Where Unions Are Imperative

Its been a long time since I've been on MyDD, but its good to be back.  

The talk of the town these days seems to be unions, and Wisconsin is center stage.  Thats old news of course, just judging by the sheer amount of times the word "union" is mentioned on a single page alone here at MyDD.  Unfortunately, when the talk involves unions you will have those who want to throw them under the bus.  Many label union-members as "lazy" and "thuggish."  Sadly, this totally misrepresents the vast vast majority of them (there's a bad apple in every bunch, lets be honest).

Nothing gets under my skin quite as much as when the GOP brings up the subject of unions.  This may be a bit of a generalization, but I'll take the heat if any comes.  I'm biased and can't help it.  My family has been supported by a union for my entire life (21 years) and much longer.  It runs in our blood.

Naturally, I understand that with everything there are setbacks.  Unions have their drawbacks, theres no doubt.  At the end of the day however, we need collective bargaining for workers in this country.  Its a fundamental RIGHT that may not be explicitly stated in plain English for Republicans to read and comprehend, but its true.  

To better understand the situation, I  would like to offer a bit of a unique perspective to the importance of unions.  In case anyone has forgotten (or never knew in the first place), I am from West Virginia and have lived here my entire life.  The coal-mining industry is still thriving and powerful as ever (despite the departure of Don Blankenship).  

Take a look back to April of last year, when 29 miners lost their lives in a horrible explosion.  The mine was run by Massey Energy, a company notorious for not allowing unions or labor organization at all.  In fact, the CEO at the Time (Blankenship) was famous for union-busting.  

In the last five years, fatal accidents at three non-union West Virginia coal mines have resulted in 43 fatalities.

These deaths are causing some to question the safety records of mines where workers are not in the miner’s union.

"I think the obvious evidence in the last few years is that currently it’s more dangerous to work in non-union mines than union mines," he said.

Source: WV Pubcast

When workers aren't allowed to organize and collectively bargain, they lose any clout they have against a big corporation (in this case Massey) and are unable to refuse work because of poor working conditions.  Unions provide that kind of safety net.  They allow the laborers of this country to proudly stand together and not just be a number for a corporation, they are given a voice in a place where they would otherwise have none.

In the words of United Mine Workers President Cecil Roberts (Paraphrased), the miners at the Upper Big Branch Mine should have had the right to say kiss my ass, I'm not working in these terrible conditions.

This is just one of many examples detailing just how important labor unions are.  We need them in this country.


Massey Energy In the Hot Seat Again

As sad as it truly is, I am no longer surprised when I read horrific headlines about Massey Energy. Since the Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster, Massey Energy and Don Blankenship have become synonymous with neglect, crookedness, and wrong-doings. This recent headline, found on Charleston Gazette’s Coal Tattoo, is certainly no different. The headline reads "NPR report: Massey Energy ordered methane detector disabled at Upper Big Branch Mine."

Now, it has been awhile since I’ve posted on the Seminal about Blankenship or Massey. (Due to African excursions and summer jobs, I’ve had my hands quite full the past few months. However, for those of you who are first time readers or who may not remember, here is a refresher on some things.

First off, the Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster in Raleigh County West Virginia was one of the biggest mining disasters the US has seen in a very long time. Massey Energy and Don Blankenship were not seen in a very bright light afterwards.

I’m crossposting a segment mentioned in Coal Tattoo, but ultimately was found on NPR and reported by them in regards to the methane monitor.

On Feb. 13, an electrician deliberately disabled a methane gas monitor on a continuous mining machine because the monitor repeatedly shut down the machine.

Three witnesses say the electrician was ordered by a mine supervisor to “bridge” the automatic shutoff mechanism in the monitor.

Methane monitors are mounted on the massive, 30-foot-long continuous miners because explosive gas can collect in pockets near the roofs of mines. Methane can be released as the machine cuts into rock and coal. The spinning carbide teeth that do the cutting send sparks flying when they cut into rock. The sparks and the gas are an explosive mix, so the methane monitor is designed to signal a warning and automatically shut down the machine when gas approaches dangerous concentrations.

“Everybody was getting mad because the continuous miner kept shutting off because there was methane,” recalls Ricky Lee Campbell, a 24-year-old coal shuttle driver and roof bolter who witnessed the incident. “So, they shut the section down and the electrician got into the methane detector box and rewired it so we could continue to run coal.”

The continuous miner was working in an entryway about three miles from the location of the deadly explosion in April. Campbell and other mine workers were getting the section ready for mining. The continuous miner was cutting into the roof to make way for a conveyor belt and was cutting into both rock and coal, according to Campbell.

“I asked them, ‘What are you doing?’ ” Campbell says. “And they told me, ‘We’re bridging a methane detector. We’re bypassing it,’ is what they said.”

