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Vol. 76/No. 31      August 20, 2012

2 killed in W.Va. nonunion
mines over 5-day period
(front page)
Two coal miners were killed in the last five days of July in West Virginia—both in nonunion mines. So far this year the mining bosses’ profit drive and disregard for safety have taken the lives of 23 miners, 13 in coal mines.

On July 31, Greg Byers, 43, was struck by a battery-powered coal scoop at International Coal Group’s Beckley Pocahontas Mine in Raleigh County. Five days earlier Johnny Bryant, 35, was crushed to death between a mine wall and the boom of a continuous mining machine. He was working at Coal River Mining’s Fork Creek No. 10 Mine in Boone County.

Out of the 23 miners killed on the job this year, 20 worked in nonunion mines.

Some 25 percent of coal miners are union members, according to the New York Times. Declining unionization has given coal bosses freer reign to make further inroads against safety, jacking up methane levels, scrimping on ventilation systems, speeding up production, extending working hours, etc.

In addition, recent reports show that black lung, also known as coal workers’ pneumoconiosis, is on the rise. Black lung is a preventable disease resulting from exposure to coal dust. It’s irreversible, debilitating and often leads to premature death. An increasing number of younger miners are affected. After plunging 90 percent during the 1970s and ’80s, it started going up again in the mid-90s.

The government’s Mine Safety and Health Administration has put the coal industry’s profits ahead of workers’ lives. A recent report from National Public Radio about black lung says that between 2000 and 2011 “MSHA data show that 53,000 valid samples contained more dust than standards permit, but the agency issued less than 2,400 violations.”

Meanwhile, production in the industry is declining after reaching a peak in 2006. The U.S. Energy Information Administration projects that annual coal production in Central Appalachia will decline more than half from 2010 to 2018.

Kentucky has seen a number of layoffs and shutdown of mines since the beginning of this year. Between March and May 3,000 jobs were eliminated.  
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