May 1, 2018 Kim Krisberg 0Comment

At the Huffington Post, Dave Jamieson writes about the impact of Don Blankenship’s U.S. Senate campaign on the West Virginia families who lost loved ones in the 2010 Upper Big Branch mine explosion, which killed 29 workers and was the worst mining disaster in 40 years. Blankenship is the former Massey Energy chief executive who presided over the disaster and who served a year in prison for conspiring to violate mine safety laws.

Jamieson write:

As Blankenship has blamed natural gas and MSHA for the disaster while on the campaign trail, Robert Atkins has been there to fact-check him. Atkins lost his son Jason at Upper Big Branch. He has made a point of showing up at Blankenship’s town hall meetings to speak directly to undecided voters and rebut Blankenship’s telling of events. He estimates he’s gone to five campaign events and has spoken one-on-one with 50 voters, urging them to vote for anyone but Blankenship. His wife joined him for the first event, but couldn’t do any more.

“She just couldn’t take it,” Atkins said. “I’ve got in my head, and I feel I’m right, that that man killed my son. And when he killed my son, it took the life out of me, out of his mom, and out of his brother. … The man has no remorse.”

According to the independent (investigative) panel, the deeper cause of the disaster was what they called “the Massey Way.” Under Massey’s corporate culture, miners were to run coal at all costs. The mine continued operating even when airflow was dangerously low. Workers lacked basic safety equipment while having to file regular production reports. Methane detectors were disabled to avoid having to shut down the mine if levels got too high. And workers were instructed to tip off colleagues belowground when federal safety inspectors showed up.

Massey enforced this system through intimidation, investigators found. Workers testified after the explosion that they did what they were told because they feared for their jobs. Managers belittled miners who couldn’t get with the program. The company had a slogan: “S1 P2,” for safety first and production second. According to (Tommy) Davis, (who lost three family members in the disaster), the joke among miners was that it was really “P1 S2.”

Read the full story at the Huffington Post.

In other news:

Los Angeles Times: Marua Dolan and Andrew Khouri report on a California Supreme Court ruling that will make it much harder for employers to misclassify workers as independent contractors, which has typically allowed employers to sidestep labor law requirements such as minimum wage and overtime. To designate a worker as an independent contractor, the ruling stated, businesses must show that the worker is free from an employer’s control, performs work outside the employer’s core business, and regularly engages in “an independently established trade, occupation or business.” The court went on to say that an employee classification can be denied “only if the worker is the type of traditional independent contractor — such as an independent plumber or electrician — who would not reasonably have been viewed as working in the hiring business.” Dolan and Khouri reported the case examples offered by the court: “ A plumber temporarily hired by a store to repair a leak or an electrician to install a line would be an independent contractor. But a seamstress who works at home to make dresses for a clothing manufacturer from cloth and patterns supplied by the company, or a cake decorator who works on a regular basis on custom-designed cakes would be employees.”

Oregon Public Broadcasting: Eilis O’Neill writes about the effects of farm-related exposures on the respiratory health of farmworkers’ kids, noting that farmworker families experience a variety of pollutants, such as dust, pesticides, smoke from agricultural burning, and ammonia from dairy farms. As a result, O’Neill reports, hospitalization rates for asthma are higher in Washington’s Yakima County — the state’s leading agricultural county — than in any other place in the state. Local physicians are now partnering with farmworker clinics to try to address the problem of uncontrolled asthma, such as putting air purifiers in children’s bedrooms. O’Neill begins the story with farmworker Patricia Marín, whose daughter Azul has struggled with severe asthma for years: “’I had to stop working because of the dust and all the chemicals I brought home on my clothes,’ which would trigger Azul’s asthma, Marín explains. ‘I couldn’t come home like that and hug my daughter.’”

Tampa Bay Times: Malena Carollo reports that OSHA has issued more than $76,000 in fines and a citation to Tampa Electric, following an incident last October that injured two workers. The citation is the second in four months — the first involved a different 2017 incident that left five workers dead, burned to death by lava-like slag gushing from a boiler. (Tampa Bay Times published an investigation into that incident last year — read “Hellfire from above” here.) In the more recent incident, the two workers had been called to repair a water leak in the boiler’s cooling system. When they arrived, Carollo reports, a hatch burst open and sent a column of water directly at them. The injured workers are suing, saying the force of the water split one worker’s skull and caused the other to suffer a spinal compression fracture.

CBS (via Associated Press): In honor of May Day — also known as International Workers’ Day — workers around the world took to the streets to demand better working conditions and champion labor rights. For example: In South Korea, thousands rallied for higher wages and demanded the government reform the huge conglomerates that dominate the country’s economy; in Turkey, demonstrators were arrested as they tried to march toward Istanbul’s Taksim Square, where in 1977, 34 people were killed during a May Day event; in Spain, more than 70 cities hosted May Day marches, in which attendees called for gender equality, higher wages and pensions; and in the Philippines, about 5,000 people rallied to call for an end to the widespread practice of short-term employment. In Los Angeles, according to the Los Angeles Times, a coalition of labor unions and immigrant advocates planned to hit the streets. CNN has even more coverage from May Day events around the globe — read more here.

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