Upper Big Branch Report

We looked at this report briefly last week (pdf). I’ve had a chance since to read it. If you’re up for it, and want to know what happened, it’s a solid piece of work.

The narrative section is framed around the testimony of friends and family of one of the miners who didn’t get out in time. That’s important because one of the questions is who knew what, when, in terms of unusually dangerous working conditions (within a mine environment, so taking into account that this work has the potential to be dangerous, always).

But, that section (first 20 or so pages) is also very personal to that (named) miner and should be read in context to do the miner and his friends and family who were willing to talk to investigators justice, so I won’t pull out quotes.

What jumped out at me, as someone who knows nothing about mining, is how often the witnesses use the word “air”. “Air”, here, has specific technical meanings in mining. They move it from place to place, they measure it, they know how it changes when traveling over or displaced by water, so it’s unremarkable that they would use the word all the time. This is what they do for a living. But they also use the ordinary meaning that’s familiar to all of us. The fact that they need “enough air” and are constantly aware of that comes through very powerfully, and that’s what makes the narrative of the events difficult and sad to read.

The events are presented from the view of the people in the mine. That sole persepective wasn’t the preference of the investigators, or the state of West Virginia. Management and others were subpoenaed, and chose not to speak:

The Fifth Amendment prohibits the government from requiring a person to be a witness against himself involuntarily or to furnish evidence against himself. The following individuals, when they were subpoenaed by the State of West Virginia, through their attorneys invoked their Fifth Amendment rights and declined to be interviewed by investigators

I pulled the following section out because it goes to the specific disincentives to safety the company put in place that contributed, over time, to increasing the risk of a disaster.

Intimidation of workers. There is ample evidence through testimony that miners were discouraged from stopping production for safety reasons. Workers said that those who questioned safety conditions were told to get on with production.

In another instance, Tailgate 22 foreman Brian “Hammer” Collins described what happened when he stopped his crew from running coal because he found inadequate ventilation when he did his pre-shift exam. Collins didn’t allow any work to start on his section until the ventilation problems were resolved – a process that took about an hour. When he came to work the next day, he said Performance Coal Vice President Jason Whitehead suspended him for three days for “poor work performance.” Collins stood his ground. “I am hard-headed…I said, ‘No, if I ain’t got the air in my last open break I cannot load coal”.

Enhanced Employment Agreements. The company also used “enhanced employment agreements” to discourage workers from complaining about safety concerns or working conditions. Under terms of the agreements, the company offered pay increases, bonuses and guaranteed employment in exchange for employees’ agreeing to work for a three-year period. However, by accepting the company’s terms, the miners became “at will” workers. If they left voluntarily or if their employment was terminated “for lack of performance as determined by management, unacceptable conduct … or a serious safety infraction,” the miners had to return the “enhanced pay” and all of the bonuses received under the contract. They also could not work at any competitor’s coal mine within a 90-mile radius of the mine where they had worked.

The enhanced pay is subject to statutory deductions and withholdings, including state and federal income taxes, and Social Security and Medicare. Even if an employee banked 100 percent of the enhanced pay, he would not have enough to buy out his contract because the net take-home pay from the bonus would always be less than the gross amount of the enhanced pay he is obligated to pay back. The miner would have to delve into personal savings to make up the difference or face being sued and having to pay a financial penalty. In effect, the enhanced employment agreement effectively handcuffs the employee.






51 replies
  1. 1

    the miners became “at will” workers.

    Ah, I guess they just have a “right to work” there, eh? /snark

    I am amazed that they had the sheer audacity to put in that “non-compete” clause. What a bunch of douchebags.

    ETA: by which I mean, prohibiting them from working at another mine within 90 miles of their home base, when many of them probably have no other significant prospects for high-paying employment is shitty and also very effective at squelching the miners’ voices.

