The coal companies are using their traditional power in West Virginia to roll back state health and safety regulations at the same time the federal government is citing them for gross health and safety violations. Not that the companies really care since the penalties even at the federal level are too small for them to bother with.
West Virginia coal companies successfully lobbied for a rollback of state mining safety regulations in the same month that mines they own were issued more than two-dozen health and safety citations by federal inspectors. Murray Energy, Arch Coal and Alpha Natural Resources are all members of the West Virginia Coal Association, which earlier this year led the push for the state’s newly elected Republican-majority Legislature to pass the controversial Coal Jobs & Safety Act.
Democratic Gov. Earl Tomblin signed the bill into law in March over objections from the mineworkers’ union and workplace safety advocates. It abolished a joint labor-industry panel that reviews underground diesel equipment to safeguard air quality, removed a prohibition on transporting equipment when workers are deeper in the mine than where the equipment is being shipped and expanded the maximum distance between rail tracks and work areas. The industry said the old regulations, which were stricter than their federal counterparts, were burdensome and did little to improve workplace safety.
In February, as the Legislature debated and approved the reforms, inspectors from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) visited three West Virginia mines owned by Murray, Arch and Alpha and slammed the companies with a combined 25 citations.
“Unfortunately, it’s no coincidence that while these companies are advocating reducing state mine safety provisions to match the looser federal requirements, they are also being cited by the federal government for engaging in unsafe practices,” said Kenny Perdue, president of the West Virginia branch of the AFL-CIO.
If another 29 miners died like at the 2010 disaster at Massey Energy’s Big Branch mine, the companies still wouldn’t care. They never have.
Some potentially positive developments in the cost of batteries to collect solar energy from home-based systems, which right now is holding back solar energy development. There is some real reason to think major developments are in the offing, including that the traditional energy providers are nervous about it. Of course, we’ve been hearing these sorts of predictions for almost 40 years now. I’m also a bit curious about the water requirements of a giant new battery factory in the deserts east of Reno. But that might be a secondary concern.
Your must read of the morning is William Finnegan’s essay on the highest settlement in the world, which is an unregulated gold mine town in Peru. As I’ve said before, I’ve been to Potosí in Bolivia and those conditions were unbelievable enough. To think of an even colder, harder, worse life, yet one that thousands of people choose to do (they are working for themselves after all), is remarkable and says a lot about the economic options for the poor in these nations.
I suppose I should say something about Gawker’s decision to unionize and the CEO’s seeming decision to let it happen. I don’t have all that much real insight to have. The site has been excellent on labor issues for some time. It should be said though that the limits of the bargaining unit may be pretty tight–full-time employees in a heavily contingent world. Is there some generational shift happening here? Who knows. I think it’s significant if it means that young, relatively well-educated people are going to be seeking to create unions in newer forms of business. In any case, it’s at least an interesting data point that needs further monitoring.
By the way, the above image is from a 1948 strike in New York. Mostly, I was looking for an excuse to put it up here.
The plague of unpredictable work schedules, with employers changing workers’ weekly schedules as their whim, must end. It causes all sorts of problems for those workers. A few examples from Gillian White:
According to a recent study from the Economic Policy Institute, this is life for about 17 percent of the labor force. So called “just-in-time scheduling” is far more common for those who work for hourly wages or are part-time employees, or both. Part-time workers—more than six million Americans—are more than twice as likely to have unpredictable hours than full-time employees.
Many workers had one week or less of advanced notice about their upcoming work hours, the study found. Such haphazard scheduling has been linked to not only lower levels of job satisfaction, but also to greater levels of work-family conflict, according to the Lonnie Golden, the study’s author. Another study, published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, had similar findings, linking irregular shift schedules to diminished cognition and physical health, with workers who were exposed to such schedules for extended periods showing decreases in their ability to reason, think, and recall information.
In some cases, the differentiation in weekly work hours or varying start times may reflect a move toward increasingly flexible work places, but that’s not likely the case for low-income, part-time workers, who make up such a large portion of those working with unpredictable schedules, says Golden.
Additionally, the phenomenon may be contributing to the growing economic inequality in the country, according to Golden. For example, a lack of predictable hours can lead to difficulty obtaining or keeping government benefits for some workers. A 2014 study from researchers at the University of Chicago noted that in some states, qualification for child-care subsidies are tied to the number of hours worked. That can mean that decreased hours lead to a loss of child-care benefits, which then leaves parents unavailable to work, even when shifts become available. “Work-hour requirements are based on the assumption that workers decide how many hours they work, yet because hours are a key component of labor costs, corporate policies often restrict their availability,” write Susan Lambert, Peter J. Fugiel, and Julia R. Henly, the study’s authors.
There’s no actual reason for this sort of scheduling to exist. It should not be that hard for employers to give workers a consistent schedule that can be set weeks or even months in advance. It’s just that employers don’t want to do it.
