Thank A Wyoming Worker this Labor Day
I was a grade-school kid when we moved to Wright, Wyo., in the late 1970s, and my dad took a job at one of the new coal mines. More than three decades later, Dad still works 12-hour shifts in the pit, shoveling thousands of tons of Powder River Basin coal into haul trucks. He works “on the fly,” as it’s called, which means he’s on the shovel at shift-change to ensure a seamless transition.
Given the hour drive from Gillette, it makes for a long work day and a short reprieve between shifts. Dad doesn’t complain.
It’s a good job. It can be dangerous and demanding, at times. But like any person working to provide for their family, my dad has always been dedicated to his work. Wyoming employers are lucky to have such a hard-working class of folks, and they deserve safe working conditions and decent pay.
I’ve always been impressed — but not surprised — by how many hours Wyoming workers put in a week. A few years ago when the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics still offered state-by-state comparisons, it was reported that Wyoming workers — on average — put in more weekly hours than any other state in the nation; 41.4 hours. That figure included all part-time workers, too. So you can be sure many folks put in 50-plus hours.
Wyoming workers drive long distances, and many of them work in extreme weather conditions. Our construction and natural resource-based jobs are inherently dangerous. Much of the work is seasonal and transient. These, and the rest of our jobs in Wyoming, rely on international markets that flutter to the whim of ever-changing economics, policies and seasonal weather patterns.
As a young man, I worked in Wyoming hauling coal, delivering parts to mines and oilfields, and working as a mechanic’s helper in coal, oil and gas. You know, those jobs where you shower after work and live for the weekends when you’re not on-call. On more than one occasion, I refused a task I deemed unsafe and faced no retaliation for it — except for minor ribbing. It takes a thick skin to work in the bluecollar world. But for the most part, fellow workers appreciate a thoughtful regard for safety.
This Labor Day weekend I’ll think about, and be grateful for, all my friends, family and neighbors who put in long hours and hard work to keep this nation in flush supply of food, energy and recreational opportunity. That includes my fellow professional journalists trying to survive in, and make sense of, a rapidly changing world.
— Dustin Bleizeffer, WyoFile editor-in-chief, has covered Wyoming’s energy industry for 13 years. He can be reached at 307-577-6069 or [email protected].