Reading the Sunday editorial on mine safety and the Blankenship verdict
Blaming the victims
Ever notice that when coal owners are at fault for safety violations, our local "newspapers" either ignore them, take the company line that it's really the union's fault (see Murray Energy suit against the UMWA), or editorialize that everyone is at fault. In this case, yesterday's editorial, "Ending Culture of Taking Risks," does hold management at least partially responsible for the Upper Big Branch mining disaster. But in addressing the much larger issue of safety violations, it also spreads the blame around to include the mine workers:
But a substantial minority, whether worried they will lose their jobs if safety violations close mines or eager to curry favor with bosses and executives by "running coal" even in unsafe conditions, tolerate unnecessary hazards in the mines.
I wonder where coal miners would ever get the idea that their jobs would be at stake if they reported safety violations?
According to the International Business Times, this slide or similar slides were part of evidence introduced in the recent court decision in which an administrative law judge ruled against Murray Energy on a miner safety dispute. As the IBT explains how the slide was used:
. . . the case stems from instructions that CEO Murray gave to 3,500 workers in a series of mandatory meetings at five northern West Virginia mines in 2014. The speeches were accompanied by PowerPoint slides that said disgruntled workers were lodging too many confidential safety complaints -- known as 103(g) reports.
At one of the mines, a worker made an audio recording of Murray. “When we’re fighting inside and we get shut down because of a 103(g) complaint because we’re mad at somebody in management, that just hurts you,” Murray said, according to the recording. “And if you want to fight inside, let me tell you, I’ll go on to a better coal mine and we’ll close this one.” (emphasis mine)
Again, where would miners get the idea that their jobs were threatened if they reported safety violations? Of course the locals ignored this in their coverage of the original suit and in their later (5 days later, to be precise) pro-Murray Energy article when they eventually got around to covering the decision. And in this editorial, both management and the workers are to blame.
Misinterpreting the verdict
Here is what the editorial said about the verdict:
Blankenship is blamed by many for the 2010 explosion that killed 29 men at the firm's Upper Big Branch Mine. And as a federal court jury in Charleston decided last week, he did conspire to violate government safety rules.
But he had been charged with three offenses. He was convicted of just one, a misdemeanor. That was despite the fact testimony in his trial indicated a large number of rule violations at the mines he oversaw.
The editorial is about mine safety and since Blankenship was found guilty on only the first of the three counts against him (a misdemeanor offense), the editorial appears to be suggesting that the jury did not fully blame him for the safety conditions which lead to the miners' deaths. However, counts two and three (of which he was found innocent) had nothing to do with mine safety; those charges dealt with making false statements and securities fraud. So on the only count that dealt with miner safety, Blankenship was found guilty by the jury.
That said, I probably shouldn't be too hard on this editorial writer -- he or she probably depended upon the Intelligencer's and News-Register's coverage of the trial which ran the gamut from non-existent to sketchy.