Dozens of Worker Deaths and Six Years Later, Coal Exec Sentenced to Just One Year in Prison


(Photo: Wikipedia)

Don Blankenship might finally see the inside of a prison cell. Six years after the tragic explosion at the Upper Big Branch Mine killed 29 workers, former Massey Energy CEO, Don Blankenship, has been found guilty of conspiring to violate mine safety laws.

The misdemeanor charge came with a one-year prison sentence, far less than the 30 years he could have faced had Blankenship been found guilty of the multiple felony charges brought against him. And far less than many think he deserves.

My colleague, Sam Pizzigati, wrote about Blankenship in a piece titled, “America’s Greediest: The 2011 Top Ten Edition.” He noted that Blankenship “pocketed $ 38.2 million from 2007 through 2009, after $ 34 million in 2005, and retired this past December with a $ 5.7 million pension, $ 12 million in severance, another $ 27.2 million in deferred pay, and a lush consulting agreement.”

He also noted that Massey Energy, the nation’s fourth largest coal producer, was found “directly to blame” for the deadly 2010 explosion. “Under Blankenship, Massey managers kept two sets of books, one accurate for internal use and another fake for regulators.”

Safety was a far second priority to maximizing profit for Blankenship and the workers that trusted him paid the ultimate price. In a searing interview following Blankenship’s sentencing, former Massey employee, Tommy Davis, recounts losing his brother, his nephew, and his son in the blast. Choking back tears, Davis recounts how Blankenship never once tried to contact him in the six years since their deaths.

“I miss my family. He hugged his. And all he gets is a year…There needs to be much stricter penalties for people like that who put greed and money over human life.”

It is rare that corporate executives are forced to take a perp walk. Remember all the Wall Street bankers brought out in handcuffs for tanking the global economy? Me neither.

According to federal regulators, Blankenship is the first high-ranking executive to be convicted of a workplace safety violation. His lawyer has vowed he will appeal the one-year prison sentence, the maximum allowable for the crime.

Don Blankenship will remain an exceptionally wealthy man and might still wiggle his way out of spending time behind bars. The judge that sentenced him denied requests for restitution both from the miners’ families and from the company Blankenship left behind, now in bankruptcy.

Tommy Davis is right; we need much stricter penalties for those who value profit over people. It shouldn’t take another tragedy like the Upper Big Branch Mine explosion to bring about this change.

The post Dozens of Worker Deaths and Six Years Later, Coal Exec Sentenced to Just One Year in Prison appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

Josh Hoxie directs the Project on Opportunity and Taxation at the Institute for Policy Studies.


Three coal mining deaths in 19 days are ‘troubling,’ says MSHA chief

Three coal mining deaths in 19 days are ‘troubling,’ says MSHA chief

ARLINGTON, Va. – Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health Joseph A. Main today issued the following statement regarding the first three coal mining deaths of 2016:

“In just the first three weeks of 2016, and after the safest year in mining history, the coal industry has experienced three fatalities in three separate mining accidents, the highest number of coal accidents to occur in the same time period since January 2006.

  • On Jan. 4, a 53-year-old miner was killed when he became entangled in a moving underground conveyor in West Virginia.
  • On Jan. 16, a 31-year-old miner was killed when falling material pinned the victim to the mine floor in Pennsylvania.
  • On Jan. 19, a 36-year-old miner was killed when he became pinned between a continuous mining machine and a coal rib in Kentucky.

“In light of declining coal market conditions, we all need to be mindful that effective safety and health protections that safeguard our nation’s coal miners need to be in place every day at every mine in the country.

“All miners deserve to work their shifts and return home at the end of the day, safe and healthy. To that end, the Mine Safety and Health Administration plans to ramp up its targeted enforcement, education and outreach efforts to respond to the troubling number of mining fatalities that have occurred so far this year. Today, MSHA widely disseminated to industry stakeholders an alert on these deaths, emphasizing the need for continued vigilance in miner safety and health.”

Release Date: 
Contact Name: 

Amy Louviere

Phone Number: 
Release Number: 
Override with PDF?: 


Withrow farm deaths: Time to protect Alberta children, says union –
Withrow farm deaths: Time to protect Alberta children, says union
Alberta is the only province with no safety standards for farm workers — and no child labour standards. "Here in Alberta, we're still very much the wild west," says Farmworkers Union of Alberta president Eric Musekamp. Musekamp is meeting today with

and more »


Under Cane – Deaths behind sugar production in Central America

In the last decade, 20,000 agricultural workers have died from Chronic Kidney Disease of non-Traditional Causes (CKDnT). The majority of these victims work in sugarcane production. The documentary Under Cane by filmmaker Ed Kashi shows how harsh the working conditions of sugarcane workers are and the devastating effect of this fatal kidney disease.

