Once again, it’s Labor Day. It seems the time between each September shortens as we age.
But my memory is still intact of the days when I was a carefree child running the “hills” of Hills Station, or Georgetown, as it is now known. Summer days were all too brief, spending the early morning hours walking down “Miners Hill.” If I was lucky enough, I’d snatch a delicious apple left in my grandfather’s bucket as he trudged up that long climb after breaking his back in the mine on the midnight shift.
But, like all the men in Hills Station, my grandfather was grateful just to have a decent job. My grandmother worked at Mayview State Hospital. I can still remember her coming home battered and bruised from being assaulted by the patients.
Things were tough then. Labor Day was spent in the backyards playing ball, eating hot dogs and trying to stay out of trouble with our parents. But, come late afternoon, we didn’t dare make any noise, since our grandfather and Uncle Jack were sleeping and had to go to work at midnight.
But fast forward to 2014. Even though the economy is vastly improved from the 1950s, more people are working two, three or even four jobs just to keep their families fed and housed. The gap between the ultra-rich and those who work for them is vast. Miners and those who work in the coal-fired power plants are losing their good, family-sustaining jobs at alarming rates.
Mines are closing because of less demand for domestic coal. Eventually, our entire economy will collapse because not only are the mines and the power plants closing, but the people who worked in them are now facing the uncertainty of providing for their families and loved ones.
The plentiful fields of natural gas in our region absorbed some of the losses. But, let’s not forget, this is not a cure-all. Not everyone will be able to find a good family-sustaining job in the gas industry. After toiling in the mines and power plants, these middle-aged workers face the dilemma of retraining for another job. But there’s no promise of good work for them once they’ve completed their training.
Our manufacturing base continues to struggle because of unfair or unlawful trade agreements. If the American worker is given the chance, they would unquestionably produce a superior product for our markets.
But we need a level playing field. We do need environmental protections, and can implement them in a sensible, responsible way. But closing mines and eliminating those jobs does nothing but destroy families and communities.
Barry L. Andrews
Andrews is the president of the Central Labor Council of Washington and Greene counties.