·  USW

Statement by USW International President Leo W. Gerard on Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster Settlement

Contacts: Wayne Ranick (412) 562-2444
               Gary Hubbard (202) 256-8125

PITTSBURGH, Dec. 6, 2011 -- The record penalty imposed as a result of the 2010 Upper Big Branch Mine explosion that killed 29 men in West Virginia in 2010 is a significant step by the federal government, United Steelworkers (USW) International President Leo W. Gerard said today. But, Gerard added, it must be followed by holding Massey Energy officials criminally liable for their recklessness.

The settlement, which includes civil and criminal penalties, sends a message to corporations like Massey, now owned by Alpha Natural Resources, that they will pay a price when they disregard federal regulations and the sanctity of human life. In the year before the explosion, Upper Big Branch was cited by safety inspectors 515 times and ordered to shut down 52 times.

A government report on the explosion released in March said that Massey had engaged in a pattern of negligence and that the disaster could have been averted if Massey had observed even minimal safety standards.

Rightly, the settlement does not limit the civil damages that families of the victims may seek, Gerard said.

Just as importantly, it does not protect Massey managers, including former chief executive Donald L. Blankenship, from criminal charges, Gerard said.

"Executives, who personally profit from violating safety regulations, must be held criminally liable," Gerard said. "Any executive who decides lining his pockets and those of shareholders is more important than the life and limbs of workers must be held to account criminally."

Canada, Gerard noted, passed a law in 2003, referred to as the Westray Bill after a deadly mine explosion, allowing the state to hold corporations, their directors and their executives criminally liable for negligence causing worker deaths. "The United States needs a Westray law because decisions to disregard safety regulations come from the top," Gerard said.

The United Steelworkers (USW) is the largest manufacturing union in North America, representing 850,000 workers who make steel, tires, glass, paper and numerous other products.

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