Under Cane is a documentary that makes for intense viewing, but unfortunately this is the reality: CKDnT is reaching epidemic proportions in the Central American sugarcane industry and costs thousands of lives per year. This brutal reality cannot be ignored any longer.

We all consume sugar
Sugarcane is used in many, many products, not only in the food products you would think of like raw sugar, chocolate and soda, but also in bread, salad dressings, rum and most processed foods. Moreover, it is also used to create biodegradable plastics, medication and fuel. We all use tons of sugar on a daily basis and we are all, therefore, responsible the issues behind our sugar.

Solutions are simple
This sounds harsh and demotivating. But wait, there’s hope! As is the case with most labour issues in our food chain, change is possible and sometimes even very simple! In the case of CKDnT, companies can easily improve working conditions, thus preventing new cases of the deadly kidney disease, by enforcing the following simple changes:

  • Better access to sufficient, clean drinking water;
  • Better access to shade;
  • More regular breaks;
  • Reduced working hours, thus decreasing physical strain.

Furthermore, workers’ rights to organise and collectively bargain are essential to ensure successful implementation and monitoring,.

How to create change?
We all have a role to play in creating a fair food supply chain.

Fairfood works together with food brands, supermarkets and governments to tackle the extreme inequalities that exist in our food chain;

Governments should create the regulatory landscape that ensures a safe and healthy work environment for all, thus enabling workers to stand up for their rights;

Food brands and supermarkets should use their power to improve the working conditions in their supply chains and ensure their freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining and association;

As a consumer you can contribute by shopping consciously and becoming a member of our supporter community.

Sugarcane project
In our Sugarcane project we are working, together with CNV International and ICAES to ensure safe and healthy working conditions in Central America, thus preventing workers from contracting CKDnT and ensuring that workers are able to stand up for the rights. We are talking to Central American and European governments, sugarcane mills in Central America and food and beverage companies – like Diageo and Bacardi – who source their sugarcane from Central America. We also work together with local NGOs, labour confederations and research institutes on the ground in order to create positive change in the industry.

Want to learn more? Watch our Animation Video ‘What’s on your plate – the story of your food’.



Tragic harvest: Deaths on the rise on Minnesota family farms – Minneapolis Star Tribune

Minneapolis Star Tribune
Tragic harvest: Deaths on the rise on Minnesota family farms
Minneapolis Star Tribune
Steps to address safety problems at the federal level have stalled, most recently in 2014 when Congress forced the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration to curtail a campaign to reduce grain bin deaths. Farming remains one of the most

and more »


MSHA proposes rule to prevent crushing, pinning deaths and injuries

Haulage machinery in underground coal mines – such as shuttle cars, ram cars and scoops – would have to be equipped with technology that prevents miners from becoming struck, pinned or crushed, as per a proposed rule from the Mine Safety and Health Administration.

MSHA: Coal mining deaths at historic low

Preliminary data released by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration indicates that 40 miners died in work-related accidents at the nation’s mines in 2014, two fewer than in the previous year.* Coal mining deaths dropped from 20 in 2013 to 16 in 2014, the lowest annual number of coal mining deaths ever recorded in the United States. The previous record low was 18 in 2009. |||||||

Opinion/Letter: No outrage over other deaths? – The Daily Progress

Opinion/Letter: No outrage over other deaths?
The Daily Progress
For the next 27 years he operated it as a general livestock and crop farm, raising cattle, growing hay and corn with wheat being his cash crop. In 1952 his grandsons, Melvin Will, Jr. and James L. … Kenneth, his wife, Karen, and three children moved


MSN mourns the latest factory deaths in Bangladesh and calls for urgent action

Image: Clean Clothes CampaignThe Maquila Solidarity Network (MSN) mourns the loss of life in yet another factory fire in Bangladesh and is calling on the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC), Loblaw and all other companies that have been using the factory to provide just compensation to the victims and work through the Accord on Fire and Building Safety program to ensure such tragedies do not happen in the future.

Please sign an online petition to HBC initiated by the campaign network SumOfUs .

read more


Chiquita Asks Court To Block Suits Blaming Banana Giant For Violent Deaths In … – Huffington Post

Chiquita Asks Court To Block Suits Blaming Banana Giant For Violent Deaths In
Huffington Post
The Colombian lawsuits, consolidated for pretrial action before a federal judge in West Palm Beach, want Chiquita held liable for thousands of deaths at the hands of the AUC, the Spanish acronym for the right-wing United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia

and more »