Demanding Corporate Justice: Spotlight on the Coal Industry

by Reverend Doug Mork

What happens to the workers of a wildly profitable industry when the fruits of their labor suddenly lose value?

Ask the workers of Peabody Energy. Of Arch Coal. Of Alpha Natural Resources.

These three corporations are some of the biggest miners of coal from our public lands.

The owners of these three coal companies have declared bankruptcy and plan to lay off thousands of workers while cutting benefits to retirees.

But not without paying themselves generously first.

“Coal payouts turn American dream upside down.”

Facing a shifting economy and uncertain future, these companies faced a critical choice. They could choose to innovate and find a way to remain profitable in a changing economic landscape. Or they could responsibly wind down production, giving their employees a fair shot at severance and time to find a new job.

But these coal companies are doing neither.

An editorial published last month in a Wyoming newspaper noted that these three companies paid their “management teams $186 million in stock awards, incentives and other forms of compensation between 2012 and 2014.”

At the same time, “Alpha wants to slash retiree benefits for about 4,580 nonunion miners and their spouses.” Further, “almost 500 people who toiled for years at mines owned by Arch Coal and Peabody Energy were recently laid off.”

Companies can profit off of the fruits of the labor of working people, but they should not profit from the demise of working people. Instead, corporate leaders should heed the sentiment of Public Citizen, which called on Peabody Energy, Arch Coal, and Alpha Natural Resources to divert their multi-million dollar compensation for a handful of managers into a trust fund for laid off coal miners and their families.

Failing to pay their fair share

In addition to hanging their own workers out to dry, these coal companies have conned taxpayers for decades. Thanks to an uncompetitive and broken leasing system for public lands, these three corporations have managed to avoid paying $1 billion in taxes every year for 30 years.

Publicly owned coal makes up 40% of the coal burned in the US each year, but the rules governing the program haven’t been updated since the 1980s. The bottom line is that the current federal coal program fails to generate a fair return for taxpayers.

Thankfully, this year the Department of Interior is embarking on a complete review of coal leasing on public lands.

The federal government needs to hear from you!

Over the next several weeks, you have a chance to tell the government how you feel about abusive coal companies. As part of the federal coal program review process, the Bureau of Land Management will investigate whether taxpayers and local communities are getting a fair return from these publicly owned resources.

In May and June, the Bureau of Land Management is planning six public meetings in cities from Seattle to Pittsburgh. If you can’t make it to a meeting in person, you can submit written comments through June 28 by going to www.reformcoal.org

At Interfaith Worker Justice, our mission is to do everything we can to ensure working people make decent wages, have access to low-cost health care, and have every opportunity to raise a family and live, work, and retire with dignity.

We are appalled by the cynicism and greed of these coal companies and their executives. We call on all working people to help expose these companies for shirking their responsibility to their own employees and to all taxpayers.

We urge the Bureau of Land Management to take bold action in support of coal workers, their communities, and all taxpayers.

The Reverend Doug Mork is the Executive Director of Interfaith Worker Justice.