Massey CEO Set to Open More Coal Mines

Don Blankenship was head of Massey Energy when 29 coal miners lost their lives in a massive explosion. Forced to resign, he has been largely invisible since.

Now he’s filed papers to start another coal mine venture. According to Business Week:

Public records show that Blankenship has incorporated a new venture in Kentucky. Paperwork for McCoy Coal Group Inc. of Belfry, Ky., has been on file since January, though, and it has yet to seek a single mining permit, says Kentucky Energy and Environment spokesman Dick Brown.

Following the April 2010 the explosian at Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch (W.Va.) mine, a Mine Workers (UMWA) report on the disaster summed up the tragedy in its title: Industrial Homicide. An independent report on the disaster commissioned by former W.Va. Gov. Joe Manchin (D) concluded the responsibility for the explosion “lies with the management of Massey Energy…[B]y frequently and knowingly violating the law and blatantly disregarding known safety practices…Massey exhibited a corporate mentality that placed the drive to produce coal above worker safety.” And an investigation by the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) found the company kept two sets of books to hide safety problems.

Prior to the disaster, MSHA had filed more than 450 safety citations at Upper Big Branch, which wasn’t the only Massey mine with safety problems. MSHA records show that in at least six of the 10 years prior to the explosion, Massey mine’s injury rate has been worse than the national average for similar operations. In 2009, Massey and subsidiary Aracoma Coal Co. agreed to pay $4.2 million in criminal fines and civil penalties related to a January 2006 fire that killed two miners at the Alma No. 1 mine. [cont’d.] (more…)

Massey CEO Set to Open More Coal Mines

Don Blankenship was head of Massey Energy when 29 coal miners lost their lives in a massive explosion. Forced to resign, he has been largely invisible since.

Now he’s filed papers to start another coal mine venture. According to Business Week:

Public records show that Blankenship has incorporated a new venture in Kentucky. Paperwork for McCoy Coal Group Inc. of Belfry, Ky., has been on file since January, though, and it has yet to seek a single mining permit, says Kentucky Energy and Environment spokesman Dick Brown.

Following the April 2010 the explosian at Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch (W.Va.) mine, a Mine Workers (UMWA) report on the disaster summed up the tragedy in its title: Industrial Homicide. An independent report on the disaster commissioned by former W.Va. Gov. Joe Manchin (D) concluded the responsibility for the explosion “lies with the management of Massey Energy…[B]y frequently and knowingly violating the law and blatantly disregarding known safety practices…Massey exhibited a corporate mentality that placed the drive to produce coal above worker safety.” And an investigation by the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) found the company kept two sets of books to hide safety problems.

Prior to the disaster, MSHA had filed more than 450 safety citations at Upper Big Branch, which wasn’t the only Massey mine with safety problems. MSHA records show that in at least six of the 10 years prior to the explosion, Massey mine’s injury rate has been worse than the national average for similar operations. In 2009, Massey and subsidiary Aracoma Coal Co. agreed to pay $4.2 million in criminal fines and civil penalties related to a January 2006 fire that killed two miners at the Alma No. 1 mine.

But far from taking responsibility, Blankenship has implied the deadly blast was God’s fault and told the government to keep its hands off patriotic business like Massey. A business so patriotic that the Mine Workers’ report described it as

A rogue corporation, acting without real regard for mine safety and health law and regulations, that established a physical working environment that can only be described as a bomb waiting to go off.

(more…)

FDL Book Salon Welcomes John D. Atlas, Seeds of Change

Welcome author / journalist, John D. Atlas, and Host Tula Connell, AFL-CIO Now Blog.

[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book.  Please take other conversations to a previous thread.  – bev]

Seeds of Change: The Story of ACORN, America’s Most Controversial Antipoverty Community Organizing Group

While I was in a public space recently, reading Seeds of Change, John Atlas’ new biography about a certain nationwide grassroots movement, I resisted the urge to look around furtively and make sure no one saw the cover of the book. After all, the dreaded word “ACORN” is printed boldly in red.

