View Full Version : Union Busting in Coal Mines (WV)

Ed Jewett
04-10-2010, 05:03 AM
Union-busting associated with Massey's coal mine disaster

By Carol Forsloff


Massey forced the unions out, and now non-union coal miners have died in a coal mine cited for 600 violations in the past 18 months, so does the lack of a union contribute to safety concerns?
Some people believe lack of unions is the problem of coal mine safety with respect to Massey and the recent tragedy of 25 miners who died in a West Virginia coal mine and 4 now stranded, left possibly to die because rescuers can't get near them. A letter to the editor (http://dallasmorningviewsblog.dallasnews.com/archives/2010/04/remember-the-mi.html) in the Dallas Morning News poses that very important issue that the writer declares people should consider each time they flip a switch and turn on the electric lights. What's the skinny on Massey and the unions? Is that an important variable in the mine disaster? Is unionism designed to protect the workers in instances like this, and what happens when unions aren't involved? In 2009 the National Labor Relations Board (http://blogs.wvgazette.com/coaltattoo/2009/10/02/nlrb-to-massey-rehire-union-mine-workers/) agreed with a decision that Massey Energy rehire 85 coal miners who said they had been discriminated against because they were union members. Union members have declared Don Blankenship, the manager of the corporation, to have an antipathy for unions. Don Blankenship (http://www.newsmeat.com/ceo_political_donations/Don_Blankenship.php), the CEO of Massey, is a Republican and has given large sums of money to various Republican candidates in West Virginia. CBS examined his tweets and found him against environmentalists and making fun of global warming and climate change as well. He has a record for making big donations to Republican candidates with the company giving 91% of its political contributions (http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-31727_162-20001866-10391695.html) to Republicans since 1990. According to the history of coal mining (http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/ops/coal-mine.htm) in Appalachia, for many years coal miners worked in hazardous conditions, made little money, had safety concerns, and were afraid to speak about their problems. When unions first attempted to enter the coal mining industry, there was widespread violence, resulting in the West Virginia Coal Mine Wars. When the union gathered thousands of members together in an organized community, that looked to government officials like an army, they were met by state and Federal troops. They were accused of being socialists. Many lives were lost, history declares, but no accurate count ever made. The union members were accused of treason, and the company officials allowed to continue business in the same ways they had historically done. Coal miner supporters and union officials have accused Massey Energy of being one of the big bosses in the tradition of the coal mine owners of yore. They believe that safety measures, that the union would have insisted upon, would have been instituted had the union been involved. History tells a lot about unionism, power, and disasters in West Virginia. There are those who wonder if it has been repeated with the one in the coal mine owned by Massey now. As it is, they say, the result of having unsafe conditions, caused the recent tragedy. President Leo Gerard (http://workinprogress.firedoglake.com/2010/04/06/steelworkers-president-leo-gerard-if-miners-were-union-they-could-have-refused-unsafe-work-at-massey/)of the Steelworkers Union had this to say.
“I can absolutely say that if these miners were members of a union, they would have been able to refuse unsafe work… and would not have been subjected to that kind of atrocious conditions,” said Gerard. “In some places like in Australia and Canada, this kind of negligence would result in criminal negligence [charges] being brought against the management and the CEO.”The United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) offered the following statement on April 5, following the disaster: “The hearts and prayers of all UMWA members are with the families of those lost today at Performance Coal Company’s Upper Big Branch mine. We are also praying for the safe rescue of those still missing, and for the safety of the courageous mine rescue team members. They are putting their lives on the line, entering a highly dangerous mine to bring any survivors to safety. “As a mine operated by a subsidiary of Massey Energy, the Upper Big Branch mine is a nonunion mine. Nevertheless, I have dispatched highly trained and skilled UMWA personnel to the immediate vicinity of the mine, and they stand ready to offer any assistance they can to the families and the rescuers at this terrible and anxious time. We are all brothers and sisters in the coalfields at times like this."


For earlier coverage of the disaster, see this thread at E Pluribus Unum:


Magda Hassan
04-10-2010, 06:00 AM

What have the unions ever done for us?

Which side are you on?

Magda Hassan
04-13-2010, 02:43 AM
Missing Lesson From the Mine Tragedy: Union-Busting = Death (http://www.truthout.org/missing-lesson-from-mine-tragedy-union-busting-death58501)

