Top Menu

UMWA “extremely disappointed” with MSHA decision regarding closing part of UBB investigation; filing legal challenge

May 6, 2010
For immediate release?: 

UMWA “extremely disappointed” with MSHA decision regarding closing part of UBB investigation; filing legal challenge

TRIANGLE, VA. – The United Mine Workers of America (UMWA), a designated miners’ representative in the investigation into the Upper Big Branch mine disaster, today called the decision by the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) to hold the interview portions of the investigation in private “extremely disappointing and contrary to the goal of getting all the evidence possible in this investigation.”

MSHA’s decision to close the interview process means that, under the provisions of the Mine Safety and Health Act, it will not have the power to subpoena witnesses to appear in those interviews.

“Some would want us to believe that the process of this investigation will be completely open and public,” UMWA President Cecil E. Roberts said today. “And although there will be some level of public participation in this investigation that we haven’t seen before, this will not be the open, transparent process we and others called for.

“People from all sides of this issue in the coalfields want this investigation to be fully and completely open,” Roberts said. “The families of the victims do, the UMWA does, the media does, even the company said it does. The West Virginia Board of Coal Mine Health and Safety – made up equally of industry and labor representatives – voted unanimously for an open and public process.

The only people who don’t want this to be completely open are the government agencies, and that, frankly, continues a bad  practice that we expected would change under this administration,” Roberts said.  

“The interview process is perhaps the most critical step in the entire investigation,” Roberts said. “That is where those with fresh, first-hand knowledge of what the conditions were in the mine will be asked to tell investigators what they know. But without subpoena power, MSHA has no ability to compel anyone to participate in an interview.

“And, MSHA will be the one asking the questions,” Roberts said. “But what if they don’t ask all the questions that need to be asked? What if they don’t call everyone who needs to be called?

“It’s important to note that the victims’ families will be excluded from this process, even though they have repeatedly asked to be included,” Roberts said. “And as miners’ representatives, the UMWA  should have the right to participate in the interviews and ensure that no stone is unturned at every step in this process.”

Roberts said he had confidence that MSHA and the federal government want to determine the cause of the disaster and identify those who bear responsibility for it. “I know President Obama, Secretary Solis and Assistant Secretary Main all have that goal,” Roberts said. “But the process that’s going to be used to get there is flawed and may not result in meeting that goal.

“We represent the people who will have to go back to work in that mine when this investigation is over,” Roberts said. “They have a right to know all the information possible about what happened and who was responsible. The interview process is the first and most critical step in finding that out, but the workers are effectively going to be frozen out of that.

“We believe that’s wrong, and is contrary to what Congress intended when it passed the Mine Safety and Health Act,” Roberts said. “So, I have directed our legal department to file a challenge to MSHA’s plan for closing the interview phase of this investigation. That challenge will be filed very soon.

“This is not an action we wanted to take,” Roberts said. “But have been left with little choice. If we are to fully serve those who have designated us to be their representative in this investigation, then we must hold to our demand to be included in all parts of the investigation, including the interviews.

“And, we must do whatever we can to ensure that all the facts are known, and all the people who bear responsibility for this disaster are identified,” Roberts said. “The only way to do that is through a full, open, transparent process. If we have to legally force MSHA to do that, then that’s what we’ll do.”

# # #

Become an Associate Member

united mine workers journal

hound dog

Music, Books, Movies

I need a union

UMWA Kerr Scholarship

contact Congress

United Mine Workers of America seal

United Mine Workers
of America

18354 Quantico Gateway Drive
Suite 200
Triangle, VA 22172