We Are All Brothers and Sisters in the Coalfields

We’re looking forward to a thorough investigation to find out exactly what happened so that families won’t have to ever go through this again.
–  Mike Kennedy, UMWA, Field Rep. District 17

As all of us know, on April 5th, 29 West Virginia coal miners died in an explosion in Upper Big Branch Mine.

At times like these we are all brothers and sisters in the coalfields. We suffer and grieve along with the families. And as we do, we cannot ignore the very troubling realities of what happened in that mine in the days and weeks leading up to the disaster. Nor can we ignore the grim statistics that are associated with Massey and the mines under its control.
– Cecil Roberts, UMWA, International President, 4/8/10

In an NPR report, Dennis O’Dell, health and safety director for the United Mine Workers, compares the safety inspection system to driving drunk, but without the threat of a suspended license.

“I can drive, drink, I get pulled over, contest it, drive, drink, get pulled over and contest it until eventually I kill somebody or kill myself,” he says. “And that’s what’s going on in the mining [industry]. And until we fix that, we’re going to continue [to have] those operators who ‘drive, drink and kill.’ “

Mike Kennedy notes, “It’s clear we need new laws and stricter enforcement so companies like Massey can’t avoid the requirements of the laws that are in place.” Adding, “just look at Don Blankenship’s track record, it’s the negligence of his company that brought on this tragedy. We hope an investigation will put an end to that.”

The mother of one of the miners was was killed, 25 year old Josh Napper told reporters that her son “knew what was going to happen.” Pam Napper said that her son was concerned about the safety at the mine and especially with its ventilation problems. He left a letter for his girlfriend and young daughter before he went to the mine for the last time April 5th. Cecil Roberts noted,

When young men go off to war, they write these kinds of letters, saying how much we love our mothers, our fathers, our wives and our kids. But in America, you’re not supposed to write that letter when you’re going off to work.

Our hearts and prayers go out to the miners who lost their lives in Upper Big Branch, WV as well as their families and communities during this time of intense heartache.

To hear more from our friend President Roberts’ moving speech at the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO Convention Tuesday, click here.

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