Date on Senior Honors Thesis
Senior Honors Thesis
College of Arts and Sciences
coal; unions; labor; politics; union strength
Extensive research has examined the decline of organized labor in the United States and the political implications that have accompanied it (Goldfield, 1989; Tope and Jacobs, 2009). However, only a small number of works have addressed the political implications specific to Kentucky’s relationship with coal labor unions, and very few works have examined reasons for the current possible rebirth of labor organizing. By examining primary and secondary sources such as newspaper articles and previously conducted case studies, this study explores the ways, if at all, political affiliation or control of a state influences the existence and activity of labor unions, specifically when it comes to coal unions. It also builds on previous hypotheses that contend that the political shift Kentucky faced from Democratic to Republican control lead to a decline in coal unions, and argues that Democratic control has in the past been typically more union friendly than Republican control has been in the past. Finally, this study will explore whether a noticeable trend in recent years has developed that shows coal labor organizing is on the rise again in Kentucky.
Amburgey, Bayley Hope, "The politics of unionization: the impact of politics on the strength of Kentucky coal miners’ unions." (2020). College of Arts & Sciences Senior Honors Theses. Paper 210.
Retrieved from https://ir.library.louisville.edu/honors/210
Previous research has shown a significant decline of organized labor and unions in the United States, and even the political implications which have accompanied it. My research in this study will address the political implications specific to Kentucky’s relationship with coal labor unions, as well as what could be the current possible rebirth of labor organizing.
For my methodology, I collected newspaper articles, previously conducted interviews and more from and about those involved in Kentucky coal unions as primary sources, and explored existing case studies of Harlan County, Kentucky and research articles as secondary sources.
My hypothesis explored the following: does political party affiliation or control affect the trend of unionization? If this is the case, does the shift from Democratic to Republican control in KY at least partially explain the decline of unionism in the coal industry? And lastly, is there a resurgence of unionism in coal recently? If so, how can that be explained?
With these hypotheses, I came across three major findings. The first is that there does seem to be evidence that political affiliation or control of a state could be an influence on the existence and activity of labor unions, and specifically coal unions, based on my findings. I also found some evidence that Democratic control has historically been more union friendly than Republican control has been in the past, based on the public opinion of miners, party legislation and programs, and how union trends seemingly line up with political affiliation in Kentucky and on the federal level. Finally, I was unable to discover a noticeable trend in recent years that shows labor organizing is on the rise again in Kentucky. In fact, when concerning recent labor organizing trends around coal, most research points in the opposite direction. While the Blackjewel Mining Blockade may have rekindled the organizing spirit for a brief moment in Eastern Kentucky, it appears to be an isolated incident, and has not appeared to have an effect on the trends of labor organizing or union membership. While we have not yet seen a resurgence, the possibility still remains as political parties and power shift and change over time.