Archive for January 12th, 2009
After brooding, stewing, some begging and prodding, Roger Horton decided to do something.
“What happened was for the longest time we’d been hearing here in the coalfields that there are two sides,” Horton said, “those of the environmentalists and those of the coal industry.
“We’d continue to one day work and the next day fight to continue to work, and for that reason we decided to establish a grassroots organization that would allow the citizens who have a stake in this … to have a venue to express their concerns and also to express the way that they live and how they depend upon the coal industry to help them live.”
REGINA — Mosaic confirmed Monday it will lay off more than 1,000 of workers at its potash mines in Esterhazy and Colonsay due to slow fertilizer demand, the global credit crisis and growing potash inventories.
Layoffs notices were set to 360 hourly employees at Mosaic’s Colonsay mine east of Saskatoon on Thursday and to 700 hourly employees at Mosaic’s Esterhazy mine on Friday.
Every weekday, Tom Sorrell rattles around Northern Virginia in a noisy tractor-trailer, struggling through tight turns and traffic, picking up and dropping off cartons and pallets of just about anything until there’s no more to be done. For this, the 16-year veteran driver makes $22.71 an hour.
Yesterday, his pay dropped 10 percent.
In what some say is a forerunner of the concessions U.S. workers will be asked to make during the recession, the 40,000 members of Sorrell’s union, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, voted to approve a wage cut to keep afloat their employer, YRC Worldwide, a Fortune 500 trucking company.
In the spring of 1914, members of the Colorado National Guard machine-gunned and set fire to tents in Ludlow, Colorado, where striking miners were living with their families. Five miners, two miners’ wives, and twelve children died, most of them by suffocation while hiding in a cellar under a burning tent. The miners fought back, and, all told, more than seventy-five people were killed in the course of the dispute, roughly as many on the mine owners’ side as on the strikers’. In his new book, “Killing for Coal” (Harvard; $29.95), Thomas G. Andrews calls it the deadliest labor struggle in American history.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. – A local union has launched a new challenge to stop unpaid furlough days for Metro employees.
Teamsters’ Local 783 represents nearly 900 employees who work in several Metro government agencies.
VIRGINIA’S SMALL BUSINESSES are struggling right now because of the recession. They’re struggling to get customers, pay bills and keep the doors open.
The last thing Virginia’s family-owned businesses need is some bureaucrat dictating the wages and benefits they pay their employees.
This is the first in a series of occasional articles looking at health care reform proposals from a wide range of groups and experts.
The incoming Obama administration is still developing a comprehensive plan to address a broad range of health care concerns. The AFL-CIO has not endorsed a specific plan but has called for one that secures high-quality health care for all.
In September 2007, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) confirmed what doctors and occupational health specialists had been seeing when examining X-rays of coal miners’ lungs during the past several years. After years of decline, the rate of deadly disease had doubled and was appearing in younger and younger miners. (Click here to read our coverage of the NIOSH report.)
Black lung disease, also called pneumoconiosis, is caused by breathing in coal dust. It slowly robs victims of their ability to breath. At the time, health care experts were puzzled by the spike in black lung cases.
The basic facts suggest, as Mine Workers (UMWA) President Cecil Roberts said that September, either the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) was not enforcing the safety rule that set a limit on how much coal dust could be in a mine’s atmosphere (two milligrams per cubic centimeter) or the permissible level was too high, or a combination of the two.
This week, the folks at the well-respected job safety and health website The Pump Handle have posted an in-depth piece that reports how researchers, after studying the 2007 NIOSH data, have developed more detailed theories behind the rise in black lung cases.
Caroline Bass of the Online Journalism Project writes:
Why is it progressing faster and striking younger miners—those who have spent less time on the job, and who never worked in the bad old days before the federal law took effect? And why is the spike limited to a few geographic hot spots?
The NIOSH researchers in Morgantown, W. Va., have a couple of theories. Neither is yet proven, but they are determined to solve the deadly mystery.
Dr. Edward Lee Petsonk, who has headed NIOSH’s black lung program for 10 years, says that increased production, by fewer miners, working longer hours is one likely source. Writes Bass:
The two-milligram dust limit “was set for an eight-hour shift [and] a 40-hour week,” Petsonk says. “Most miners now say they’re working 60-hour weeks, and often 12-hour or 16-hour shifts.”
That packs a double whammy, he explains.
“If you work 50 percent more, not only do you get 50 percent more dust in, but you have a lot less time to cough it out. The effect on the lungs is greater than would be considered just from the increase of work hours.”
“They are working hard, fast, and generating lots of dust,” Petsonk observes. What’s more, “they’re using very aggressive equipment” that also may produce more dust than older mining techniques.
On top of that, with the price of coal soaring, mining companies are digging coal from narrow seams they previously ignored because the coal was mixed with too much useless rock. Most of that “low coal” is being mined in eastern Kentucky, southern West Virginia and western Virginia, the hot spots for the rising number of black lung cases. The rock may be useless, but it’s not harmless.
The rock contains silica, which is 20 times as toxic as coal dust. If miners are breathing even a slightly higher percentage of silica dust than in the past, they could be seeing significantly more silicosis. That lung ailment is medically distinct from black lung—but both diseases produce “small, rounded cavities in about the same area of lung,” Petsonk says.
A pathology lab can easily tell the diseases apart. But “on the X-ray, they don’t look that different. In any individual miner, it’s really hard to look at the X-ray and say, ‘that’s silicosis’ or ‘that’s black lung.’”
But like black lung, silicosis is an irreversible condition with no cure.
Petsonk and NIOSH plan to publish their findings at conference this spring.