Bankrupt Coal Company CEOs Took Huge Raises While Killing Jobs

* The following is an opinion column by R Muse *

One of the defining traits of conservatives, particularly wealthy conservatives, is embracing any policy that enriches the already wealthy at the expense of others. It happens in Republican controlled states, the United States Congress, and of course in the corporate world; anything to provide more wealth for the rich no matter how devastating it is for everyone else.

In the corporate world it is not uncommon for CEOs and top executives to give themselves raises, lay off workers, steal retirement and healthcare benefits, and then file bankruptcy to fully screw the workforce while avoiding debts. A new report released by Public Citizen earlier this week revealed that executives and CEOs at the nation’s top coal producing corporations in America drastically “increased their personal compensation,” slashed employee benefits, and terminated workers while their companies were spiraling into bankruptcy.

The Public Citizen reported that most top executives at Peabody Energy, Arch Coal, and Alpha Natural Resources received millions of dollars in compensation increases while the companies suffered massive debts; often due to “fruitless expansions.” Public Citizen, an advocacy organization, sent out letters to the three top coal companies’ chief executive officers concurrent with the report “urging them to invest their multi-million dollar bonuses in a trust fund for laid off workers.” It is a fantasy and pipe dream to even begin to imagine a wealthy coal industry CEO investing their riches to help laid off workers.

The report pointed to coal industry layoffs and several attacks on workers’ benefits and listed the outrageous CEO’s compensation increases from 2012 through 2014 while the companies were struggling financially in the year immediately preceding the bankruptcy filings. The Public Citizen stopped short of seriously railing on the executives as being nearly criminal for having the gall to lay off hundreds of staff and increase their own pay by millions while profits were shrinking in typically greedy conservative fashion.

As is always the case, there will likely be public outcry among coal workers and their families over these wealthy coal company executives receiving multi-million compensation packages while the businesses collapse and miners lose their jobs, retirement and healthcare benefits, but that will be the end of the story; a minor outcry.

Remember that directly after the Republican financial crisis and Great Depression of 2008, big banking executives and CEOs were awarded billions in salaries, hefty bonuses and other overly-generous benefits while their companies fell apart and workers lost their jobs by tens-of-thousands. These coal company executives, like banking executives, will not be asked to forgo even a fraction of the extra compensation; not to help avert bankruptcies, stop job layoffs, or to preserve the workers’ retirement and healthcare benefits.

Now, it is true that the coal industry has experienced significant reductions in prices due to, in part, a decrease in demand, but that is the way capitalism works. According to the Energy Information Administration, coal production will have fallen by 12 percent in 2016. And, although it is the largest drop since the late 1950s, it is not due to the Republican and coal industry’s claim that efforts to slow climate change; that is the typical fossil fuel lie.

All three of the largest coal companies blamed efforts to curb global climate change as having a detrimental financial impact on coal mining because it reduces demand for coal. However, as noted by Think Progress, the reduction in coal consumption in America is primarily driven by economic and technological factors in the energy sector, as well as intelligent and less-costly energy policies such as increasing solar, wind and other renewable energy sources. There have been more “stringent” environmental regulations over the years, but those regulations typically only affect new and modified coal-fired generators, not the coal mining industry.

One of the coal companies in financial straits, Peabody Energy, is also the world’s largest privately-owned coal company that stated “an unprecedented industry downturn” in its bankruptcy filing just last month. The company also cited China’s economic slowdown, low coal prices, and “overproduction of domestic shale gas” as a reason for being bankrupt. What the company failed to note in its filing was that during the “unprecedented industry downturn” its chief executive officer received nearly $11 million in compensation packages amounting to nearly a nearly $2 million increase. That substantial “raise” occurred the same year that Peabody Energy tried to get out of its collective bargaining agreement with the United Mine Workers of America, the organization providing healthcare for retired mine workers. It is not a stretch to imagine the Peabody executives telling the UMWA that it had to get out of the employee benefit business due to the industry’s economic woes, not because it needed the money to enrich its CEO.

This corporate abomination is not unique to the coal industry by any means; it is typical across industries and Republican politics. Look at Republican-led states that are drowning in debt and cutting social programs like there’s no tomorrow. All while complaining that revenue is falling due to handing outrageous tax cuts and subsidies to corporations and the wealthy. Republicans in Congress have done exactly the same thing in giving subsidies to profitable corporations while complaining the nation is too broke to fund infrastructure repair and social welfare and domestic programs.

It doesn’t matter how much people are outraged over these kinds of atrocities because nothing will change until Republicans are sent packing; and yes, this is a typical Republican issue. It is inherent in their politics, their libertarian belief tanks, and their legislation; it is little wonder it is business as usual with their campaign donors. The losers, as usual, are the workers who lost jobs, healthcare benefits, and likely their retirement accounts to rich CEOs who awarded themselves hefty multi-million dollar raises while the companies they ran collapsed into bankruptcy.