News

Big Coal and the Big Terminal

GPT may run on Peabody’s energy, but labor will bless it just the same

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

At first acquaintance, Mark Lowry seems more a college professor than a bus driver/labor leader. His soft-spoken, articulate style makes him the most effective Bellingham voice in support of the proposed Gateway Pacific coal export terminal at Cherry Point.

“I’ve been driving a bus for 17 years,” Lowry observes. “I know people who used to be the working poor. I used to take them to work and pick them up after work. I know their names. Now they’re not riding any more. They can’t find work.”

“The economy may be growing,” he admitted, “but it’s a hollowed-out economy. It’s mostly service jobs we’re gaining. When you lose a $60,000 manufacturing job with benefits and replace it with a $20,000 WalMart job with no benefits, that’s a zero replacement.”

What about the often mentioned if seldom-seen Bellingham renaissance in small manufacturing? It’s not really happening, Lowry says. Not so you’d notice.

“When Georgia-Pacific closed it was paying 850 union members a living wage with benefits. Nothing took its place. Instead, we’re manufacturing lattes for each other. I don’t think that’s a recovery.”

In addition to driving his WTA route, Lowry heads both Amalgamated Transit Union Local 843 and the Northwest Washington Central Labor Council. At the drop of a hint he’ll argue, civilly but passionately, in support of the construction and operating jobs that are supposed to come with the new coal terminal.

He’ll support it even if it promises to further enrich Peabody Energy Company, a likely candidate for any working person’s list of the most anti-union outfits in the country.

Peabody is not building the port nor hiring local workers, but without Peabody there’s no Gateway Pacific Terminal. The coal giant provides the only shipping contract that port developer and operator SSA Marine has announced so far. Peabody agrees to ship 24 million metric tons of Montana coal per year through GPT. That’s half the terminal’s proposed long-term coal capacity.

The most recent story you probably read about the corporation is still developing, in a St. Louis federal court. Peabody spun off some of its employee benefit contracts, along with a couple of coal mines, to a new subsidiary it created, known as Patriot Coal. Patriot promptly declared bankruptcy and asked the bankruptcy court to cancel its pension and health obligations to longtime Peabody employees.

The Patriot plot may be sneaky, but it’s vanilla cookies in the context of Peabody’s long-term relations with organized labor. A brief glance at its labor history is revealing.

The famous 1931 Harlan County, Kentuckyviolence against unionizing mine workers began at a Peabody mine, the Black Mountain. Union supporters were shot, jailed and beaten, and their homes were burned. When a Seattle sympathizer, Jessie Wakefield, went to Harlan County to minister to the starving families of the mine workers, her car was dynamited. Journalists who came to Harlan County to write about the violence were handcuffed and escorted out of the county with warnings not to come back. They wrote anyway.

Peabody has civilized its tactics but continues strenuously to oppose organized labor.

Where federal laws have forced the company to recognize unions, it has closed the union mines and opened more non-union mines. As a result, according to the United Mine Workers’ Association, fewer than 30 percent of Peabody’s miners are currently union members.

Only last year, the National Labor Relations Board directed Peabody to stop intimidating pro-union workers at its Willow Lake mine in Illinois, and a federal judge ordered it to rehire
a worker fired for union activity. Peabody soon closed the mine for “safety concerns.”

Eight hundred workers lost their jobs.

Peabody owns the lion’s share of rights to strip coal from public lands in the Powder River Basin in Montana, where its mining jobs are 90 percent non-union.

Does it matter to local unions that the new export terminal will further enrich a national symbol of anti-labor practices? If so, it doesn’t change their support for GPT.

“I don’t do business with Peabody,” Mark Lowry said. “I don’t like Peabody. I don’t trust multi-national corporations. But I am forced to be a realist. SSA Marine has a good record of dealing honestly and reasonably with unions and offering living-wage jobs with good benefits. That’s what we’re after.”

Lowry seems at times uncomfortable in his role as booster for the coal terminal, and in conflict with some of labor’s traditional, Democratic Party allies. He keeps emphasizing that he’s in no way in thrall to SSA Marine.

