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11/19/2004

Union-busting hurts communities

October 21,2004 Horizon Community Impact Hearing, Smithers, WV

Reporters needed a shoehorn to squeeze into Valley High School, Oct. 21, as over 1,500 coal miners, their families, and others jammed into the gym to attend a public hearing on the economic and social impact of coal company union-busting and the corporate slashing of health care and pensions. A blue-ribbon panel, consisting of elected officials, ministers, and others, heard the testimony.

Smithers is located in Fayette County, southeast of Charleston, and its population is 876.

Earlier this year, the bankruptcy of Horizon Resources, a major coal company, resulted in a federal judge tearing up the United Mine Workers union contracts, which provided health care and pensions, and selling off the corporation’s mines. The notorious A.T. Massey Energy Corporation bought two of them near Smithers. Massey has announced that it plans to reopen the mines in early 2005, but to operate them nonunion.

Students testified that they would have to leave college or stop participating in school activities if the coal operators eliminated their health insurance. Retired miners detailed the life-and-death choices they make when coal companies and judges choose to rob them of health care and pension checks. Elected officials said that Smithers would collapse because the tax base would be wiped out by the judge’s corporate decision.

A report from the panel, called the Community Impact Board, is expected in two weeks.

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