Utah coal miners: We want
to mine 100 percent safely
Workers respond to coal
bosses unsafe productivity drive
AP/Jae C. Hong
Family members of six trapped miners march August 19 in Huntington, Utah. They protested how company and safety officials have handled rescue operations at Crandall Canyon mine.
BY ALYSON KENNEDY
AND CHRIS HOEPPNER
HUNTINGTON, Utah, August 22I want to mine 100 percent safely. Anything less is not enough, said Mack Isaacson, a roof bolter at the Horizon Mine near here, speaking today to the Militant in the aftermath of the Crandall Canyon mine disasters.
Isaacson and other miners at Horizon are insisting that the owners correct unsafe working conditions. I dont want to end up dead at the bottom of this mine. I have two children and my wife is pregnant, he said. Other miners in the area have also told the Militant about unsafe conditions where they work and efforts to change them.
Yesterday our crew organized a meeting with the foremen and the son of the owner to press our concerns, said Isaacson. Parts of the mine roof are deteriorating. Theres not enough timber to shore it up, and the roof bolts are inadequate. Some of the plates that are tightened up to the roof by the bolts look like they come out of a junkyard. And the company is about to start pillaring today!
Pillar extraction, or retreat mining, is a dangerous method of mining that was in use at the Crandall Canyon mine.
After about an hour of our crew pressing these safety questions, Isaacson reported, the company said they would be willing to correct these problems and put it in writingif we produce 30,000 tons of coal.
Well see what they do. But we need union representation. After the Sago mine disaster [in West Virginia last year], there was a big investigation and promises of improvement, but all we have is more dead miners.
Isaacson added, I hope that by my explaining what is happening at the mine where I work, others will speak out about what is happening in their workplaces. The bosses try to burn in our minds the fear that we will lose our jobs, but we have to stand up for our rights to have peace of mind.
March by miners families
Here in Huntington, 75 family members and friends of six trapped miners marched and held a press conference August 19 to express their outrage at how company and federal safety officials have conducted rescue efforts at the nearby Crandall Canyon mine.
We left behind the company officials, people from MSHA [the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration], [and] the Red Cross, and we marched across the street to talk to the press to explain our disagreement with the company over the rescue. All six families and their close friends marched, said Rosa Cholico, a friend of one of the families. They walked over from the site where Murray Energy officials hold daily briefings for relatives of the miners.
This was the first time the families issued a statement since the August 6 collapse of the Crandall Canyon mine that left Brandon Phillips, Carlos Payán, Don Erickson, Kerry Allred, Luis Hernández, and Manuel Sánchez trapped.
Many workers and safety officials say a bouncea movement of rock and coal underground produced by intense pressure from the weight of the mountain and the mining of the coal seamcaused a blast of coal in the mine, large sections of which collapsed.
A week into the rescue operation, 12 miners on the rescue crews, concerned about the dangerous conditions, asked the company to reassign them to work in other areas of the mine, according to numerous press reports. On August 15 another bounce caused an outburst of coal, which covered up the machine being used to mine the rock and debris.
The next day there was another bounce. It blew out a 60-foot section of coal, burying rescue workers. Three men were killed: Dale Black and Brandon Kimber, both Murray Energy mine foremen, and Gary Jensen, an MSHA inspector. Officials halted the rescue effort.
Arvid and Betty Hathaway from nearby Price told the Militant they were angry about the rescue workers being killed at Crandall Canyon, a nonunion mine. We need to bring back the unions to the mines, said Arvid Hathaway, a retired miner. His wife Betty added, What we need is a march to protest the situation.
At the August 19 press conference following their march, the family members of the trapped miners issued a statement. We feel that MSHA, Utah American Energy, Murray Energy and the IPA have failed the six trapped miners. Theyve failed us and our community, they said. The statement was read by Sonny Olsen, a local attorney and spokesman for the families.
UtahAmerican Energy is a co-owner of the mine and the Intermountain Power Agency operates a power plant fed by the Crandall Canyon mine.
The statement said the families have been demanding from day one that a large hole be drilled to lower a rescue capsule into the mine, but that this has not been done. It noted that a capsule was used successfully in the rescue of nine trapped miners in Quecreek, Pennsylvania, in 2002.
The officials seem to be utilizing methods that the family deems will expose further rescue teams to unnecessary risks, the statement said.
The families were responding to Murray Energy vice president Rob Moores statement to the press that Its likely these miners may not be found. Asked if he meant that they would not be found alive or if their bodies would not be found, Moore replied, Its possible they may not be found.
He also said there is recoverable coal in other parts of the 5,000-acre mine, and the company expected to resume operations at some point, the Associated Press reported.
Company president Robert Murray said August 20 that a fifth bore hole was being drilled and a camera and listening device would be lowered into the mine. But, he added, drilling a 30-inch hole would not be justified unless we found someone alive.
UMWA offers to help
United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) mine rescue teams from the Consol and Deer Creek mines who volunteered to help with the rescue immediately after the six miners were trapped were turned away, UMWA officials have told the media.
Mike Dalpiaz, UMWA international representative from Price, said the families requested union assistance and the UMWA has offered to help. He said that under federal law, nonunion miners can request the UMWA to represent them in the post-accident investigation.
The UMWA is calling on Congress to organize an independent investigation of the Crandall Canyon disaster.
Murray repeated at the August 20 press conference his assertion that an earthquake caused the mine collapse. He has also denied that retreat mining was being done at the mine. In retreat mining, coal pillars supporting the roof are mined as the crew withdraws, leaving the roof to collapse.
On August 17, UMWA health and safety director Dennis ODell told CNNs Anderson Cooper, We know that, in this area, mountain bumps [bounces] do occur. We also know that, if you retreat mine in the fashion that they did, youre going to escalate the consequences of what is occurring at this point.
Christina Anderson, a retired UMWA miner who used to work at the nearby Dear Creek mine, said, In eight years I felt three small bounces. At Crandall Canyon, there have bumps in two weeks strong enough to register on a seismic scale.
Anderson added, Pulling pillars at Crandall Canyon is unsafe. But that is the plan that was submitted and approved by MSHA, referring to the June 15 permit the company obtained to authorize retreat mining in the area where the collapse occurred.
Events in solidarity with the families of the miners continue in Carbon and Emery counties. Raffles, car washes, and other fund-raisers have raised tens of thousands of dollars to help the miners families.
Frank Forrestal contributed to this article.
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