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Groundbreaking Stanford University study shows dramatic difference in safety between union and nonunion underground coal mines

May 25, 2011
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A comprehensive, independent study conducted by a Stanford University law professor of injury and fatality statistics in underground coal mines in the United States found that “unionization predicts a substantial and significant decline in traumatic mining injuries and fatalities.”  

The study, conducted by Alison D. Morantz, Professor of Law and John A. Wilson Distinguished Faculty Scholar at Stanford Law School, concluded that “unionization predicts an 18-33% drop in truamatic injuries and a 27-68% drop in fatalities.” The report also noted that while unionization is associated with higher reported total and non-traumatic injuries in underground mines, this suggests that “injury reporting practices differ substantially between union and non-union mines.”

“This is a groundbreaking study that quantifies the profound differences in safety underground coal miners experience when working union versus working non-union,” United Mine Workers of America International President Cecil E. Roberts said.

“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,” Roberts said. “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,” Roberts said. “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. I am pleased to see that has been confirmed by a comprehensive, independent scientific study.”

Funded by a contract from the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, the study is based on data provided by the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration and the U.S. Energy Information Agency for the period 1993 - 2008.

The study findings suggest that the union safety effect may even have “intensified” since the early 1990's as the UMWA leadership instituted a more comprehensive safety program and expanded training for Local and International Union safety experts.

“There have been tragedies at mines where the UMWA represents the workers, most recently nearly ten years ago at the Jim Walters #5 mine in Brookwood, Ala.,” Roberts said. “We in the UMWA learned hard lessons in that tragedy and others that preceded it. We took steps to provide better protection for our members, and this study demonstrates that those steps are working. We will continue to work as hard as we can to keep the mines where UMWA members work the safest in the world.”

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