Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Faces of Coal

Joel Richards III

L. Patrick Hassey

William J. Crowley Jr.

E. Linn Draper, Jr.

Glenn A. Eisenberg

Deborah M. Fretz

P. Michael. Giftos

Angelo C. Brisimitzakis

Kevin Crutchfield
These people make up the board of directors at Alpha Natural Resources. There images are linked from their bios. Click them to find out more about each individual.

I look a them and I wonder to myself, what has their lives been like? Have they worked in the coal mines? Have they put up roof bolts, hung miner cables, or dragged ventilation curtains through the mud? Have they lived near one of their coal mines and listened to the mine fan night after night, or had to deal with coal trucks hauling by their homes with all of the dust and mud? Did they watch as a loved one fought to pull a breath into blackened lungs, or watched them suffer in pain from an injured back?

I look at these people and I wonder if they care about the lives of the people who mine their coal. Would they show up at the funeral of a miner who is killed in their mines? Would they give the family money out of their own pockets to help them with their loss? Would their wives cook something and take it to the family, offering to stay and comfort them through their first days alone?

What value do they place in the people of Appalachia where their fortunes are made? Have they set foot in the woods in search for morel mushrooms in the spring or ginseng in the fall? Have they sat on the banks of the rivers with a line in the water, talking about days past waiting for a catfish to run? 

I remember the faces of my friends, covered in black coal dust--their bodies wearing out. I remember their smiles as they talked about their families. I remember the days of mandatory overtime that wore them down. I remember the many mornings when we all struggled to make it and the afternoons when only the thoughts of home were enough to keep us going.

I wonder if the people pictured above know their miners like I did, if they care about their families and would put money in the bit buckets passed around when someone was in need.

I wonder if they knew David Brummite--if they knew how hard he worked for them and how much he loved his family. I wonder if some of the first things that crossed their minds was "Whose fault was it?" or "Has media relations done a good job at protecting the image of our company?" I wonder if they even knew when it happened, or if it just came across in some casual conversation about business and stock prices.

I wonder if the people of Appalachia know who they are fighting for when they fight for coal....

Sunday, March 1, 2015

If Coal Companies Had to Show What They Pay Miners For

There are many jobs out there that require similar skill levels in machine operation and production output as coal mining. What makes coal mining different is the danger and long term health issues posed to coal miners. Let's face it, if coal companies paid the same rates as factory jobs of the same skill levels, no one would work in the coal mines. There has to be some incentive to work in a coal mine, but is it an actual incentive?

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Count on Coal!

Count on Coal now has over 317,000 likes on their Facebook page. The articles they share are typically opinion articles not based on actual facts. All their rhetoric points towards increasing electrical prices and the impending job losses due to the economic difficulties businesses will face from higher energy prices. They  even point out the possible death tolls of individuals who cannot pay their power bills and will suffer from exposure to cold temps or heat waves.

But who is Count on Coal? If you do a little digging you will find that it is the National Mining Association, the lobbying and public relations outfit for mining companies in the US, many of which are coal companies. They are the lobbyists that everyone says we need to get out of Washington. They help politicians by contributing to their campaign funds and running ads to scare people into supporting their agenda.

People are foolish to believe that the NMA is out to better the life of coal miners and the rest of the working class. They are there to increase profits, pure and simple. But sadly, there are over 317,000 people who now "like" them, many of which are the same people who suffer when the NMA lobbies against safety legislation that would cost their members production and profit, but would save a few lives of coal miners in the process. 

To put a finer point on how the NMA sees the people of Appalachia, lets recall when the legal firm representing the National Mining Association attempted to blame health issues in Appalachia on inbreeding.

Just remember, when you think you're supporting coal miners and their families, when you think you are supporting the people who help everyone by giving us jobs, remember this one important fact, it's never about the people, it's about the profits.

Monday, February 16, 2015

To Hell with Friends of Coal

I've long preached that the Friends of Coal is a coal industry organization created by associations of coal companies such as the West Virginia Coal Association and the Kentucky Coal Association. These organizations are not about helping miners, they are about helping themselves to higher profits with little regard to the health and safety of coal miners and their families. Case in point...

This from from the West Virginia Coal Association website:

West Virginia Coal Association and Friends of Coal Thank the State Senate for Passing the Coal Jobs and Safety Act of 2015

Within the Coal Jobs and Safety Act of 2015....

§22A-2A-301. The West Virginia Diesel Equipment Commission abolished; transfer of duties and responsibilities; transfer of equipment and records; continuation of prior approvals of diesel equipment for use in underground coal mines; continuation of rules of the commission.

