coal mining, corporate culture, corporate greed, corporate profits, dangerous working conditions, DOJ, Don Blakenship, energy, FBI, greed, Massey Energy, mine safety, mining, MSHA, safety crimes as business strategy, safety inspections, safety violations, Southern District of West Virginia DOJ, UBB, Upper Big Branch, Upper Big Branch Explosion, US department of labor, West Virginia, worker safety, workplace safety crime
“The jury’s verdict sends a clear and powerful message: It doesn’t matter who you are, how rich you are, or how powerful you are – if you gamble with the safety of the people who work for you, you will be held accountable… ‘The evidence overwhelmingly showed an enterprise that embraced safety crimes as a business strategy. It was reprehensible, and the jury saw it for what it was. Time and time again the defendant chose to put profits over safety. He got rich and the coal miners who worked for him paid the price,’ said Goodwin. ‘This is the first time that I am aware of that the chief executive officer of a major corporation has been convicted of a workplace safety crime. It is my hope that this case will make a difference throughout this country, and make the places where working men and women spend their days a little bit safer. Everyone deserves to go home to their families and friends when their shift is over.” U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin (See Press Release further below)
From “Upper Big Branch The April 5, 2010, explosion: a failure of basic coal mine safety practices Report to the Governor Governor’s Independent Investigation Panel By J. Davitt McAteer et. al.: “Gina Jones said her husband, Dean, the section foreman, ‘would come home practically every day telling me he had no air…’8 Mrs. Jones said when she asked her husband if he told his bosses about the problem, he replied that he had talked about it with mine superintendents Everett Hager and Gary May, as well as with Blanchard. ‘He told Chris Blanchard, you know, a dozen times that I know of,’ Mrs. Jones said. She said her husband told her Blanchard would come up to the section for a short period of time and then leave.9 For about six months leading up to the explosion, Dean Jones came home so exhausted, ‘I’d look over at the dinner table and he would be asleep,’ Mrs. Jones said.10 At one point her husband told her he shut down the section for lack of air, and ‘Chris Blanchard called the dispatcher and told him to tell Dean if he didn’t get the section running in so many minutes he would be fired,’ she said. Being fired was a scary prospect for a man whose 14-year-old son had a serious illness. “Chris
… laws and regulations are effective only if they are respected by companies and enforced with diligence by regulators. ‘The Upper Big Branch disaster laid bare the loopholes that riddle our mine safety laws. These loopholes allowed dubious mine operators like Massey Energy to violate mine safety rules repeatedly with impunity,” said U.S. Rep. George Miller (D-CA), the senior Democrat on the House Education and Workforce Committee.5 Ultimately, the responsibility for the explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine lies with the management of Massey Energy. The company broke faith with its workers by frequently and knowingly violating the law and blatantly disregarding known safety practices while creating a public perception that its operations exceeded industry safety standards. The story of Upper Big Branch is a cautionary tale of hubris. A company that was a towering presence in the Appalachian coalfields operated its mines in a profoundly reckless manner, and 29 coal miners paid with their lives for the corporate risk-taking. The April 5, 2010, explosion was not something that happened out of the blue, an event that could not have been anticipated or prevented. It was, to the contrary, a completely predictable result for a company that ignored basic safety standards…
[Photos from pp. 27 and 46 of the document]
In the appendix is found an almost 100 year old document which remains all too relevant today. This is the reason transparency is so important:
From “Upper Big Branch The April 5, 2010, explosion: a failure of basic coal mine safety practices Report to the Governor Governor’s Independent Investigation Panel By J. Davitt McAteer and associates Katie Beall James A. Beck, Jr. Patrick C. McGinley Celeste Monforton Deborah C. Roberts Beth Spence Suzanne Weise.
May 2011. The entire document is here, via wikipedia: http://s3.documentcloud.org/documents/96334/upperbigbranchreport.pdf
Our post on the accident which includes excerpts from the report and some commentary is found here: https://miningawareness.wordpress.com/2013/12/12/upper-big-branch-mine-disaster-2010-29-died-on-easter-monday/ Top Photo “The footprint of a disaster” from p. 33 of the Upper Big Branch Report
From S. District of W. Va. DOJ:
“U.S. Attorneys » Southern District of West Virginia » News
Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Southern District of West Virginia
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thursday, December 3, 2015
Federal Jury Returns Guilty Verdict in Blankenship Trial
Former Massey CEO convicted of Federal conspiracy charge
CHARLESTON, W.Va. – United States Attorney Booth Goodwin announced today that a jury sitting in federal court in Charleston, West Virginia, has returned a guilty verdict following the trial of former Massey Energy Chief Executive Officer Don Blankenship. The jury found Blankenship guilty on a federal charge of conspiracy to willfully violate mine health and safety standards.
“This is a landmark day for the safety of coal miners, and not just coal miners, but all working men and women,” stated U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin. “The jury’s verdict sends a clear and powerful message: It doesn’t matter who you are, how rich you are, or how powerful you are – if you gamble with the safety of the people who work for you, you will be held accountable.”
Over the course of the trial, in which jury selection began on October 1, 2015, the jury heard evidence from 27 witnesses. Many of these witnesses were coal miners who worked at the Upper Big Branch (UBB) mine prior to the 2010 explosion, and they testified in detail from their firsthand knowledge of the unsafe working conditions at UBB, violations of U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) regulations, and organized efforts to obstruct and interfere with MSHA inspectors. The jury heard from Bill Ross, former Manager of Technical Services at Massey, who testified that he warned Blankenship about the company’s practice of rampant violations, and told the defendant prior to the UBB explosion that Massey’s standard tactic of ignoring or defrauding MSHA could not be sustained without the possibility of a serious accident that could have fatalities. The evidence also showed that Blankenship received daily updates on safety violations and helped perpetuate them.
“The evidence overwhelmingly showed an enterprise that embraced safety crimes as a business strategy. It was reprehensible, and the jury saw it for what it was. Time and time again the defendant chose to put profits over safety. He got rich and the coal miners who worked for him paid the price,” said Goodwin. “This is the first time that I am aware of that the chief executive officer of a major corporation has been convicted of a workplace safety crime. It is my hope that this case will make a difference throughout this country, and make the places where working men and women spend their days a little bit safer. Everyone deserves to go home to their families and friends when their shift is over.”
Blankenship faces up to one year in federal prison, and a fine of up to twice the gain or loss that resulted from his conduct, when he is sentenced on March 23, 2016, in federal court in Charleston.
The prosecution was the result of a comprehensive investigation that took over five years to complete. Blankenship’s conviction is the fifth criminal conviction credited to this investigation. In addition to the convictions of individuals, the results of the investigation also include a resolution of over $200 million with Alpha Natural Resources after it acquired Massey. This agreement established a foundation dedicated to mine safety and health research, the first of its kind, and set aside nearly $50 million in funding for the foundation. That funding has provided the resources for some of the best and brightest minds in the country to pursue research that will make mines safer all over the world.
This matter was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the United States Department of Labor’s Office of Inspector General. United States Attorney Booth Goodwin and Assistant United States Attorneys Steven R. Ruby, Gregory McVey, and Gabriele Wohl handled the prosecution and tried the case before a federal jury.
The prosecution is part of a sustained effort by the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of West Virginia to protect the health and safety of West Virginia workers by vigorously prosecuting workplace safety crimes and holding accountable those responsible for dangerous working conditions.
USAO – West Virginia, Southern
Updated December 3, 2015” http://www.justice.gov/usao-sdwv/pr/federal-jury-returns-guilty-verdict-blankenship-trial
Emphasis our own throughout.