WHEELING, WV, February 11, 2013 /24-7PressRelease/
-- On July 27, 2012, a monument in Raleigh County, West Virginia, was dedicated to the twenty-nine coal miners who lost their lives in the Massey Energy catastrophe at Upper Big Branch. Everyone who attends the dedication can expect to hear florid speeches from corporate and political leaders. More than any other single statement, the people in attendance will hear: "this won't happen ever again."
But the question for West Virginians, and for coal miners nationwide and worldwide, is not whether leadership is prepared to make promises standing in front of monuments after a disaster. We can count on that because, as the late Senator Robert Byrd put it, we "have seen this all before." The real question for West Virginians is whether those who hold the levers of power in corporate boardrooms, in Charleston and in Washington, DC, will follow through on those promises.
For well over one hundred years, workplace disasters, including coal mining explosions and deaths, have been a staple of life in West Virginia. From the Monongah Mine disaster in 1907 to Buffalo Creek to the Willow Island construction disaster, to Farmington and the No. 9 Mine, to the Sago and Upper Big Branch catastrophes, there has been steady drumbeat of preventable deaths. These events have come to West Virginia and its workers more often, and more dramatically, than perhaps any other state.
Leadership has never failed, in the aftermath of any of these disasters, to promise to do better. Corporate and political leadership has never failed to say "never again" over the graves of brave and honorable men and women killed by the consistent laxity of corporate decision makers when it comes to worker safety. But time and time again, when the moment arrived to take strong action in the legislature and in the executive offices of workplace safety regulators and in company boardrooms, the willpower so easily sworn to at ceremonies and press conferences has failed. Sometimes, even over the very graves of the miners, politicians have insinuated that there is no life in West Virginia unless coal executives get their way.
Year after year, behind closed doors, at the behest of lobbyists for coal mining companies, utility companies and other powerful corporate interests, the promised safety regulations are watered down or tied up in committees. Even as leaders were speaking in Raleigh County, the GOP was seeking to kill black lung benefits for coal miners stricken with that dreadful disease. Time and time again, legal rules that declare that the company shall do x, y or z are changed to say "should" or "may" and the company is given "discretion" as to whether or not to employ the best practice or the advanced safety gear, or instead to go on with what are invariably called "traditional" methods. So the cycle repeats itself without an apparent end.
The executives and regulators that promised Friday that they will "run right" before the crowds of families and media in Raleigh County will tomorrow and the next day meet in the halls of the Capitol and elsewhere, and once again, the priority of coal production at the highest rates possible, whatever the cost, will reassert itself. Men like Don Blankenship will ride golden parachutes to the good life on the money they made running quick and dirty at the expense of human lives. The rules, such as they are, will be weakened, unenforced or simply disregarded and the lives of brave men and women working underground will be left to the cruelty of chance -- taking escalating risks that become certainties, including disease, injury and death. Another Buffalo Creek. Another Farmington. Another Sago. Another Upper Big Branch.
It perhaps defies belief, but one candidate for governor of West Virginia has the nerve to say "never again," while simultaneously opposing reasonable regulations in the coal mines and other industries as "job-killers." Candidate Maloney's statements are here
. Candidate Maloney should know that the death in the coal mines is real death - not death used to score cheap political or rhetorical points. How many working men and women need to be actually killed on the job in West Virginia before this sickening metaphor ("job-killing") is abandoned?
Indeed, the day of the Upper Big Branch Memorial's dedication, a Boone County miner was crushed to death on the job. The Book of Matthew tells us that we "know not the day nor the hour," but we know what will be said of what happened to this young man, Johnny Mack Bryant II, at Fork Creek: "never again." As the late Senator Byrd put it:
"First the disaster, then the weeping, then the outrage, and we are all too familiar with what comes next. After a few weeks, when the cameras are gone, when the ink on the editorials have dried, everything returns to business as usual. The health and the safety of America's coal mines, the men and the women upon whom the nation depends so much, is once again forgotten until... the next disaster."
God bless the honored dead at Upper Big Branch, and God help us if we do not do better for those who come after them.
To learn more about Bordas and Bordas, visit our website at www.bordaslaw.com
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