Monday 12 April 2010
by: Art Levine, t r u t h o u t | Report
(http://www.truthout.org/missing-lesson-from-mine-tragedy-union-busting-death58501) http://www.truthout.org/files/images/041210levine.jpg
(Photo: SilverMiner (http://www.flickr.com/photos/silverminer/3223627687/))
In the wake of last week's disaster at Massey Energy Company's Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia, it's become increasingly clear that CEO Don Blankenship (http://www.businessweek.com/news/2010-04-10/massey-s-blankenship-fought-regulators-town-maid-as-coal-ceo.html) has gamed the loophole-laden mine safety enforcement system (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/04/09/AR2010040905653.html?hpid=topnews). Despite a supposedly tougher federal law (http://www.msha.gov/MinerAct/MinerActSingleSource.asp)that passed in 2006 after the Sago, West Virginia, mine explosion killed a dozen miners, Massey and other companies have been able to use the law as a shield to avoid tougher enforcement measures by appealing safety citations - and overwhelming the weak Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) with a backlog of appeals.
Even though Massey has faced proposed fines nearing $2 million since 2005 and been cited over 1,300 times (http://www.democracynow.org/2010/4/7/massey_energy_mine_cited_for_1), it's paid only a fraction - one-sixth - of the proposed fines. All told, according to the United Mine Workers of America, nearly 50 people have been killed at Massey mines in the last ten years. In March alone, it was cited over 50 times for violations (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/04/06/AR2010040601531.html?id=10293691&hpid=topnews), many directly related to ventilation violations that allowed the build-up of explosive methane gas that played a major role in the killing of the 29 miners. As The Washington Post (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/04/09/AR2010040905117.html) observed in an editorial, "'It's a profession that's not without risks and danger, and the workers and their families know that,' Mr. Obama said of the coal industry Friday. 'But their government and their employers know that they owe it to these families to do everything possible to ensure their safety when they go to work each day.' A good place to start would be to ensure that the regulations on the books are vigorously enforced."
Yet, despite such expected calls for stronger regulation and enforcement from leading editorial pages and news organizations (http://blogs.wvgazette.com/coaltattoo/2010/04/09/ap-reports-on-why-safety-reforms-didnt-work/), including The New York Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/07/opinion/07wed2.html), most mainstream media outlets have essentially downplayed or ignored the role of Massey-led union-busting (http://wonkroom.thinkprogress.org/2010/04/09/blankenship-unions/).
And, in a perverse way, political leaders and media outlets that morbidly romanticize the courage of rural mine workers for working in an industry known for its risks are also in some ways promoting the view that mine disasters are as unavoidable as natural disasters. As USA Today proclaimed (http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2010-04-06-coal-mine-explosion-west-virginia_N.htm)in a recent headline: "In mine country, risks a 'way of life.'" The feature article concluded by quoting former miner Randy Cox, who had observed that deep in a coalmine, "bad things can happen fast, without warning." The article noted, "that it will take a long time for this area to mourn and heal, Cox said. "'It's all in God's hands now.'"
But the explosion that tore through the Upper Branch Mine, leaving rail lines twisted and bodies, was, like all mine explosions, "preventable," says Mine Safety and Health Administration official Kevin Stricklin - not divinely preordained.
Yet, union-busting's role in enabling such calamities to continue just isn't part of the official discourse in Washington now. No matter that Massey's anti-union campaign in the 1980s helped lead to the weakening of the United Mine Workers, which once was one of the nation's strongest, most effective unions, representing nearly 90 percent of the nation's 400,000 mine workers in the 1960s, but now represents less than a third of the remaining 10,000 or so coalminers.
With the union weakened by closed mines (http://www.newsweek.com/id/236004)and the rise of untrammeled union-busting, (http://news.mining.com/2010/04/09/union-busting-associated-with-masseys-coal-mine-disaster/) unsafe, deadly conditions were allowed to continue unchallenged at the growing percentage of nonunion mines that put profits above safety. (http://pr.thinkprogress.org/2010/04/pr20100408)
In contrast, "what unions, particularly in dangerous profession like mining, mean is that they give workers protection and the leverage of a working group with management to vocalize and bring forward concerns about safety without fear of retribution," said Kimberly Freeman Brown, executive director of American Rights at Work, a champion of the now-stalled Employee Free Choice Act. (http://inthesetimes.com/working/entry/5779/as_deadlock_ends_whats_next_for_the_nlrb/) She added, "In the absence of a union, in hard economic times, workers feel more vulnerable about losing their jobs and less confident about expressing their concerns about safety."
In fact, according to United Steelworkers President Leo Gerard, whose union represents hard rock miners rather than coalminers (via Firedoglake (http://workinprogress.firedoglake.com/2010/04/06/steelworkers-president-leo-gerard-if-miners-were-union-they-could-have-refused-unsafe-work-at-massey/)), "I can absolutely say that if these miners were members of a union, they would have been able to refuse unsafe work ... and would not have been subjected to that kind of atrocious conditions. In some places like in Australia and Canada, this kind of negligence would result in criminal negligence [charges] being brought against the management and the CEO."
Indeed, "While three out of ten [coal] miners is a [United Mine Workers] union miner, about one of every ten fatalities involves a union miner," says United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) Communications Director Philip Smith. (Only about 20 percent of all miners are in any union.) And he noted that the fatalities involving union miners generally involve individual accidents, not mine-wide disasters like fires and explosions that periodically shock the country and, it seems, are soon forgotten by the federal government's generally lackluster regulators.
It's unquestionably true that union mines have better safety records (http://www.thenation.com/blogs/thebeat/549998/there_s_no_question_that_union_mines_are_safer), especially when it comes to fatalities. But the exact scope of what might be called the "safety gap" between union and nonunion mines varies based on what statistics are used. The UMW, as noted by Daily Kos and others, has pointed out (http://www.dailykos.com/storyonly/2010/4/7/855068/-Want-Safer-Mines-Unionize-Them)that in 2007-2009, there were 45 underground coal-mining fatalities; six of these were in union mines. David Moberg of In These Times (http://www.inthesetimes.com/working/entry/5813/fatalities_higher_at_non-union_mineslike_masseys_upper_big_branch/) also found that between 2006 and 2009, "unionized miners appear to have been one-fourth to one-half as likely to be killed in mine incidents as their non-union peers," given that unions represented about 20 percent of miners.
In the mid-1980s, Blankenship, then a division manager for Massey, helped run a successful, aggressive campaign - aided, critics say, by company "goons" and a pro-Massey state police force - to destroy the union's role in the company's mines in Appalachia. That industry victory is chronicled in a short documentary called "The Mine War on Blackberry Creek." (http://amountainjourney.wordpress.com/2009/07/17/massey-comes-to-power/) As The Wonk Room noted, Don Blankenship was blunt about the profit motive driving the company's goal to drive out the union: "What that means is that non-union competitors have a tremendous advantage and therefore they sell coal cheaper and drive union coal operations out of business." He added, "Unions and communities are going to have to learn that from a business viewpoint, capitalism is survival of the most productive."

Blankenship was also willing to adopt a soft-sell approach to winning workers over. As ABC News (http://abcnews.go.com/print?id=10314692) reported, quoting Michael Shnayerson, author of "Coal River," a look at Massey's destructive mountaintop mining:

When Blankenship first took control of the mine, he spent more than a year trying to woo the miners to abandon their allegiance to the labor union that had represented them.
"Don made it his own personal campaign. He began flying in every week in his helicopter. He gave pep talks. He took a whole bunch of them on trips to Dollywood, where they went to concerts. He went with them and bonded with them. New cars started turning up in their driveways," Shnayerson said.
But as soon as the union was gone, Shnayerson said Blankenship shifted gears. Work hours increased from eight hours to 12 hours. Bonuses were cut. If they got injured, their jobs were at risk.
The union tried three times to organize the Upper Big Branch mine, but even with getting nearly 70 percent of workers to sign cards saying they wanted to vote for a union, Blankenship personally met with workers to threaten them (http://seminal.firedoglake.com/diary/40081) with closing down the mine and losing their jobs if they voted for a union.
So, for Massey, supplemented by intimidation of workers, the "productivity" that Blankenship extolled has, critics say, always come ahead of the safety and survival of its workers. As recapped by Think Progress (http://pr.thinkprogress.org/2010/04/pr20100408):