  2. 2
    alwhite says:

    If you have never worked in an environment where this type of pressure is applied you should count yourself lucky. It happens every day and hazardous work environments are more likely to do this then say, office work.

    Years ago I had a job that started with a long safety lecture but once in the production area it became clear that in order to keep the job you had to violate those rules. When a worker was hurt it was never the companies fault as the worker had violated the safety standards.

    These people are pure evil, they should be forced to work in the conditions they create.

  3. 3
    Walker says:

    When he came to work the next day, he said Performance Coal Vice President Jason Whitehead suspended him for three days for “poor work performance.” Collins stood his ground. “I am hard-headed…I said, ‘No, if I ain’t got the air in my last open break I cannot load coal”.

    Someone who is a lawyer, please tell me why a manager like this cannot be convicted of negligent homicide.

  4. 4
    kay says:

    @arguingwithsignposts:

    I’ve never heard of returning a bonus or enhanced pay. Did they not earn it when they made it? What is it based on? Future performance? That seems ludicrous.
    How did their earned pay, once distributed, become subject to someone taking it back?

  5. 5

    @kay: Is it possible the contract could have been nullified if challenged in court? IANAL, but I’d suspect most of the mine workers wouldn’t think to try that tactic, either.

  6. 6
    gene108 says:

    @arguingwithsignposts:

    ETA: by which I mean, prohibiting them from working at another mine within 90 miles of their home base, when many of them probably have no other significant prospects for high-paying employment is shitty and also very effective at squelching the miners’ voices.

    The non-compete’s we’ve tried to enforce are specific to something, where violating would actually cause us material harm and those have held up.

    I’ve seen / tried other things and I’m generally told non-competition agreements are hard to enforce, since you have to demonstrate how a violation would hurt your business.

    I don’t know about West Virginia law, but this what I’ve been told for California and New Jersey law.

    @kay:

    I’ve never heard of returning a bonus or enhanced pay. Did they not earn it when they made it? What is it based on? Future performance? That seems ludicrous.

    I’ve heard of companies requesting relocation costs, etc., if someone resigns within a year, because they were expected work for a specific duration and the relocation was part of their compensation / expected business they’d bring to the firm.

    Even the above type clause can be tricky to enforce. I know one law firm that tried to do this to an attorney they hired, who left prematurely and they lost the case.

    The basic problem is you can’t bond your workers. Anything that acts like a bond and creates an indentured worker would be thrown out.

    I think the company’s contracts could probably be shot down in a court, if you had a motivated enough employee and a good lawyer.

    Then again, maybe West Virginia labor laws are set up to make sure coal companies can do what they want, so a legal challenge wouldn’t work.

  7. 7
    rea says:

    Is it possible the contract could have been nullified if challenged in court?

    It’s possible, but not certain–and bear in mind which of the two parties to the contract can afford lawyers

  8. 8
    Emma says:

    Jesus Lord. If I believed in Hell I would think there’s a very special place reserved for mine owners and operators.

  9. 9
    kay says:

    @arguingwithsignposts:

    I don’t know anything about employment law. Factory workers here have attendance bonuses. They get extra pay for “perfect” or “perfect perfect” attendance, but they’re not actually out of pocket if they don’t make those.

  10. 10
    Zifnab says:

    @gene108:

    I think the company’s contracts could probably be shot down in a court, if you had a motivated enough employee and a good lawyer.

    That’s where a good union would come in handy, I’m sure.

  11. 11
    Cliff in NH says:

    In effect, the enhanced employment slavery agreement effectively handcuffs enslaves the employee serf.

    fixt

  12. 12
    negative 1 says:

    Now maybe the news will tell us why unions are no longer important. You know, because dangerous conditions at work are no longer a problem and management keeps the best interest of the workers in mind all the time. That whole “let them die for a profit” mentality died out in the turn of the 20th century.

  13. 13
    PeakVT says:

    Enhanced Employment Agreements

    Somewhere, some worthless jackass is thinking he’s pretty clever for coming up with this bit of corporate Newspeak.

