Remember the phrase “good union job”? In contrast to the contingent fragile world of retail, service and fast food, a good union job is the sort union coal miners have. At least that’s what thousands of veteran union miners thought, until suddenly last summer, they discovered that just like some Walmart sub-contractee, a boss they’d never worked for was trying to break their contract.
Contracts are the heart of “good union jobs.” The work may not be glamorous, but the contract gives workers a fair shake. Through collective bargaining, they’re able to cut a deal, and in the case of coal miners, that deal is a matter of life and death. Talk to any miner’s wife and she’ll tell you she worries every minute he’s underground, but once he hits the surface, and if he makes it to retirement, at least he and the family will have “Cadillac” coverage. That's what they've won, in exchange for spending their lives digging rock out of the underside of a mountain in the dark, so the rest of us can run our factories, or turn our lights on.
Living wages, basic safety protections, and guaranteed quality healthcare for life. That’s the deal the union fought for, and after 120 years in existence, complete with coalfield wars from Colorado to Harlan County, that’s the deal the venerable United Mineworkers of America was able to extract from American coal companies.
As union leaders explain in this informational video, the UMWA extracted decades of those contracts with Peabody Energy and Arch Coal. The companies signed, the miners worked, and the contracts, and the profits piled up, until we hit era of extreme corporate hubris, which is to say, the turn of this century.
At the same time that companies like Apple and Google were figuring out how to avoid paying tax by moving to tiny exotic islands (or Ireland), and banks and mortgage companies were coming up with derivatives and bundled assets, big coal companies, like Peabody and Arch found that by spinning off smaller companies they could rearrange their responsibilities and their liabilities. One of those smaller companies was Patriot Coal. In 2007 The Patriot Coal Corporation was created by Peabody and acquired all the company's union operations east of the Mississippi. By 2012, Patriot had acquired most of the union mines of Arch Coal too.