They work the Black Seam

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Early yesterday, a coal mine in Huntington, Utah collapsed trapping six miners. Admittedly there wasn’t much news coming out at first. However as the situation rapidly deteriorated because that ‘window of opportunity’ for swift resolution was vanishing, more news filtered out and information turned up regarding the company, its safety records, its workplace violations. This story on Yahoo was disheartening enough if not for the headline alone, ‘Efforts to reach 6 Utah miners failing, and became even more so when I spotted this tiny paragraph in the middle of the article:

Relatives of the miners waited for news at a nearby senior center. Many of the family members don’t speak English, so Huntington Mayor Hilary Gordon hugged them, put her hands over her heart and then clasped them together to let them know she was praying for them, she said.

Many of the family members don’t speak English!

Then I ran across this in SLC’s Deseret News (SLC’s newspaper):

The men’s identities have not been released, although officials said there were four Hispanic workers and two Caucasian employees of varying ages.

Now – why that information, specifically? Why the distinction?

There’s an article at the WSWS written by Jerry White that relates a story of the owner of this particular mine in Huntington, Utah. There’s also a couple of paragraphs towards the end of the article about safety violations, fines, and how the production of coal has increased in proprotoin to the

“Bush administration’s energy policy, which has provided tax incentives and other subsidies to increase output. In order to extract more coal, operators have hired inexperienced miners, reopened long-shut mines and sought to extract coal in more dangerous areas. Meanwhile, the Bush administration, which has staffed the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration with former mine bosses, has lifted safety regulations and done little to enforce the laws presently on the books.”

Therein may be a clue as to the distinction made of the miners earlier. It’s also reported that the owner of the mine took advantage of his close ties to Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who is married to Elaine Chao – Labor Secretary – and as such, “oversees mine safety.” Mr. McConnell has received large contributions for his campaigns from the owner of the Huntington mine.

In a nutshell: Crandall Canyon is operated by Murray Energy Corp., a privately owned coal producer based in Pepper Pike, Ohio, outside Cleveland. The mine is part of Murray’s Genwal mine complex, which produced 604,975 tons of soft coal last year, according to the mine safety administration.

“According to a news report in the Lexington, Kentucky Herald-Leader, in September 2002 Murray used his close relations with Senator Mitch McConnell to chase off MSHA inspectors who were confronting him over safety violations at his mines……

The newspaper recounted, “Shouting at a table full of MSHA officials at their district office in Morgantown, W.Va., Murray said, ‘Mitch McConnell calls me one of the five finest men in America, and the last I checked, he was sleeping with your boss,’ according to notes of the meeting. ‘They,’ Murray added, pointing at two MSHA men, ‘are gone.’” One of the federal safety inspectors was then transferred to another region, away from Murray’s mines, the newspaper reported.

Great…..what’s in store for these miners? Lots of layers to this one.

The United Mine Workers of America is critical of the Crandall Canyon operation, which employs non-union miners.” (SL-Tribune)

As a reminder: Tonight is the AFL-CIO Presidential Candidates Forum in Chicago, hosted by Keith Olbermann. There’s an invitation to send in questions via email regarding those issues that affect the American worker. Workplace safety – without a doubt in this case – is surely worth inquiry.

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