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. (vapeoplesassembly.org)
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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