In 2008, Massey's Aracoma Coal Co. agreed to "plead guilty to 10 criminal charges, including one felony, and pay $2.5 million in criminal fines" after two workers died in a 2006 fire at the Aracoma Alma No. 1 Mine in Melville, West Virginia. Massey also paid $1.7 million in civil fines. The mine "had 25 violations of mandatory health and safety laws" before the fire on January 19, 2006, but Blankenship passed off the events that caused the deaths as "statistically insignificant." Days before fire broke out in the Aracoma mine, a federal mine inspector tried to close down that section of the mine, but "was told by his superior to back off and let them run coal, that there was too much demand for coal." Massey failed to notify authorities of the fire until two hours after the disaster. Three months before the Aracoma mine fire, Blankenship sent managers a memo saying, "If any of you have been asked by your group presidents, your supervisors, engineers or anyone else to do anything other than run coal ... you need to ignore them and run coal. This memo is necessary only because we seem not to understand that the coal pays the bills." A week later, however, Blankenship sent a follow-up memo, saying that safety is the first responsibility.
To mine workers and safety experts, at Massey's Upper Big Branch mine - as with its other operations - the company is willing to skirt rules and avoid fixing serious, life-threatening violations, emboldened by its power as a nonunion mine. As Reuters reported:

Jimmy Platt, 54, a former miner who worked briefly for Massey during his 17-year career, said that the explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine on Monday, which killed 25 workers and left four missing [later found dead], was "an accident waiting to happen."
Platt said he and other miners were sometimes required to put in 18 to 20-hour days and were told to work what he said was "unminable coal," which opened wide cracks in the mine ceiling, making a roof collapse more likely.
Platt, who is now a chef, said the main difference between working for the non-unionized Massey and other mining companies that have union representation was "the right to say no."
Union bargaining clout is the key factor that can make such a major difference in on-the-ground safety, says labor journalist Philip M. Dine (http://www.philipdine.com/), author of "State of the Unions." He told Truthout, "A strong union can make sure that the company isn't saving money by gambling with miners' lives." The vehicle for that protection is the safety committee, or what Freeman Brown dubbed a "working group," written into each contract to give real-time protection, regardless of whatever ineffective regulation is coming from Washington. As Dine said, "In theory, in a non-union mine, a worker doesn't have to go down into an unsafe area. But that's not what happens in practice: in a non-union mine, if he goes to the foreman [to stay out of a dangerous section], he's told: 'Go down that shaft or you're going home.'
With mine safety handled by a separate agency within the Department of Labor, Dine added, "only the mine union is watching out for miners," as opposed to the pressure that the broader labor movement can bring on OSHA. But all labor safety enforcement was gutted during the Bush era, and rebuilding weakened enforcement agencies once headed and too often staffed by pro-industry hacks has taken time under the progressive leadership of Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis. As The Nation's Esther Kaplan observed, (http://www.thenation.com/doc/20100412/kaplan)focusing in part on Solis's appointment of the pro-union Joe Main to fix the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), she's the "new sheriff," but the mine safety agency is still facing training and oversight failings (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/04/06/AR2010040603986.html?sid%3DST2010040505519%E2%8A%8 2=AR).
Blankenship, Massey's anti-union CEO, could ironically revive and strengthen (http://www.theatlanticwire.com/opinions/view/opinion/Coals-Dirty-Past-and-Dangerous-Future-3124)the efforts to crack down on unsafe mines - and even, despite long odds, revive political interest in some form of the Employee Free Choice Act that aims to level the playing field for union organizing rights. Dine pointed out that effectively communicating the value of unions to the broader economy and working people is still a challenge that faces the labor movement: "People don't know that labor is relevant. People haven't connected the dots about what is happening to normal people and the economy, that corporations are getting stronger, and the decline of labor."
Blankenship and Massey, described by The Washington Post's Dylan Matthews as "cartoonishly villainous in the way they approach everything from the environment to union rights to media scrutiny" could become the new face of corporate evil (http://voices.washingtonpost.com/ezra-klein/2010/04/coal_corruption_and_campaign_f.html)for a dispirited American labor movement. Blankenship, if unions and progressives can somehow capitalize on his horrifically poor PR, could become, like Sheriff "Bull" Connor did for the civil rights movement, the perfect villain to tar the anti-union forces of the GOP and corporate America that now dominate the messaging about labor. For right now, though, as one labor lobbyist told Truthout, the labor movement doesn't want to appear to "exploit" the mining tragedy for political purposes.
But others on the left, including MSNBC's Ed Schulz, seem ready to seize on Massey's abuses to drive home the connection between unfettered corporate power, the death of workers and union rights. In the same week that he interviewed Steelworkers President Gerard, Schultz angrily proclaimed (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/21134540/vp/36286431#36286431):

But here's the point. Unions not only - this is just - I can't believe we're having this discussion in this country as if we have to vilify collective bargaining, where a family can be protected from dangers in the workplace and there won't be the man on the neck of that worker, the neck of that family and those kids who are now missing a loved one.
Criminal negligence, homicide, you name it. The Congress has to get into this once and for all. President Obama, you need to get involved in this.

This is what the Employee Free Choice Act is all about. Where there's not going to be intimidation, where there's not going to be retribution against employees who just think about organizing in the workplace because they'd like to go down into a workplace where they're not going to lose their lives. Where it will just increase the safety in their area. Is that asking too much? Is it all for the dollar bill in America? This is morally wrong. There is absolutely no difference between what these guys did in the front office at this Massey Energy Company than what these guys did down the street on Wall Street to folks who were ripped off. This is a matter of life and death. That's what this is.
See the segment for yourself:

But it doesn't seem likely now that the rest of the mainstream media - or the Democratic leadership - will take up this call for a renewed drive to obtain union rights, even if it's portrayed as essential to protecting workers' lives.
[url]http://www.truthout.org/missing-lesson-from-mine-tragedy-union-busting-death58501 (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/3032072)

Myra Bronstein
04-13-2010, 03:52 AM
Wow, it's just like the days of Matewan, which is both a May 19, 1920 massacre and a--great great--movie about the massacre.

From IMDB:
"Mingo County, West Virginia, 1920. Coal miners, struggling to form a union, are up against company operators and gun thugs; Black and Italian miners, brought in by the company to break the strike, are caught between the two forces. Union activist and ex-Wobbly Joe Kenehan, sent to help organize the union, determines to bring the local, Black, and Italian groups together. Drawn from an actual incident; the characters of Sid Hatfield, Cabell Testerman, C. E. Lively, and Few Clothes Johnson were based on real people."

Haven't we come a long way? Backwards.

Union busting costs lives.

Unions were formed in response to loss of life, e.g., the Triangle Shirtwaste Company fire of March 25, 1911 wherein 146 employees died a hideous death. It was then that the public finally realized that supporting unions was a matter of life and death.

http://www.csun.edu/~ghy7463/mw2.html (http://www.csun.edu/%7Eghy7463/mw2.html)

"The Life of a Shirtwaist Maker The shirtwaist makers, as young as age 15, worked seven days a week, from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. with a half-hour lunch break. During the busy season, the work was nearly non-stop. They were paid about $6 per week. In some cases, they were required to use their own needles, thread, irons and occasionally their own sewing machines. The factories also were unsanitary, or as a young striker explained, “unsanitary—that’s the word that is generally used, but there ought to be a worse one used.” At the Triangle factory, women had to leave the building to use the bathroom, so management began locking the steel exit doors to prevent the “interruption of work” and only the foreman had the key."

