BENWOOD, W.Va. — An administrative law judge has ordered Murray Energy Corp. Chairman, President and CEO Robert E. Murray to give speeches at five West Virginia mines to make sure his workers know their rights when it comes to filing complaints with the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration.
Judge Margaret A. Miller, ruling on the matter before the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission, also will require Murray to pay a $150,000 fine for allegedly “threatening reprisal and mine closure” to those United Mine Workers of America members who filed confidential complaints at the Marshall County Mine, in addition to allegedly interfering with the rights of miners to file such complaints at all five of Murray’s West Virginia operations, including the Ohio County Mine.
“Judge Miller, who has historically been very biased against coal companies, was clearly wrong in her decision and we will immediately appeal. Mr. Murray’s awareness meeting presentations clearly state that employees have the right to file complaints with our federal government and that our company would ‘never interfere with that right.’ All that Mr. Murray said is that employees should also report safety concerns to management so that these concerns can be addressed immediately,” Murray spokesman Gary Broadbent said in reaction to the ruling.
The coal operations in question are the mines Murray purchased for $3.5 billion from Consol Energy in late 2013. These include the Marshall County Mine; the Ohio County Mine; the Monongalia County Mine; the Marion County Mine; and the Harrison County Mine.
According to MSHA, inspectors issued 29 safety citations at these mines from March 12, 2014, to April 9, 2014, due to responding to the confidential complaints from UMWA members. These violations included the accumulation of coal dust along conveyor belts, inoperative escapes, an inadequately supported roof, flammable concentrations of methane near a seal, inoperative emergency communication systems and inadequate ventilation.
After receiving the citations, Murray scheduled a series of “awareness meetings” with employees at the mines. As stated by MSHA, these meetings featured Murray speaking with the miners about how they must report “unsafe situations and compliance issues to management.”
“And if you want to fight inside, let me tell you: I’ll go on to a better coal mine, and we’ll close this one,” MSHA asserts that Murray told the Marshall County employees during the awareness meeting.
“There is a long history of UMWA-represented hourly employees filing false safety complaints with the federal government to intimidate management,” Broadbent said in reacting to the decision.
In a related matter, Murray recently sued the UMWA for refusing to report “allegedly unsafe working conditions to management.” However, Phil Smith, spokesman for the UMWA, said the labor organization believes it is within its rights.
“No one wants to see total employee safety more than Mr. Robert E. Murray. Indeed, Mr. Murray frequently tells our employees that ‘There is no pound of coal worth getting hurt over,’ and no topic is discussed until all safety issues are fully addressed. Any suggestion otherwise is a blatant lie,” Broadbent added.