Even though Massey Energy faces fines nearing $2 million since 2005 and have been cited over 1,300 times for safety violations in its mine since then, it’s paid only one-sixth of the fines, and men continued to work.
According to the United Mine Workers of America, nearly 50 people have been killed at Massey mines in the last ten 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.
Mainstream (conservative) media outlets have ignored the role of Massey-led union-busting.
Political leaders and media outlets have morbidly romanticized the courage of rural mine workers for working in an industry known for its risks. They are promoting the view that mine disasters are as unavoidable as natural disasters. As USA Today wrote in a recent headline: “In mine country, risks a ‘way of life.'” The article quoted former miner Randy Cox, who had observed that deep in a coalmine, “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.'”
But the explosion at the Upper Branch Mine was like all mine explosions, “preventable,” says Mine Safety and Health Administration official Kevin Stricklin – not divinely preordained.
Massey’s anti-union campaign in the 1980s helped lead to the weakening of the United Mine Workers. It represented nearly 90 percent of the nation’s 400,000 mine workers in the 1960s, but now represents less than a third of the remaining 10,000.
With the union weakened by closed mines and the rise of union-busting, you get unsafe and deadly working conditions. There are a growing percentage of nonunion mines that put profits above safety, and workers are left taking greater risks.
Unions (particularly in dangerous professions like mining) vocalize and enforce concerns about safety without fear of retribution. In the absence of a union, workers have no way to express concerns about safety without fear of losing their job. They may not even know they are in unsafe conditions without the union to monitor safety issues for them.
United Steelworkers President Leo Gerard, said, “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. 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.”