Political Animal


August 28, 2012 4:54 PM Coal Miners Forced to Attend Romney Event Without Pay

By Ryan Cooper

(Howdy folks, Ryan Cooper here, just stepping in for a quick moment while Ed gets ready for the convention speeches.)

So the Romney campaign visited a coal mine on August 14th, for a speech with a bunch of suitably dirty miners standing behind him, with his podium bearing a placard that read “Coal Country Stands with Mitt.” But apparently it should have said “or else” at the end:

The Pepper Pike company that owns the Century Mine told workers that attending the Aug. 14 Romney event would be both mandatory and unpaid, a top company official said Monday morning in a West Virginia radio interview.
A group of employees who feared they’d be fired if they didn’t attend the campaign rally in Beallsville, Ohio, complained about it to WWVA radio station talk show host David Blomquist. Blomquist discussed their beefs on the air Monday with Murray Energy Chief Financial Officer Rob Moore.
Moore told Blomquist that managers “communicated to our workforce that the attendance at the Romney event was mandatory, but no one was forced to attend.” He said the company did not penalize no-shows.
Because the company’s mine had to be shut down for “safety and security” reasons during Romney’s visit, Moore confirmed workers were not paid that day.

Apparently they’re even keeping lists of people who are politically active:

“Yes, we were in fact told that the Romney event was mandatory and would be without pay, that the hours spent there would need to be made up my non-salaried employees outside of regular working hours, with the only other option being to take a pay cut for the equivalent time,” the employees told Blomquist. “Yes, letters have gone around with lists of names of employees who have not attended or donated to political events.”

Just as an aside, it is a particularly sick joke to see a bunch of grimy coal miners, who work hard and dangerous for little pay, being used as props by a man who made an emperor’s ransom largely through financial parasitism. But I digress.

Some time ago the Crooked Timber folks were arguing with Matt Yglesias about worker intimidation and labor market regulation. It was, I thought, a pretty good discussion, but unless I missed something this particular case didn’t come up.

Briefly, on the one hand economists argue that labor market regulations are generally a bad thing which impair economic efficiency, and that the best way to promote the interests of labor is to work toward full employment. On the other hand sociology types argue that the power differential between bosses and their employees necessarily means some abuse, sometimes even cruelty for its own sake, which should be restrained by laws.

But this situation with Romney and the miners ties this all together with a neat bow. Right now we’re suffering through a persistent moderate depression, with a very slack labor market, meaning the fear of unemployment, especially for blue-collar men, is very high. The mine bosses are then using that power to intimidate their employees into supporting, and being used as props for, the candidate who promises a return to hard money, thereby prolonging depression conditions for several years at least. It’s a perfect validation of the thesis set for in this amazing 1943 essay from Michal Kalecki.

I’m not sure offhand what that means regulations-wise, but it is a great example of how far bosses are willing to push their workers in times of a slack labor market, and a reminder that for the owner/manager class, there’s a lot to like about persistent mass unemployment. At the least it should be a call for class solidarity among everyone at the bottom of the labor pool—very much a hang together or hang separately situation.

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Ryan Cooper is a National Correspondent at The Week, and a former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @ryanlcooper


  • jjm on August 28, 2012 6:03 PM:

    Romney is with some of those 'little people,' forcing them to appear behind him?? He heard that all he has left of the white vote is blue collar workers. And making them pay a price for their mandatory attendance: no pay for the time given over to the Rich Guy.

    But I wonder how many of these guys who are forced to listen to him and appear in a photo op with him will now change their votes to Obama.

  • Rose on August 28, 2012 6:19 PM:

    That's outrageous to be allowed to do such a thing to miners, or any other workers. Unfortunately, I also agree with jjim, it may have to take quite a lot of these kinds of intimidations and humiliations to wake up the working class, and get them to vote for their interests, not the one percent. Not holding my breath.

  • Nick on August 28, 2012 7:14 PM:

    Yep -- and 70 percent of those 'props' will vote for Romney.

  • Mitch on August 28, 2012 7:21 PM:


    I'd imagine that 100% of the ones who vote will, indeed, vote for Romney. As the offspring of generations of coal miners, I am constantly shocked by the ignorance of people in coal country.

    My home town recently had a Pro-Coal Rally, centered basically. The idea behind Pro-Coal is, of course, to remove any environmental and safety regulations from the mines and - of course - to trash talk Obama in every possible way.

    I would say that such people get what they ask for, but too many innocents would suffer as a result.

  • anon on August 28, 2012 7:24 PM:

    Some working families don't follow politics and still have their parents' political views without evaluation or questioning the relevance to their own lives.
    I've been trying to hit this point home in my area when there are gatherings and conversations.
    Especially the concept of don't be fooled into voting against your own economic interests.