Coal Tattoo

It is very disheartening to hear about the things this corporation manages to get away with. The bad things keep piling up for ol’ Blankenship, and yet nothing has been done to remove the man that has actually materialized into something promising. My hopes are that one day, the coal miners of West Virginia (and everywhere) will be able to feel safe and know they are in good working conditions every time they step into a mine.

Blankenship To Testify Before Congress: The Dark Saga Continues

Its been over a month since the Upper Big Branch Mine, a Massey Energy owned and operated mine, faced a disaster due to a methane related explosion that took 29 miners lives. It was a dark day for the state of West Virginia, the coal industry, and the entire country. To West Virginians, and even those not from the state, these fallen miners will be in our hearts forever.

Don Blankenship is the current Chairman, CEO, and head right-wing gun-toting thug in charge of Massey Energy. Massey is currently the 6th largest coal company in the United States by production. Blankenship, to most people, is seen as cold, dark, and very mysterious. If you need further convincing, watch this ABC News video of one of their correspondents attempting to evoke an interview from Blankenship. The video shows the ABC News rep wanting to ask Blankenship about pictures published in the New York Times of him with Former WV State Supreme Court Judge and Current Republican nominee for WV 3rd Congressional District Eliot "Spike" Maynard. Maynard was elected to the Supreme Court in WV.

Several news outlets have begun to report that Don Blankenship will testify this Thursday before the Senate HELP (Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions) Committee regarding the April 5, 2010 mine explosion in Raleigh County, West Virginia .

Mine blast: Don Blankenship, the head of Massey Energy Co., testifies before a Senate panel investigating the explosion that killed 29 workers at his company’s coal mine in West Virginia.

Source: San Francisco Chronicle’s SF Gate

Blankenship, 60, plans to appear before the Labor and Health and Human Services subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee, on May 20 in Washington, his first appearance before Congress since the explosion.

Massey said last month that it expects a second-quarter charge of as much as $212 million for the accident, more than twice its 2009 earnings.

The costs will include $80 million to $150 million for benefits for families of the miners, rescue and recovery efforts, insurance deductibles, legal and other contingencies, Massey said. The value of the damaged equipment, development and mineral rights is an additional $62 million.

Source: Businessweek.com

With the pieces still being picked up in rural West Virginia, Blankenship has a slew of problems on his hands. Massey Energy has seen its stock slump since the disaster (big shocker there) and he is constantly being questioned about the incident and his lack of care for safety violations and hazardous working conditions. It has seen a -21.7% change YTD with their stocks recently plummeting 10% after a possibility of a criminal investigation was mentioned, and 40% since the disaster.

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) — Shares of Massey Energy plunged about 10% Monday after a report surfaced over the weekend indicated the coal mining company may face a criminal investigation.

Federal prosecutors are investigating possible "willful criminal activity" by "directors, officers and agents" of Massey subsidiary Performance Coal at the Upper Big Branch coal mine where an explosion killed 29 workers last month, The Wall Street Journal reported on Saturday.

A Bloomberg report on Monday claimed that some large Massey shareholders will seek to block the re-election of three company board members at the meeting.

Another report by the Wall Street Journal on Monday said a congressional committee will vote on Wednesday on whether to give the House Education and Labor Committee deposition power to call witnesses in for questioning on the case.

Massey shares have fallen about 40% since the mine explosion on April 5.

Source: CNN Money

More interesting news for Massey Energy, in what seems to be an effort to obtain transparency in lieu of shady business, as they have now declared that they will declassify their board of directors. This according to the Wall Street Journal, the board is proposing to introduce the idea to shareholders etc. and potentially even make the process more democratic.

Massey Energy Co. said its board plans to propose that directors stand for election every year for one-year terms.

Chairman and Chief Executive Don Blankenship and lead independent director Admiral Bobby R. Inman said the move to declassify the board of the coal producer was a result of stockholder input and the board’s ongoing review of Massey’s corporate governance policies.

A classified board, where classes of directors generally are elected for three-year terms and only a portion of the directors stands for election each year, is harder to dislodge through the shareholder meeting process.

The board plans to hold a special shareholder meeting in the next three to six months where it will propose that stockholders approve declassification.

Source: Wall Street Journal

Blankenship has seen his fair share of controversy, as I have detailed in several previous blogs in wake of the Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster, and this proves there isn’t an end in sight. Blankenship, amidst numerous calls to step down and many claims of injustice and fraud, refuses to forgo his position as CEO of Massey. Its hard to tell whether this is simply Blanky trying to play a game and manipulate his business further, saving his butt from criminal allegations, or just plain stubbornness. My personal opinion? He needs to step down. Futher even, he needs to be criminally indicted. Too often, CEO fat cats like Blank are left alone to ravage whatever gets in their way in the holy name of money.

Massey Energy chief executive Don Blankenship, whose Richmond-based company is under investigation after a deadly explosion at its Upper Big Branch coal mine in West Virginia, said he has no plans to resign.

