Tomorrow marks the anniversary of the Upper Big Branch mine disaster.
This is the first of two parts commemorating that moment in labor history.
The year was 2010.
A massive explosion ripped through Massey Energy’s mine in Raleigh County, West Virginia.
The explosion killed 29 miners.
It was the deadliest in decades.
The explosion at UBB revealed the ruthlessness of profit-driven mine executives
Raking in $104 million in profits the year before, they callously insisted the explosion had been an act of God.
The explosion also exposed the immense pressures on federal and state regulators to look the other way or go easy on enforcement.
And it demonstrated just how deep the ties go between industry, regulators and those in seats of political power.
The UBB mine explosion served as a testament to the increasingly unsafe and non-union nature of the industry.
35 years ago, 95% of the state’s mines were union.
Walkouts over health and safety were common.
Now, less than 25% are, and workers risk their livelihoods if they dare to speak up about safety.
As well, over 70% of those autopsied from UBB were found to have black lung disease, entirely preventable with proper ventilation.
Massey executives routinely violated safety rules as a cost of doing business.
American University’s detailed study of Massey’s safety record for the years 2000-2010 concluded that no other U.S. coal company had a worse fatality record.
A total of 54 workers, including those at UBB had been killed during that time period.
They also found that Massey had been cited for 62,923 violations including 25,612 considered ‘significant and substantial.’
At the time, MSHA had proposed close to $50 million in fines.