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Where Was the UMW When It Mattered?

Industrial Homicide in the Coal Mines

by RUSSELL MOKHIBER

The United Mine Workers of America held a press conference in Charleston, West Virginia to release Industrial Homicide: A Report on the Upper Big Branch Disaster.

On April 5, 2010, an explosion at Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch mine in Raleigh County, West Virginia killed 29 miners.

The UMW report calls federal and state officials to hold Massey Energy and its executives “accountable for the death of each of the 29 miners.”

“Theirs is not a guilt of omission but rather, based on the facts publicly available, the union believes that Massey Energy and its management were on notice of and recklessly tolerated mining conditions that were so egregious that the resulting disaster constituted a massive slaughter in the nature of an industrial homicide,” the report concludes.

In a footnote, the report’s authors write that “industrial homicide” is not a specific criminal act and technically speaking is not one of the classes of homicide in either the State of West Virginia where the tragedy occurred, or in the Commonwealth of Virginia where both the company and union headquarters are located.”

True.

There is no crime of industrial homicide in West Virginia.

But there is a crime of involuntary manslaughter that Massey could have been charged with.

In West Virginia “involuntary manslaughter” involves the accidental causing of death of another person, although unintended, which death is the proximate result of negligence so gross, wanton and culpable as to show a reckless disregard for human life.”

And the UMW report points to a mountain of evidence supporting a claim of “reckless disregard for human life.”

The problem?

The statute of limitations for involuntary manslaughter is one year.

The state of West Virginia was urged to bring such a prosecution against the company and responsible executives.

But the Raleigh County, West Virginia Prosecutor refused.

And the UMW didn’t weigh in while the window for prosecution was open.

Why not?

The UMW had no explanation.

Here’s one – maybe the UMW wasn’t serious about homcide prosecution against Massey.

If they were, they could have weighed in when it mattered.

Now, they are pushing for federal authorities to bring Massey and its executives to justice.

But not for homicide.

“I don’t think that the opportunity for prosecution of Massey Energy is over,” said UMWA’s Phil Smith. “The federal investigation still ongoing.”

Yesterday, a former Massey mine security chief – Hughie Elbert Stover – was found guilty of lying to federal safety inspectors.

“We want make sure that this doesn’t stop with Stover,” said UMWA attorney Judy Rivlin. “We think it is a significant problem. There are a number of theories that could be pursued.”

But not the “homicide” of the UMW report’s title.

Russell Mokhiber edits the Corporate Crime Reporter.