Linda McCulloch, the Otter Creek Coal Mine and “Good Union Jobs”
This week, Montana's Secretary of State Linda McCulloch went on a tour of the Otter Creek valley, southeast of Ashland, MT, and the Black Thunder Coal Mine, outside of Gillette, WY, with representatives from Arch Coal and other unnamed Montana legislators. She posted a couple pictures on Twitter (see below) and here and here. She seems pretty excited about it. I know when I go to the Otter Creek Valley, the first thing I think is that what the pristine, beautiful and quiet valley needs is actually a big hole in the ground. Doesn't it just make you warm and fuzzy inside?
Ah....Memories.....Seeing her tweets brought back some memories. Memories that I shoved down in my psyche hoping never returned. It takes me back to 2010 when the State Land Board was in the process of leasing the coal tracts. Month after month, McCulloch stated a lot of different reasons about why she was supporting the lease: it's for the children, it's for the money, it's for the good paying union jobs, it's for the people in the eastern United States that have to deal with mountain top removal, it's for our future! On and on... The only words she stated about the impacts from the proposed mine were in reference to the environmental laws that would protect us from them. Because, don't you know, Montana's laws will protect us from air pollution, water pollution, climate change, increased crime rates, health issues and wildlife impacts. Just like they protected people from the leaking coal ash ponds in Colstrip and the water contamination from the Zortman-Landusky gold mine. Whew! Thank god we have those strict laws that no one enforces in eastern Montana. Here is the statement that she made at the March 2010 State Land Board hearing when she voted to lease the Otter Creek coal tracts to Arch Coal. "Today is just the first step in a very long process, likely several years. My comments during my motion in February referred to the 'possibility of creating hundreds of jobs, good paying union jobs'". Now is the time for Montana unions and Ark Land Company to get together and start the conversation to ensure those good paying union jobs. This is also an opportunity for this Land Board to exercise our oversight responsibilities as elected officials, to enforce our state’s labor laws, environmental laws, and health and safety laws. I will also continue to work to make sure that the provisions in the Northern Cheyenne Agreement are followed. My staff and I worked on this agreement in 2001. I made the motion to accept it at the February 2002 Land Board meeting. The agreement empowers employment with Tribal members and recognizes cultural issues if there is mining at Otter Creek. That same agreement helps assure that qualified non-tribal members in Ashland, Birney, or in Powder River County who live within 50 miles of Otter Creek will have an employment preference and access to job training as well as tribal members." Although there are many things that I could discuss concerning Linda McCulloch and her stance on the Otter Creek coal mine (and most likely will in future posts concerning her beliefs on climate change, the Northern Cheyenne Settlement Agreement and school funding) today, I'm just going to focus on those "good paying union jobs."
Good Paying Union Jobs?In their recent 10-K Securities and Exchange Commission filing from February of 2014, Arch Coal states, as of "December 31, 2013, we employed approximately 5,350 full and part-time employees, approximately 177 of whom are represented by the Scotia Employees Association. We believe that our relations with all employees are good. (page 31)" So, at that time about 3% of their employees were unionized. Jump forward to July of 2014 when Arch Coal announced that they were idling the rest of the Cumberland River Coal Complex, one of their coal mines located in Wise County, Va., and Letcher County, Ky. That mining complex just happened to be the only mine in their portfolio that had union members. (This was validated in the 2010 State Land Board hearing when Arch Coal's representative Mr. Finnerty stated that out of approximately 3900 employees, "300 organized at the Cumberland River operation). My prediction is that their next SEC filing, we will see that 177 number drop to zero. It is probably just a coincidence that the mine they decide to idle (Cumberland Complex), out of all of the mines in their portfolio, just happens to be the only one that was unionized.
Imagine that.Their union numbers from these SEC filings have dropped from a high of 1,003 unionized members in 1999 to zero in 2014. Basing my prediction on the past actions of Arch Coal, I'm pretty sure that McCulloch is right and that they'll allow the workers at Otter Creek to unionize. They don't seem like the type of company that spins off unprofitable mines into a subsidiary company (cough, Patriot Coal) so that they can then go bankrupt to get out of paying benefits and healthcare to their employees. They don't see like a company that would do that. I wonder if she brought up union jobs to Mike Rowlands on this little field trip they went on because it seemed to be very important to her back in 2010.