Friday, April 23, 2010

Massey Energy Shows Us Just How Cold Coal Can Be

If you follow the news about clean energy, chances are you have read about the atrocities committed at the coal mines controlled by Don Blankenship at Massey Energy. Earlier this month disaster struck at one mine in particular, leading to the deaths of twenty-nine miners. Since then word has gotten out that the safety record of that mine and others owned by Massey is particularly abhorrent. Blankenship has bought judges and intimidated safety regulators into looking the other way so that profits (and his salary) could be maximized as much as possible. Of course, regard for his employees was thrown to the wayside in the process.

Even after this terrible tragedy, the Washington Independent shows that Blankenship's cruelty knows no bounds:

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.

“They told my husband, ‘You’ve got a job to do and you’re gonna do it,’” said the wife of one Massey miner, referring to the funerals he’s missed this month for friends who died in the blast. “What else are we gonna do?”

The threat of losing their jobs has been effective in keeping mouths shut and leaked information to a minimum. The problem is that Massey is king in West Virginia and the state has few economic opportunities other than mining that dirty black fuel out of the Earth. Since Massey's objective is to exploit their (mostly non-union) workforce beyond the limit, it is up to the government to put Massey in line. In a just world, those responsible for the dead should be in jail and the company itself should be dealt with accordingly. Whether or not Massey should be broken up is not a question I have the answer to at the moment, but those that are better acquainted with the company should have a say in the matter.

What is most important in the short-term is that Blankenship and his culpable managers must be held liable for the deaths of their workers.