Labor History in 2:00

January 22 - Tragedy in the Mines and the Union Hall

January 22, 2021

On this day in labor history, the year was 1959.

That was the day the Susquehanna River flooded several mines throughout the Wyoming Valley of Pennsylvania.

It marked the virtual end to coal mining in the Northern Anthracite Region, whose coalmines provided some 11,000 jobs.

Knox Coal Company, owned by reputed mobster, John Sciandra, ordered workers to illegally excavate underneath the river to get at new coal seams, near Port Griffith.

The company hit the jackpot, and mined rich new veins.

Even though state regulations mandated a rock cover of 35 feet when tunneling underneath a waterway, theirs was only about six feet thick.

The roof of Knox Coal’s River Slope Mine soon collapsed and a reported 10 billion gallons of water, ice and debris from the river came smashing through.

The collapse created a whirlpool and dams were built to divert the river.

81 miners were trapped and many desperately searched for hours for an escape.

Some were able to get out through an abandoned airshaft.

The bodies of another 12 miners were never recovered.

Audrey Baloga Calvey recalled in an interview that her father, a miner who died in the flooding, predicted trouble at the mine before his death.

Saying  "When the water would get high, he'd say, 'God, if that river ever breaks in, we'll be drowned like rats,.

Ten were indicted, including the mine’s president, Louis Fabrizio, Knox’s superintendent, and incredibly, UMWA District 1 president AND secret partner in the mine, August Lippi. 

Several would serve prison time.

Four owners were convicted of tax evasion and four local union 8005 officials were convicted of taking bribes in sweetheart deal contracts, including Lippi.

 
 

 

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