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Study Finds Fewer Fatalities, Injuries At Union Mines

Publication Date: 
May 27, 2011
Charleston Daily Mail
Ry Rivard

Ry Rivard of the Charleston Daily Mail cites a new working paper by Professor Alison Morantz which addresses whether union coal mines are safer than non-union operations.

Underground coal mines that are unionized have significantly fewer traumatic injuries and fatalities per miner than nonunion mines, a federally backed study by a Stanford Law School professor concludes.

Representatives from the United Mine Workers of America, which has seen its ranks gradually wane in the face of mine companies' efforts to shake unionization, seized on the study Wednesday. They said it was proof of their mission.


"Taken at face value, my findings seem to support the idea that unions have substantially improved the safety of U.S. coal mines, at least over the past two decades," said the study's author, Alison Morantz, in a telephone interview.


A 1982 study sponsored by the National Research Council found no relationship between safety at union versus nonunion mines. Other studies suggest there are actually more injuries reported at union mines, something Morantz argues could be explained in part by the underreporting of injuries at nonunion mines.

Indeed, her study found that total and "non-traumatic" injury rates were higher at union mines. But rather than attributing that to increased dangers at union mines, Morantz suggests that "injury reporting practices differ substantially between union and nonunion mines."


Namely, Morantz couldn't find good data on the differences in age between union and nonunion miners or differences in pay. Both could have some untold effect on miners' skills and therefore how likely they are to get injured. The study did not include surface mines that are unlikely to be unionized and tend to have fewer dangers associated with them.

She said there's no way to be 100 percent certain about the relationship, but the numbers provide "a strong presumption that a 'union safety effect' exists in U.S. coal mining."

"So, I think the burden of proof is now on the those who disagree to muster credible empirical evidence in support of the contrary position," Morantz said.