As this essay suggests, the Three-Fifths Compromise was a terrible deal for the North from the very beginning and would establish that slaveholders would use their slaves to make money and go the mat to enforce the return of their property, but then would say they weren’t property at all when it was in their interests to do so, i.e., be taxed on it.
Monsanto. Everyone’s favorite chemical corporation. This is the first national advertisement ever placed by Monsanto, a 1939 campaign in Fortune.
Republicans are paying back their megadonors:
The House on Wednesday with little fanfare passed legislation that would protect major donors like the Koch brothers and Tom Steyer from having to pay gift taxes on huge donations to secret money political groups.
The legislation, which now heads to the Senate, is seen by fundraising operatives as removing one of the few remaining potential obstacles to unfettered big-money spending by nonprofit groups registered under a section of the Tax Code — 501(c) — that allows them to shield their donors’ identities.\\
Critics decry such groups as corrupting, but they have played an increasingly prominent role in recent elections, and they’re expected to spend huge sums in 2016.
And, while fundraising operatives say most donors do not pay taxes on their donations to so-called 501(c) groups, the law is somewhat ambiguous on whether gift taxes could be assessed. That’s left donors fearing that such gifts could bring scrutiny from the Internal Revenue Service — which, in fact, has launched probes of major groups’ donors in recent years to determine whether they improperly avoided paying gift taxes.
I guess the advantage of buying a house of Congress means that you can dictate legislation that will protect your future investments in buying the rest of the government.
I really object to this analysis that calls Sullivan’s Travels “reactionary” toward the poor and poverty. Evidently the writer actually wanted to see “Oh Brother Where Art Thou” or that film Sullivan shows at the movie’s beginning about capital and labor fighting and dying on the train. What Preston Sturges did was make the depiction of poverty and its horrors palatable enough for the public that people would actually watch it. Laughing through poverty for the actual people suffering through the Depression meant Sturges was touching their lives. As the studio executives point in the film, the people who watch hard political intellectual films are politicized intellectuals. And that’s fine–I love Salt of the Earth and I Am Cuba and The Battle of Algiers as much as anyone (in fact, the latter is one of my top 5 all-time favorite films), but there’s no doubt that Sturges represented a truer version of poverty to popular audiences than any of those films. And not just through Sullivan’s Travels either, but in Christmas in July and in Easy Living, which he wrote but did not direct. These are all really sad stories that resonated with people. If they didn’t have the explicit goal of turning people into socialists, that doesn’t mean no viewers thought about their lives in new ways after seeing them. There were several such films in the 1930s. You could say much the same about Gold Diggers of 1933, which might be an absurd fluffy film but which also legitimately portrays poverty and has an entire final scene about the Bonus Army. I guess by these standards because it wasn’t calling for explicit class battle, it’s a reactionary film, but I don’t see it. The author clearly wants a certain kind of political film (he’s writing a book on anarchism and film) but that doesn’t mean a film that doesn’t have an objectively leftist agenda is a reactionary film.
I saw Noah Baumbach’s While We’re Young and found this Molly Lambert piece on the film really good. Like her, I feel myself in this sort of time warp where everyone I know has children and their lives, naturally enough, revolve around them, whereas I don’t and have absolutely no desire to ever do so. So it makes social relationships slightly odd sometimes, even if most of my friends are not like characters in the film and talk about their children constantly. I basically live the life I always have ever since college, with really relatively only slight changes. Lambert is a few years younger than I am so she feels herself somewhere between Gen X and a millennial. I graduated from high school in 1992 so I am prototype Gen X but I hated that whole culture at the time (even if I have later embraced some of it; after all not listening to Pavement is a bad decision). There’s a lot more about millennial culture I find appealing than I did my own at the time. So I’m kind of stuck in the middle as an old man still trying to follow new young rock bands. For example, I’m a technophobe who has become relatively well known by embracing the kids’ technology. However, I will not go down the road of creating value for crap pop culture when it doesn’t exist as they often do. There is about as much good about Meat Loaf or Journey as there is about ketchup.
The movie is pretty good outside of making the aging childless viewers think about their own positionality within the world. I know some people don’t like Ben Stiller, but his schtick works pretty well with Baumbach’s directing. Naomi Watts is always great. Adam Driver is very good at playing annoying hipsters that you want to punch in the face. Charles Grodin is always welcome. There’s lots of good scenes of a couple in a stale relationship, the absurdity of hipster culture, and the excuses people find to never finish anything they start. And while the film doesn’t really end on a high note, by and large it’s a pretty funny satire of both hipsters and somewhat older people like myself who like a lot of the same things as these younger people but who are surely, aggressively even, not one of them. Pretending one is one of them is ripe material for satire and humor. And if Noah Baumbach films are always about immature people dealing with growing up, well, lots of good directors mine the same type of material over a whole career.