“I am not on SSA’s payroll,” he emphasizes. “I’m not on their side. I’m on labor’s side. I’m trying to get some damn jobs in this county.”

A well-known labor activist who doesn’t want his name used, expressed his feelings more vividly, if less elegantly than Lowry.

“Yeah, f___king Peabody,” he said. “Why did it have to be them? We’ve had some long
and hot debate about that. But we’ll take the jobs.”

More News...
State of the Sound
New report indicates additional marine stress

On the surface, the Salish Sea looks beautiful, but it is in grave trouble. Southern Resident orcas, Chinook salmon, steelhead, and many other species are listed under the Endangered Species Act. Toxic chemicals and pharmaceuticals continue to pollute our waterways. Shellfish beds are…

more »
Cull of the Wild
First Nations urge 
sea lion hunt

To manage the population of salmon we must also manage the population of creatures that eat them.

That was the message conveyed to marine scientists by a group of First Nations elders at a special workshop in Bellingham last week. The workshop addressed an overabundance of seal and sea…

more »
Making the Road by Walking
Community to Community celebrates 15 years

“I am a worker of the land,” Rosalinda Guillén declared. “It is my culture, it is my tradition, it is my focus for my people and my focus for this country.”

Fiery yet reflective, with outsized courage, this social justice champion was recently named an Environmental Hero by the…

