By Jack Caldwell

While politicians ponder how to reform the US coal mine safety situation, let us look at the wages paid to US coal miners. We have previously dealt with coal mine salaries and coal mine executive compensation. Now is time to look at the wages of those who do the work and the dying - and again our sympathies to the affected families.

From CostMine’s 2009 Survey Results U.S. Coal Mine Salaries, Wages and Benefits here are some of the wages (US average in $/hour). The first number is for surface mines; the second is for underground mines.

  • Electrician = 26.62/24.73
  • Mechanic = 28.00/24.12
  • Welder = 25.88/23.89
  • Helper = 23.84/22.79
  • Shovel/Dragline Operator = 25.87/ --
  • Laborer = 20.43/22.44
  • Roof Bolter= -- /24.67

Wages at large mines are higher than at small mines. Some examples:

  • Electrician = 27.02/24.06
  • Welder = 26.11/23.64
  • Laborer = 21.23/18.52

Wages also vary across the country. Some examples of the variation ofthe hourly wage for an electrician across the country – go northwest, young miner:

  • Eastern = 24.29
  • Central = 25.84
  • Southwestern = 26.08
  • Northwestern = 28.09

Add to these wages the cost of benefits. As a percentage of wages, the average cost of benefits is as follows for U.S. coal mines (all US/Union/Non-Union):

  • Mandatory = 17.15/15.69/37.55
  • Voluntary = 34.84/37.55/24.52

Then there are incentive plans. I quote from the Survey:

This year 65% of union mines reported incentive plans, up from 57% last year, while 81% of non-union mine offered these plans compared to 71% last year. By contrast, our 2009 metal mine survey revealed that 83% of U.S. metal mines offer some sort of incentive bonus plan.

And then a telling statement that may go some way to explaining why people continued to work in West Virginia even though they knew of potentially unsafe conditions:

Cola production is still the number one criterion for bonus computations at U.S. coal mines.

Let us end then by remarking once again on two of the silliest and most insulting statements made about the recent coal mine deaths:

  • Coal mining is safer than driving a car.
  • We do not need more government intervention–look at China where they kill many more in spite of an all-powerful government.

Both statementsmay be true, but neither is a reason or excuse for poor working conditions or suppression of safe practices in U.S. coal mines. We wish coal miners all the income they can get and deserve.