That's why the employees were locked in the building (like Walmart does to employees in this era). And they burned to death because the building was locked.

Myra Bronstein
04-13-2010, 04:01 AM
...When the union gathered thousands of members together in an organized community, that looked to government officials like an army, they were met by state and Federal troops. They were accused of being socialists...

This cannot be emphasized enough.
"Socialist" is a code word for "union member."
"Communist" is a code word for "union member."
"Socialism" is a code word for "union."
"Communism" is a code word for "union."
It's as simple as that. And it can't be emphasized enough.

That is why "Socialism" and "Communism" have long been demonized by greedy rich types. They want a helpless and docile work force. Ideally slaves.

Myra Bronstein
04-13-2010, 04:02 AM
Union-busting associated with Massey's coal mine disaster

Great post Ed, thank you.


Ed Jewett
04-13-2010, 05:49 AM
You are welcome, Myra. Matewan has long been one of my favorite movies. Spending some time in Charleston, WV puts some nostril-flaring texture to the stories, the terrain, the people, the debate about coal, et al. It generated the need to do some light research as well, particularly having driven up to the Hawk's Nest. Somewhere here I put together a long segment on the use of force against citizens that included a lot of horrendous anti-labor violence. Back then, trhere was Pinkerton; today, ....

One additional note, discussed below: The CEO of Massey was seen vacationing with the state Supreme Court justice on the Mediterranean coast before an important ruling ... which set up, in that state and even nationally, reverberations on the topic of pre-purchasing justice, and then the national justices [the SCOTians?] said that corporations could purchase election ads.

Additional note: Color emphases were mine from posting elsewhere.


Letting Coal Miners Die in West Virginia

By Michael Winship
April 9, 2010

Editor’s Note: The Big Con being played on the Tea Party crowd is that Big Corporations are funding the propaganda that convinces these middle- and working-class stiffs that the real threat to their "liberties" is Big Government, when government is all that stands in the way of corporate dominance of the United States.

While the Big Con plays out mostly on issues like getting Tea Partiers to protect the insurance industry’s control of health-care decisions, an event in West Virginia shows how corporate greed can reach beyond playing propaganda games to playing life-or-death roulette with coal miners, as Michael Winship notes in this guest essay:


The high cost of energy in America was paid in human lives this week, with the deaths of more than two dozen miners in a massive explosion at the Upper Big Branch coal mine in West Virginia. It's the worst mine disaster in a quarter of a century.

Upper Big Branch is owned by Massey Energy Company, which operates 47 mines in central Appalachia. According to the Los Angeles Times, it employs nearly 6,000 and in 2009 reported revenues of $2.3 billion, with a net income of $104.4 million.

At the center of this week's catastrophe is Massey's president and CEO Don Blankenship, a man so reviled nowadays he had to be escorted away by police when he and other company officials tried to address a group of distraught family and friends outside the Upper Big Branch mine in the early morning hours after the explosion. The crowd hurled invective - and a chair.

Blankenship hates unions (Upper Big Branch is a non-union mine), thinks global warming is a figment of our imaginations and that those who do believe in climate change are crazy; supports destructive, mountain-top-removal mining; serves on the board of the conservative, free market U.S. Chamber of Commerce and now, lucky us, shares his pearls of right-wing wisdom via Twitter.

"America doesn't need Green jobs," he tweeted pithily last month, "but Red, White, & Blue ones."

David Roberts of the environmental magazine Grist described him as "the scariest polluter in the U.S. ...The guy is evil and I don't use that word lightly."
Just one example of Massey Energy's earlier history of environmental malfeasance was described in a May 2003 issue of Forbes Magazine:

"In October 2000 the floor of a 72-acre wastewater reservoir built above an abandoned mine in Kentucky collapsed, sending black sludge through the mine and out into a tributary of the Big Sandy River. The sludge killed fish and plants for 36 miles downstream. Water supplies were shut down in several towns for a month. In total, 230 million gallons spilled out, 20 times the volume of the crude oil from the Exxon Valdez. Lawns nearby were covered in as much as 7 feet of muck...

"The reservoir had shown signs of leaking right before the accident and Massey failed to report that fact to regulators as required, according to the U.S. Mine Safety & Health Administration. The cleanup has cost $58 million so far."

[Shades of the Johnstown, PA flood precipitated by dam negligence by Big Steel elitists...]

This week's Upper Big Branch mine disaster is the latest in a string of environmental and safety-related calamities linked to Massey and Blankenship. In 2008, the company paid a $20 million fine to the Environmental Protection Agency, and that same year, a Massey subsidiary, the Aracoma Coal Company, pled guilty to safety violations and agreed to $4.2 million in civil penalties and criminal fines connected to the 2006 deaths of two miners in a fire.

According to The New York Times, "After the fire broke out, the two miners found themselves unable to escape, partly because the company had removed some ventilation controls inside the mine. The workers died of suffocation. Federal prosecutors at the time called it the largest such settlement in the history of the coal industry."

The Upper Big Branch mine has a long history of violations. Last month alone it was cited by the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration for 53 safety violations, many of them for inadequate venting of dust and methane and improperly maintained escape passages.

Last year, the Times reports, "the number of citations against the mine more than doubled, to over 500, from 2008, and the penalties proposed against the mine more than tripled, to $897,325." So far, only $168,393 of those fines have been paid.

Blankenship's response? "Violations are unfortunately a normal part of the mining process," he told a radio interviewer.

West Virginia and federal laws were toughened after the Sago mine disaster in 2006 that killed 12 men. But as the number of safety citations has increased, so, too, has the number of appeals by the mining companies, and while that long bureaucratic process unfolds, it's business as usual.

Blankenship and Massey Energy play our political system like a country fiddle, a system corrupted by money and influence. A certified public accountant (he's actually in the national CPA hall of fame - I'm not kidding), Blankenship apparently sees the world as one big balance sheet, with human life an expendable commodity and - especially if they're judges or other officials - something to be bought and sold.

The non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics says that since 1990, those associated with Massey and its political action committee have given more than $300,000 in campaign contributions to federal candidates.

And in 2006, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics, Blankenship spent more than $100,000 trying to elect pro-business candidates to the West Virginia state legislature.

But it's in the courthouse that Blankenship has really tried to spread the wealth.

