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Massey Energy's insult to Kentucky workers is outrageous

Source: UMWA

Massey insult to Kentucky workers outrageous, UMWA President Roberts says
Proposal to hire non-English speaking workers a scam to lower wages, benefits for all Massey miners

A proposal by a Massey Energy subsidiary to hire non-English speaking workers from Mexico to fully staff a mine in Eastern Kentucky because the company says there is a lowered work ethic and rampant drug abuse among workers in the region is simply outrageous, United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) President Cecil Roberts said today.

This is the equivalent of an obscene gesture from Massey to every working man and woman in Eastern Kentucky and Southern West Virginia, Roberts said. It says a lot about what Massey thinks about the people who live and work there.

Noting that over 12,000 people have received training and been issued mining certificates from the state of Kentucky over the last two years, Roberts said, There are thousands of people in Kentucky and Southern West Virginia who are eager to go to work in the coal mines. All they're asking for is a decent job, with fair treatment and safe working conditions. If Massey is having trouble hiring qualified miners, perhaps the company needs to look at how it treats its workers and what the safety conditions are in its mines.

The truth is that this isn't about the work ethic or the sobriety of workers in Eastern Kentucky and Southern West Virginia, Roberts said. This is really the first step in a scam by coal operators like Massey which are trying to find ways to slash wages and benefits for all miners, whether they're American citizens or immigrants. If Massey is able to get away with doing this, they'll be able to push down wages and benefits for every miner they employ in every non-union mine they operate by threatening to replace them with immigrants if the current miners don't go along.

The UMWA does not oppose Latino workers in America's coal mines. We're fighting right now for Mexican immigrants in Utah who are struggling to form a union at their mine after being exploited for years,Roberts said. Over 40 Mexican immigrants at C.W. Mining's Co-Op mine in Huntington, Ut. have been trying to organize with the UMWA for over two years, and are awaiting a ruling from the National Labor Relations Board upholding their December, 2004 representation election.

C. W Mining was paying these workers under $8.00 per hour, with no benefits, Roberts said. Working conditions in the Co-Op mine were terrible, and the workers were subjected to intimidation and harassment if they spoke up. The company used their immigrant status as a weapon against them, and tried to exploit these immigrants lack of knowledge about their rights under American law to keep them under the company's thumb.

Now Massey comes along and is trying to set up the same scenario in Eastern Kentucky, Roberts said. We've seen this before. Our Union was founded by immigrants who were brought to this country by the coal barons of the late 19th Century. They couldn't speak to each other. The companies exploited them, playing one group off the other and keeping each suspicious of the other. They courageously overcame all that to form the UMWA in 1890.

We welcome diversity in our Union, because we know it makes us stronger,Roberts said. And we will fight against exploitation of miners wherever it occurs and to whomever it occurs.

(Combined news reports)

COAL RUN, KY - - - A United Mine Workers of America union official said talk of a shortage of coal miners in Kentucky is “the biggest farce out there right now,” and a movement to bring Mexican miners to the Appalachian coalfields is seen as an effort to reduce mining costs through lower wages.

United Mine Workers union organizer Tim Miller said a miners' shortage is nonsense.

In the past two years, the state of Kentucky has issued nearly 13,000 "green cards" - inexperienced miner's work permits. During a recent week, Kentucky labor officials counted 7,187 people actively seeking coal mining work, 5,390 of whom claimed prior mining experience.

Miller, one of the state mining board's seven members, said there are 1,400 laid-off union miners in western Kentucky who could go to work today. He echoed the sentiments of many who believe the industry is simply hoping to exploit Hispanics and drive down wages.

"They want people who don't have the ability to protect themselves," Miller said.

"If they can flood the market with Hispanic workers, if they can get away with paying a guy $8 an hour, the next guy will be willing to work for $7."

Miller's comments were in response to Sidney Coal Co. President Charlie Bearse's plea to the state mining board to allow non-English speaking miners to obtain “green cards” and work in Kentucky's mining industry.

In a letter to the board, Bearse said, “"It is common knowledge that the work ethic of the Eastern Kentucky worker has declined from where it once was," Bearse wrote to the state mining board. Bad attitudes and drug abuse, he argued, were affecting attendance "and, ultimately, productivity."

Bearse said more than a third of his 800 employees have been hired in the past year. Sidney, a subsidiary of No. 4 U.S. coal producer Massey Energy of Richmond, Virginia, has recruited miners from out West and advertised as far away as Charlotte, N.C., but still can't fill its rosters.

So Bearse turned to Hispanic workers already on his payroll and asked if they had a dozen or so relatives or friends who might consider taking part in a "pilot program." He emphasized they would get the same wages and benefits as the company's other miners.

Bearse's request has been tabled by the board for the moment.


Anonymous Not-A-Pundit said...

The exploitation of immigrant labor is a US hallmark, practically an institution.

While Mexican immigrants legal and illegal are willing to do hard work for lower wages than a typical American worker, I think they have enough common sense to know that mine work is hazardous and doubly so if you can't communicate with your co-workers and bosses.

As the coverage on Not-A-Pundit shows Mr. Almaraz is no dummy.

A few miles down U.S. 23, Jorge Almaraz raced around the kitchen at El Poncho - one of three Mexican restaurants in the county seat of Pikeville, population 6,500. A gold Jesus-head medallion swung from Almaraz’s neck as he stirred a bubbling pot of refried beans.

The 39-year-old cook has a wife and four teenage children back in Toluca, Mexico, to support. If he went into the mines, he would expect to be paid as much as U.S. citizens.

But Almaraz has no interest in a job underground. One green card is enough for him.

“I prefer the kitchen.”

Besides, they know mine conditions are no different in the US as in Mexico. Accidents happen.

7:02 PM  

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