Coal and West Virginia: Don Blankenship's Unholy Rule

I'm sure that by now, everyone who reads this will know about the disaster in Raleigh County, WV with the Massey Energy Coal Mine disaster.

MONTCOAL, W.Va. — A huge underground explosion blamed on methane gas killed 25 coal miners in the worst U.S. mining disaster in more than two decades.

Crews bulldozed an access road Tuesday so they could drill 1,000 feet into the earth to try to find four others missing and feared dead after the Monday afternoon blast.

Rescuers were held back by poison gases that accumulated near the blast site, about 1.5 miles from the entrance to Massey Energy Co.'s sprawling Upper Big Branch mine. The mine, about 30 miles south of Charleston, has a history of violations for not properly ventilating the highly combustible methane, safety officials said.

This was the deadliest mining accident in a quarter century.  25 brave men gave their lives so far, with numbers still unknown for the rest.  I speak for the entire mountain state when I say that we consider all the men and women working in coal mines as our family.   Our hearts go out to them, our prayers are with them, and our souls are crushed at this news.  The purpose of this diary is not only to mourn the lost, but to bring light to the dark situation of coal and Massey Energy in West Virginia and across Appalachia.  I love this state, and I love the people of this state so I hope this will be taken as insight and not out of disrespect for anyone.  

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. will be happy to tell you all you need to know about Don Blankenship and Massey Energy. His constant advocacy for the state of West Virginia's well-being in recent years has been a refreshing thing, at least from my perspective. The 122 mining violations against just that particular Raleigh Co. site since January (and 52 in the month of March nearly speak for themselves).  Lawsuits against Massey have been filed in the past (specifically for the location where the disaster occurred) saying that it endangered the local folk around them.  

In February 2003 a judge ordered Massey to pay the residents of Sylvester, West Virginia $473,000 to settle complaints that coal dust from Massey's Elk Run Processing Plant had caused health problems and lowered property values in the nearby town. The judge also ordered Massey to construct a cloth dome over their facility to reduce the dust.


Massey Energy has also had legal disputes involved with standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency.  Thousands, literally thousands, of violations against the Clean Water Act had Massey and Grandmaster Blankenship forking out 20 million in penalties.  The method of mining known as Mountaintop Removal could have a book written about it completely filled with environmental hazards and violations alone.  

Mine safety is a stated top priority by Massey Energy, but has yet to be seen as carried out efficiently

On October 8, 2008 Steven Cain, 32, of Comfort, West Virginia was killed at Massey Energy's Independence Coal Justice No. 1 Mine when he was crushed by a railcar. A Mine Safety and Health Administration report  concludes Cain was killed because Massey managers assigned him a dangerous job, although he had “little mining experience and minimal training.”

Top priority Blankenship?  Blankenship and Massey Energy was fined roughly $400,000 last year for improper mining ventilation.  

Unionized Labor in this country is sometimes looked upon with a scowl.  Unions are known to be one cause of unemployment in this country.  The higher wages earned are seen as a problem from outsiders to the unions.  However, unionized labor has several benefits.  Labor Unions have the ability to challenge the corporation and big companies that they work for for higher wages and better benefits.  Instead of meeting one-on-one with an employer (like in a traditional job environment) labor unions act sort of as a group to meet with the employer.  They negotiate wages for them and their union fellows to work by, and have the ability to organize labor strikes if what they are getting they deem is unfair and unjust. 

Massey Energy is almost completely non-union based.  Don Blankenship (Chairman/CEO of Massey Energy) runs it as he pleases and is a man that likes to make his money.  The United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) is the large union for miners across the country and has a presence in the state.  UMWA fights for fair regulations, but also fights for safer mines.  

Nobody knows better than miners the need for good healthcare and safety regulations in coal mines.  

Blankenship is Anti-Envrionmentalism and Anti-Union.  He has done everything he can to block environmental efforts to help save the state.  

"Environmentalists are are overly emotional and rely on extremist rhetoric rather than facts and cool reason"

"America doesn’t need Green jobs – but Red, White, & Blue ones."

