A seven-year study released on Wednesday reveals that nearly a decade after the September 11 attacks rescue workers still had issues breathing. The study was published in the New England Journal of Medicine and discovered that by 2008 issues that plagued workers immediately after inhaling the dust from 9-11 had decreased very little. The study included 91 percent of the workers who responded to the attacks.
CEO Of Deadly W. Virginia Mine Is A Union Buster With A History Of Both Safety And Toxic Environmental Citations – 04/08/09
By Doug Cunningham
Hotel workers in San Francisco are walking picket lines after nearly seven months without a new contract. Jesse Russell reports:
As mine rescue teams wait for more ventilation bore holes to be drilled into Massey Energy Co.’s methane gas-filled Upper Big Branch Mine , the company CEO claims that hundreds of mine safety law violations don’t mean the mine is unsafe. On Monday, 25 miners died in an explosion and four remain unaccounted for in the mine.
Massey CEO Donald Blankenship denies the mine was “improperly operated” and even boasts, “Our creativity on safety is second to none.” Mine safety experts and the families of the dead miners are incredulous—and outraged—over his safety claims.
In 2009, the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) proposed nearly $1 million in fines for more than 450 safety violations at the nonunion mine in Raleigh County, W.Va. Just last month, MSHA cited the mine for 57 safety violations that included repeatedly failing to develop and follow the ventilation plan.
Kevin Stricklin, MSHA’s administrator for coal mine safety, told the Charleston Gazette that Blankenship’s claims are impossible to believe.
We know it wasn’t operating safely, or we wouldn’t have had an explosion. It’s quite evident that something went very wrong here. All explosions are preventable. It’s just making sure you have things in place to keep one from occurring.
Tony Oppegard, a lawyer and mine safety advocate from Kentucky, told the Gazette:
Clearly, there were red flags here, and the safety record was not very enviable. And those types of citations really show a culture that is not committed to safety and not committed to protecting the miners who work there.
Between 2008 and 2009, safety violations at Upper Big Branch doubled, while coal production tripled—but the number of hours worked only increased by 22 percent, according to MSHA records. The mine was pushing out a high level of coal or ”running coal.” According to a 2005 memo from Blankenship to Massey mine superintendents:
If any of you have been asked by your group presidents, your supervisors, engineers or anyone else to do anything other than run coal…you need to ignore them and run coal.
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka says the memo “showcases” Blankenship’s attitude toward miners and safety.
[T]his incident isn’t just a matter of happenstance, but rather the inevitable result of a profit-driven system and reckless corporate conduct.
The company operates 44 underground and surface mines and controls 2.2 billion tons of coal reserves in West Virginia, Kentucky, Virginia and Tennessee.
This morning, Davit McAteer, who headed MSHA during the Clinton administration, told CNN’s “American Morning” that
some companies, and this appears to be one, take the approach that these violations are simply a cost of doing business—it’s cheaper for us to mine in an unsafe way or in a way that risks people’s lives than it is for us to comply with the statutes, comply with the laws.
Rep. Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.), whose district includes the Upper Big Branch Mine, says the Massey mine appears to be a ”bad apple,”
there’s no question about it, because of the history of violations; including as late as March 30 of this year….Most responsible mine operators want to do a better job. They want to prevent accidents. They do not want to cut corners. They do not want to shortchange a miner’s life in exchange for the bottom-line profit.
Last night, United Steelworkers President Leo W. Gerard told television host Ed Schultz:
I can absolutely say that if these miners were members of a union, they would have been able to refuse unsafe work…and would not have been subjected to that kind of atrocious conditions. In some places, like in Australia and Canada, this kind of negligence would result in criminal negligence [charges] being brought against the management and the CEO.
The New York Times reports when Blankenship attempted to address a crowd of miners’ relatives yesterday at the mine’s site, he was
[e]scorted by at least a dozen state and other police officers, according to several witnesses. Mr. Blankenship prepared to address the crowd, but people yelled at him for caring more about profits than miners’ lives…several people yelled at Mr. Blankenship that he was to blame before he was escorted from the scene.
For an in-depth look at Blankenship, take a look at Michael Whitney’s recent post on Firedoglake.
We all know the nation’s jobless rate—with more than 16 million U.S. workers unemployed—is really, really bad. In fact, overall unemployment increased by 4.7 percentage points from December 2007, when the recession began. Yet the situation is even worse for young workers, worsening by more than 7.4 points since the recession’s onset.
The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) released a report today on the severe economic difficulties facing young workers, who now account for 26.4 percent of unemployed workers, even though they make up 13.5 percent of the overall labor force.
As “The Kids Aren’t Alright” points out:
Young men have an unemployment rate 7.5 points higher than that of young women. Young black workers face an unemployment rate of 32.5 percent, compared with 15.2 percent for young white workers. Among young Hispanic workers, the unemployment rate has more than doubled since the recession began, from 11 percent in December 2007 to 24.2 percent in January 2010.
“The Kids Aren’t Alright“ also describes the unique challenges facing jobless young workers, those between the ages of 16 and 24. With no prior work history, many lack a safety net of personal savings and do not qualify for unemployment insurance. Workers under age 35 also have more debt, relative to assets, than any other age group.
They may be forced to take jobs at wages that do not match their skill levels. Past research has shown how such skill mismatches can lead to lower lifetime earnings for workers.
Speaking at a forum on labor last night at Georgetown University, AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler discussed the plight of young workers.
Young people are disenfranchised. They graduate and they have no jobs, let alone jobs with benefits.
In September, the AFL-CIO and Working America released a report on young workers that found only 31 percent say they make enough money to cover their bills and put some money aside—22 percentage points fewer than when we conducted a similar survey in 1999. “Young Workers: A Lost Decade” also found two in five young workers, those under age 35, have had to delay further education or professional development due to financial worries and more than one in three young workers are currently living at home with their parents.
Shuler described the AFL-CIO’s outreach effort among young workers, which includes a series of regional forums for young workers to express their concerns and share how the union movement can best connect with them. The forums are building toward an AFL-CIO National Youth Summit here in Washington, D.C., in June. Last night’s event, sponsored by the Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor, included a large audience of students and young workers interested in the labor movement—the tip of the iceberg of the next generation that the union movement needs to reach out to and find ways to connect with before they become the Lost Gen.
Tonight at 8 p.m. EST, you can watch a live webcast of AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka with an audience of students, academics and union activists at the Institute of Politics at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government.
During the online presentation, Trumka will share the frustration and anger of working people trying to survive in a fractured U.S. economy that is 11 million jobs in the hole. He also will talk about how the forces of hatred in this country are trying to convert justifiable anger about a failed economy into racist and homophobic hate and violence—and how they must be countered with a strong progressive tradition that includes working people in action, organizing unions and organizing to elect public officials committed to bold action to address economic suffering.
Trumka will discuss the AFL-CIO’s campaign to mobilize working families for change, such as the recent nationwide Good Jobs Now, Make Wall Street Pay rallies and our upcoming April 29 mobilization on Wall Street.
To view a live webcast of the speech, visit www.iop.harvard.edu.