In the Coal Mines, Workers Are Dying to Make a Living

Mining companies increasingly rely on cheaper contractors who face longer hours and higher risk of accidents.

By KARI LYDERSEN 

Trebr Lenich’s friends pay tribute at his grave. Exhausted after weeklong overnight shifts, Lenich died in a car accident in 2017. PHOTO COURTESY OF TERESA LENICH

Trebr Lenich always called his mother before his drive home from overnight shifts at Mine No. 1, operated by Hamilton County Coal in Hamilton County, Ill. The call she answered the morning of Aug. 14, 2017, worried her. 

“He said, ​‘Mom, I am just so exhausted, so wore out,’ ” Teresa Lenich says. 

Her son routinely worked long hours on consecutive days. That day, he never made it home.

Coworkers following Trebr said his driving was erratic and suspected he was falling asleep, Teresa says. Heading back to the West Frankfort home he shared with his parents, girlfriend and baby daughter, Trebr drove into a ditch and hit an embankment. According to the sheriff’s report, his engine then caught fire. 

Like many young miners, Trebr was employed through a contracting company that provides temporary workers for mines with no promise that they’ll be hired on permanently.

This staffing structure — and the disappearance of labor unions from Illinois mines — has made work less safe and more grueling for miners, according to advocates and multiple studies. Without job security, temporary workers are reluctant to complain about potentially unsafe conditions (including long work hours) and to report accidents. And because temporary workers may have inadequate experience in a particular mine, they might not understand that mine’s specific risks.

[Read On]

What’s Really Behind the Opposition to a $15 Minimum Wage

Fifty-seven senators from both parties are determined to preserve an economic system that rewards the rich and punishes the poor.

JOEL BLEIFUSS APRIL 5, 2021

Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks at a rally for a $15 minimum wage and unionization rights on April 26, 2017.ALEX WONG / GETTY IMAGES

Missing from the Congressional debate over raising the $7.25 federal minimum wage to $15 an hour is any acknowledgement that poverty-level wages are integral to a class system that rewards the rich and punishes the poor. 

With few exceptions, where a person ends up in life — in terms of health, wealth and general wellbeing — is determined by the economic class into which they are born. People born poor die poor. People born rich die rich. This basic, intrinsic feature of American political economy is shaded from view by our culture’s celebration of the so-called meritocracy, the myth that if a person works hard enough, they can win at any table, despite the stacked deck. 

Government can intervene to lift people out of poverty. The 1944 GI Bill, for example, enabled the families of millions of World War II vets to enter the middle class. Because of structural racism, however, most of those who benefited were white. The legislation did not guarantee the same housing and educational benefits to 1.2 million Black vets. 

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Massive Inequality Is a Feature of Capitalism, Not a Bug (+2 more)

The Biden administration may usher in a new period of reform, but history shows that it’s unlikely to last if our economic system remains intact.

RICHARD D. WOLFF

To grasp the sheer magnitude of U.S. economic inequality in recent years, consider its two major stock market indices: the Standard and Poor (S&P) 500 and Nasdaq. Over the last 10 years, the values of shares listed on them grew spectacularly. The S&P 500 went from roughly 1,300 points to over 3,800 points, almost tripling. The Nasdaq index over the same period went from 2,800 points to 13,000 points, more than quadrupling. Times were good for the 10 percent of Americans who own 80 percent of stocks and bonds. In contrast, the real median weekly wage rose barely over 10 percent across the same 10-year period. The real federal minimum wage fell as inflation diminished its nominal $7.25 per hour, officially fixed and kept at that rate since 2009.

Massive Inequality Is a Feature of Capitalism, Not a Bug – In These Times


Rev. William Barber: The Fight for a $15 Minimum Wage Is a Fight for Racial Justice

Democrats need to stop playing games and use their majorities to pass a $15 minimum wage right now—we can’t wait any longer.

REV. WILLIAM BARBER

Sixty-two million people in the United States make less than $15 an hour. And here’s the truth: the fight to raise the minimum wage to a living wage of $15 is as important as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. For Black people, it’s taken us 400 years to get to $7.25 an hour. We can’t wait any longer. People in Appalachia can’t wait any longer. Poor white people, brown people, we cannot wait any longer. And we won’t be silent anymore. 

Rev. William Barber: The Fight for a $15 Minimum Wage Is a Fight for Racial Justice – In These Times


Can America’s Soul Be Saved?

You know that your country is caught in an endless loop of repetitive thinking when, almost 20 years after you invaded and occupied a distant land, beginning a war you’ve been incapable of winning despite massive “surges” of troops, contractors, CIA operatives, as well as air power, the Afghanistan Study Group, a congressionally mandated crew led by a retired Marine general who once commanded U.S. forces in that very land, recommends that the official date for the withdrawal of all American troops (but not planes, drones, or contractors), May 21st, be abandoned in the name of peace and the war fought on. (Consider that, by the way, a sentence worthy in length of such a never-ending war.)

Beyond Donald Trump – TomDispatch.com


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~ Steve, editor