"The Sierra Club filed 983 lawsuits against the fed gov't over 9 years. They tie up the legal system AND private industry w/ frivolous suits."

Just look him up on twitter if you want any more of these folksy comments.

Blankenship believes in buying political gains and using his large wallet to get whatever it is he wants.  This was quoted back in Oct. 2008 from Dorothy Kosich

After he spent $3 million to unseat incumbent State Supreme Court Justice Warren McGraw in 2004, Blankenship has now set his sights on spending “whatever it takes” to help win a Republican majority in the state legislature. Democrats have controlled the West Virginia Legislature since the 1930s.

In 2005, Blankenship fought the governor’s effort to finance worker’s compensation through a hike in the coal severance tax. Later that year, he also opposed another gubernatorial plan to sell $5.5 billion in bonds to cover state pension programs. Nevertheless, Blankenship has no interest in running for office and insists that he is not politically motivated.

Warren McGraw was a fearless advocate of mine-safety and one of Blankenship's enemies.  This is corruption at its finest. 

"If the White House wants to create US jobs, they can start by approving hundreds of mining permits. Coal employs more workers then wind."

Blankenship's Mountaintop Removal strategy has cost several jobs.  Employing wind power would help create more jobs, not lose them to MTR mining.

I'm not trying to denigrate and denounce the workers of Massey Coal Mines in West Virginia and across Appalachia, much to the contrary.  Coal miners are the backbone of West Virginia.  I have the utmost respect and adoration for coal miners, they perform a job I would never have the bravery to perform myself.  They sacrifice health and life every day to support their families, their state, and their country.  The brave souls who lost their lives in the mining disaster will be forever remembered and hold a special place in every West Virginians heart.

The purpose of this diary is to expose the truth about Don Blankenship and the company he runs.  In wake of this disaster I believe it is important for those new to the subject to be informed.  Don Blankenship is a scourge to the state, and he uses his wallet to do as he pleases.

Please understand the purpose of this diary and not misconstrue it as negative sentiment towards the miners and their families. This is simply to inform.  The country needs to know about the underlings who run these large corporations, and the slime that inhabits the corner office at Massey Energy.

I urge everyone to keep the coal-miners and their families in your thoughts and prayers.  

IBEW Organizer Looks to Unionize Green Industry

There are not many union locals with an environmental organizer on staff.


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Soccer Instead of Unsafe Sex

About 20 men sat on chairs at the HIV/AIDS Resource Center in Katuna, Uganda, intently watching a match between Manchester United and Chelsea on a small television. Along with the pool table, board games, and additional television downstairs, soccer games provide a much needed distraction for the long-distance truckers who have to wait for their vehicles to be cleared by customs before entering Rwanda.

But just eight months ago, instead of television and camaraderie among workers, the easiest diversion for truckers was sex. Katuna is one of many towns along what is known as the Northern Transport Corridor--a span of highway that stretches from Mombasa,Kenya through Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan and all the way to Djibouti.

In the past, the truckers were often delayed for days on the border, giving them little to do. Boredom--and drinking--often led to unsafe sex with prostitutes at the truck stops along the highway. As a result, truck drivers have one of the highest rates of HIV/AIDS in Eastern Africa. Unfortunately, the virus doesn't stop with them, and is often spread to their spouses.

Now, thanks to the work of the Solidarity Center , a non-profit launched by the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organziations (AFL-CIO) to empower workers around the world by helping them form unions, and Uganda's Amalgamated Transport and General Workers Union (ATGWU), which has about 3,500 members in Uganda, the amount of time truckers spend on the border has been reduced from days to just hours. The union has worked through bargaining with the government to reduce the amount of time it takes their paper to go through which reduced the amount of free time they have on the border.  When they don't have as much free time, they're not as likely to engage in unsafe sex.  

According to Romano Ojiambo-Ochieng, ATGWU General Secretary, the union and the Solidarity Center has set up four resources centers in Uganda under the ROADS (Regional Outreach Addressing AIDS through Development Strategies)  project with Family Health International (FHI) and funding from US AID. These resource centers "provide alternative activities to truck drivers as they wait for their travel papers to be processed." Many of the things truckers can do at the centers are educational, getting information about how to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS, as well as working conditions, workplace safety, and reproductive health.

