Once again, a study has shown that unionized coal mines are not only safer places to work than nonunion mines, but that union miners produce more coal. The study, by SNL Energy, found that in 2013 unionized mines in northern and central Appalachia produced about 94,091 tons of coal per injury versus 71,110 in nonunion mines, despite research suggesting that unionized miners are more likely to report injuries that have occurred on the job.
The SNL report notes that its findings follow a 2012 study authored by Stanford University labor regulation expert Alison Morantz and found that unionization is associated with a 13% to 30% drop in traumatic injuries and a 28% to 83% drop in fatalities in data from 1993 to 2010.
When it comes to production, union miners produced about 17% more coal per employee an hour than workers at nonunion mines in 2013 and 16% more last year.
In an article on the study on its website, Phil Smith, a spokesman for the Mine Workers (UMWA), told SNL Energy:
The union was formed 125 years ago by miners seeking to improve their pay and working conditions, including making the mines safer places to work. Those needs still exist today. [SNL Energy's] data demonstrates that union mines are safer mines; others have found similar results.
Both Smith and Tony Oppegard, a Kentucky attorney who specializes in mining laws and coal mine safety, pointed to the protections in a union contract, including the right to refuse unsafe work without retaliation and a worker-elected and empowered mine safety committee, as key factors in the better safety records at union mines. Oppegard said:
You work in a nonunion mine, you pretty much do what you're told to do, including risking life and limb, or else you're going to lose your job….At a nonunion mine, they don't have that same cushion to try to resolve issues at the job site.