I am going to start today by asking for a little leeway in my post. You see my uncles and cousins have been and are coal miners in West Virginia. To keep my father out of the mines his mother moved the entire family to Michigan when he was an early teen. So when we talk about the (probably) criminal acts of the Massey Energy company I tend to be a little less than objective.
Let’s lay out the facts, shall we? Massey was known for its obsessive focus on production above all else. This obsession came directly from the CEO, Don Blankenship. After he managed to break the union at the Upper Big Branch (UBB) mine he immediately increased the production quota’s by 70% and moved from three 8 hour shifts to two 12 hour ones.
The saying around the mine about workers was “A man is like a tool. If it gets bent or broken, get rid of it and get a new one”. That is the kind of depraved disregard for workers that is the hall mark of mine run by Don Blankenship.
It is not even close to an isolated incident. Blankenship, who had no background in mining, but was a finance and accounting trained guy, was also the one that wrote the now infamous memo in 1995 saying:
If any of you have been asked by your group presidents, your supervisors, engineers, or anyone else to do anything other than run coal (i.e. build overcasts, do construction jobs, or whatever) you need to ignore them and run coal.”
Overcasts are a safety measure that keeps air flowing correctly in the mines to avoid the build up of methane and coal dust. Both of these contaminates are highly combustible and are major hazards of coal mining. Basically Blankenship was telling his mine managers that they should ignore the safety recommendations of his engineers and just “run coal”.
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