Coal Tattoo

Arch Coal’s safety testimony under fire

It was interesting enough that Arch Coal vice president for safety Tony Bumbico thought calling for a voluntary safety program in the coal industry was a good idea … But then he decided to criticize the idea of offering more protections to coal miners who object to unsafe working conditions.

And it looks like Bumbico picked the wrong folks to get into this fight with …

As Ellen Smith’s Mine Safety and Health News  reports, during a House hearing last week, ranking Democrat George Miller of California asked Bumbico about this proposal:

“What would you do about whistleblowers?” Miller asked Bumbico.

Bumbico responded, “Whistleblowers I believe at this point have adequate protection under the existing law.”

And then:

“What happened to the person [Scott Howard] that you fired for showing the video of the leaking water seals? Retaliation against a whistleblower,” Miller said.

“I think you’re mischaracterizing….” Bumbico returned.

“You characterize it for me,” Miller shot back.

“The individual in question took a video camera underground and did a tape of seals that were leaking,” Bumbico summarized. “Instead of calling that to the attention of mine management or instead of calling MSHA and complaining…he took the video tape and brought it to a public hearing to show it…”

Bumbico said he could not go into great detail in that the complaint was now in civil litigation. Kentucky coal miner Charles Scott Howard prevailed last year in his safety discrimination complaint against Arch subsidiary Cumberland River Coal Co. and has recently filed suit against the company (see story this issue).

“So he never addressed this prior with you, with the company?” Miller questioned.

“No,” Bumbico stated, adding that Howard was not fired but laid off as part of a reduction in force.

But is that the real story?

The article continues:

Bumbico’s testimony on the Scott Howard case, however, conflicts with the facts established in one of the ALJ decisions issued August 13, 2010. According to the ALJ decision, in March 2007, Howard discovered several underground seals had begun leaking water, and made notes in the pre-shift examiners book. Another examiner also noted the leaking mine seals, and brought this to the attention of management. Management never ordered any repairs. Howard shot video footage of the leaking mine seals on April 20, 2007. Then, he decided to take the video to an MSHA public hearing, called to discuss an emergency temporary standard on mine seals, on July 12, 2007.

ALJ T. Todd Hodgdon found Cumberland unlawfully discriminated against Howard and ordered the company to expunge all disciplinary actions or references from its records, pay him backpay, and post a copy of the decision at all of its mining properties.

After the ALJ decision, the company and Howard settled the case. While the amount received by Howard was not disclosed, the company agreed to pay Howard’s attorney fees of $155,395 … Howard has also filed a lawsuit against the company last week, and asked for a jury trial, claiming he was illegally laid off on May 15, 2009, because he had engaged in numerous safety activities at the mine.

And now, Howard’s lawyer, Tony Oppegard, has written a letter to Miller to try to correct the record. Oppegard provided copies of 27 entires from pre-shift examination books in which Scott Howard documented the hazardous conditions he had found at the mine:

You will note that each exam report completed by Mr. Howard was countersigned by a mine foreman … which indicates that the foreman had reviewed Mr. Howard’s findings.

The attached preshift exam reports, as well as the cited testimony of Mr. Howard – which was not rebutted at trial – clearly contradict the testimony of Anthony Bumbico of Arch Coal at the May 4, 2011 hearing “Modernizing Mine Safety” before the House Subcommittee on Workforce Protections. At that hearing, Mr. Bumbico falsely testified that Mr. Howard had shown the video of the leaking seals at the MSHA public hearing on July 12, 2007, without first informing Cumberland River Coal Company of the problems with the seals. Of course, that allegation is utterly untrue.

We would appreciate if you would enter this correspondence in the official hearing record so that Mr. Bumbico’s inaccurate testimony does not go unchallenged. Please also note Mr. Howard’s support for the mine safety bill that you have introduced. The bill’s protections accorded to miners who speak out for safety on the job are vitally needed.