MSHA's suit against Murray Energy
This morning's Intelligencer reported on the suit brought by the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) against Murray Energy. The first two paragraphs explain the suit:
The Mine Safety and Health Administration cited Murray Energy Corp. for 29 "significant safety hazards" at five West Virginia coal mines in less than one month after receiving confidential complaints from miners.
Now, MSHA accuses Murray officials of "threatening reprisal and mine closure" to those United Mine Workers of America members who filed those complaints at the Marshall County Mine near Cameron, while also claiming the company interfered with the rights of miners to file complaints at all five of Murray's West Virginia mines, including the Ohio County Mine near Benwood.
While the article does explain the MSHA accusation, a significant amount of coverage is given to Murray Energy spokesman Gary Broadbent explaining Murray Energy's point of view.
Given our locals' affection for Murray Energy, I decided to look elsewhere and found a lengthy article by Cole Stangler for the International Business Times. (The Stangler article is very thorough - it even includes some of the Power Points from Murray's presentation to the miners at his "awareness meetings." An additional note -- as you could probably guess, the International Business Times is not an anti-coal, anti-business, pro-union periodical.) Here are some points I found that balance the Murray Energy point-of-view:
From December 2013 to July 2014, the month of Murray’s last “awareness meeting” in which he allegedly told miners to come to management with safety issues, inspectors issued 70 citations and orders prompted by confidential complaints.
“The types of citations that were issued are chronic violations -- failure to clean the belt line, loose accumulations of coal and coal dust,” says Oppegard, who advised the head of the Mine Safety and Health Administration from 1998 to 2001 and later served as the chief mine safety prosecutor for the state of Kentucky. “Those are fire hazards. All it indicates is that the mine operator is lazy or unwilling to invest enough money to have sufficient number of people to keep the mine clean.”
In answering Gary Broadbent's point that the miners should have gone to management with their concerns, Oppegard, who is now a labor lawyer, continues:
“There’s absolutely no justification for arguing that a miner needs to go to management and tell them, ‘You have accumulations of loose coal and coal dust,’ when everybody can see it, including management,” he continues. “Frequently, 103(g) complaints are made after miners have told management repeatedly and they don’t do anything about it, and the miner finally thinks, ‘Well, the only way to get attention is to call MSHA.’”
The article also explains the need for confidentiality:
Confidential complaints play an integral role in mining safety, says Stephen Sanders, director of the Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center, a nonprofit that represents coal miners on issues of black lung disease and workplace safety.
“This seems to me really chilling. What the law says is miners have the right to make these complaints,” says Sanders. “It may seem reasonable to say ‘go to managers first,’ but that can be very intimidating for miners.”
For instance, in the lead-up to the disaster at Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch Mine in 2010 -- an explosion that killed 29 miners -- regulators found that workers were afraid to raise safety problems with their managers or with the government.
And from that report by MSHA:
“Witness testimony revealed that miners were intimidated by UBB management and were told that raising safety concerns would jeopardize their jobs,” concluded an investigative report from the Mine Safety and Health Administration. “As a result, no safety or health complaints and no whistleblower disclosures were made to MSHA from miners working in the UBB mine in the approximately four years preceding the explosion.”
This is a thorough and well-documented article and I highly recommend it.
Ignoring the Blankenship trial
You might not know about it if your source of news is limited to just the local "newspapers" but there is a major trial going on in Charleston. The trial of Don Blankenship, former CEO of Massey Energy, is covered on West Virginia Public Broadcasting's website on a daily basis, the AP issues reports from it every day, and the Charleston paper regularly covers it on its front page as well as on its "Coal Tattoo" blog. On the other hand, coverage of the Blankenship trial has found its way onto the pages of the local papers only once this week. More specifically, the Intelligencer has totally ignored the trial this week while yesterday's News-Register did print about two-thirds of an AP report on page 5.
The partiality to the coal company's position in the Murray Energy/UMW dispute and their lack of coverage of the Blankenship trial is not surprising. The same attitude could be found in the papers' support for the legislative rolling back of mine safety laws earlier this year, their ignoring of union retirees' benefits in the bankruptcy proceedings of Patriot Coal, and their regular disdain for anything that UMW President Cecil Roberts says. Their concern for miners extends only so far as their need for troops/cannon fodder in the "war on coal" -- the maintenance of coal company profits is what really counts.