You are hereHuffington Post: Missing Lesson from Mine Tragedy: Union-Busting = Death

Huffington Post: Missing Lesson from Mine Tragedy: Union-Busting = Death

April 11, 2010- In the wake of last week's disaster at Massey Energy Company's Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia, it's become increasingly clear that CEO Don Blankenship has gamed the loophole-laden mine safety enforcement system. Despite a supposedly tougher federal law that passed in 2006 after the Sago, W. Va. mine explosion killed a dozen miners, Massey and other companies have been able to use the law as a shield to avoid tougher enforcement measures by appealing safety citations -- and overwhelming the weak Mine Safety and Health Administration with a backlog of appeals.

Even though Massey has faced proposed fines nearing $2 million since 2005 and been cited over 1,300 times, it's paid only a fraction -- one-sixth -- of the proposed fines. All told, according to the United Mine Workers of America, nearly 50 people have been killed at Massey mines in the last 10 years. In March alone, it was cited over 50 times for violations, many directly related to ventilation violations that allowed the build-up of explosive methane gas that played a major role in the killing of the 29 miners. As the Washington Post observed, "'It's a profession that's not without risks and danger, and the workers and their families know that,' Mr. Obama said of the coal industry Friday. 'But their government and their employers know that they owe it to these families to do everything possible to ensure their safety when they go to work each day.' A good place to start would be to ensure that the regulations on the books are vigorously enforced."

Yet despite such expected calls for stronger regulation and enforcement from leading editorial pages and news organizations, including the New York Times, most mainstream media outlets have essentially downplayed or ignored the role of Massey-led union-busting.

And, in a perverse way, political leaders and media outlets that morbidly romanticize the courage of rural mine workers for working in an industry known for its risks are also in some ways promoting the view that mine disasters are as unavoidable as natural disasters. As USA Today proclaimed in a recent headline: "In mine country, risks a 'way of life.'" The feature article concluded by quoting former miner Randy Cox, who had observed that deep in a coal mine, "bad things can happen fast, without warning." The article noted "that it will take a long time for this area to mourn and heal, Cox said. "'It's all in God's hands now.'"



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