Corporate greed undermines workers’ well-being

Mine workers have been dying in this country for centuries-the recent tragedy in West Virginia being the most current example. The destruction of the lives of the 11 families who lost a father, a son, a brother or a friend was caused by an immoral corporate atmosphere that all too often values profits over worker safety.

Ken Ward of the Charleston Gazette reports that the West Virginia mine has a long history of safety infractions, including roof cave-ins and improper ventilation procedures.

Miners work in extremely dangerous environments and, therefore, every effort should be taken to keep them safe. Mine workers are among the tens of millions of American workers who work long, hard hours for little pay.

Utah is not exempt from exploitation of mine workers.

The Co-Op mine in Huntington, a small town in central Utah, has a history of exploiting its workers. For years, the mine would not pay proper wages to its workers; it also refused to allow its workers to join the United Mine Workers of America.

Barring employees from voting in union elections is, of course, illegal. But this has never stopped companies from denying employees union membership, however-hello, Wal-Mart. The National Labor Relations Board ruled in July 2004 that the Huntington miners were entitled to reinstatement, back pay and a union election. Yet that wasn’t the end of the miners’ problems. The Co-Op Mine, owned by the polygamous Kingston family, illegally fired 33 miners for union activities leading up to the Dec. 2004 union election. Now, a year after the union elections, the NLRB has yet to rule on the elections.

Last Dec. 17, 40 miners and their supporters joined a picket line at the Co-Op mine. The protestors rallied in support of the UMWA and raised their signs as coal trucks entered the mine. This protest marked the one-year anniversary of the election at the mine, for which 27 of the 34 ballots have still not been counted.

The victories of the Co-Op miners against the Kingston family wouldn’t have been possible if not for the support given by the University of Utah Student Labor Action Project. Members of SLAP have been beacons of support for the miners who have suffered greatly in their fight against corporate injustice.

They have organized food drives and bus trips to Huntington and have worked closely with Utah Jobs with Justice in helping the Huntington miners.

So why should you care about this? Many workers in this country, in every industry, suffer because of the decline of labor unions. Job-related accidents killed 5,703 workers in 2004. Our government has a responsibility to protect the lives of workers who suffer because of corporate incompetence.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration needs to be at the forefront of the battle to keep work places safe. It is well known that the Bush administration despises regulatory agencies like OSHA. They starve them of money and authority, which enables companies to laugh at them and the $1,000 fines they can impose.

When politicians, economists and CEOs complain about “excessive” regulations placed on business, they are really complaining about regulations that help and save the lives of millions of workers. When Legislatures advocate business “deregulation,” they are advocating deaths like those of the 11 workers in West Virginia.

As college students, we should rise above the rhetoric of corporate-purchased politicians and stand on the side of truth, health and safety.

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