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Vol. 76/No. 45      December 10, 2012

Worker killed on job at
Peabody mine in Illinois
CHICAGO—Coal miner Chad Meyers, 30, was killed on the job in the early morning of Nov. 17 at Peabody Energy’s Willow Lake Mine in Equality, Ill. Meyers, the 34th miner killed in the U.S. this year, was crushed between a continuous mining machine he was operating and the coal rib.

Workers at the mine, members of United Mine Workers Local 5929, have been fighting for a contract since they voted for the union in May 2011. The question of safety, and in particular the right to a union safety committee, is among the top concerns driving their union struggle.

Peabody kept fighting to keep the union out of the mine through several court challenges, firings and threats. It took 15 months for the National Labor Relations Board to certify the union’s victory in the 2011 vote.

The company announced Nov. 27 it would permanently close the mine.

“The mine has failed to meet acceptable standards for safety, compliance and operating performance,” Peabody said in a press release, “and these ongoing issues make the operations unsustainable.”

The Willow Lake Mine, which opened in 2002, produced 2.2 million tons of coal with 460 workers last year. It has a long record of safety violations. Since 2008, Peabody has been fined hundreds of thousands of dollars for dangerous conditions there, including inadequate roof support and excessive coal dust.

In June 2010, two months after the disaster at A.T. Massey’s Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia, where 29 miners were killed, the Mine Safety and Health Administration threatened legal action against Big Ridge Inc., which operates the Willow Lake Mine, and Peabody, the mine’s owner, for numerous safety violations. Peabody responded it was addressing the problems.

A month later, in July 2010, a supervisor at the mine was killed when a shuttle car hauling coal struck him. In November 2011, MSHA issued another notice to the operators of the Willow Lake Mine for “a pattern of violations” and requested a “corrective action plan.”

“Members of UMWA Local 5929 went underground Nov. 17 with the MSHA inspectors to investigate the cause of the accident,” said UMWA District 12 Vice President Steve Earle in a phone interview the following day. MSHA had ordered the mine to close during the investigation.
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