"Whatever happened at UBB is something that needs to be figured out, but it’s not the result of my management style," Blankenship, 60, said in an interview.

From The Washington Post, as reported by Bloomberg

An end is not in sight for this ongoing Blankenship conundrum, which can be seen as good news and bad news. I want resolution. I hope that one day this man will receive the proper justice brought to him, not on a silver platter, but closer to a penitentiary meal tray.

He doesn’t represent the values and culture of Appalachia, he represents the coal industry and corporate greed. I for one will not stand for this. The question still remains, will the people of Congress and those in higher powers finally grow a pair and do something about corrupt and greedy tycoons like Blankenship? Or will they let this case slither away like a cunning snake, deep into the elusive tall grass it will await yet another prey who is unbeknownst to their presence.


Corporate Cruelty: Massey Denies Time Off For Miners to Attend Funerals

I realize that the majority of my recent diaries have been continuing coverage of the Massey mine disaster, and I feel it is important to inform the people of MyDD about such an event and its aftermath.  A small state like West Virginia doesn't get a lot of publicity, and events like this are sometimes allowed to die without proper justice being brought.

Massey Energy, the Virginia-based coal giant that runs the Upper Big Branch Mine, has denied time off for miners to attend their friends’ funerals; has rejected makeshift memorials outside the mine site; and, in at least one case, required a worker to go on shift even though the fate of a relative — one of the victims of the April 5 disaster — remained unknown at the time, according to some family members and other sources familiar with those episodes. In short, the company might be taking heat for putting profits and efficiency above its workers, but it doesn’t appear to have changed its tune in the wake of the worst mining tragedy in 40 years.

Source: Think Progress

It is appalling to me that something like this is allowed to happen without repercussions.  That an employee isn't even allowed leave from work to visit a loved one's funeral who died in a terrible mining disaster.  This is disgusting.  My heart goes out to the miners who are forced to continue working under the iron fist and black soul of Blankenship.  

So now, to cover up this catastrophe, Massey has hired a PR firm from Texas (Public Strategies).  This firm has quite a load on their hands, especially given this new discovery from Think Progress

Public Strategies, an Austin, Texas-based firm owned by advertising giant WPP, has been brought in by the mining company’s board in recent days to advise it on how to respond to questions about the company’s governance and the board’s general oversight of the company, people familiar with the matter said. An explosion at the company’s Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia killed 29 miners earlier this month.

Source:  Wall Street Journal

Also according to the WSJ, part of the firm has ties with the Bush White House, no doubt Blankenship is a fan.  (also Clinton ties)

I have lost every bit of respect I've ever had for Massey and Blankenship (which albeit wasn't very much at all).  

First Lawsuits Against Massey Energy Filed

The widow of William Griffith, a miner lost in the awful tragedy at the Upper Big Branch Mine, has filed the first lawsuit against Massey Energy in lieu of the disaster.

Marlene Griffith, the widow of William I. Griffith, filed a suit alleging that "reckless and negligent conduct" by Massey resulted in Mr. Griffith's death. The eight-page complaint seeking damages under West Virginia's wrongful death statute was filed in Raleigh County Circuit Court Thursday and names Massey as well as its subsidiaries Performance Coal and Massey Coal Services as defendants.

Source: WSJ

Griffith is the first of no doubt several men and women who will be pushing lawsuits against the Massey Energy Company and Don Blankenship himself.

The lawsuit brought by Ms. Griffith says that William Griffith began working as a coal miner in 1974, shortly after graduating from high school, and that he began working for Performance Coal in 1992 at the Upper Big Branch mine.Mark Moreland, a Charleston, West Va., attorney representing Mr. Griffith's estate, said in an interview that Mr. Griffith's family wanted to have representation during ongoing investigations of the accident. "Massey will have a representative at all those investigations, and our client felt that they deserved representation," he said.The complaint includes inspection-related material previously released by MSHA. "We looked at the history of this mine through the MSHA Web site and it's clear that Massey and Performance were operating in a reckless manner," Mr. Moreland said.

Don Blankenship and Massey have had too much disregard for safety regulations and violations, and have shown incredibly negligence with their business operations.  Don Blankenship is seeing his first allegations against him as well.

Separately, a Massey shareholder filed a complaint in Kanawha County Circuit Court against CEO Don Blankenship and Massey's board of directors, alleging that they failed to ensure the company complied with worker safety laws and ignored "red flags" in the months leading up to the accident.The complaint, filed Thursday, alleges that Mr. Blankenship and other board members "have caused and will continue to cause severe injury" to Massey by "consciously ignoring" the company's legal obligations and exposing the company to "a substantial threat of monetary liability." The suit seeks unspecified damages as well as reimbursement for the costs of bringing the complaint.

I would hope that the Obama Administration, and members of Congress stay on top of this situation before it is allowed to wither away.  A mining disaster of this caliber should not be allowed to have corporate entities going unpunished.


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