In 2008, photos were published of him wining and dining West Virginia Supreme Court Justice "Spike" Maynard along the Riviera. They were popping corks in Monaco as Massey Energy was before the court appealing a $50 million judgment that had been won by smaller mining companies charging Massey with fraud.

Subsequently, Maynard recused himself from the case and was defeated for re-election. Now he's running for Congress.

Blankenship had better luck when he went on the offensive against West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals Justice Warren McGraw, creating a PAC called "And for the Sake of the Kids."

He contributed $3 million and created campaign ads described by USA Today as "venomous." They made particular hay with a case in which Justice McGraw was part of a majority that voted to free a mentally disturbed child molester, who got a job as a school janitor.

McGraw was defeated by Blankenship's candidate, Brent Benjamin. When the appeal of the $50 million came before the court, ABC News reports, "Justice Benjamin refused to recuse himself from the case and twice provided the deciding vote in Massey's favor. The jury verdict against Massey was overturned."

So egregious were Benjamin's actions that even the current United States Supreme Court, so heavily pro-business in its recent decision-making, was appalled. It ruled that the judge and Blankenship were out of line. Even so - and even with Benjamin finally recusing himself - on a third vote, Massey again won its appeal.

When you can't beat 'em, buy 'em. [Or infiltrate them...] Meanwhile, miners working for Massey Energy and Blankenship continue to risk their lives deep below the earth, digging out the fuel that helps keep our lights burning at the price of never knowing if the tiniest of sparks will ignite the next fatal explosion.

Michael Winship is senior writer of the weekly public affairs program “Bill Moyers Journal,” which airs Friday night on PBS.



Watchdog Groups Call For Criminal Charges Against U.S. Chamber Of Commerce Director Don Blankenship For Homicide
Submitted by davidswanson on Mon, 2010-04-12 14:44.

* Corporatism and Fascism
* Criminal Prosecution and Accountability

29 Dead In West Virginia Mine Because Of Chamber Policies
Congress Members Must Order Halt To Contact With Chamber Lobbyists

Washington, D.C. -- StopTheChamber.com, a coalition of NGOs dedicated to corporate and government accountability, has been warning for months about the devastating effect of U.S. Chamber of Commerce policies on the well being of Americans. Specifically, the Chamber has spent hundreds of millions to fight any regulation of its dues paying members and any regulation of pollution caused by those members. These actions have been led by Chamber CEO Tom Donohue and Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship, the latter who runs vast coal mining operations in West Virginia, including the serial offending Upper Big Branch mine where 29 miners were killed last week.

“The convergence of the Chamber’s policies against regulation of workplace safety and the disaster of mining coal without regard for the environmental impact resulted in the death of 29 hard working West Virginian miners,” said attorney and StopTheChamber.com spokesman Kevin Zeese. “This was not an accident, but rather the result of deliberate and intentional decisions and actions of Don Blankenship, a director of the United States Chamber of Commerce. Mr. Blankenship and Chamber CEO Tom Donohue must be held accountable for these deaths. What is it going to take for Congress and the President to stop coddling criminals, masquerading as legitimate businessmen, who cause the death of our loved ones? Blankenship, with the lobbying army of the Chamber to back him up, has thumbed his nose at the Mine Safety and Health Administration, ignoring or appealing every violation, including the scores that resulted in coal mine evacuations and the hundreds of other serious violations. As the Washington Post pointed out in a Saturday editorial, these 29 deaths would not have occurred absent this intentional conduct of Blankenship. He is just as criminally culpable as any mass murderer.”

StopTheChamber.com calls for the immediate arrest of Don Blankenship for homicide, and a complete criminal investigation of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and its CEO Tom Donohue to determine what policies and practices led to the death of these miners, whether Chamber lobbyists and lawyers were used to cover-up or avoid compliance with safety regulations, whether Massey Energy, the Chamber and others conspired to create the conditions that caused the deaths, and whether the Chamber is being used to pressure those in various political branches to stop a criminal investigation. Criminal prosecution of the perpetrators of this terrible crime will ensure accountability, expose the Chamber’s criminal conduct and pave the way for real worker safety across the nation.

StopTheChamber.com also calls on all Congress Members to immediately issue a standing order to their staff to cease all communication and contact with U.S. Chamber of Commerce lobbyists. The Chamber and its directors have now been directly implicated in the homicide of 29 workers. There can be no more business as usual. Congress Members must stand up for working people by refusing to meet with and do the bidding of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, an organization whose directors, policies and practices have killed and will kill again if they are not stopped.

Source: StopTheChamber


Ed Jewett
04-15-2010, 01:22 AM
From: http://www.crocodyl.org/wiki/massey_energy

Mining (http://www.crocodyl.org/industries/mining)

Massey Energy

View (http://www.crocodyl.org/wiki/massey_energy)
What links here (http://www.crocodyl.org/node/1475/backlinks)
Talk (http://www.crocodyl.org/node/1475/talk)

Last edited by tallenvt (http://www.crocodyl.org/wiki/user/336) on April 12, 2010 - 8:07am

Mining (http://www.crocodyl.org/industries/mining)
Environment (http://www.crocodyl.org/issues/environment)
Labor (http://www.crocodyl.org/issues/labor)
Money & Politics (http://www.crocodyl.org/issues/money_politics)
coal (http://www.crocodyl.org/tags/coal)
mine safety (http://www.crocodyl.org/tags/mine_safety)
mountaintop removal (http://www.crocodyl.org/tags/mountaintop_removal)
sludge (http://www.crocodyl.org/tags/sludge)
union-busting (http://www.crocodyl.org/tags/unionbusting)

Profile editor:
Phil Mattera

Company Snapshot:
Massey Energy is one of the largest coal companies in the United States, and certainly one of the most controversial. In April 2010 the company received a great deal of negative attention when an explosion at one of its mines in West Virginia killed 29 workers. It later came out that the mine in question had been cited more than 1,000 times for safety violations, and that Massey had similar problems at many of its other facilities. Massey, which for two decades was owned by the engineering giant Fluor, is also notorious for its aggressive anti-union stance and for environmental problems such as a massive coal sludge spill and its reliance on terrain-destroying mountaintop removal projects.