(a) The West Virginia Diesel Equipment Commission is hereby abolished. All duties and responsibilities heretofore imposed upon the commission are hereby imposed upon the Director of the Office of Miners’ Health, Safety and Training.

This means that the director of the Office of Miners' Health, Safety and Training will have all the say in what is allowed for diesel equipment underground. It removes the democratic process allowing a COMMISSION OF PEOPLE  to weigh in on whether or not some actions and regulations are harmful to the health of miners with regard to the use of diesel powered equipment in underground mines. If this bill passes as is, one person...the director of the Office of Miners' Health, Safety and Training will have all the power of regulating diesel equipment. Who hires the director? Who is their superior, i.e. who do they answer to? Is it by any chance the same politicians who receive their campaign funds from coal company associations?

Okay so why is this bad for coal miners?

From the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health's website entitled "Mining Topic - Diesel Exhaust"

What is the health and safety problem?

Exposure to elevated diesel exhaust concentrations has been linked to negative health effects such as eye and nose irritation, headaches, nausea, and asthma. Diesel particulate matter (DPM) has been classified as a possible carcinogen by both the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Diesel engines are a major contributor to elevated concentrations of carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, oxides of nitrogen, and hydrocarbons in underground coal and metal/nonmetal mines.

What is the extent of the problem?

Currently, underground miners can be exposed to more than 100 times the typical environmental concentration of diesel exhaust and more than 10 times what might be found in other workplaces. As mines add more and more pieces of diesel equipment the potential overexposure becomes an even greater risk.

A few years ago I wrote about this very subject in my article "A Coal Miner's Health: Short Term Gains and Long Term Loss"

While the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration and various state mining agencies have put various laws regarding diesel equipment in place, miners are left to wonder if it will be enough. “NIOSH cannot definitely determine that current diesel regulations will result in the elimination of all diesel health concerns,” stated Ed Blosser, Public Affairs Officer for NIOSH. “The reason for this uncertainty is that there is still incomplete information concerning the level of exposure to diesel emissions that may cause health effects.”

So let's assemble the pieces here. Diesel exhaust may cause lung cancer over long periods of time. There's not been enough research to establish that diesel exhaust will NOT cause cancer. Coal companies prefer diesel equipment because it is cheaper than hiring people to put down track and is cheaper than buying rail and trolly wire. Two diesel mechanics can replace several electricians and underground track crews. The fewer diesel regulations there are, the more companies can use cheaper-to-maintain diesel equipment. The more they can use cheaper-to-maintain diesel equipment, the more profit they can make. The more profit they make, the more they will pay coal miners and create jobs...oh wait, I'm sorry, I meant to say, the more they will give to their stockholders and company executives and the more money they'll have to create advertising campaigns to convince us all that mining is safe. And we might as well throw in more money to fund lawyers, lobbyists, and political campaigns that will continue eroding miner's safety to achieve higher profits. 

No easy way to say this people, if you are in the business of supporting Friends of Coal or other coal company organizations, you are ensuring that the next generation of coal miners will work in unsafe conditions. Is it really worth it? Really? 

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Remembering Sago

Yesterday marked the 9th Anniversary of the Sago Disaster, an explosion that ripped through ICG’s Sago Mine near Sago, West Virginia.

On this day nine years ago, thirteen men sat in the best barricade they could build, enduring...hoping. They had used their single hour of oxygen from the only Self Contained Self Rescuer issued to them by the company. Their families waited outside living through one of the most difficult times of their lives, praying to see their loved ones once again.
As time wore on, we would learn the ultimate fate of those men, those husbands, those fathers, those grandfathers, brothers, uncles, nephews. One was alive, barely holding on…the others had perished in the thick poisoned air of the mine.

The miners of Sago were like so many of us. They took one of the few jobs available to them, jobs that would allow them to live in the places they had long called home, jobs that would pay enough to support their families.

If only the company had given them more than one SCSR—if only there had been a law—but we know how much power money holds over the hearts of men.

It would be the suffering and tragic loss of life of those 12 brave souls—the pain of constant loss felt by their families—that would finally see to it that every coal miner in the United States would never face the same crisis. Millions of Americans became outraged at the events that played out on their televisions, and the ensuing public outcry would accomplish a feat that has seldom been accomplished in the history of US coal mining—the power of coal industry lobbyists was outweighed by the voice of the public in the halls of government. Laws were passed and now additional SCSRs must be purchased by coal companies, underground safe havens must be built and supply miners with three day of oxygen, food, and water.