more »
Events
Today
Holiday Pet Food Drive

10:00am|Whatcom County

Deck the Old City Hall

12:00pm|Whatcom Museum's Old City Hall

Giving Tree

9:00am|Village Books

Holiday Festival of the Arts

10:00am

The Naughty List Market and Cabaret

2:00pm|Broadway Hall

Miracle Pop-Up Holiday Cocktail Bar

4:00pm|Swim Club

Treasure Island

7:00pm|Sehome High School Theater

Shrek the Musical

7:00pm|Burlington-Edison High School

Crazy for You

7:30pm|Bellingham Theatre Guild

A Christmas Carol

7:30pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

Number the Stars

7:30pm|Anacortes Community Theatre

Wild Things

9:30am|Connelly Creek Nature Area

Toys for Tots

10:00am

Pacific Arts Market

10:00am| Sunset Square

Holiday Tea

11:00am|Willowbrook Manor

Holiday Craft Bazaar

3:30pm|Lynden Library

Drayton Harbor Shellebration

4:00pm|G Street Plaza

Gingerbread House Making

4:30pm|Ferndale Library

Christmas on the Docks

5:00pm|Cap Sante Marina

Photos and Stories with James K. Papp

5:00pm|Gallery Pegasus

Wonderland Walk

5:00pm|Washington Park

Valley Made Holiday Market

5:00pm|Maplehurst Farm

Kids Night Out @ Western

6:00pm|Western Washington University

Lost Feast

7:00pm|Village Books

Honk! The Musical

7:00pm|Bellingham Arts Academy for Youth

Darkness and Light

7:30pm|St. James Presbyterian Church

Narnia the Musical

7:30pm|Claire vg Thomas Theatre

Christmastime is Here with Skagit Symphony

7:30pm|McIntyre Hall

Tarnation and Holiday Games

7:30pm|Upfront Theatre

Tomorrow
Holiday Pet Food Drive

10:00am|Whatcom County

Deck the Old City Hall

12:00pm|Whatcom Museum's Old City Hall

Giving Tree

9:00am|Village Books

Holiday Festival of the Arts

10:00am

Miracle Pop-Up Holiday Cocktail Bar

4:00pm|Swim Club

Shrek the Musical

7:00pm|Burlington-Edison High School

Treasure Island

7:00pm|Sehome High School Theater

Number the Stars

7:30pm|Anacortes Community Theatre

A Christmas Carol

7:30pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

Crazy for You

7:30pm|Bellingham Theatre Guild

Pacific Arts Market

10:00am| Sunset Square

Toys for Tots

10:00am

Holiday Tea

11:00am|Willowbrook Manor

Christmas on the Docks

5:00pm|Cap Sante Marina

Wonderland Walk

5:00pm|Washington Park

Valley Made Holiday Market

5:00pm|Maplehurst Farm

Honk! The Musical

7:00pm|Bellingham Arts Academy for Youth

Tarnation and Holiday Games

7:30pm|Upfront Theatre

Darkness and Light

7:30pm|St. James Presbyterian Church

Narnia the Musical

7:30pm|Claire vg Thomas Theatre

NSEA Work Party

9:00am

Breakfast with Santa

9:00am|Sedro-Woolley Community Center

Winter Faire

10:00am|Whatcom Hills Waldorf School

Winter Arts & Crafts Festival

10:00am|Pioneer Park Pavilion

Old-Fashioned Christmas Market

10:00am|Friday Harbor Brickworks

Bellingham Farmers Market

10:00am|Depot Market Square

Fairhaven Winterfest

10:00am|Historic Fairhaven

Sumas Book Club

10:00am|Sumas Library

Mastering Wisteria

10:30am|Full Bloom Farm

Award-Winning Book Club

10:30am|Lynden Library

Snow Geese of Skagit

10:30am|Christianson's Nursery

Your Life is a Story Writers Group

10:30am| South Whatcom Library

Saltadena Celebration

11:00am|Saltadena Bakery

Winter Wonderland Gift Gala

11:00am|Carnation Building

Holiday Craft Bazaars

11:30am

Holiday Maker's Market

12:00pm|Terramar Brewing and Distilling

Holiday Joy with Fidalgo Youth Symphony

1:00pm|McIntyre Hall

Holiday Tea and Crafts

1:00pm|North Fork Library

Festive Feasting Reception

1:00pm|Good Earth Pottery

Teen Art Fair

2:00pm|Blaine Library

Big Holiday reds tasting

2:00pm|eifert & Jones Wine Merchants

Shrinking the Worry Monster

2:00pm|Village Books

Birding for Kids

2:30pm

Bowman Bay Holiday

3:00pm|Bowman Bay

Noel Ensemble

3:00pm|Jansen Art Center

A Deep Dive Into Eve Deisher's Psyche

3:00pm|Museum of Northwest Art

One Meditation

4:00pm| Boulevard Park

The Nativity

6:30pm|Mount Baker Theatre

Early Railroads of Whatcom County

7:00pm|Village Books

Contra Dance

7:00pm|Fairhaven Library

Center Into Solstice

7:00pm|Cafe Blue

Holiday History Hi-Jinks

7:00pm|Downtown Bellingham

Winter Solstice Concert with SeaMuse

7:30pm|Firehouse Arts and Events Center

Cidertails with Alexine Langdon

7:30pm|housand Acre Cider House

Heralding Christmas with Skagit Valley Chorale

7:30pm|McIntyre Hall

The Kelley World Tour

7:30pm|Lummi Island Library

Sunday
Holiday Pet Food Drive

10:00am|Whatcom County

Deck the Old City Hall

12:00pm|Whatcom Museum's Old City Hall

Giving Tree

9:00am|Village Books

Holiday Festival of the Arts

10:00am

Miracle Pop-Up Holiday Cocktail Bar

4:00pm|Swim Club

Number the Stars

7:30pm|Anacortes Community Theatre

Crazy for You

7:30pm|Bellingham Theatre Guild

Pacific Arts Market

10:00am| Sunset Square

Christmas on the Docks

5:00pm|Cap Sante Marina

Valley Made Holiday Market

5:00pm|Maplehurst Farm

Honk! The Musical

7:00pm|Bellingham Arts Academy for Youth

Narnia the Musical

7:30pm|Claire vg Thomas Theatre

Winter Wonderland Gift Gala

11:00am|Carnation Building

The Nativity

6:30pm|Mount Baker Theatre

Heralding Christmas with Skagit Valley Chorale

7:30pm|McIntyre Hall

Sedro-Woolley Community Breakfast

8:00am|American Legion Post #43

Langar in Lynden

11:00am| Guru Nanak Gursikh Gurdwara

Celtic Yuletide

3:00pm|Lincoln Theatre

Scarlett and Dicey

4:00pm|Village Books

Vaudevillingham

7:00pm|Cirque Lab

see our complete calendar »