  14. 14
    El Cid says:

    No snark. I just want to say just how much I bitterly despise these greedy, evil sons of bitches.

    The TV show Leverage (created and written by a dirty hippie anti-Bush Jr. blogger) had an episode of the team taking on a corrupt WVa mine owner and bought-out AG and so forth.

    The thing is, though, the situation in the fictional mine was much, much better than the actual one discussed.

    Had the TV show attempted to (somehow within the time constraints) portray this level of sneering cruelty and profit-grabbing, it would have been considered even by fans as going over the top.

    Speaking of profit, there was a wonderful but canceled TV series from the mid-1990s in which an astoundingly psycho/sociopathic killer finds a wonderful place to pursue his schemes of power and revenge as an up & coming corporate executive. (Played by Adrian Pasdar, you know, the politician who flew in Heroes.)

    Still, I’m not sure even such shows could have the leeway to portray the sort of systematic murderous avarice seen in the actual mine.

  15. 15
    kay says:

    @arguingwithsignposts:

    The “perfect” and “perfect perfect” attendance bonuses are also a disincentive to safety. They go to work sick, because it accrues, over a year. In other words, a worker will have built up this bonus all year, and he’ll drag in there half dead rather than lose what he’s accrued, in “days”. If he has 9 days left to bonus, or something, he has a huge incentive not to stay home sick, which is part of “perfect perfect”.

  16. 16
    Josie says:

    @alwhite: You are right. My son drives a truck, and there is a law about how much rest time they are supposed to have between shifts. He is being pressured to falsify his log to show the proper amount of rest time. He is standing firm and refusing because the log is a federal document, but many drivers are so desperate to keep their jobs that they they give in.

  17. 17
    Dustin says:

    I’m beginning to suspect that any time I see the word Enhanced in reference to interactions between a person and any entity with more power than them I should always suspect the worst. Enhanced Interrogation: torture. Enhanced Employment Agreements: indentured servitude.

    The very fact that we can have a discussion about whether the mine could get away with enslaving their miners in this manner says a lot about our country.

  18. 18

    “At will” is now the replacement phrase for “indentured servitude”.

    My grandmother worked as a teacher in West Virginia, and talked a few times about the Battle of Matewan (this was around the time John Sayles’ movie on it came out). If you ever saw that movie – how the workers were treated, how the mining company practically owned everything – well grandma said for the most part that all was true.

  19. 19
    Dustin says:

    @Josie:

    He is standing firm and refusing because the log is a federal document, but many drivers are so desperate to keep their jobs that they they give in.

    My father is a truck driver so we talk about this a fair amount. His company tries to do that weekly, and he also refuses to play along. He’s a model employee so they’ve never been able to harm him because of it, but all it’ll take is one ticket or late load and I’m sure he’ll be fired for “poor performance”. It’s disgusting.

    Ever wonder why trucking companies are so strongly opposed to GPS blackbox log trackers becoming mandatory rather than just something a few companies use?

  20. 20
    kay says:

    @gene108:

    I’ve heard of companies requesting relocation costs, etc., if someone resigns within a year, because they were expected work for a specific duration and the relocation was part of their compensation / expected business they’d bring to the firm.

    Right. But these people aren’t “bringing business” or relocating as managers. They’re mining X amount of coal.

    There’s a great study Demos (I think) did that focused on how “flex hours” have been evaluated by media strictly from the perspective of managers or professionals (they’re GREAT!)

    Except “just in time” scheduling sucks if you work at Wal Mart, because you can’t schedule anything. Dinner with your kids, leisure time, nothing. You’re on call to Wal Mart, 24/7, and you’re not paid for that, because you’re paid hourly.

  21. 21
    kay says:

    @gene108:

    This is JUT scheduling, in retail. It was compared to “flex time” that managers or professionals get (as if it gave employees more control, but that’s a poor comparison. The two jobs are different.

  22. 22
    Poopyman says:

    Welcome to the 19th Century, folks! I would expect Blackwater to be the new Pinkerton’s, but IIRC the union had already been busted at Upper Big Branch.

    Well folks, looks like all the gains in worker protections accrued through the first half of last century are about gone, and I fear it’ll have to be re–won the same way, but we’ll see. Also IIRC, many of those gains were during Republican administrations, and the battles were fought against troops and/or national guards.

    We will be living in interesting times for decades, I fear.

  23. 23
    PeakVT says:

    @Dustin: Even old-school analog tachographs would be an improvement over the logbook system. Most truckers are fine drivers, but even the best can get tired.

  24. 24
    Damned at Random says:

    I just finished reading Making Sense of the Molly Maguires by Kevin Kenny about Irish violence in the central Pennsylvania anthracite mining areas in the 1870s. What was striking was that, despite the horrible working conditions and racial discrimination through the civil war and beyond, violence was contained until the Reading Railroad forced out the independent owners and the union (Workingman’s Benevolent Association) collapsed.

    I originally picked the book up as a historical curiosity – though I grew up in the Pittsburgh area and remember the UMW fights for black lung benefits and improved working conditions very well – but a lot of the civic strains described in the book are echoed today.

    Personally, it would take a lot of money to get me into one of those holes. Miners no longer work waist deep in cold water, but it is still dangerous, soul crushing work

  25. 25
    Sly says:

    @kay:

    I’ve never heard of returning a bonus or enhanced pay. Did they not earn it when they made it? What is it based on? Future performance?

    It’s based on the principle of coerced-silence-through-threat-of-debt-slavery, or “keep your fucking mouth shut and get to work, or we’ll own your ass.”

    Its the same basic “employment” framework that gave us the mandatory arbitration clause.

  26. 26
    kay says:

    @Sly:

    mandatory arbitration clause.

    I’m training in mediation for juveniles and never-married parents, and I love mediation. Kum-bah-ya, and no detention for juveniles. I’m like a crazed evangelical, talking it up.
    But. Mandatory arbitration gives the whole alternative resolution area a bad name. Mediation is tainted by even attenuated association with mandatory arbitration.
    Conservatives ruin everything :)

  27. 27
    Robert Sneddon says:

    Black lung is a disease found in coal industry mineworkers caused by buildups of coal dust in the lungs which overwhelm the usual expectoration process of mucus transport via cilia. It’s about as bad as the name implies.

    “According to the McAteer report on the Upper Big Branch disaster, black lung was found in 17 of 24 autopsies carried out. It was not just long-time miners who had the disease, but some were as young as 25, and five had less than 10 years experience working in coal mines.” via Reuters.

    The coal is being dug and burned for non-nuclear electricity generation so it’s not REALLY dangerous, of course.

  28. 28
    Origuy says:

    @gene108:

    Then again, maybe West Virginia labor laws judges are set up to make sure coal companies can do what they want, so a legal challenge wouldn’t work.

    FIFY

  29. 29
    burnspbesq says:

    @Walker:

    Someone who is a lawyer, please tell me why a manager like this cannot be convicted of negligent homicide.

    Proving causation is a bitch. Not impossible, but far from easy.

  30. 30
    burnspbesq says:

    @kay:

    I’ve never heard of returning a bonus or enhanced pay. Did they not earn it when they made it? What is it based on? Future performance? That seems ludicrous.
    How did their earned pay, once distributed, become subject to someone taking it back?

    Happens all the time. Every signing bonus I’ve ever gotten for changing jobs had to be returned if you didn’t stay there for a year. It’s enforceable.

  31. 31
    Maude says:

    @Robert Sneddon:
    Just as methane isn’t really dangerous.

