Massey employees skip MSHA’s private interviews

May 26, 2010 by Ken Ward Jr.

In case you missed it, we’ve got a story up on the Gazette’s Web site reporting that about half of the Massey employees who have been asked to give statements in the Upper Big Branch investigation have not shown up for their scheduled interviews.

The story is posted online here, and we’ll be updating it later on. UPDATED: We’ve got an updated story online now, including comment from MSHA on this issue.

It’s worth noting that the Obama administration advocated its closed-door interview sessions — instead of public hearing — in large part because it said the secrecy would make Massey employees more likely to show up and tell the truth.

12 Responses to “Massey employees skip MSHA’s private interviews”

  1. AUSOHS says:

    Does the MSHA have the powers to compel informants to provide testimony to the enquiry? If not you run the risks of informants being intimidated or paid off. In our jurisdiction (not in USA) we have powers to compel the informants to attend and to make statements.
    Closed door hearings or interviews eliminate the possibility of duress in the hearing room, but need to be backed by legislated powers for the agency undertaking the enquiry or investigation.

  2. Scott14 says:

    Just wondering if these employees are lower management or hourly. If theyre management I dont blame them one bit. The blame game has begun and they are in the cross hairs of everyone from the president down to Ken Ward. Remember that Loose lips sink ships.

  3. Bill Howley says:

    Your Gazette article indicates that MSHA can subpoena witnesses, but only for public hearings. One reason to subpoena witnesses is to compel testimony from people who don’t want to testify. Another very good reason is to give people who fear retaliation an excuse for testifying. A witness fearing punishment from Massey can say that he did so because he was forced to, not because he wanted to.

    I don’t see how having secret hearings would prompt fearful witnesses to testify. Only a subpoena would do that, and give them an out with their employer.

    So MSHA, let’s get it done. Make the hearings public and subpoena the witnesses. You are just wasting time while the evidence gets stale and memories fade.

    It’s even more important to get testimony, because MSHA investigators still can’t get into the UBB mine.

  4. theminerman says:

    while these Massey interviews are on going,,,are we being mis directed? who and when is the MSHA employees going to be interviewed and most of all by who? MSHA? That would be like Massey saying, we will conduct our own employees interviews (behind) close doors and let you know the out come…

  5. Ken Ward Jr. says:

    Scott14,

    I asked that same question, and I was not able to get a list of those who did or didn’t show up — either of their names or their jobs or whether they were hourly or salaried or management or whatever …

    Bill — You make a great point about how issuing subpoenas gives some cover to folks … it’s just like government employees who ask me to file FOIA requests so they can say they had no choice but to give me the records I asked for.

    Ken.

  6. theminerman says:

    Ken I agree some what, that subpoenas can be used as a limited tool,,then what? Mirandize the miner? Is the common miner, who is just trying to make a living, know, what he is being asked and what is the pentaly for giving an in correct answer, that he may not even know the answer. Who will prep these Miners for there rights? Also. Mine ventilation is not all that complicated, but to know the complete system, it takes a mine mgr. or ventilation engineer and of course everyone from the common labor to the Mine mgt. and MSHA/ State Inspectors….. to make sure everything is working with in this required and approved plan by MSHA. Curtains directing air, be rehung, when torn or damage, shift mine examiners doing all their required checks. Miners making their checks as required,,,,one missed check!!!!!! And the un expected,,,a large roof fall where the methane is pushed out of a mined out are, with force…to an inition source, which can be only 150 feet away by law. This large fall and any miner can tell you is normal and the forced air creates a vacumn, then the air rushes or sucked back in and this creates the coal dust/or hope the rockdust to get air borne. if it’s the latter…ok…if not,,,it’s a disaster.

  7. Phil Smith says:

    For someone to infer that people with knowledge of why 29 miners are dead should feel justified in not coming forward because “the blame game has begun” is not just irresponsible, it’s cheering on a felony.

    That’s an unbelievable attitude that explains a lot about why nonunion operators are allowed to so often get away with putting their workers in a dangerous and unsafe situation. They know that, at least in Scott14’s case, some of workers themselves won’t mind if management clams up after someone gets killed.

    Good grief.

    If there are people who it can be proved bear responsibility for this, they need to be identified and yes, blamed. A crime was committed, and if there are no consequences then there is nothing to keep other operators from committing more crimes or government agencies from failing to enforce the laws.

    This is a direct and predictable result of MSHA deciding to hold these interviews in private. Without being able to force people to come testify, they have no power.

  8. Ken Ward Jr. says:

    Phil,

    Not to be a pain … but specifically what crime are you alleging was committed? Do we know that yet?

    Ken.

  9. Phil Smith says:

    Sorry, meant to say “If a crime was committed, then if there are no consequences…”

    And I would never, ever accuse you of being a pain. Such a thought has never crossed my mind. Not once. Really.

  10. theminerman says:

    some of the safest mines I have been in is non-union. I never felt one way or another as to non verses union. I’ve done both. A normal lost time accident, one employee, may cost 80,000 dollars. Companies dont want that expence. Union or non union. right now, that shouldn’t even be an issue,,,,lets see where facts lead us. Ive been involved in some of these and its amazing….but one thing an investagator won’t or shouldnt do, is go in with a notion, this or that cause it. or is this a union or non union mine. Pull up the history of mine explosions!!!!