The attacks on ACORN have been so amplified through the reactionary media that far more people are aware of ACORN via the lens of a pseudo-pimp than by the acres of good works the organization actually has accomplished. When members of the public sees or hears about ACORN, they are more likely to think “corruption” than “people power.” And that’s more than a real shame—it’s a massive loss for millions of America’s low-income people who desperately need the type of empowerment engendered by the ACORN model of organizing. (more…)

FDL Book Salon Welcomes Lewis Maltby, Can They Do That? Retaking Our Fundamental Rights in the Workplace

[Welcome Lewis Maltby, and Host Tula Connell.] [As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book.  Please take other conversations to a previous thread.  – bev]

Can They Do That? Retaking Our Fundamental Rights in the Workplace

Lynn Gobbell was fired because her boss didn’t like the John Kerry bumper sticker on her car.

In Colorado, teacher Meg Spohn got the pink slip from DeVry University for complaining about her job on her personal blog.

At Best Lock Company in Indiana, workers are axed for social drinking because the company president believes it’s a sin.

Can Employers do that?

You betcha, writes human rights attorney Lewis Maltby. He’s president and founder of the National Workrights Institute, which he formed after leading the American Civil Liberties Union office on free speech and privacy protection in the corporate world. (more…)

Wanted: Jobs for 25.5 Million Americans

There’s a lot more that’s frozen in D.C. this week than the usual fallout from a blizzard. The brains of many Senate Republicans are on ice as well. The House passed a jobs bill in December, but the Senate is dawdling, and worse—threatening to pass bits and pieces, taking apart what should be a comprehensive approach to jobs and turning it into minced cabbage. Or, as Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) put it, Democrats shouldn’t advertise the package as jobs legislation

because it’s just extending a bunch of tax policy and related items that we need to do.

Only today did the Senate Finance Committee release its first take on jobs. The immediate need is for passage of unemployment insurance (UI) because it will expire for millions of workers Feb. 28, unless Congress—specifically, the Senate—takes action. COBRA also must be extended to help unemployed workers maintain health care.

The White House’s new economic report estimates the economy would create an average of 95,000 jobs a month this year, rising to 190,000 a month on average in 2011.

Yet there must be 100,000 jobs created per month, just to stay even, let alone fill the gaping hole that is the nation’s unemployment crisis. The nation needs more than 10 million jobs to get back to 5 percent unemployment, the rate we had before the recession started.

The economy lost 20,000 jobs last month, and the rate of unemployment declined to 9.7 percent, a figure the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) describes as a statistical blip, not the beginning of a trend toward full employment because the January data was based on differing surveys. As EPI economist Heidi Shierholtz describes it, this apples-to-oranges comparison means the drop in the monthly unemployment rate

can largely be attributed to the higher volatility of the much smaller household survey. Given what happened in the establishment survey, one would have expected the unemployment rate to hold steady or increase slightly in January.

The White House is forecasting the jobless rate will average 10 percent this year. But the generic jobless rate—as bad as it is—hides a lot. Here’s a look at the hardest hit in the jobs crisis.

The workers losing jobs are those who had almost no income to begin with. As Bob Herbert pointed out this week:

The highest group, with household incomes of $150,000 or more, had an unemployment rate during that quarter of 3.2 percent. The next highest, with incomes of $100,000 to $149,999, had an unemployment rate of 4 percent.

Contrast those figures with the unemployment rate of the lowest group, which had annual household incomes of $12,499 or less. The unemployment rate of that group during the fourth quarter of last year was a staggering 30.8 percent. That’s more than five points higher than the overall jobless rate at the height of the Depression.

(more…)

Danger: Falling Middle Class

Photo credit: lovestruck

Jack Cafferty at CNN this week asked viewers one of his seemingly routine questions. But the responses to: “How has definition of ‘middle-class American’ changed?” reveal a cataclysmic shift in our nation’s economic identity.

Gary from El Centro, Calif., summed up the vast majority of the nearly 200 responses when he replied:

You should ask this question of the three or four people in the country still remaining in the middle class.

The comments reflect more than the run-of-the-mill griping about taxes or middle-aged discontent. They demonstrate a visceral understanding of the deep forces underlying the dramatic change that in recent decades has eroded the solid financial footing of America’s working families—America’s middle class.