  32. 32
    Bill Murray says:

    @kay: Usually this is also mediation with the mediator the company chooses, so there is close to zero chance the employee will get anything. While there are many fine, objective mediators, the companies aren’t going to choose them.

  33. 33
    alwhite says:

    @Robert Sneddon:

    I hear what you are saying, if I may expand:
    No, coal is not dangerous at all . . . well maybe to a handful of miners but they know what they are getting into and the owners would be crazy to not operate safely so its all good, right?

  34. 34
    kay says:

    @Bill Murray:

    I agree. Too, mediation is different than mandatory arbitration because mediation is voluntary. In mediation, I prop up the weaker party (usually the juvenile, but not always) because it isn’t coercion, or “taking advantage of people” it’s mediation. I want the two or more parties (mostly) equal, or we can’t go forward. It’s the key to the whole thing. Voluntary, equal.
    Whatever greed-crazed moron tacked “mandatory” onto “alternative dispute resolution” missed some crucial, essential point. “Alternative” implies means something, and it doesn’t imply “mandatory”.
    It’s ridiculous to claim that an individual consumer is an equal at the table to the giant retailer and their lawyers. It makes a mockery of what was a sort of beautiful idea.
    Conservatives ruined it for everyone. It’s that simple:)

  35. 35
    Robert Sneddon says:

    @alwhite: Face masks and really thorough ventilation would ameliorate the amount of blacklung suffered by mineworkers. Good ventilation takes money, time and energy to implement and facemasks are awkward to wear in such conditions, restricting breathing and impairing vision since the illumination in mineworkings is also piss-poor (see miner’s helmet lamps for an example of just how bad it is).

    Deaths, maimings and occupational diseases such as blacklung, stonelung etc. are part of the cost of cheap electricity. Coal mines are like slaughterhouses; the folks who benefit from what they provide don’t like to think of what goes on there for them to have their creature comforts.

    One estimate is that about 1500 coal-miners a year die in the US from the effects of blacklung. That’s buried in other causes, of course — a lot of them smoke, live in wood or coal-heated homes, live less-optimal lifestyles, but it’s a chronic disease that can cripple and impair folks for decades before they actually die. There’s no cure, no pill they can take to fix the problem, no functional treatment to make things much better. The only solution is to stop sending folks underground to dig coal and that’s not going to happen as it would devastate employment and the economy of several states.

  36. 36

    Wow. Here’s the abridged version.

    “We’ll pay you extra if you agree to be our bitch”

    “Sounds great! I’m in. So, about the extra cash…”

    “Silence! You’ll speak when spoken to, bitch.”

    Is there any aspect of US economy right now that is not 100% predicated on bullshit and exploitation?

  37. 37
    PWL says:

    Well, this is what happens when it’s decided that it’s a good idea to take the country back to the Gilded Age, so to speak…

  38. 38
    Bmaccnm says:

    @Robert Sneddon: My first nusring job was in an ICU in a coal mining town in Eastern Kentucky. Basically, I spent two years watching men in their 50s die of black lung. They would come in progressively weaker until their lungs could no longer exchange oxygen. “I’m a smothering to death” was a universal statement. I learned a hell of a lot about how we get what we have in America while living in Appalachia.

    This topic hits my core of anger. Miners and their kin are a disposable segment of American society, and people who benefit from their wasteage say and do some very cruel things. My lefty friends heap a lot of abuse on hillbillies when they should be natural allies.

  39. 39
    trollhattan says:

    @Bmaccnm:

    Well said. It’s class warfare in concentrated form. They–the coal companies–know they have a captive workforce and if worker 1 won’t capitulate to their demands than worker 2 surely will, while worker 1 can go home to be a “lucky ducky.”

    The distain for safety is everywhere. I continually flog BP for a culture that values stock price and quarterly earnings over safety and know what? It seems to work out for them just fine.