Ownership status:
Publicly traded

Number of employees worldwide:

Chief executive officer:
Don L. Blankenship

http://www.masseyenergyco.com (http://www.masseyenergyco.com/)


Net Income:
US$104 million

Total revenue:
US$2.7 billion

Corporate accountabilityAccountability overview:
Few companies have been at the center of more corporate accountability controversies than Massey. The April 2010 disaster at the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia was part of a string of safety problems at company facilities that caused numerous deaths and produced an exceptional number of violations of state and federal regulations. The company’s operations have also sparked repeated charges for environmental offenses, especially in connection with a 2000 collapse of a coal waste dam in Kentucky that contaminated 100 miles of waterways. Massey has been a prime target of campaigners against mountaintop removal mining. And Massey is notorious in union circles for instigating a 1984 strike, and then using harsh tactics to prolong the dispute. Over the past two decades, Massey has succeeded in making its mines almost entirely non-union.

Until 1984 Massey’s unionized operations went along with the industry-wide collective bargaining agreements negotiated by the major coal operators and the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA). But that year, at the urging of a young executive named Don Blankenship—who would later rise to the top position at the company—Massey withdrew from the employer association, and tried to go its own way to reduce costs. The company also insisted on negotiating separately at each of its unionized mines.
UMWA members found these moves intolerable, and in October 1984 more than 1,000 of them went on strike at several Massey mines in West Virginia. The walkout started peacefully, but after several months the dispute turned volatile (http://www.nytimes.com/1985/04/02/us/six-month-old-coal-miners-strike-grows-bitter.html) as picketers faced off against company guards leading attack dogs behind new chain-link fences topped with barbed wire. Massey brought in strikebreakers to keep production going, and the strikers fought back. The confrontation went on for 15 months, until the company and the UMWA announced a settlement in late 1985, though the terms of that agreement were unclear.
The two sides continued their dispute in court. Ultimately, in November 1988 the UMWA announced that it had achieved an out-of-court settlement under which Massey agreed to pay about $2.4 million in back wages to strikers fired during the strike.
Yet the tensions between labor and management continued as Massey phased out most of its unionized mines, and the UMWA found it difficult to carry out new organizing efforts at a company that was open about its anti-union stance. When Blankenship was promoted to president of Massey in July 1990, the Wall Street Journal, noting his role in pushing a hard line against the UMWA six years earlier, headlined its story “Massey Coal Picks Union Opponent as Its President.” While testifying in a federal lawsuit in 1996, Blankenship declared: “No [coal] operator in their right mind would go union” (Charleston Gazette, April 20, 1996).
One of those places where the company exhibited its hard line against unionization was the Upper Big Branch mine, where the UMWA launched a high-profile organizing drive after the operation opened in 1995. Although the area was considered a union stronghold, the company put so much pressure on the workers that they narrowly voted against UMWA representation twice—in 1995 and in 1997.
When Massey was seeking to purchase bankrupt Lady H Coal Co. in 1996, a company executive testified in a court hearing that Massey would not go ahead with the deal unless it could temporarily shut the operation down and get rid of the unionized workforce (Charleston Gazette, Feb. 6, 1996).
By the time the company was spun off from Fluor, and issued its first 10-K annual filing (http://www.sec.gov/Archives/edgar/data/37748/000091664101000088/0000916641-01-000088.txt) as Massey Energy in 2001, it was able to report that only 152 of its 3,610 employees were affiliated with the UMWA. By the end of 2009, the reported (http://www.sec.gov/Archives/edgar/data/37748/000003774810000014/document.htm) number of union members was down to 76 out of 5,851.
In September 2009 the National Labor Relations Board ruled (http://www.nlrb.gov/shared_files/Board%20Decisions/354/v35483.htm) that Massey subsidiary Mammoth Coal violated federal labor law by refusing to hire 85 union members who had worked at a West Virginia mine for the previous owner, and by refusing to recognize and bargain with the UMWA after it took over the facility. A month later the company agreed (http://www.umwa.org/?q=news/miners-win-settlement-age-discrimination-suit-against-massey-subsidiary-blankenship) to pay $8.75 million to settle an age discrimination suit that had been brought by the same group of workers.
Workplace Safety
The safety violations believed to have contributed to the 2010 tragedy at Massey’s Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia were not an anomaly. Massey had a long record of such violations at its various operations.
For example, in 1992 Massey paid $39,185 in fines to settle charges brought by the Mine Safety & Health Administration related to coal dust samples submitted for testing. After abnormalities were found in the samples, federal officials accused the company of tampering with the samples to reduce the amount of airborne coal dust that would be detected. The company claimed the dust dislodgement was accidental (Coal Week, Aug. 3, 1992).
In 1995 a worker at Massey’s Low Gap No. 2 mine in West Virginia was killed in a roof cave-in on the same day the facility had been cited for 14 violations of state safety regulations (Charleston Gazette, Sept. 24, 1995).
As incidents such as this continued, UMWA President Cecil Roberts in 2001 charged that Massey had the worst safety record in the industry (Charleston Gazette, July 19, 2001).
That record got even worse in January 2006, when a fire erupted at Massey subsidiary Aracoma Coal’s Alma mine in Logan County, West Virginia, killing two workers. A state investigation later found (http://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/11/us/11mine.html) that uncorrected safety violations were responsible for the deaths. In December 2008 Aracoma agreed (http://www.justice.gov/usao/wvs/press_releases/2008/dec08/122308.html) to pay a record $4.2 million in criminal and civil penalties to resolve federal charges of willful violation of mandatory safety standards.
Massey’s poor safety record became a matter of controversy again in April 2010, after a methane gas explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine caused the deaths of 29 workers. News reports (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/07/us/07company.html) pointed out that the company received large numbers of safety violations, but blunted the impact of those citations by filing time-consuming appeals. It came to light (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/04/06/AR2010040601531.html) that the specific mine where the disaster occurred had been cited more than 50 times in the month before the explosion. A dozen of those citations related to problems with ventilating the mine to prevent a buildup of methane. Upper Big Branch had racked up 1,342 violations (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/04/06/AR2010040604984.html) over the previous five years.

