Price too high to pay


After the death of more than two dozen miners at Massey Energy's Upper Big Branch coal mine south of Charleston, West Virginia, mine safety is at the top of the national agenda.

The tragedy comes after too many years during which the Bush administration devoted itself to conspiring with companies to circumvent safety laws. They did it to maximize production and they did it at the expense of the safety and the lives of miners.

The good news is that the Obama administration has been radically different in this regard. With the appointment of mine safety expert Joe Main to head of the Mine Safety and Health Administration, for the first time in history, MSHA, a division of the Department of Labor, is headed by a union person.

The bad news is that eight years of ant-labor policies under Bush had consequences. Incredible amounts of damage have to be undone.

Agencies such as the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission are still battered. This agency, which reviews challenges by mining companies to assessments of safety violations and penalties, is overwhelmed with backlogs. While the Obama administration has taken steps to add 26 judges to the panel of 10, cooperation has not been forthcoming from Republicans.

The GOP's resistance to the president's National Labor Relations Board appointments were a blow to job safety not just in the mines, but in all of the dangerous industries across America. It is the non-union mines that have proven most dangerous and it is the NLRB that is supposed to protect workers who want to form unions so they can have a safer workplace. By crippling the NLRB the GOP was saying that none of that mattered.

The disaster in West Virginia is another one of many that have occurred at non-union mines. If the men who dieds were union members they would have been able to refuse the unsafe work that led to their deaths, without fear that by speaking up they would lose their jobs and their livelihood.

Let those in the halls of Congress, the media and elsewhere who relish attacking unions, who subvert the right of workers to organize and specifically, who oppose the Employee Free Choice Act, understand that their attacks and their opposition exact a price. That price was paid by more than two dozen workers in West Virginia this week. It is too high a price.  

Photo: In Whitesville, W.Va., Libby Scott, left, and Reva Smith, a server at the City Diner, search for the correct station to watch a news conference about the mine explosion, April 7.  Jon C. Hancock/AP


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  • Worked in Canadian mines - Safety is number 1 in Canadian mines - no Bull Shit. We still have accidents, some are fatal, none go undocumented and studied by a Socialist Government not afraid to tax the living shit right the fuck out of sloppy corporations for fucking up! The Canadian vote at the polls not the lobbyists or shareholders votes in the boardrooms make or break our governments ass and they know this all too well. Thank God for the Bloc Quebecois, they keep our government boys in a frail and insecure coalition minority status and the boys at the top feel every vibration-even from deep in the mines, and their fancy pay checks depend on it almost directly. Canada also has the best Health care system in the world, and for the same reasons.

    Posted by Uncle B, 04/29/2010 7:43am (5 years ago)

  • Editors:

    Thanks for linking the deaths of the miners to the Employee Free Choice Act. And, the ultimate link of the death to profits.

    My disappointment is that these miners will have, indeed, died in vein.

    This did not happen after the infamous Farmington Mine Disaster of November 20, 1968; Then, the movements' demand revenge from their public officials, in the halls of the state capitol and in the halls of Congress.

    I was disappointed that the President of the AFL-CIO Richard Trumpka [formerly head of the UMWA,] the head of the Mine Safety and Health Administration, Joe Main, a former Safety director of UMWA; and the President of the United States could not find the time to pay a personal witness to this industrial murder. Personal witness, that is, a in person visit to victims families and/or funerals is what is expected.

    What better time for these elected and appointed officials to really step up and demand the maximum penalty of the Massey owner; to demand that Congress commitment itself to passing EFCA and strong MSHA laws that really put fear in the hearts of miner owners, not just smirks and pious comments that they laugh off once back inside their limos on their way to count their profits.

    The visual of Barak Obama, Richard Trumpka, Joe Main, the Governor of West Virginia [also, I believe a Democrat] along with Cecil Roberts, president of the UMWA and the grieving families would be blazened in the minds of mass media watchers.

    Let the Blackenship's; all of the mine owners including the ones with UMWA, see that visual. That would set them screeming for financial relief and government bailouts to keep the coal pits operating.

    More importantly, it would give heart and strength to other miners toiling in non union minds across the Rocky Mountains; and also, union miners who fear that MSHA will not protect them.

    But, alas, it looks like another set of Congressional hearings; some indepth coverage from the NY Times and similar newspaper; and condolances from public officials.

    The victims and families of the Farmington mine disaster could at least point toward the passage of OSHA and MSHA and workers' comp "Black Lung" reforms. I fear now, the deaths will be documented in Wikipedia and in labor history journals.

    There is still time.

    Editors: Let's get to work with the series of demands that miners themselves are talking about. Both MSHA and OSHA must be able to levy felony as well as misdemeaner fines against supervisors and owners. Jail time MUST be an alternative. People are serving time in jail for DWI arrests [and the should], what about the Blackenships?

    Posted by Phil E. Benjamin, 04/12/2010 4:04pm (5 years ago)

  • Massey Energy has a long history of union busting and unsafe working conditions. For far too long CEO Don Blankenship has thumbed his nose at federal mine safety regulations at the expense of the workers and their families.

    I propose the following: 1) the federal government should nationalize all Massey coal mines and use the revenues from the production of coal to benefit the miners and their families. 2) Blankenship must be indicted, prosecuted and jailed for negligent homicide.
    It's time he paid for his crimes!

    Posted by Pancho Valdez, 04/12/2010 11:10am (5 years ago)

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