    Here’s what they said about safety after the inconvenience of the 2005 Texas City refinery explosion that killed 15 and injured 170:

    BP embraced the urgent recommendation of the CSB to form an independent panel. In a press release issued on August 17, 2005, the company noted that the Texas City explosion was the worst tragedy in BP’s recent history and that it would “do everything possible to ensure nothing like it happens again.” The company also said it would act promptly to deal with the independent panel’s recommendations.

    http://www.csb.gov/assets/docu.....eport1.pdf

    “nothing like it happens again” until April 2010, anyway.

    Explosions and cave-ins are more dramatic and swift and headline-generating than black lung, but you’re just as dead.

  40. 40
    merrinc says:

    @TooManyPaulWs:

    Matewan is an excellent film. I also highly recommend Denise Giardina’s Storming Heaven and its sequel, The Unquiet Earth. Both are historical fiction but Giardina is a daughter of the coalfields and writes of what she knows.

    Storming Heaven covers the birth of the UMWA and highlights a little known bit of West Virginia history: during the battle of Blair Mountain, the US government dropped bombs and tear gas on 10,000 striking miners from West Virginia and Kentucky. I grew up in WV when we were all required to take West Virginia history in 7th grade. We didn’t learn anything about the battle of Blair Mountain.

    The Unquiet Earth relives the Buffalo Creek flood disaster in horrifying detail.

  41. 41
    kay says:

    @Bmaccnm:

    That’s why it was strange not to have the management-corporate side speak in the report. They all took the Fifth, so they weren’t interviewed.
    Reading it, I realized how rare it is to hear about a particular job or occupation or company from the worker’s view.
    It seems as if we don’t value any work that isn’t “small business!” or “CEO!”, the ridiculous over-promotion of Trump-like figures, and the demonizing of teachers, etc.
    We’ve somehow managed to devalue not just workers, but work.
    Unions don’t just protect workers. They promote the value of the work that people do, whatever it is they do.

  42. 42
    Bmaccnm says:

    Exactly. We are disposable cogs in our overlords’s machines. Only they have value. It’s why I say, “Fine. Fucking go Galt already. We’ll see who gets the better end of that deal.”

  43. 43
    merrinc says:

    @Bmaccnm:

    Basically, I spent two years watching men in their 50s die of black lung. They would come in progressively weaker until their lungs could no longer exchange oxygen.

    I watched my paternal grandfather die of black lung. It’s a slow, painful, excruciating way to die. 8 years later I watched in horror as Reagan made it harder for miners to get black lung benefits. All in the name of cutting waste and fraud, naturally.

    My lefty friends heap a lot of abuse on hillbillies when they should be natural allies.

    It’s hard to be an ally of folks who continue to vote against their economic interests. I come from a long line of blue collar workers (I’m only the 3rd in my family to go to college). Like many, I left WV after college and never went back. I’ve been back at least once a month since February due to my mother’s illness and I’ve been appalled to find that my cousins are huge Glenn Beck fans. Most of them voted for Raese over Manchin. Did I mention that I had one grandfather die of black lung, another die in his late 60’s after retiring from a career in the mines, an uncle killed in a tipple accident in Glenville in his mid 20s, and a cousin die in the Farmington No. 9 explosion? While most of the men in the family worked in the mines, most of the women worked in factories. We were solidly blue collar and solidly Democratic. Last time I was home, most of my family was giddy with excitement about the prospect of a Trump presidency.

  44. 44
    kay says:

    @Bmaccnm:

    It was amazing to me that conservatives didn’t get it here, when teachers and others took the national conservative campaign to discredit and demean public workers personally. My moronic television personality governor looked grief-stricken and confused with all this hostility directed at him.
    Of course they took it personally. He (and media) were telling them their work has no value and they suck at it.

  45. 45
    Bmaccnm says:

    @merrinc: Agreed. I spent a lot of time shitting up and shutting up harder while I lived there (a total of four years, and my son’s long form birth certificate says Commonwealth of Kentucky right thar on the top.) I think divide and conquer is one of the most powerful tactics in the class war. Too bad. I couldn’t get past it- that’s why I live in the People’s Republic of Portland now.

