The Case Against Massey Builds

When the story of the mine collapse Tragedy in West Virginia was breaking I was reluctant to start pointing fingers out of the gate and start making ideological and political arguments climbing on the backs of the dead miners even given the initial and legitimate reportage of problems from all sources, blogospheric and media wide. But there comes a point where we have to look at what was behind the disaster that happened. And at this point it is pretty clear that Massey has been negligent with miner's lives when it comes to safety issues in the past:

After the worst coal mining disaster in at least 25 years, Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship is facing long-overdue scrutiny for his record of putting coal profits over fundamental safety and health concerns. Blankenship, a right-wing activist millionaire who sits on the boards of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Mining Association, used his company’s ties to the industry-dominated Bush administration to paper over Massey’s egregious environmental and health violations. Massey rewarded Republicans with massive donations after the company avoided paying billions in fines for a 2000 coal slurry disaster in Martin County, three times bigger than the Exxon Valdez. After both mine inspectors and Massey employees got the same message that it was more important to “run coal” than to follow safety rules, a deadly fire broke out in the Aracoma Alma mine in 2006, burning two men alive

Blankenship was abetted by former employees placed at the highest levels of the federal mine safety system. Massey COO Stanley Suboleski was named a commissioner of the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission in 2003 and was nominated in December 2007 to run the Energy Department’s Office of Fossil Energy. Suboleski is now back on the Massey board. After being rejected twice by the Senate, one-time Massey executive Dick Stickler was put in charge of the MSHA in a recess appointment in October 2006. In the 1990s, Stickler oversaw Massey subsidiary Performance Coal, the operator of the deadly Upper Big Branch Mine, after managing Beth Energy mines, which “incurred injury rates double the national average.” Bush named Stickler acting secretary when the recess appointment expired in January 2008.

There is a lot of information to go by and a long history of violations and political gamesmanship by Don Blankenship, Massey and various trade groups and politicians that have supported these efforts to avoid doing the right thing when it comes to saving lives.

Below, Rachel Maddow takes a thoughtful look at the issue and reports that while mine safety officials are still investigating this tragic disaster "hope is minuscule" that any of the four unaccounted for miners are still alive and the miners were unable to speak out about the known problems ahead of time because of a fear of losing their jobs.

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I'll note that the interview of Jeff Goodell that Arron Barlow tipped us off to yesterday seems a little more prescient given the interview Maddow did last night. I'll also note that it is provably true that mine operators that have to deal with unions have workers that are more likely to walk out of a mine alive. From Meteor Blades who notes that while 27% of mines are unionized and do account for about an equal amount of injuries, no one can discount the fact that mining is a dangerous  job, only about 20% of miners died in unionized mines:

It isn't a matter a matter of speculation. If you're an underground coal miner, your chances of emerging alive at the end of your shift are better if you work in a union mine than if you don't.

A report from the March 28, 2007, hearing on Protecting the Health and Safety of America's Mine Workers released by the House Committee on Education and Labor contains the following statistics for the five-year period of 2002-2006:

Underground coal injuries: 19,282

In union mines: 5,362 (or 27.8% of total)

Underground coal fatalities: 109

In union mines: 22 (or 20.2%)

According to the United Mine Workers of America, in 2007-2009, there were 45 underground coal-mining fatalities. Six of these were in union mines. Thus, for the 15-year period, less than one-fifth of the fatalities occurred in union mines.

Just to be clear about the inherent dangers in mining, this is not an issue that is strictly isolated to coal mining or mining in general but is an across the board employment problem in the United States that can and should be dealt with by government and regulators:

Sixteen workers are killed a day in the United States because of reckless negligence on the part of their employers. Under existing laws, these employers get a slap on the wrist, or walk away scot-free. Meanwhile, workers who blow the whistle face threats and retaliation at the workplace.

Sign the petition:

When you factor in the additional benefits of a company or corporation working an employee to death in order to collect Dead Peasants insurance the fines and penalties in place for safety violations and hazards are truly pathetic.

Previously at ePluribus Media:


What Class War, Peasants?

When Dead Peasants =
Profits for their Employers:

By Dave Fehling


Big corporations, including banks and convenience store chains in Houston, have taken out life insurance policies on their employees and received hundreds of thousands of dollars when a worker died.

The policies have become known as "dead peasant" policies, because they are taken out on low-level employees.

"It is a profit center for their business," said Scott Clearman, a Houston lawyer who has represented the families of local convenience store clerks killed on the job.

You would think it would be illegal for anyone to take out an insurance policy on your life without you knowing about it. MSN Money has previously reported on this, as well:

Does your boss want you dead?

'Dead peasants' insurance pays your employer a secret, tax-free windfall when you die. Insurers have sold millions of policies to companies such as Dow Chemical.
By Liz Pulliam Weston

Right now, your company could have a life insurance policy on you that
you know nothing about. When you die -- perhaps years after you leave your employer -- the tax-free proceeds from this policy wouldnt go to your family. The money would go to the company.

Whats more, the company might use this policy to pay for retirement benefits and other perks not for you or your fellow workers, but for your companys top executives.

A company hires you and throws you into dangerous working conditions - just imagine some of the toxic stuff Dow Chemical employees would work with, for example - and then gives you crappy health insurance that you can not afford to use because of back breaking co-pays and denials of services from the for-profit-insurer anyways... And then works you to death to collect insurance on your life.

I can't see there being any possible conflicts of interests and ethical issues here, can you?

As a side note: If this were a real person scammming the system like this can imagine what the courts might be looking at charging them with? I am sure they would find something...


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