The usual thing to mention when it comes to unions is how much better a union job is because of higher pay, real benefits and some security. What we often forget is how unions save lives.

   We take for granted that when we breathe air not filled with asbestos or some other deadly chemicals, that's a union that made sure buildings had safe conditions.

    We don't remember that we eat safer food because of unions--because unions made sure that there were clearer and better conditions in fields that grow our food and plants that process our food.

    And here is a study that just came across my desk this week about miners entitled, "Coal Mine Safety: Do Unions Make a Difference?" by Alison D. Morantz at Stanford Law School. I know this will shock you but the upshot:

...unionization predicts a sizable and robust decline in both traumatic injuries and fatalities, the two safety outcomes that I argue are least prone to reporting bias. I construe these results as evidence for a “real” union safety effect in U.S. underground coal mining. At the same time, I find that unionization predicts higher total and non-traumatic injuries, lending credence to claims that injury reporting practices differ significantly between union and nonunion mines.

    This should not be too surprising. Think of what a union would have meant to the 29 miners who were killed in Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch mine when it exploded in 2010. As the independent inquiry reported:

The story of Upper Big Branch is a cautionary tale of hubris. A company that was a towering presence in the Appalachian coalfields operated its mines in a profoundly reckless manner, and 29 coal miners paid with their lives for the corporate risk-taking.[emphasis added]

   As the president of the Mineworkers, Cecil Roberts, points out:

As Americans - and especially coal miners - learn about the causes of tragedies like that at the Upper Big Branch mine, one of the things that stands out is that Upper Big Branch, like the other mines where disasters have occurred since 2006, was a non-union mine. The simple truth is that union mines are safer mines, and this study proves that.

Miners have long known that there is a union 'safety effect,' as the study calls it. Working in a union-represented mine, with the backing of our Local Union safety committees and our International Union safety experts, makes a huge difference.

   Unions don't allow coal companies--or any other company--to operate in a reckless manner because unions are concerned about lives, not profit.

   Something to remember in an era when the Scott Walkers of the world seek to wipe off the map the only institution that keeps some measure of safety at work.

Originally posted to Tasini on Fri May 27, 2011 at 07:29 AM PDT.

Also republished by ClassWarfare Newsletter: WallStreet VS Working Class Global Occupy movement and In Support of Labor and Unions.

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