  • tigas on August 28, 2012 7:43 PM:

    In Europe, employers can go to jail for pulling stunts like these.

  • Davis X. Machina on August 28, 2012 7:45 PM:

    All those coal bosses can do is take away is your livelihood by firing you, or your life, by cheeseparing on safety.

    But Obama can take away your myth. He's a standing affront to it. His supporters think your myth is nonsense.

    People will fight for that like wolverines. How many Confederate soldiers were slaveowners?

  • biggerbox on August 28, 2012 8:06 PM:

    Attendance was mandatory, but no one was forced to attend?

    um, WHAT?

    Suddenly, I get why those mine owners keep flouting safety regulations - they completely don't understand the meaning of the word 'mandatory'. They probably have trouble with 'required', also.

  • B on August 28, 2012 8:52 PM:

    Mandating the employees to attend the rally was horrific. Not paying them was cruel and greedy. One could make the argument that since their attendance was mandatory, it was work and they should be paid.
    OT-You referred to our current economic state as a depression. With the high unemployment,slow uneven growth and the impact it has had in terms of loss of wealth and wages in our population, it may feel like a depression. But, technically, we are neither in a recession or a depression. We are in a recovery that has been too slow and too variable.

  • nemisten on August 28, 2012 9:39 PM:

    Just a hunch, but if Obama had pulled a stunt like this, we'd be hearing nothing but "Nazi, thug, dictator, unprecendented, evil, treasonous, impeachment" from the GOP and media.

    Oh well...

  • navamske on August 28, 2012 11:02 PM:

    Moore told Blomquist that managers "communicated to our workforce that the attendance at the Romney event was mandatory, but no one was forced to attend."

    WTF? Do these people understand the meaning of "mandatory"? This is like saying, "I can do things spontaneously, but I have to know about them ahead of time."

  • James M on August 29, 2012 12:23 AM:

    When I read sad incidents like this, it strikes me that one of the unnoticed triumphs of the conservative movement over the last 30 years has been the elimination of Karl Marx from polite conversation.I read the comments sections on the Political Animal and TPM on a daily basis and I don't think I have ever seen any commenter mention Marxian economic analysis:even when dealing with issues such as unions and worker exploitation.

    Marx seems to have been discredited because of his failure to correctly predict how modern capitalism would evolve. However, in my opinion, Marx's analysis of how capitalism works,and especially how capitalists think, is unsurpassed. Nothing described in the story would have surprised Mr. Marx at all.

  • Davis X. Machina on August 29, 2012 6:26 AM:

    Nothing described in the story would have surprised Mr. Marx at all.

    Or Proudhon, or Adam Smith, or John Stuart Mill, or Pope Leo XIII. The reason why you don't hear Marx much any more is that the Marx-y parts of Marx's critique of capitalism are empirically dodgy, and the rest is obvious, or non-unique to Marx, or both.

  • boatboy_srq on August 29, 2012 9:18 AM:

    both mandatory and unpaid

    Ingrates. They should be happy they still have jobs.


    Seriously, though, that one phrase is the most offensive part of the whole piece. It wasn't enough to make the workers come out; but the "we're not gonna pay you for this" part is just plain mean.

    The world of Dickensian horrors: resurrected for your inspection thanks to your Grand Old Party.

  • beejeez on August 29, 2012 7:09 PM:

    Would it have killed some of the miners to flip Romney off in the photo op?

    Ehh, I take it back, it might've.

  • bluestatedon on August 30, 2012 2:33 AM:

    My response is the same as Nicks—the vast majority of these guys will enthusiastically vote for Romney instead of the black guy they see caricatured on FoxNews. This is Appalachia, home to some of the most died-in-the-wool, unrepentant racists in the entire country.

  • Robert Pavlick on September 25, 2012 6:35 PM:

    If this is true at all, and the AFLCIO is investigating it, I guess it's not much different than what happened here in Westport, CT when the Westport police were not paid for protecting the President during a posh $35,800 per head fundraiser here in Connecticut, Aug 6th at the residence of film mogul Weinstein at his Beachside Avenue home. Why should Republicans in the Town of Westport have to foot the bill with their tax dollars ???????

    "Joseloff, a Democrat who did not attend the $35,800 per head Weinstein fundraiser, said he has not received a response from Obama for America or Weinstein. “I didn’t expect that we would get repayment, but it was worthwhile to ask,” he said."

    See :http://www.westportnow.com/index.php?/v2/comments/39624/

  • XRumerTest on October 21, 2012 12:51 PM:

    Hello. And Bye.

  • Redminkidomia on October 28, 2012 9:22 AM:

  • Redminkidomia on November 10, 2012 12:36 PM:


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