  46. 46
    Bmaccnm says:

    Huh- I meant “shutting up”, but “shitting up” also defines much of the experience of working in Appalachia.

  47. 47
    Bmaccnm says:

    @kay: Another common tactic in the class war- if you tell folks “You’re no good and we can get along without you” long enough you might start to believe it. I used to think they were only talking trash, but it seems they believe it. They also seem to believe in burly but benevolent fairies- how else does their coal get mined and their roads get plowed?

  48. 48
    kay says:

    @Bmaccnm:

    They also seem to believe in burly but benevolent fairies- how else does their coal get mined and their roads get plowed?

    Right. They must. Which is why strikes were important. To remind them that there are no fairies.

    The coal company here in the article ran a sort of PR campaign to convince workers that regulators and others were after their jobs.

    You know the words: “we cannot survive in this burdensome regulatory environment, and you will be out of work”.

    That’s in addition to buying judges and politicians.

  49. 49
    Bmaccnm says:

    @kay: I’ve never really understood the efficacy of that “we can’t survive so you’ll be hurting if we don’t get what we want” argument. The OWNERS can’t survive. But the people will. They may have a different standard of living, but they are remarkably resourceful and they will survive. On the other hand, the owner class isn’t known for their varied skill set. Again, why strikes are important. Let them know who stands to lose more here. In the survival sweepstakes, it’s better to be a peasant.

  50. 50
    merrinc says:

    @kay:

    The coal company here in the article ran a sort of PR campaign to convince workers that regulators and others were after their jobs.

    Well, it works. I posted a link to the NY Time article about this report on my FB page last week, stating that I hope it ended up on the front page of every newspaper in WV and everyone would know what Massey Energy and Don Blankenship have done. Three people “liked” the link and/or commented on it. All three, like me, left the state years ago. My friends and family still in state, some of whom work in the mines, all of whom know someone who does? Crickets.

    BTW, the disregard for safety goes on in union mines too. My dad was promoted to section foreman at a Consol mine six months before he died. The first time he refused to take his crew into the mines over an air quality issue was the first but not last time he was called on the carpet by his superiors.

  51. 51
    JR in WV says:

    I grew up in Beckley, and my Grandma taught me to drive on St Rt 3 down Marsh Fork past this mine. When I was a little boy playing in her attic in the 1950s I found a toolbox; it was nearly full of fired machine gun shells from a strike back in the day. The National Guard came in with armored vehicles and machine guns to put the united Mine Workers down.

    When I was a teenager, all the mines were UMWA contract mines, and the worst problem was Black Lung, where miners’ lungs slowly fill with coal dust particles, and they suffocate… It can also happen to non-miners who live downwind from a processing plant or load-out where fine coal is handled.

    Now the UMWA only has contracts on a few mines, owned by companies with executives with hearts, and stockholders like CALPERS (the California Pension Fund) and those mines are completely different from the scab mines.

    A good friend’s son-in-law went from working as a foreman at a non-UMWA mine to a union contracted mine, and was amazed… everyone was treated like a human being!

    We’ve known how to prevent explosions in coal mines for generations. If crushed lime stone is blown throughout the mine to dilute the coal dust, and fresh air from the surface is blown throughout the workings to keep methane levels below 5%, no explosion can occur.

    Methane can only explode when it is between 5% and 15%… so huge bursts of methane aren’t explosive, there isn’t enough oxygen to support a gad explosion. The worst explosions are when a small methane explosion (often called a bump, they aren’t rare) stirs up the coal dust, which is far more violent in combustion.

    I believe Massey management is directly responsible for the deaths of their miners. They didn’t allow them to maintain a safe working mine. Voluntary Manslaughter at the very least.

    But what do I know, I just live here.

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