In short, the American public knows what most lawmakers in Washington and policymakers around the country have yet to figure out: The nation is losing its middle-class backbone and bifurcating into a have/have not country. (more…)

U.S.: Bottom of the Pack for Bread-and-Butter Basics

HealthMap
Join me in welcoming Dr. Jody Heymann, professor in the Faculties of Medicine and Arts at McGill University, where she is founding director of the Institute for Health and Social Policy and founding chair of the Project on Global Working Families. She also is an adjunct associate professor at the Harvard School of Public Health and Harvard Medical School. Dr. Heymann has authored and edited more than 150 publications, including Raising the Global Floor and Forgotten Families. She has led the development of a unique graduate and undergraduate multidisciplinary training program that bridges research and policy development with students gaining experience in 18 countries. Also, check out the interactive world legal rights database created by Dr. Heymann and her team.

When it comes to ensuring working families have the bread-and-butter basics, the United States is an outlier, there’s no doubt. For example:

  • 177 nations guarantee paid leave for new mothers; the U.S. does not.
  • 74 nations guarantee paid leave for new fathers; the U.S. does not.
  • 132 nations guarantee breastfeeding breaks at work; the U.S. does not.
  • 163 nations guarantee paid sick leave; the U.S. does not.
  • 48 nations guarantee paid time off to care for children’s health; the U.S. does not.
  • 41 nations provide leave that can be used for child education needs; the U.S. does not.
  • 33 nations provide paid leave to care for adult family members; the U.S. does not.

The cost to Americans is profound.

  • Every year Americans lose income and homes when they get sick with serious illnesses.
  • Restaurant workers, health care providers and co-workers spread disease when they go to work with infectious diseases.
  • Infants fall sick at 1.5-5 times the rate when they are not breastfeed—by mothers who have little choice.

For decades, we’ve been hearing none of these issues can be addressed because of the economic cost. The argument has been that if mothers and fathers could afford to care for their newborn children, we’d have fewer jobs; America would be less competitive; it would cost too much. If people with flu stayed home when they were sick, if Americans with cancer didn’t fear losing their job and home when they got sick, it’d cost too much for our country. Well, it turns out not to be true. Some 57 million Americans do not get paid leave, or even sometimes unpaid leave, to stay home sick or to care for sick relatives. (more…)

MA Voters Seek More and Faster Change; Economy, Jobs Top Concern; Taxing Health Insurance Very Unpopular, Poll Says

Massachusetts voters sent a strong signal to Washington lawmakers Tuesday that they want results—and aren’t seeing any. Not on health care reform, not on job creation and not on fixing the nation’s economy.

Voters also sent another powerful message for Democrats: Ignore the working class at your peril.

Some 79 percent of voters polled on election night said the most important issue for them was electing a candidate who will strengthen the economy and create more jobs. Controlling health care costs was next on their list, with 54 percent citing that issue as the main determinant of their vote.

The poll [PDF], conducted by Hart Research Associates among 810 voters for the AFL-CIO on the night of the election, also found that although voters without a college degree favored Barack Obama by 21 percentage points in the 2008 election, Democratic candidate Martha Coakley lost that same group by a 20-point margin.

And as AFL-CIO Richard Trumka has pointed out, Massachusetts voters have the same goals for reforming health care, creating good jobs and strengthening the economy as they did in November 2008—but President Obama and the Democrats have done too little.

Voters showed they don’t think Democrats have overreached—they think that the Democrats underreached.

In fact, voters were not worried about Democratic “overreach”—47 percent said their bigger concern about Democrats is that they haven’t succeeded in making needed change rather than tried to make too many changes too quickly (32 percent). Even voters for Scott Brown were more concerned about a lack of change (50 percent) than about trying to make too many changes too quickly (43 percent).

These results puts a lie to the corporate media spin that Democrats have gone “too far” in pushing a reform agenda.

Nor was the election result about health care reform. Brown actually lost among the 59 percent of voters who picked health care as one of their top two voting issues (50 percent for Coakley and 46 percent for Brown). Voters for Brown (55 percent ) were less likely to cite health care as a top issue than were voters for Coakley (66 percent).

The election also should be a wake-up call for those in Washington who support taxing working families’ health care. Voters who thought their health care would be taxed voted by 64 percent for Brown, while those who did not think their health care would be taxed voted by 54 percent to 40 percent for Coakley.

Our polling results show the election was not an endorsement of a Republican agenda or a call to abandon health care reform. Voters strongly disapprove of the job being done by congressional Republicans (26 percent approve and 58 percent disapprove), a much lower rating than they give to congressional Democrats (37 percent approve and 51 percent disapprove). (more…)

Civil Rights Pioneer: Post-Racial World Doesn’t Exist

 
  From left, David Richmond, Franklin McCain, Ezell Blair Jr. and Joseph McNeil, the four North Carolina A&T students who staged the 1960 sit-in are shown leaving Woolworth’s.  
 
