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Sago investigation dissolving into "travesty," UMWA warns as ICG continues obstruction tactics, circumvention of law

date: 
January 24, 2006

Roberts announces that families of two Sago miners who died in the accident have designated the UMWA as their representatives.

United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) President Cecil E. Roberts warned today that the investigation into the tragedy at the Sago mine is becoming a "travesty" as the mine's owner, International Coal Group (ICG), continues to attempt to circumvent federal law and impede the progress of the investigators.

"At nearly every turn, ICG has flouted federal law and stepped up intimidation and harassment of the employees at Sago in its desperate attempts to stop the UMWA's participation in the investigation," Roberts said. "This is happening despite the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration's (MSHA) recognition of the UMWA as the miners' representative in this accident investigation.

"I continue to ask, "˜What is ICG afraid of ?'" Roberts said. "What is it about having the tremendous safety experience and independence that the UMWA brings to this investigation that scares ICG so much? Is there something there that they don't want independent, outside eyes to see?"

It was reported last week that ICG had begun getting its employees to sign a "petition" at the mine to say that they did not want the UMWA to represent them in this investigation. "Now, think about that," Roberts said. "Here's the company, calling its workers"“who depend on the company for their continued employment"“and saying "˜we want you to sign this.' What do you think the workers are going to do?"

"If a group of employees wants to designate others to represent them in this investigation under MSHA regulations, that's their right and we have no problem with that," Roberts said. "It does not change the fact that a group of employees has designated the UMWA as their representative in compliance with MSHA regulations, and MSHA has repeatedly said that we are recognized as such. We have the right to be full participants in this investigation, and we will exercise that right."

Roberts also announced that two of the families of miners who died in the Sago disaster have signed designations recognizing the UMWA as their representative in the investigation. "They want to make sure that the truth is found in this investigation," Roberts said. "They firmly believe that the UMWA will make sure that it is, and we will do everything in our power to live up to the trust they've placed in us. Their lost loved ones deserve no less."

UMWA safety representatives will accompany federal and state investigators to the mine property tomorrow as the on-site phase of the investigation begins. "We have been assured by MSHA that if ICG attempts to deny us access to the property, MSHA will issue a citation, then an order for them to cease their obstruction," Roberts said. "˜If ICG still refuses to follow the law, then MSHA will go to court to obtain a court order.

"I sincerely hope that it doesn't have to come to that," Roberts said. "The families of the miners who died at Sago deserve much better from ICG. The United States Congress, the State of West Virginia and the American people are demanding answers to what caused the Sago tragedy. It is unconscionable that ICG would go to such lengths to delay this investigation and keep the facts from coming to light."

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