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UMWA: Non-Union Miners 1/3 As Safe, 70% At UBB Wanted Union Vote

April 21, 2010

CHARLESTON, W. Va. - Fatal mine accidents like the one that killed 29 two weeks ago are much less likely at union mines. While 30 percent of coal miners are United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) members, union miners account for only ten percent of coal mine fatalities.

Phil Smith, UMWA communications director, cites safety provisions in their contracts – including job protection for miners who refuse unsafe work, and union members accompanying government inspectors – as some of the reasons for the two-thirds difference.

"Workers who work in union mines are statistically less likely to be involved in fatal accidents than workers who are in a non-union situation."

There also is mounting evidence that Massey Energy's fight with the UMWA could have figured into the conditions at Upper Big Branch. Smith says it was a union mine before Massey bought it, but the company ran what he calls "a difficult union-busting campaign," after which the UMWA lost a tie vote.

When Massey took over the mine, Smith says, seven out of ten miners there favored a union vote. He believes if the Employee Free Choice Act now being debated in Congress had been law, it would have been sufficient for the company to force recognition of the union.

"With over 70 percent signed up on cards, that would have more than met the tests of the Employee Free Choice Act, by a long shot."

More details are emerging about Massey's financial dealings as well. Ted Boettner, executive director of the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy, says over the last three years, the company was in the 35 percent tax bracket for federal corporate income taxes, but actually paid a little less than six percent.

"The high profits and low taxes paid by Massey Energy are difficult to reconcile with their inability to create a safe mine."

Massey did not return repeated calls for comment.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV