AFL-CIO rips company that owns site of deadly mine blast

One of the largest labor groups in the country Tuesday tore into the company that owns the West Virginia mine where an explosion killed 25 workers.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka issued a stinging statement just one day after the explosion, pinning the blame on Massey Energy Company, which owns the Upper Big Branch Mine, site of the worst mining disaster in over 20 years.

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"This incident isn’t just a matter of happenstance, but rather the inevitable result of a profit-driven system and reckless corporate conduct," Trumka said. "Many mining companies have given too little attention to safety over the years and too much to the bottom line."

The AFL-CIO has long sparred with Massey, which does not use union workers. The United Mine Workers of America falls under the AFL-CIO's umbrella.

Investigators from congressional committees, as well as the federal government, have been dispatched to the mine, which will likely bring up questions about the adequacy of the country's mining laws. 

Trumka said that mine safety has improved since the passage of the Coal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1969, but "mining remains a dangerous occupation." He added that "strict enforcement of regulations by the Mine Safety and Health Administration and the additional protections a union membership brings are key factors to improving worker safety."

The union chief, who was formerly president of United Mine Workers, said that the mine had been the subject of 450 safety violations and that the company has paid over $1 million in fines last year.

But Don Blankenship, CEO of Massey, said his company has one of the best safety records in the industry.

"Our top priority is the safety of our miners and the well-being of their families...We are working diligently on rescue efforts and continue to partner with all of the appropriate agencies."

Trumka dedicated part of his statement to offer prayers to the families of the blast victims.

"The thoughts and prayers of America’s workers are with the families of those lost today at Performance Coal Company’s Upper Big Branch mine," he said. "We pray for the safe rescue of those still missing and for the safety of the courageous mine rescue team members."

Cross-posted to the E-2 Wire