Environment and product safety:
Massey’s performance on environmental compliance is as checkered as its track record on health and safety. Sometimes it tried to evade regulations entirely. In September 1995 the Charleston Gazette reported that the company had built a small coal-processing plant without first obtaining the necessary state environmental permits.
In 1996 Massey subsidiary Performance Coal was fined $30,000 by the West Virginia Division of Environmental Protection for spilling mining waste into the Coal River (Charleston Gazette, April 9, 1996).
In the late 1990s Massey joined other coal operators in pursuing a radical form of strip mining known as mountaintop removal. While critics charged that the practice disfigured terrains, the company in 1998 tried to get around a requirement that land be restored to its approximate original contour, arguing (http://wvgazette.com/News/MiningtheMountains/200806250474) that by flattening hilly areas it was improving them.
In 2000 Massey subsidiaries Elk Run Coal and Goals Coal agreed (http://yosemite.epa.gov/opa/admpress.nsf/905a0f1800315fd385257359003d4808/5bf4d96823241bba852570d60070fb80%21OpenDocument) to pay a total of $25,900 for allowing coal refuse to leak into waterways in West Virginia.
Massey found itself receiving unfavorable national attention in October 2000 when a coal waste dam in Martin County, Kentucky, collapsed, sending some 250 million gallons of toxic slurry into two streams feeding into the Tug Fork of the Big Sandy River. The torrent of sludge (http://www.nytimes.com/2000/12/25/us/a-torrent-of-sludge-muddies-a-town-s-future.html), larger in volume than the infamous Buffalo Creek spill of 1972, contaminated the drinking water of various towns, destroyed aquatic life, and prompted the governor of Kentucky to declare a 10-county state of emergency. The company later paid (http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G1-90029205.html) a state fine of $3.25 million for the incident.
In June 2001 a Massey facility in Boone County, West Virginia,spilled some 30,000 gallons of polluted mine water into a stream (Charleston Gazette, June 20, 2001). Two months later, there was another spill at a Massey mine in Boone County and another in Logan County. At a public hearing in December 2001, an official from the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) said that Massey’s operations in Boone County had the worst compliance record he had ever seen (Charleston Gazette, Dec. 7, 2001). In April 2002 the DEP took the unusual step of suspending the licenses of three Massey facilities for 35 days because of a “pattern of violations” (Charleston Gazette, April 23, 2002).
In March 2003 two Massey subsidiaries involved in the Boone County spills in 2001 admitted to criminal violations of the federal Clean Water Act, and paid fines of $200,000 each. They were put on probation for five years (Charleston Gazette, March 13, 2003). To add to the pressure, a federal magistrate later ordered one of the subsidiaries to offer cash bonuses to employees who reported wastewater spills (Charleston Gazette, Nov. 5, 2003).
In January 2006 the West Virginia DEP announced that it had reached an agreement with Massey under which the company would pay $1.4 million to settle a backlog of five lawsuits and 14 other major enforcement actions (Charleston Gazette, Jan. 7, 2006).
In January 2008 Massey had to pay (http://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/2008/January/08_enrd_031.html) a record $20 million civil penalty to resolve a federal lawsuit brought by the Justice Department and the Environmental Protection Agency charging the company’s operations in West Virginia and Kentucky with more than 4,000 violations of the Clean Water Act.
Opponents of a Massey mountaintop removal project in Boone County, West Virginia, began a campaign of civil disobedience at the site in 2009. At one event more than 30 people – including actress Daryl Hannah and NASA climate scientist James Hansen – were arrested (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/06/23/darryl-hannah-scientist-a_n_219748.html). In February 2010 the company got a federal court to issue (http://wvgazette.com/News/MiningtheMountains/201002260747) a preliminary injunction against further protests by groups such as Climate Ground Zero (http://climategroundzero.org/).
Massey CEO Don Blankenship has made statements (http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/paltman/caught_on_tape_the_big_lies_of_1.html) questioning the reality of global warming, and has spoken out (http://thehill.com/business-a-lobbying/68031-qaa-with-don-blankenship-ceo-of-massey-energy-co) against climate legislation being considered by Congress.

Political influence (national and international):
In November 2007 the West Virginia Supreme Court overturned a $50 million jury verdict against Massey Energy from a case in which Harman Mining had accused Massey of forcing it into bankruptcy and interfering with its business. Two months later, however, it was revealed (http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/19/us/19judge.html) that Chief Justice Elliott Maynard was apparently acquainted with Massey CEO Don Blankenship, and had spent time with him socially during a trip to Monte Carlo. The chief justice belatedly recused him from the case, but then it came out that another justice, Brent Benjamin, had been elected to the court in 2004 with the help of some $3 million in advertisements and other support from Blankenship.
A rehearing of the case was scheduled, with Maynard and another justice recusing themselves, but with Benjamin still on the bench. The court once again ruled in favor of Massey. Harman then took the question of Benjamin’s role in the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ordered him to recuse himself, too. When the West Virginia court heard the case for a third time in 2009, it ruled yet again (http://www.cleveland.com/business/index.ssf/2009/11/for_3rd_time_wva_supreme_court.html) in Massey’s favor.

Insider Trading Allegations
In 2002 a shareholder lawsuit was filed in West Virginia charging that Massey CEO Don Blankenship and other company officials falsified financial reports, and then engaged in insider trading. The case was settled in 2005 with the company agreeing (http://www.sec.gov/Archives/edgar/data/37748/000119312505221662/d10q.htm) to several corporate governance changes such as an expansion of its board and a lowering of the mandatory retirement age for directors.

HistoryMassey Energy had its origins in the years after the First World War. In 1920 A.T. Massey, a coal broker in Richmond, Virginia, incorporated a company named after himself. After the Second World War Massey’s grandson got the company to begin mining coal in West Virginia.
A.T. Massey Coal remained a minor player in the industry until the 1960s, when it began to expand its operations through internal growth and acquisition of competitors such as Peerless Eagle Coal. Massey attracted the interest of St. Joe Mineral, which bought control of the company in 1974. That same year, Massey bought Rawl Sales & Processing, and in 1976 it acquired Tennessee Consolidated Coal.
In 1980 St. Joe sold half of Massey Coal to Royal Dutch/Shell. The following year St. Joe was acquired by engineering giant Fluor, which in 1987 bought out Shell’s interest, and took full ownership of Massey, although the transaction involved the purchase of some Massey assets by Shell.
In 1992 Massey purchased various coal properties from the Island Creek subsidiary of Occidental Petroleum. That same year Don Blankenship, who had been named president in 1990, took on the additional posts of chairman and chief executive—becoming the first person from outside the Massey family to head the company.
In 1997 Massey purchased United Coal Co., giving Massey its first coal mining operations in Virginia. During this period Massey generated more profits for its parent than did Fluor’s much larger international construction and engineering business.
Nonetheless, in June 2000 Fluor announced plans to split itself into two companies, with the coal operations taking the name Massey Energy, with Blankenship staying on as CEO. The conversion was completed in November 2000, and Massey Energy began trading on the New York Stock Exchange.
Massey has remained a pure-play coal company. In March 2010 it announced plans to purchase privately held Cumberland Resources for $960 million.

Financial informationStock ticker symbol:
MEE (New York Stock Exchange)

Fiscal year:

Fiscal year:

Major lines of business/segments:
Massey’s business consists entirely of coal extraction, but it has made its corporate structure complicated by setting up more than 100 subsidiaries to serve as the nominal owners of its various mining operations located in Central Appalachia. As of January 31, 2010 it operated 42 underground mines and 14 surface mines in West Virginia, Kentucky and Virginia. Production in 2009 amounted to about 38 million tons.

SourcesWatchdogs and related campaigns:
Citizens Coal Council (http://www.citizenscoalcouncil.org/)
Climate Ground Zero (http://climategroundzero.org/)
Coal River Mountain Watch (http://www.crmw.net/)
CoalSwarm (http://coalswarm.typepad.com/coalswarm/)
iLoveMountains.org (http://ilovemountains.org/index.php)
Mountain Justice (http://www.mountainjusticesummer.org/)
Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition (http://www.ohvec.org/)
United Mine Workers of America (http://www.umwa.org/)
West Virginia Highlands Conservancy (http://www.wvhighlands.org/)

Ed Jewett
04-15-2010, 10:24 PM
United Mine Workers Follows StopTheChamber.com's Lead, Wants Blankenship Prosecuted

Submitted by davidswanson on Thu, 2010-04-15 18:56.

Criminal Prosecution and Accountability (http://www.afterdowningstreet.org/taxonomy/term/15)

By Mike Hall (http://blog.aflcio.org/?page_id=289), AFL-CIO (http://blog.aflcio.org/2010/04/14/mine-workers-president-roberts-masseys-blankenship-should-be-jailed/)

Mine Workers (UMWA (http://www.umwa.org/)) President Cecil Roberts says that Massey Energy Co.’s continued inaction on safety violations (http://blog.aflcio.org/2010/04/07/25-coal-miners-died-but-massey-ceo-calls-mine-safe/) at its Upper Big Branch Mine, where 29 West Virginia coal miners died in an April 5 explosion, should send Massey CEO Donald Blankenship to jail.
In a speech at the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO (http://blog.aflcio.org/2010/04/09/tune-in-to-live-webcast-of-pennsylvania-afl-cio-convention-next-week/) convention yesterday, Roberts said, “If there is any justice in America,”
U.S. Marshals should go to where he lives, get him, handcuff him, put him in chains, take him to jail, set his fine at $40 million.

He told the delegates the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) inspectors had “shut this mine down over and over and over again.”
They brought the men outside, they brought them to a safe place. But as soon as they left the same thing happened again and again. They didn’t correct the violations.
In 2009, MSHA proposed nearly $1 million in fines for more than 450 safety violations at the nonunion mine. Just last month, MSHA cited the mine for 57 safety violations that included repeatedly failing to develop and follow the ventilation plan. Ventilation is vital to prevent the build-up of highly explosive methane gas, which is most likely the cause of the April blast.
Roberts said the Massey mine was cited several times for “failure to abate.”
What does that mean? They were told to do something by the United States government. They said here’s a violation you are being cited for. I’ll be back in five days and this better be corrected. This inspector came back over and over again and they didn’t correct the violations.
Some people, Roberts said, say mining is inherently dangerous and these things will happen and “there’s nothing we can do about it.”
They are damn sure wrong. We need good laws, we need those laws to be obeyed and we need those laws to be enforced and those who fail to obey those laws should be punished.
One of the miners killed, 25-year-old Josh Napper, was concerned about safety, especially ventilation problems at the Upper Big Branch Mine, his mother told CNN reporters after the blast. Roberts said he left a letter for his family before he went to the mine April 5. Napper “left it with his mother and fiancé and his baby fearing he was not going to survive working in this coal mine.”
There is something wrong with this picture. When young men go off to war, they write these kinds of letters, saying how much we love our mothers, our fathers, our wives and our kids. But in America, you’re not supposed to write that letter when you’re going off to work.
Click here (http://ricksmithshow.com/april-13%2C-2010-show) for an audio file of Roberts’ speech, courtesy of “The Rick Smith Show (http://ricksmithshow.com/node).”
In a statement (http://edlabor.house.gov/blog/2010/04/deepest-condolences-to-familie.shtml) today, Rep George Miller (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee which will hold hearings on the Upper Big Branch disaster and Massey’s safety record said
Every miner who goes to work each day must be able to return home safely to their families at the end of their shift. And Congress has an obligation to ensure that remains the case.
Meanwhile, Art Levine at the Huffington Post (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/art-levine/missing-lesson-from-mine_b_533507.html) explores coal field union-busting campaigns, especially Massey’s attacks on workers, and the relation between nonunion mines and disasters like the one at Upper Big Branch.
With the union weakened by closed mines (http://www.newsweek.com/id/236004) and the rise of untrammeled union-busting (http://news.mining.com/2010/04/09/union-busting-associated-with-masseys-coal-mine-disaster/), unsafe, deadly conditions were allowed to continue unchallenged at the growing percentage of non-union mines that put profits above safety (http://pr.thinkprogress.org/2010/04/pr20100408).
In contrast, “what unions, particularly in a dangerous profession like mining, mean is that they give workers protection and the leverage of a working group with management to vocalize and bring forward concerns about safety without fear of retribution,” says Kimberly Freeman Brown, executive director of American Rights at Work (http://www.americanrightsatwork.org/). She adds, “In the absence of a union, in hard economic times, workers feel more vulnerable about losing their jobs and less confident about expressing their concerns about safety.”
UMWA Communications director Phil Smith tells Levine that while three out of 10 coal miners are UMWA members, only “about one in every 10 fatalities is a union miner.”
And he notes that the fatalities involving union miners generally involve individual accidents, not mine-wide disasters like fires and explosions that periodically shock the country and, it seems, are soon forgotten by the federal government’s generally lackluster regulators.
Miners at Upper Big Branch tried to organize three times with the UMWA, the last time in 2005, Roberts told MSNBC’s “The Ed Show” last week. But Blankenship launched a full-out attack:
This guy, making $30-some million in 2005, went inside the coal mine and sat down with every single worker and said: “If you vote for the union, you’re not going to have a job because I will close this mine down.”
Roberts said the first election was a “tie vote,” adding, “We lose on all ties. We had 65 percent to 70 percent of the workers signed cards and they wanted the union but they couldn’t get a union.”
In his 2008 book, Coal River, Michael Shnayerson looks at the Massey empire. He told ABC News (http://abcnews.go.com/print?id=10314692) that when it came to defeating the union, Blankenship “made it his own personal campaign.”
He began flying in every week in his helicopter. He gave pep talks. He took a whole bunch of [Upper Big Branch miners and their families] on trips to Dollywood, where they went to concerts. He went with them and bonded with them. New cars started turning up in their driveways.
He also said as soon as the union was gone, Blankenship shifted gears. Work hours increased from eight hours to 12 hours. Bonuses were cut. If miners got injured, their jobs were at risk.