Employee loyalty pays dividends for all invovled

The state law in Ohio requires that there must be two means of ingress and egress (entering and exiting) coal mines at all times. In all three of the mines in which I worked, the elevator and the slope were the only two openings. This state requirement meant that if the elevator was broken down, the company could not force the men to walk the slope into the mine for work. If the elevator went down during the shift, the men had to be withdrawn from the mine within a certain period of time, which was negotiated between the company and the union. In this situation, the men were required to walk the slope out.

This elevator problem was the source of a couple of strikes. The company occasionally failed to inform the miners of the fact that the elevator was down until the end of the shift. The union filed a safety grievance or went on strike to protest this event when it happened.

One rainy day when the elevator went down during the shift, the men were required to walk out the slope. With water running down the slope, the men claimed it was too slick and therefore unsafe to walk out. This refusal to walk out forced the company to pay overtime while the miners sat on the bottom of the slope since the miners were paid from portal to portal (from entry to exit of the mine). The mine union safety committeeman, Lloyd, was called to rule on the dispute. This step was the first one to resolve a dispute. If the union safety committeeman and company officials could not agree, the second step was to call in a federal mine inspector.

Lloyd walked down the slope and declared it unsafe. The company decided not to call in a federal inspector and dropped in supply cars to haul out the men. It took a couple of hours to outfit the supply cars for human transport and get everyone out. Each miner made about $25 on the overtime. This precedent eliminated future walks up the slope when the elevator was down regardless of whether the slope was slick or not.

In my mind the issue here was not just the safety of walking up the 1,200 foot slope. It was the energy required to do so after working eight hours in low coal. As a 21-year-old, I wasn’t affected much. The middle-aged guys struggled with the steep hike.

After this incident, a railcar to haul the miners out when the elevator went down was always at the ready. No time was lost or overtime paid. Had the mine leaders anticipated this highly probable incident and prepared for it, another rift between company and union could have been avoided. Each incident like this made the union people feel the company didn’t care about them. Loyalty for the company eroded and battles ensued.

Good leaders look for ways to show employees they are valued. Employee loyalty for the company is one of the most valuable characteristic of a highly functioning organization.

R. Glenn Ray, Ph.D., is the president of RayCom Learning. To learn more about Ray’s completely revised, third printing of The Facilitative Leader: Behaviors that Enable Success, visit his Web site, www.raycomlearning.com or call him at 740-629-4536. Everyday Leadership appears each Wednesday on the Business page.