 
  Franklin McCain  
 

On the 50th anniversary of the Greensboro sit-in, James Parks at our AFL-CIO Now blog, interviewed Franklin McCain, one of the four students who refused to leave a whites-only Greensboro lunch counter until they were served, sparking key civil rights legislation.

As we approach the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, it’s a good time to assess that post-racial world we’re supposed to be living in now. So, how’s it working out? Not very well, according to Franklin McCain. He’s one of the four trailblazing students whose sit-in at a Greensboro, N.C.,  lunch counter 50 years ago ignited a nationwide effort that resulted in the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

I don’t know where I was when racism disappeared from these United States of ours. This new right and the Tea Partiers have taken the position that anybody who talks about racial discrimination or affirmative action is a whiner or a civil rights pimp. We have to get off the sidelines and attack [that kind of language]… They are taking parts of our gains and using it against us. And it’s ridiculous.

McCain, 67, and three of his fellow students at North Carolina Agricultural & Technical  College (NC A&T) sat down at the whites-only lunch counter in the Woolworth’s in downtown Greensboro on Feb. 1, 1960, and refused to leave until they were served. Their bold action inspired protests in more than 50 cities across the South against segregated public facilities. Those protests garnered national media attention and public support, eventually leading to passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which mandated desegregation in public accommodations throughout the country.

McCain says reactionaries today have co-opted the principles King and others stood for, especially his commitment to economic justice. Racism and discrimination still are alive and well, he says, even though it’s not as overt as it was in 1960.

If you take a walk downtown and look into your office towers, you’ll see [African Americans] doing things and in slots where we never were before. But if you go into the boardrooms, you don’t see many of us still.

McCain says the four had the courage to stage the sit-in because like most 17-year-olds, they were “kind of crazy” and would “do anything and think about (the consequences) later.” But they also believed in justice and were angry at a system that betrayed them after telling them the “big lie” that if they worked hard and behaved themselves, they would be successful, only to be held down because of their color. (more…)

Corporation’s Double Standard Shows Need for Labor Law Reform

 
   

Help me welcome John Logan, director of labor studies at San Francisco State University and a research associate at the University of California-Berkeley Labor Center. He is author of the report, “Lowering the Bar or Setting the Standard? The Labor Practices of Deutsche Telekom in the United States.”

The Employee Free Choice Act, perhaps the most bitterly contested bill currently facing the U.S. Congress, would strengthen workers’ right to choose a union and bargain with their employers over issues of wages, benefits and respect on the job. When making the case for this landmark legislation, its supporters often point to the actions of the country’s most aggressively anti-union employers. And there are plenty of good examples to go around. According to a report released by Cornell University earlier this year, both legal and illegal anti-union tactics have become much more widespread in recent years.

But to fully appreciate why labor law reform is so urgently needed in the United States, we should look instead at the actions of firms that claim, often with considerable justification, to be good corporate citizens. Let’s consider the case of the German-based Deutsche Telekom, one of the world’s largest telecommunications companies, which owns Bellevue-based T-Mobile USA, the fourth-largest wireless provider in the United States.

Deutsche Telekom cares deeply about its corporate reputation. The company’s Social Charter states it is “in favor of cooperating with legitimate democratic employee representatives in an open and trusting manner” throughout its operations. Deutsche Telekom also claims to respect the labor principles of the United Nations Global Compact, which require that businesses should not “interfere in workers’ decision to associate” or “try to influence their decision in any way.” And in Germany, the company is, as it claims, a good corporate citizen that cooperates with unions, respects the law and upholds international conventions on labor rights.

In the United States, however, Deutsche Telekom’s subsidiary T-Mobile USA has taken a more troubling and adversarial stance, especially in the area of workers’ rights. Deutsche Telekom has chosen not to export its constructive and cooperative labor practices from Germany to the United States.

Rather than raising the bar for American companies when it comes to labor-management cooperation, T-Mobile USA has joined the ranks of corporations that fight against employees’ efforts to improve their conditions and that generally have poor labor practices. In place of cooperation and trust, the company has practiced conflict with unions and promoted insecurity among its American employees. (more…)