Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Mine Workers Union Will Represent Crandall Canyon Families

Mine Workers Union Will Represent Crandall Canyon Families
by Mike Hall, Aug 28, 2007

The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) refused a request from Crandall Canyon miners and their families that the Mine Workers (UMWA) represent them in the upcoming federal investigation into the Aug. 6 collapse that trapped and presumably killed six coal miners and the ensuing underground rescue attempt that cost the lives of three of the rescuers.
Mine Workers President Cecil Roberts says MSHA’s action is a ”travesty” and is ”outrageous.”
This action means that there will be no independent voice at the table in MSHA’s investigation, questioning the actions of both the company and the federal government in this disaster….These families should have the right to be full participants in this investigation, and they should be able to designate whoever they want to be their representatives.
The Murray Energy mine near Huntington, Utah, is a nonunion mine, but miners and their families are taking the same path that miners and their families at West Virginia’s Sago Mine did in 2006 when they sought UMWA’s help in investigating the explosion that killed 12 miners.
Federal regulations permit the UMWA to represent the miners at any mine, including nonunion mines, if two or more of them designate the union to represent them on safety issues.
Earlier, Bob Butero, a UMWA district representative, told the Salt Lake Tribune that Crandall Canyon miners sought the union’s help because they believed both the company and federal Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) officials were not keeping them informed or listening to their concerns.
They felt in this process there wasn’t a representative of the miners…they felt left out.
After the January 2006 Sago disaster, families turned to the UMWA, and following rallies, congressional hearings and investigations, they found answers about the blast and spearheaded the drive to pass new mine safety laws.
Utah mine co-owner Robert Murray has railed against the union on several occasions since the Aug. 6 collapse and has a long volatile history with the UMWA (click here for more). Before MSHA turned down the families’ request, Roberts said the UMWA was seeking to ensure that the Utah miners and survivors have a voice in the investigation.
We intend to be an objective participant in any upcoming investigations in order to help prevent the recurrence of this tragedy at any other mine in the United States, and to be a voice for the miners and their families. We have no further agenda in this matter.
While the federal law that allows the UMWA to take part in the probe at miners’ request only relates to the MSHA investigation, as in the aftermath in Sago, the union will play a large role in congressional investigations. A Senate panel already has scheduled a hearing next week and asked Roberts to testify; and the union is urging Congress to create an independent, bipartisan commission to investigate the causes of the Utah tragedy, examine the safety conditions at the mine and determine what role Murray Energy’s use of retreat mining—approved by MSHA—may have played.
Like families at Sago, Roberts says:
The Crandall Canyon families have questions that demand answers. Why was the mining plan at Crandall Canyon submitted by Murray Energy when the previous owners of that mine declined to mine the same way, saying there was a problem with “protection of personnel?” Why did MSHA approve it?
Yesterday, Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) and chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Education and Labor sent requests to Murray Energy and the U.S. Department of Labor for documents and communications relating to the operation of the Crandall Canyon Mine. Says Miller:
Gathering this information is the first step in an investigative effort to learn what went wrong at the Crandall Canyon Mine and what we must do to prevent such tragedies in the future. The families of the miners, the public, and miners who still work underground every day deserve a full accounting of the events that led up to and followed the collapse at Crandall Canyon Mine.
In related mining news, International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers’ Union (ICEM) reports recent mining disasters in China and Russia have claimed the lies of 340 coal miners.
In China’s Shandong Province, 181 Chinese coal miners died Aug. 17 when they were trapped inside two mines. ICEM says the disaster was the result of flash flood and negligence by the mining company that lead to a levee break on a nearby river. The 50-yard-wide gap allowed flood waters to pour into the adjacent mine. Nearly 600 miners did manage to escape.
In Russia’s Kemerovo and Vorkuta regions, 159 miners have died in the past three months in disasters that ICEM says
Is a clear indication of mining safety in the country is making miners’ hostages of profitability.
In two methane explosions, electrical short circuits sparked the blasts. ICEM reports there was deliberate tampering with methane detectors that then showed lower levels of the explosive gas than actually was present and bypassed an automatic shutdown of the electrical system, which would have prevented the explosion.

Families Of Trapped Miners Rebuffed By Mine Safety AgencyHuffington August 28, 2007 07:55 PM

The federal agency tasked with investigating the Utah mine collapse denied a request by the families of six trapped miners that the United Mine Workers represent them in the probe of the matter, the union said Monday.All six of the families had signed documents designating the union as their representative in the investigation, UMWA spokesman Phil Smith said. The Mine Safety and Health Administration told the union's attorneys on Monday that the agency would not heed the request.
"MSHA requires that miners sign these papers, but the miners in question were unable because the are trapped inside the mine," Smith said.
In a statement e-mailed to The Huffington Post, MSHA spokesman Dirk Fillpot defended the agency's actions, saying federal officials have spent "untold hours" briefing the families of the missing miners.
"We are disappointed that the UMWA is trying to use a law enforcement investigation for its own purposes," Fillpot said.
Six miners have been trapped underground since a large cave-in at the mine in the early hours of Aug. 6. Underground efforts to reach the miners have been suspended since a subsequent collapse killed three rescue workers on Aug 16.
In any accident investigation, miners have the legal right to designate the union as their representative during the probe, even if the miners are not union members. Crandall Canyon is not a union mine, and the UMWA does not represent workers there.
In the aftermath of the Sago tragedy in 2006, the owner of that mine sought to block the union's access to the site, even though a group of miners appointed the UMWA as their representative. MSHA attorneys obtained a court order that compelled the mine owner to allow union officials onto the property.
The distinction being drawn in the Crandall Canyon situation is that the miners' families -- rather than the miners themselves -- signed the documents requesting the union's participation.
"The Mine Safety and Health Act is clear on who can seek representation in these investigations," Fillpot said.
Despite MSHA's decision, Smith said the union would continue to take an active role in the Crandall Canyon probe.
"The families still want us to be their representatives as this investigation goes forward," Smith said.
He dismissed the notion that UMWA was attempting to unionize Crandall Canyon workers. Smith pointed out that the mine's owner, Bob Murray, has already announced that the mine would be permanently idled.
"That never was and never has been our goal there," Smith said.