Massey forced the unions out, and now non-union coal miners have died in a coal mine cited for 600 violations in the past 18 months, so does the lack of a union contribute to safety concerns?
Some people believe lack of unions is the problem of coal mine safety with respect to Massey and the recent tragedy of 25 miners who died in a West Virginia coal mine and 4 now stranded, left possibly to die because rescuers can't get near them.
A letter to the editor in the Dallas Morning News poses that very important issue that the writer declares people should consider each time they flip a switch and turn on the electric lights.
What's the skinny on Massey and the unions? Is that an important variable in the mine disaster? Is unionism designed to protect the workers in instances like this, and what happens when unions aren't involved?
In 2009 the National Labor Relations Board agreed with a decision that Massey Energy rehire 85 coal miners who said they had been discriminated against because they were union members. Union members have declared Don Blankenship, the manager of the corporation, to have an antipathy for unions.
Don Blankenship, the CEO of Massey, is a Republican and has given large sums of money to various Republican candidates in West Virginia. CBS examined his tweets and found him against environmentalists and making fun of global warming and climate change as well. He has a record for making big donations to Republican candidates with the company giving 91% of its political contributions to Republicans since 1990.
According to the history of coal mining in Appalachia, for many years coal miners worked in hazardous conditions, made little money, had safety concerns, and were afraid to speak about their problems. When unions first attempted to enter the coal mining industry, there was widespread violence, resulting in the West Virginia Coal Mine Wars. When the union gathered thousands of members together in an organized community, that looked to government officials like an army, they were met by state and Federal troops. They were accused of being socialists. Many lives were lost, history declares, but no accurate count ever made. The union members were accused of treason, and the company officials allowed to continue business in the same ways they had historically done.
Coal miner supporters and union officials have accused Massey Energy of being one of the big bosses in the tradition of the coal mine owners of yore. They believe that safety measures, that the union would have insisted upon, would have been instituted had the union been involved.
History tells a lot about unionism, power, and disasters in West Virginia. There are those who wonder if it has been repeated with the one in the coal mine owned by Massey now.
As it is, they say, the result of having unsafe conditions, caused the recent tragedy. President Leo Gerard of the Steelworkers Union had this to say. “I can absolutely say that if these miners were members of a union, they would have been able to refuse unsafe work… and would not have been subjected to that kind of atrocious conditions,” said Gerard. “In some places like in Australia and Canada, this kind of negligence would result in criminal negligence [charges] being brought against the management and the CEO.”
The United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) offered the following statement on April 5, following the disaster:
“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.
“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 UMWA 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 at times like this."