FRIEDENS, Pennsylvania – Imagine if you'd a job. A good job, one which required skill and critical thinking coupled with a broad impact in the community where you lived. A job you didn’t only be there to do. It was a job you had been good at, and because of it, you were able to provide a roof over your family’s head, put your children through college or assist in paying for their wedding, and once a year, it gave you the capability to carve out a week or two to take the family on holiday.
Now imagine that job becomes the center of political debate, one far removed from the Laurel Mountains, where the town sits. Within two decades, your profession ranges from being championed by the Democratic Party and labor officials to 1 that they want to destroy.
John Fisher and Harvey Charles were standing outside of the Acosta Mine mechanic station within Somerset County. Both still had traces of coal dust on their own hands and faces. Both had just finished their shifts and were clearing up themselves and their equipment. Fisher works within the mine; Charles transports the coal.
Fisher is doing this job since 1989, as he returned home after serving four years in the U.S. Marine Corps. The 52-year-old says he travels 67 miles one way every day from his home in Cherry Tree in Clearfield County to complete his job at the mine.
He describes his day, which begins avoid walking into the mine, but crawling.
“I get here, what? 4:30 a.m. Make sure everything’s running. Then, I am going underground and fix what’s broken. Throughout, in the pots, in the slop, in the bad roof, in the good roof.”
He explains all of the vulnerabilities that exist in a mine that requires monitoring and daily repairs.
Here, metallurgical coal gets mined. It is used exclusively for the steel production that props up construction of bridges, roads, highways, homes, factories, distribution centers, churches and other businesses supporting the country’s infrastructure and economy.
Fisher explains the core business here's producing and selling metallurgical coal to domestic and international steel and coke producers: “It’s a good living. I like what I do, or I would not be doing it.”
So does Charles, who says he’s been in the industry since 1987. “Right out of high school, I followed in the footsteps of my father and grandfather.”
“I had been the maintenance foreman. Now I’m just a truck mechanic,” he said of his job to ensure all of the massive dump trucks used to haul the coal from the hollow are in working order.
Politicians and also the press always need a bad guy.
They acknowledge their industry is in the center of a political storm, and their fate does not rely on the number of improvements the industry does to make it clean. “Politicians and the press need a good guy and a bad guy to either win a race or tell a story. We used to be the good guys that everybody stood up for,” Fisher says and then shrugs.
“Now we are the bad guys.”
Pick up the daily newspaper and you will find mining can get blamed for everything from the development of the deer tick population to last year’s mild winter .
Contempt and Disdain
Several things bother Fisher and Charles concerning how others look upon those who work in the mining industry. The first is the stereotype of anyone in their business as either anti-intellectual or anti-clean environment. The previous they consider insulting, the latter ridiculous.
“Not only do we drink water and breathe the air here, but we also hunt, fish and swim here. We're the first people who want everything we do here to be safe,” Fisher said. It's a common refrain from energy workers across the nation.
The other thing that gets under their skin is when politicians flippantly suggest they are able to quickly get another job. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg recently said individuals who lost their job to climate justice might find a climate-conscious job.
And President Joe Biden suggested coal miners should just learn to code. Last year in Nh, in the middle of a brag of how former President Barack Obama had placed him responsible for judging what the jobs for the future would be, he said, “Anybody who can go down 3,000 feet inside a mine can sure as hell learn how to program as well.”
It is still astounding to witness the contempt and disdain politicians and the press have toward the lives and livelihoods of people that aren’t like them, individuals who don’t live in their ZIP codes or attend the same universities they did.
People who use their hands don’t begin a conversation by asking you where you work. It is rare to find anyone here who would say your profession is irredeemable and you need to do something they find worthy. Traditionally, whenever a job or an industry has a problem, they work on fixing it or correcting it rather than destroying it.
Two Possible Endings
People often asked following the 2021 election what will happen with the Trump voters . The thing is this complex conservative populist coalition existed long before it helped catapult Donald Trump to the presidency in 2021.
His win was, in part, the result of a culture that became detached from the people they served in a variety of institutions, whether it was the federal government, the entertainment industry or even the college campus. Many people ultimately rejected all of them.
But if you never understood that, should you always thought it was about Trump, you never understood who they were and why they vote how they do.
And you never understood how one who lives in the suburbs of Arizona or Kenosha, Wisconsin, or Miami might have anything in common with someone who works the mines in Appalachia. And you didn’t understand that because you didn’t care to, because you hoped for its destruction.
There is going to be two endings to this story. The very first is industries such as coal or shale, or even the creation of pipelines, will continue to obtain attacked and dismantled, costing people their jobs. As Fisher said, politicians and also the press always need a bad guy.
And the other ending is this coalition will grow – regardless of the press incorrectly believing one individual caused it and having the audacity to think they have the power to dismantle it.