Statement by AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka on The West Virginia Mine Accident
April 06, 2010
The thoughts and prayers of America’s workers are with the families of those lost today at Performance Coal Company’s Upper Big Branch mine. We pray for the safe rescue of those still missing and for the safety of the courageous mine rescue team members.
As a third-generation coal miner, I know too well the dangers these brave men and women face every day as they work to provide for their families. Forty years after the passage of the Coal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1969, mine safety has improved, but mining remains a dangerous occupation. Unfortunately, it has taken tragedies and miners’ deaths to get safety improvements.
However, this incident isn’t just a matter of happenstance, but rather the inevitable result of a profit-driven system and reckless corporate conduct. Many mining companies have given too little attention to safety over the years and too much to the bottom line. Massey Mine, and its CEO, Don Blankenship, have been cited for over 450 safety violations in this mine. Massey paid over $1 million in fines in the past year alone – and has failed to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars more in fines that it is contesting.
Blankenship’s attitude towards workers is showcased in a memo addressing safety concerns in his mines. In the memo, he told his superintendents to put coal production first because, “[T]his memo is necessary only because we seem not to understand that the coal pays the bills.”
While we are all discussing and recognizing these important issues today, we must be mindful to address them every day until all working people can go to jobs in safety. Strict enforcement of regulations by the Mine Safety and Health Administration and the additional protections a union membership brings are key factors to improving worker safety, and we will work to achieve that goal. In the meantime, let’s continue to pray for the safety of the missing miners.