Mineworkers likely left for dead by management

By David Hoskins, Washington, DC – FIST member
Officials of Murray Energy Corp., co-owner of the Crandall Canyon mine where six Utah miners have been trapped since Aug. 6, all but called for an end to efforts to rescue the miners. Vice-president Rob Moore stated on Aug. 19, “It’s likely these miners may not be found. … I can’t say with certainty we will be able to continue the underground efforts.” Moore’s comments follow the deaths of three rescue workers from a cave-in while tunneling underground. Six other rescue workers were injured in the incident.

The trapped miners’ families justifiably lashed out at the federal government and company officials. During a news conference Sonny Olsen, spokesperson for the families, read a prepared statement as 70 family members stood behind him. The statement read in part, “We feel that they’ve given up and that they are just waiting for the six miners to expire.”

Company officials have so far denied the family members’ demand that rescuers immediately begin drilling a 30-inch hole so that a rescue capsule could be lowered to save the miners. “We are here at the mercies of the officials in charge and their so-called experts. Precious time is being squandered here and we do not have time to spare,” said Olsen.

If the miners are left for dead, it will be the result of company greed to extract the last bit of coal possible to bring to market. Bob Murray, chief of Murray Energy Corp., admitted that the mine had utilized a technique known as retreat mining for decades. Retreat mining forces miners to yank out a mine’s pillars, grabbing the last bits of available coal. The six miners may not have been able to retreat in time to save their lives.

The Crandall Canyon Mine owners’ failure to continue rescue operations doesn’t just ignore the rightful wishes of the families to have peace of mind and see their loved ones given a proper and humane burial. The mine owners are also ignoring the history of rescue operations in an attempt to spare the cost of additional efforts.

Hominy Falls, W.Va., saw a tragedy in 1968 similar to the one currently playing out in Utah. Six miners stayed trapped in a cold and flooded mine only three feet high for ten days. Former mine superintendent Frank Davis admits there was no doubt in his mind at the time that the miners had already died. The miners, however, managed to gather a few sandwiches and a canteen of water together and survived for ten days until rescue workers finally reached them. Jennings Lilly, one of the six miners trapped in the 1968 incident, has said, “Given what happened to us, I wouldn’t give up on them.”

Another mining tragedy occurred in Princeton, Ind., on Aug. 10 when three men riding in an open-top mining bucket plunged 500 feet and were killed instantly at the Gibson County coal mine. The U.S. Mine Safety Health Administration had cited the company for 353 violations last year—127 of which were deemed serious. This year the mine had so far received another 292 citations. Eighty-four of this year’s citations were deemed serious.

Coalmine fatalities more than doubled in 2006 due to a severe accident at a mine in Sago, W.Va., and several other tragedies that year involving multiple fatalities. Coalmining is one of the ten most dangerous industries in the U.S. and coal miners across the state of Utah may be at particular risk of disregard for their lives due to owner and management racism against the large numbers of miners who are immigrants or of immigrant descent. Three of the six miners trapped in the Crandall Canyon Mine are from Mexico.

United Mine Workers of America activists warned that tragedies like the one in Utah and the 2006 Sago mine disaster will keep happening unless mining conditions are made safer. The UMWA pointed out that many safety precautions could easily be enacted that could save lives.

UMWA President Cecil Roberts pointed out, “From almost the beginning of the tragedy that continues to unfold at the Crandall Canyon mine, Murray Energy CEO Robert Murray has blamed everyone but himself and his company for the situation at that mine. … The safety record of the operation and mining plans at the Crandall Canyon mine and other Murray operations speak for themselves. We do not need to raise that record publicly. Many independent mine safety experts and others—including some in the media—are quite capable of doing that for themselves and are doing so independently of the UMWA.”

Murray had previously attacked the UMWA for expressing its condolences to the family members and for calling for a thorough and timely investigation into the causes of collapse. Crandall Canyon Mines are nonunion and the company recently issued statements in effect stating that officials saw no reason not to continue risking the lives of more mineworkers, for the sake of coal company profits, by continuing retreat mining in the areas surrounding the six entombed miners.

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