Last week, 160 West Virginia coal miners learned they would no longer have a job after August.  The company, Alpha Natural Resources, cited poor market conditions as a reason for their closure.  While the rest of the country attempts to recover from the so-called “Great Recession,” West Virginia coal miners find their opportunities shrinking every day.  It is true that President Obama hasn’t been a proponent of the coal industry (he said electricity rates would necessarily skyrocket under his energy policies).  However, a major problem with the Appalachian coal industry is Union leadership doing their best to shut down every coal company they can.

United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) President Cecil Roberts is a known criminal; his most recent arrest came a few days ago at a Patriot coal company protest in Kentucky.  He was arrested at a Patriot coal protest in West Virginia just weeks before.  Successful CEOs and leaders know their actions speak to their personal values and beliefs – Roberts seems to value being a felon more than advancing the UMWA.  His agenda is to control the conversation and blame coal companies for the problems he created.  He promised workers posh benefits in exchange for joining unions, and when these companies folded, he blamed the companies for not meeting their obligations.

West Virginia has a rich history that shows how unions can play a positive role in the coal industry, accomplishing everything from reasonable work hours to safety regulations.  No one can deny the impact they had on shaping what we consider to be standard operating procedure today.  Unfortunately, their once positive influence has waned, they serve only to detract from economic growth and serious progress. 

This trend isn’t limited solely to the coal industry, or to West Virginia. When our local Sheetz gas station was constructed without union workers, Big Labor took to the picket lines to show their disapproval.  They did this for every Sheetz station constructed in our area instead of using their time productively to look for other work.  When unions get involved in economic decisions, it usually involves forcing employers to pay workers much more than what they’re actually worth.  Just as raising the minimum wage forces workers out of the market, hiring workers who are overpaid for their task results in fewer jobs for everyone. Often, unions intimidate coal companies into signing huge contracts for their employees, and blame these same corporations when they can’t afford to keep paying them.

You may remember the infamous union thug who attacked journalist Steven Crowder at a rally in Michigan.  Unions are inherently violent, either physically or through their tactics of intimidation.  Our local TV stations are running ads trying to claim union workers aren’t bullies, and don’t have “attitudes.”  The very fact that this commercial is running shows the violent reputation unions have with the public.

As bad as unions are, union workers aren’t typically to blame for these problems.  Many workers are forced to join a union as a provision of their contract, or they’re coerced into joining because of how they’d be treated otherwise. Unions don’t want to allow potential members to vote in secrecy about forming a union.  Much like the mob, these union bosses want a system of control over their employees, who they view as subservient.  Through card check, they can see how workers voted, and if they voted against unionization, rest assured they find ways to punish them.  The real purpose of card check legislation isn’t to help workers: it’s to force the worker’s hand by making them join a union or face the consequences.

Scott Walker’s monumental win in Wisconsin’s recall election was significant for several reasons.  It marked the first time in history a sitting Governor survived a recall election – but more importantly, it was a major defeat for unions. This vote of no confidence indicated public support for loosening the power of unions.  Even after spending ridiculous amounts of money on the recall election, unions failed in swaying the public to their message. Their waning influence on elections demonstrates their fading relevance in our country.

Unions aren’t just to blame for economic hardship.  Corporations manipulate people and can become corrupt when left unchecked.  But, there are a multitude of rules and regulations in place thanks to workers who knew they were worth something.  For this reason, unions should be wholly satisfied at their progress.  They’ve done what they set out to accomplish, which is make the workplace safer and make sure their workers were treated fairly.  Unfortunately, they now focus solely on trying to earn their workers a higher wage than market value allows, while also intimidating nonunion workers and corporations.  The time has come to seriously examine the usefulness of unions in our economy.


Aaron Kidd | Marshall University | @akiddwv