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Roberts heads underground at Upper Big Branch

July 8, 2010
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TRIANGLE, Va. – United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) International President Cecil E. Roberts went into the Upper Big Branch (UBB) mine today as part of the UMWA’s participation in the ongoing investigation into the disaster that killed 29 miners at the Massey Energy property in Montcoal, W. Va.

Roberts, a fifth-generation coal miner who worked underground before being elected to union office, went to the mine at the invitation of the Mine Safety and Health Administration so that he could see first-hand the condition of the mine and understand what investigators, including several experts from the UMWA, are encountering as they work to find the cause of explosion.

The initial invitation from MSHA came following a request from Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship to travel underground. MSHA agreed, and invited the leaders of the other organizations participating in the investigation to participate as well.

The UMWA is a designated miners’ representative in the investigation and has assigned safety experts with decades of mine safety experience to the inquiry.

"Incidents like the explosion at Upper Big Branch aren’t supposed to just happen in this day and age," said Dennis O’Dell, the UMWA’s Administrator of Occupational Safety and Health, who accompanied Roberts underground. "Somebody either did something – or didn’t do something – that caused this explosion.

"Massey management’s safety track record doesn’t give anyone much confidence that the company had safety first in mind at UBB," O’Dell said. "The testimony that has already been heard by the House Committee on Education and Labor from the miners who worked there makes it clear that, as with other Massey operations, management was interested in production first and put safety a distant second.

"Everyone involved with this investigation needs to be about the business of finding out what happened at this mine so that we can keep it from happening again anywhere else," O’Dell said. "Unfortunately, that’s not what Massey appears to be interested in doing.

"Instead, they are playing the public relations equivalent of a con game, directing public and media attention away from the company’s long record of safety and environmental problems, including being assessed some of the largest fines every levied against a coal company," O’Dell said.

"Our only interest is in finding out what happened, what caused it and identifying the responsible parties who should be punished," O’Dell said. "That’s clearly not Massey’s interest, which may be why they’re spending so much time, money and effort on this PR flim-flam."

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