effort to sabotage its workers, spun-off a special “designed to fail” company, Patriot Coal Corporation as a way for the largest US coal producer to shirk its duties to retired and disabled workers. Patriot just so happened to take on the responsibility for the thousands of retired or disabled mine workers benefits, then hit them in the pocketbook by filing Chapter 11—leaving them without the benefits promised.
LOOPHOLES. I long for the day when the employer actually cared for the employees that made them wealthy. A quote comes to mind from Gordon Gecko, a character from the movie, Wall Street—‘Greed, greed is good.’ That was the shot across the bow and the cause of the widening divide between employers versus employee.
The big kick in the pants is that these companies receive subsidies from the government and literally pay ZERO taxes. These same companies also donate large amounts of money to grease the palms of lawmakers and they also have a massive contingency of lobbyists knocking on the doors of Capitol Hill.
Middle-class Joe has often been thrown to the wayside when all of these wheeling and dealings take place being as the wealth being built is done so on his/her hard work. Being overlooked sucks. Golden parachutes suck. It’s now time for us to rise up and be heard. Do your homework; check out the current representatives that represent you. Do they represent what you voted them in to do? If not, vote them out. Ask questions, you are their boss ultimately, you hold the vote they want. Vote wisely.