Labor Day Weekend 2012: Ohio Mine Workers Were Forced to Attend August Romney Rally


Labor Day is here once again. It’s a holiday that’s typically marked as the ‘unofficial’ end of summer. While some try to squeeze in one more day at the beach, others are scouring the department stores for good deals.  

All reasons that are celebrated other than its original purpose: honoring the working class. Whether you're gainfully employed, underemployed, entering the workforce or just tired of working, know that some employers have been accused by its workers of engaging in workplace coercion. 

Although federal laws limit workers to a forty-hour workweek (and overtime thereafter) as well as prohibiting child labor (passage of which were only gained in 1938), workers nowadays may need new forms of protection against their employers. 

Workers as a collective group are under attack. Whether we're being paid fairly for our services, whether laid-off workers will exact revenge or whether our jobs are replaced by robots, we can add to this list, workplace coercion: the practice or tactics that employers use to wield control over their workers, or an attempt to interfere with free choice and the threat for non-compliance.  

While working environments have changed from factories to offices, workers are still combating the effects of being employed in hazardous occupations. For instance, working in a loud restaurant or gym that often blares music that exceeds the acceptable decibels. Workers can't freely express their discontent because it's a management decision. The entire worker-boss power deferential is in play.

But if you think workplace coercion had ended in 1940's, you’re wrong. Last week, news emerged that mine workers in Ohio were mandated to attend an August 14th Romney rally whose message was 'Coal Country Stands With Mitt'.  

Century Mine, owned by Murray Energy was shut down for the day due to 'security and safety' reasons. But workers inside the company stated that there’s long been a culture of mandated political support for Republican causes, and management noted attendance of political events. An open memo was distributed around the office noting who had contributed. The employees of Murray Energy and its subsidiaries have given $1.5 million to Republican candidates who would be supportive of the coal industry. 

But the latest issue now is that regardless of what one's political ideology, workers had to attend the rally and weren't paid for their eight-hour day. Furthermore, the missing day of productivity would have come from overtime during the week, weekend or having their pay docked.   

An anonymous worker expressed to an Ohio radio station, "Jobs are hard to find, but it is wrong what we were made to do because of the outcome [fear of being let go] if we don't." The defense that Murray Energy used was that by having workers attend, this demonstrated a small sacrifice, in the long-run for the "... best interest of the coal industry" to show support to a candidate that would be sympathetic to the coal industry.  Murray Energy officials stated that while the attendance was mandatory, there were no repercussions for those that didn’t attend.

While labor and politics have always been often been interchangeable, I just wonder how much of that was due to employer "recommendations.” Now, I know some critics would argue that unions have used strong-arm tactics for years as well to elect supporters sensitive to the Democrats cause but this latest incident crosses the line of how some employers choose to impress on its workers a certain way of thinking. In exchange for our soul, how much are workers at the disposal of employers?

It's been a bad week for miners overall, especially in South Africa where a few weeks ago, the largest number of people were killed outside of apartheid-state-sponsored violence ensues. Now, the government is trying to put the blame on the striking miners. This is a blatant example of the unfair power deferential between government and its workers.  

While in the U.S., we may not be subjected to being shot on the job for striking; employers may have other ways to exert control. The agreement that exists between employer and employee lies in the contract in the form of wages in exchange for goods or services. But what may be problematic is the increasing ways in which my “free time” is controlled and subjected to surveillance, such as bathroom breaks by employers. It’s been noted that corporations such as Nabisco and Jim Beam had prohibited or attempted to discipline its workers from taking any bathroom breaks on American workers on American soil.

In what may be the most recent case of an employer engaging in bullying tactics, Samsung, a company that’s just lost a patent case against Apple, is accused by two bloggers for almost being stranded in Berlin unless they wear Samsung approved clothing. Even though the company covered the hotel costs, these bloggers (as part of the Samsung Mob!lers program) had won a contest. They were to appear at an IFA conference to cover the company (in addition to others) for in Berlin, Germany in exchange for early access for mobile devices.  This is not uncommon practice in tech circles. 

However, the pressure that these bloggers endured may be a new and disturbing trend. They repeatedly told Samsung that they were in no way brand ambassadors, but were met instead with pushy company officials expressing that they “have to be in uniform, in the Samsung booths, every day. Showing the products to members of the press.” Not only does this incident violates the unbiased and fair reporting that readers expect from and rely on by journalists and magazine organizations, but it also gives out the message that powerful entities can threaten and coerce its workers to do its bidding. Fortunately for the bloggers, they were able to get home. Happy Labor Day, indeed!