The recent tragedy in West Virginia reminds us that mining coal is a hard, dangerous and sometimes deadly job. When human lives are at stake, the standards of performance for all parties should be extremely high. That is not the case in Alabama where mine safety laws were not revised after a mine disaster that killed 13 in 2001. This is in stark contrast to other states where mining tragedies provided the impetus for West Virginia and Utah to update their mine safety laws.
Here’s Al Henley of the Alabama AFL-CIO speaking to a United Mine Worker rally at the Alabama State House two weeks ago.
The bills in question are SB362 which has moved to the Senate floor and HB579 which is stalled in the House Commerce Committee. Chairman Frank McDaniel (D, Business) refuses to bring it up for a vote. Which side are our Legislators on? Are they concerned for the safety of miners or marginally higher profits for mine operators? Henley said:
It’s plain old logic and common sense that these laws need to be changed. They need to be revised and everybody here knows that. … It’s obvious to me and it should be obvious to you that many of the Legislators in this building think they were elected to represent the rich folks. They’re here to represent the business owners and they’re here to represent the giant corporations.
Everybody here needs to know and understand one thing and that’s many of the people in this State House and everybody across the street over there in that Capitol building are completely controlled by big business. The big business community has too much influence in state government, in city government, in county government, in fed government. The reason y’all are having trouble getting a reasonable, logical, common sense solution to your safety problems at work is the coal miner owners don’t want to have to pay for it and they have too much influence in this building [points to State House] and too much influence in that building [points to Capitol] and that needs to change. You need to keep it in mind in June when you vote, keep it in mind in November when you vote. … Vote for people that support working families in this state … If we don’t change something business is going to take over every aspect of what government does.
So, which side are our Legislators on? Probably not on the side of the coal miners, based on the way the Alabama House has treated this attempt to improve mine safety. Let’s take a look at some financial information below the fold.
First, the House Commerce Committee, where HB579 is suffocating.
Notice that “business associations” tend to give more than anyone else, even “public sector unions” like AEA? And “trade unions” like the UMWA have contributed very little? Follow the money, folks. I know there’s more to the story of how a public servant votes than just who gives a campaign contribution, but most politicians make time to at least talk to their big donors. And sometimes that discussion changes the mind of a Legislator who might otherwise be disposed to value life and limb over profitability.
Why do members of this House Commerce Committee receive so much money from “business associations?” Because businesses make a concerted effort to crank up the volume on their side of the story in Montgomery. Take a look at these industry total contribution figures, also from the 2006 election cycle, courtesy of followthemoney.org.
“Business associations” contributed $18.7 million to Alabama races in 2006, compared to just $10.4 million for the next biggest spender. That’s 80% more! And believe me, they aren’t just contributing to one political party — they want both sides to hear their case so they’re giving to both sides of the aisle. The business advantage is about 3:1 in high court races, 2:1 in gubernatorial and other statewide races and roughly 1.5:1 for Legislative races.
Which side is business on in the fight for updated safety laws, and worker protections of all kinds? Surely to God the average business owner or manager realizes that what’s good for his or her community is usually good for business as well. Having a dozen or so workers killed in one fell swoop is definitely not good for Alabama communities. These are, by and large, good-hearted people who don’t consciously wish ill on their fellow man. Do they know how their “business association” dollars are being spent?
Which side do Alabama business folks want to be on in the fight for safe working conditions?