The Katuna resource center, like many others dotted along the transport corridor, offers training and education to truckers and sex workers, and provides reading materials like pocket guides explaining sexually transmitted infections and the dangers of letting them go untreated. More than 150,000 truck drivers and community members have received prevention services, care and support information through one-on-one or community group outreach.

The Center also provides free testing for truck drivers, already more than 5,000 of them to date. "We are having truck drivers waiting for trucks to be cleared, coming to the recreation center to access our services," says Edward Oboth Ofumbi, coordinator for the resource center in Katuna. "In the process they end up getting tested for HIV...some of them come thinking that they are really infected but they are actually not infected." And some, says Edward, then change their behavior by using protection. They also direct infected truckers to local medical services, and reproductive health information for both truckers and their spouses.

In addition, the Center builds solidarity among truck drivers, providing a place for them to channel their industry grievances, while also successfully encouraging them to join unions. Low wages, lack of benefits, and long absences from home put truckers at high risk of HIV infection; improving their working conditions through collective bargaining is an important part of the prevention strategy. "These {people} are a very vulnerable group," says Edward, "because they don't have time with their families and they also don't have access to medication because all the time they are in transit."

Maseruka Ayubu, a trucker for fifteen years, travels monthly from Mombasa to Katuna, carrying cement--and also food aid to refugees in the Sudan. He said that the resource is important "because instead of having girls and having sex - we are putting our minds here...". Maseruka has also become a volunteer peer educator at the Center, teaching other truck drivers about the need to be informed about their sexual health, helping them organize, and letting them know the importance of their union. He says that instead of hanging around bars where you can be tempted by risky behavior, the resource center is a safe and fun place to be around others.

Other resource centers have also been opened in Kenya, Tanzania, Southern Sudan, Ethiopia, Rwanda, and Burundi-- all in partnership with local unions. They are yet another critical tool in the fight against HIV/AIDS in the region-- providing community, information, basic health care, and the occasional soccer match enjoyed amongst friends.

For more information, check out Solidarity Center and FHI.

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Young Workers: Hit Hard, Hitting Back

This is a Huffington Post piece by AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler.

As the newly elected secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO, I traveled the country this fall, talking with workers and hearing their concerns. The economic crisis is causing a lot of pain. So many people have no jobs, no health care--and many are losing their homes. And as I looked into the faces of young workers, the reality hit home that these young people are part of the first generation in recent history likely to be worse off than their parents.

This is a tragedy.

The AFL-CIO and our community affiliate, Working America, recently surveyed young workers--and I'm not talking about 17- and 18-year-olds. I'm talking about 18- to 34-year-olds. In the past 10 years, young workers have suffered disproportionately from the downturn in the economy:

  • One in three young workers is worried about being able to find a job--let alone a full-time job with benefits.

  • Only 31 percent make enough money to cover their bills and put some aside--that is 22 percentage points worse than it was 10 years ago.

  • Nearly half worry about having more debt than they can handle.

  • One in three still lives at home with parents.

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Trumka: Open for Questions on the Jobs Crisis

On Dec. 15, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka will host a live online conversation on the nation's jobs crisis--and you can take part.

Starting today, you can submit questions and vote on other ones submitted to the AFL-CIO's "Open for Questions About the Jobs Crisis." Trumka will answer the top-rated questions in the live online video discussion at 4 p.m. EST on Tues., Dec. 15.

Here's how to take part:

  • * Visit to submit a question and vote on questions.

  • * Sign in here to participate if you have a Google account.

  • * If you don't have a Google account, create one here.

Trumka will engage with union members and working family activists around the country and share solutions for restoring good jobs and revitalizing the nation's economy.

Tune in here at 4 p.m. EST on Dec. 15 and get involved by submitting or voting on questions.

Check out the AFL-CIO five-point jobs plan here.

(Cross-posted from the AFL-CIO Now Blog.)

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