This is downright Dickensian. Or if that is too antiquated for you — it's downright Norma raeish.
Charleston, W.Va. — Two weeks after the horrific explosion that killed 29 coal miners in southern West Virginia, it’s business as usual for the owner of the project.
Massey Energy, the Virginia-based coal giant that runs the Upper Big Branch Mine, has denied time off for miners to attend their friends’ funerals; has rejected makeshift memorials outside the mine site; and, in at least one case, required a worker to go on shift even though the fate of a relative — one of the victims of the April 5 disaster — remained unknown at the time, according to some family members and other sources familiar with those episodes. In short, the company might be taking heat for putting profits and efficiency above its workers, but it doesn’t appear to have changed its tune in the wake of the worst mining tragedy in 40 years.
“They told my husband, ‘You’ve got a job to do and you’re gonna do it,’” said the wife of one Massey miner, referring to the funerals he’s missed this month for friends who died in the blast. “What else are we gonna do?”
That threat of job loss — be it spoken or simply understood — has created a culture of fear in some corners of Southern West Virginia, where coal is the only real industry, and Massey is king of the hill. Indeed, in certain areas there’s simply no queen.
“The bad thing here is that Massey owns [the Upper Big Branch] mine, and they’ve got a lot of subsidiaries — little tiny outfits just all down the river,” said Denny Tyler, an electrician who has contracted with Massey and now runs a website advocating for the end to mountaintop removal. “If you get fired from one, you’re not working anywhere on Coal River. … Its a fear thing.”
In another case rankling some residents near the Upper Big Branch, a mourner this week tried to hang a wreath at the entrance to the mine. Massey wouldn’t allow it, according to several sources, and the women left in tears. Though trivial, the episode has further solidified the image of Massey as a company that bullies its workers and local communities.