  11. Phil Smith says:

    Scott, you are correct. If people want to take the 5th amendment, that is their right and I don’t have any problem with that. But they should be forced to come and publicly say that is what they are doing. By not showing up, they are depriving investigators even that information. When MSHA decided to hold these interviews in private, it lost the power to force witnesses to come to the interviews, even if all they were going to do was take the 5th. That is a bad thing, in my view.

    And I am truly sorry for the loss of your father. I know many, many miners — union miners, mostly — who lost fathers in mines — again, union mines, mostly, because that’s what most mines were 15, 20 years ago and more. I don’t know when you lost yours, but whenever it was, it was a tragedy for your family that no one can erase.

    I will say this — as we have learned over the years what causes incidents that kill miners, some mines and operators have applied those lessons more and some have applied them less. Some of those operators have been forced to apply those lessons by an educated, empowered union membership and union safety committee. Where the union does not exist, the only pressure to apply those lessons is financial, which gives the operators a choice to make, essentially, “what action costs less?” That is the action they will almost always take.

    People get hurt in union mines, and sometimes people get killed. But especially with fatalities, it is much rarer the last several years than in nonunion mines. I truly believe that is because we have learned the terrible lessons of the past and do our utmost to ensure those lessons are applied throughout every mine where we represent the workers.

  12. clay ton says:

    re: “Massey employees skip MSHA’s private interviews”

    Nobody pulled a trigger on 4/5/10 at UBB; it appears to be a bomb with a slow fuse. What the public has heard is the managers and the men at UBB ‘played’ the system for years; this was the Massey Energy corporate culture and leadership is top down. Imagine yourself conscripted to a lawless pirate ship where you went along for the sake of your life. It can be assumed that Massey headquarters dealt with the UBB MSHA violations, which means someone at Massey Energy headquarters, was aware of ongoing ventilation problems, etc. By the way, Massey Energy Company Vice President and General Council Shane Harvey is looking worried in the blog photos.

    Since the UBB slaughter on 4/5/10 Massey Energy launched several public relations campaigns to persuade the public that MSHA stopped Massey from using coal dust air scrubbers, and the MSHA stopped Massey from ‘properly ventilating the UBB mines. The cop told Massey not to avoid the ‘traffic devices’ and MEE would not listen.

    Obviously Don Blankenship and Massey Energy board member Bobby Inman do not like being told what to do. Blankenship said at his September 2009 anti-union Labor Day Ho-Down that mine safety laws were as dumb as global warming. Longest serving Massey board member, former ‘CIA/NSA spook’ Bobby Inman said in April 2010 that MSHA violations are like those old Texas speed traps, just a way to collect some money. Please do not forget the old saying, ‘the fish stinks from the head’… Men died at UBB because the leadership at Massey Energy, and the board of directors were at the very least indifferent to the lives of their employees and the Federal laws in place to protect them. Please, someone tell me about the men who say Massey had been doing an exemplary job at UBB up until the explosion on 4/5/10.

    We, the public were informed shortly after the disaster that UBB was shut down early due to excessive methane on April 2. I assume the entire operation shut down for Easter weekend, which put the men back in the same ‘gassy’ mine three days later. What does the ‘fireboss book’ say for April 2, are there methane reading for UBB 24/7/365?

    Listening to the evening news it is abundantly clear that America has lost it’s way towards moral superiority regarding the preservation of life. We allow BP, etc. to drill one mile under the sea with no emergency contingency plan; how stupid is that?? How could this have happened?
    Millions of gallons of crude oil and unknown chemicals will poison future generations and BP just hired its lobbyist’s to push for more deep-sea drilling. With a petrochemical fertilizer ‘dead zone’ the size of Texas already in the Gulf of Mexico and now with millions of gallons of crude oil and toxic oil dispersant the Gulf is officially the sewer for the oil companies. Only the Gulf fishermen really ‘get it’ because they live on the water. Decades ago, our crooked self-serving politicians and bureaucrats gave away ‘the house’ to unaccountable corporate types. And so, if Massey runs their mine like a pin ball game why should we be surprised.

    We are now a nation of jackasses. Our leaders betrayed us over fifty years ago dragging us into a colonial war against the legitimate government of Vietnam; it’s been downhill for the American workingman since then. We have lost our dignity meddling into the affairs of nations that could never threaten us all the while forgoing the needs of our own citizens. Today, America has to play catch up to nations we saved at World War 2. The Economic Colonization of America by global corporations and their beneficiaries is the playbook for the USA; let the citizens be damned is their rule.

    We have none to blame for our internal failures but ourselves. The individuals who refused to offer comment on the situation surrounding the death of 29 good men at UBB on 4/5/10 condemn us all to eternal darkness; this is their power over progress and understanding. One rotten apple spoils the lot still rules. We will not advance as a nation if the UBB investigation in America is allowed to proceed without full disclosure. At the very least the name of the ‘refuseniks’ should be published (FOIA?). It’s also said; ‘we get the democracy we deserve’ and insanity is doing the same mistake over and over and expecting different results.

    Will Appalachian mining communities accept the UBB loss as the ‘expected’ price the few must pay for the many? Average Americans could care less and those who care are virtually powerless. Don Blankenship and Bobby Inman know this and they are counting on UBB just fading away.

    In France yesterday the unions went on strike to preserve the age sixty retirements they currently enjoy.

    Contact me: coallawreview@yahoo.com

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