These workers did not have to die. Accidents happen, but they shouldn’t be as frequent and they don’t have to be fatal. Better safety precautions in the mine could have been achieved had the workers had a voice – a union. This crucial point was echoed yesterday morning when Matt Lauer interviewed John Bennett, whose father James was killed in the mine accident, on the Today Show.Note that Bennett says "we need to get the United Mine Workers back in these coal mines."
Bennett told Lauer that he repeatedly pleaded with his father to quit working in the mine because of the pervasive dangers his father frequently recounted to him. Lauer asked Mr. Bennett what questions he would like to ask of the mine operators. “It’s not just the men that go down there every day that know the mines is unsafe…we have no protection for our workers. We need to get the United Mine Workers back in these coal mines, to protect [against] these safety violations, to protect these workers.” Lauer then asked Bennett “You feel as if the miners speak out they are at risk of losing their jobs?” “Yeah” Bennett answered.
Turns out that the Sago mine was once represented by the United Mineworkers when it was owned by Pittston Coal. But when the Anker Group bought the mine from Pittston, the UMW lost its representation rights. According to UMW attorneys, when UMW mines are depleted or permanently closed and the bargaining unit members are laid off, the coal company that had the agreement with the union sometimes sells the remaining coal reserves to a new company which then develops a new mine on the property.
The courts, which are more concerned with protecting the companies' ability to trade capital unencumbered by labor costs than with the miners' ability to enforce their contractual employment rights, have determined that in some cases, when the new company reenters the old mine portals, the UMWA's representational rights can be lost if the new company does not mine in what the courts characterize as the pre-existing union "operation".
Anker established the Sago Mine on the property and accessed the coal through a new mining portal, and the UMW members, who had been laid off, did not have recall rights. The Anker Group sold the mine last year to its current owner, International Coal Group.
Crystal clear? Makes sense?
Not if you're a miner hoping to make it out of the mine alive every day.
Year MonthWeek In the Mines
- Flaming Mice, Exploding Mines and Dirty Rats
- Sago Mine Explosion: Just The Facts, Maam
- Bush Administration Dropped Mine Rescue Improvement Regulation in 2002
- Are Sago Families The Latest Victims of Bush Administration's Public Affairs Policies?
- Disgusting Politicization
- The Press and The Truth At Sago
- MSHA To Mine Companies: Don't Worry, This Won't Hurt Any More Than A Speeding Ticket
- Mine Safety: Bush Administration to the Rescue?
- Mine Safety Watch Is Back
- Behind the Mine Disaster
- 13 Miners Trapped A Mile Underground Following Explosion