Dozens killed in explosion at non-union coal mine
Massey Energy repeatedly cited for safety violations
Published Apr 7, 2010 4:28 PM
APRIL 6 — Due to the insatiable greed of the Massey Energy Co., 25 coal miners
at the Upper Big Branch mine in Julian, W.V., died April 5 in an explosion at a
mine cited repeatedly for improperly venting methane gas.
Four more missing coal miners are feared dead and at press time, rescue
operations are suspended due to high concentrations of methane in and around
the mine where the original explosion took place. Rescuers plan on resuming
their operations after methane levels are reduced. This entirely preventable
mine disaster is the worst in the U.S. in 25 years.
“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,”
said Cecil Roberts, United Mine Workers president, on April 5. (umwa.org)
According to Associated Press reports, federal inspectors cited the Upper Big
Branch mine almost 500 times in 2009 for safety violations, including those
related to methane gas, and proposed nearly $1 million in fines; Massey paid
only $168,393 in penalties. Despite this, and although three workers died at
the mine in the past 12 years and scores of workers were hurt and working under
unsafe conditions, Massey was allowed to continue operating and tripled its
production at Upper Big Branch in 2009.
“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 UMW 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,” said Roberts. (umwa.org)
Other poor and working people’s organizations are also assisting the
families of the deceased and missing miners.
Massey: Enemy of workers and poor
Massey Energy is the largest coal producer in Central Appalachia with
underground mines, surface mines, processing and shipping centers in West
Virginia, Kentucky, Virginia and Tennessee. Massey is also engaged in joint
operations with the Essar Group in India. Workers at Massey extract, process
and transport primarily low-sulfur bituminous coal used for power generation,
metallurgical coke production and industrial boilers (masseyenergyco.com).
Coal still generates more than 50 percent of the electricity needs of the U.S.
— more than a billion tons are burned in this country annually. There are
still an estimated 275 billion tons buried deep underground.
Massey has a decades-long, ruthless approach to workers, the environment and
safety regulations. The company pays virtually no taxes. A Virginia
People’s Assembly march in January targeted Massey headquarters in
Richmond, Va., for the corporation’s atrocious record, which includes
union-busting, mountain-top strip mining and flouting safety regulations.
Massey is perhaps most well-known for its virulently anti-union ideology and
activities. Presently the corporation is vigorously opposing the Employee Free
Choice Act. CEO Don Blakenship is well known for his anti-UMW attitude and
oppositional activities against unions and other organizations representing
poor and working people.
According to Massey’s 2008 annual report, only 1.8 percent of the 5,800
workers at Massey are members of a union such as the United Mine Workers.
“Statistics prove that it’s much more likely to be safe and alive
in a union mine than a non-union one,” Phil Smith, UMW media
spokesperson, told Workers World.
There is no word yet from the United Mine Workers or from Richard Trumka,
former president of the UMW and now president of the AFL-CIO, of any plans for
protests at Massey headquarters or other Massey corporate locations.
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