Each time my crew passed a safe haven and SCSR stash on our way to the section, I would think of those men, I would think of their final hours. I would pay my respects to them in my own way and wish that the corruption of the coalfields had not taken their lives. I hope that other miners do the same, especially on this day and tomorrow, the day the miners of Sago perished and the hearts of their families were forever broken.

May you all rest in peace. God Bless.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Remember this Christmas

Today, there are many homes throughout the coalfields that feel empty, where the smile of a missing loved one no longer fills the hearts of their family, where their laughter, their touch can no longer bring joy to those they worked so hard for and gave so much love.

 Remember those who were taken from us far to early. May our prayers be with their families as they continue to cope with such terrible loss.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

National Miner's Day

Ludlow, Colorado Union Tent Camp
Today, coal companies across the nation are "honoring" coal miners. Alpha Natural Resources put up an image of three women coal miners on their Facebook page supporting National Miner's Day. I posted the following comment which sums up how I feel about coal companies and National Miner's Day...

"If they cared about their coal miners, they'd be giving them guaranteed pensions, 40 hour work weeks, wouldn't hire subcontractors who are paid $15 an hour to work underground without benefits. If they cared about miners, they would sign a contract with their workers guaranteeing their jobs so their miners can say, "That's unsafe, I'm not running that piece of equipment or going in that face until it's made safe" without having to worry about getting "let go" on down the road for something the company makes up, or for no reason at all under the right to work laws they lobbied for.

If they cared about their miners, when bad storms come through the area, they would shut the mines down just as soon as it began affecting the ability of an ambulance or med flight to get a miner to the hospital if they get seriously injured. Like they didn't do in Dickenson County December 18, 2009.

No, they like to show that they "support" their coal miners, but it's only show. Ask miners who get hurt in the mines why the company sends a safety officer to the hospital with them. Ask why they push to have the miner take a drug test before anything else, why they try to convince the doctor to use glue instead of stitches so they don't have to report a more serious accident to MSHA.

It's one thing to use and abuse their coal miners for their own benefit, but it's a wholly different thing to turn around and act like they give a damn about them when all the evidence points to what they care about most...profit. Nothing has changed in the last 100 years, only that coal companies have learned how to do some great media and public relations work and the people of Appalachia have become desperate enough to listen to it and clamber over one another for high wages and terrible long term benefits.

The counties where they operate are the poorest in their states and some of the poorest counties in the nation. If they are such wonderful benefactors to the communities, why are we amongst the poorest, unhealthiest people in the US?"

Over the past semester, I have been putting together a website as a final project for my Defining Appalachia class dealing with a contemporary Appalachian issues. Naturally, I went for something that is near and dear to my heart. Coal culture. I can't tell you how deeply saddened I am to see what our coal mining "heritage" has become. I've alluded to it before in previous posts such as "Present Day Coal Mining: Dishonoring Our Heritage", but having done this project, I find myself deeply depressed by what the coal industry has turned our heritage into.

Coal miners were some of the best people you could ever know. They were True Appalachians as I mentioned in the post. But what has become of them? What happened to those who cared so much for other people that they stood up and sacrificed their paychecks to do something right?

Coal mining used to be more than just producing coal-it was about fighting injustice in the face of the exploitative companies driven by first world greed. The lessons of justice came from our parents who fought back. I would not be who I am today if it wasn't for being raised in a union family, by parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins who all fought for justice and fair treatment when the nation and it's lust for cheap energy and steel threatened the kind and generous people of Appalachia.

Coal miners were more than just people who kept the lights on, they defended the rights of the working people. Now so many of them are fighting for themselves and only themselves to protect their jobs, they are listening and doing what the coal companies tell them to do, voting for who the companies tell them to vote for. Even the United Mine Workers leadership has been corrupted and does little to fight for the working people.

Today, I honor the miners who fought, who sacrificed, who shed their blood doing what was right for everyone, not just themselves. Today I honor the over 100,000 coal miners killed in this nation's mines, whose lives were needlessly ended in the unsafe and torturous rigors of a coal industry bent on higher profits, people whose sacrifices fulfilled the needs of a nation built on a lust for power, wealth, convenience, and comfort. Today I honor the families who nearly starved in the tent camps of Matewan, WV, and Ludlow, CO, people who seem to have been forgotten by most of today's coal miners. I honor the the many union families who suffered and gave so much to set the standards for today's "safer" working conditions and higher wages.

Today I honor to true miners of the world, not the pro-coal company coal miners who, by supporting the coal companies and coal politicians, prove their morals are no different than the wealthy people who are damning our future generations into continued poor health and poverty.