Saturday, January 07, 2006

Sago Mine Disaster: The Untold Story

I was reading dailykos this morning and came upon this long, detailed article about coal mining and how the Sago Mine Disaster probably happened:

Underground Mining, Sago, and Death by Greed

The conclusion:

So why didn't ICG keep Sago safe? Because these guys are vultures. Outfits like this exploit corporate bankruptcy laws to take over mines that are on the ropes, then squeeze their bones for every last cent. In the case of Sago, ICG's corporate shell game managed to avoid safety and environmental citations, to escape black lung payments, and break a union contract. Then they got to sell coal into the highest priced market ever. How nice for them, huh?

What killed those men at Sago? Stupid corporate laws that make corporations into "super citizens" and allow shell companies to come and go at will -- companies that squeeze out union support and ignore safety to make another dime. An MSHA that has been gutted and weakened (the mine where I use to work had an MSHA inspector on site ever single day, and sometimes as many as six). And they were killed by men like this:

Wilbur Ross, the New York financier and Palm Beach socialite who swallowed up the company, has been seen squirming before the cameras in the aftermath of the Sago disaster. Maybe he should have gotten his ass down there to rescue the Sago miners -- they're his workers. Well, OK, maybe he shouldn't have. But like other mine owners, he and his company didn't want the expense of keeping a rescue squad on the scene, which some speculate is why it took almost a full day to get the effort going. In any event, the Sago mine, like many others, had numerous citations for safety violations.

That's right. Sago Mine had no rescue team, a fact so astounding, I still have a hard time grasping it. But hey, if it saves Wilbur another dime...

The story of how Wilbur Ross and other corporate vultures are fleecing and destroying the American middle class is from the Village Voice:

Vulture in a Coal Mine
Rescuing dying mine companies? Wilbur Ross is your man. Rescuing dying miners? Well, er, uh..

Here's Ross's MO: He buys a company that is in bankruptcy proceedings. He gets a federal bankruptcy judge (most have been appointed by Republicans) to approve screwing the workers by

1. Busting the union. No union, no union benefits, no union safety voice.

2. Eliminating retirees health insurance.

3. Eliminating retirees pensions.

4. Making millions for himself personally in the process.

He's done it, according to the article, to the Coulterville, Illinois mine (250 miners), which as well as five other union mines in Illinois lost their union jobs, health insurance, and pensions:

After the sale, six union operations previously owned by Horizon were shut down. The nonunion mines remained open.

Under the bankruptcy and reorganization plan, U.S. Federal Bankruptcy Judge William Howard in August agreed that Horizon should not be responsible for $800 million in health insurance contractual obligations to more than 3,000 active and retired United Mine Workers of America union members.

The judge threw out the contract and voided the collective bargaining agreement to make the sale of the mines more appealing to Ross and his partners.

Zeigler No. 11 was the last UMWA-operated mine in Southern Illinois. … The union tried to prevent the judge from allowing Horizon to sever its contract with the union and void its obligations to union retirees. But under federal bankruptcy guidelines, the move is legal.

The 2300 retired union members who lost their health insurance were especially hard hit. Many are less than 60 years old and not eligible for Medicare yet. So many of them are essentially bankrupt (although they probably can't actually declare bankruptcy and void those bills under the new, draconian bankruptcy bill).

Wilbur Ross? He turned around and sold the now non-union mines to a Netherlands-based conglomerate and made, between 267 and 300 MILLION DOLLARS on the deal.

He's also made money by eliminating health benefits and pensions for the retirees of Bethlehem Steel:

Approximately 90,000 widows and retirees of defunct Bethlehem Steel, for example, collectively lost $380 million in health-care benefits between March 31, 2003, when those benefits were terminated by Judge Burton Lifland of U.S. Bankruptcy Court, and October 25, 2004, when Ross sold the former Bethlehem assets to Mittal [the conglomerate].

Of course, we the taxpayers end up paying the medical costs of people whose retiree health care is stolen by corporate raiders like Ross.

In back-of-the-envelope terms, these Americans, plus a government agency and, indirectly thousands of U.S. businesses, absorbed roughly $1.2 billion in losses coming from Wilbur Ross's "rescue" of the bankrupt steel companies.

And he couldn't be bothered to have a rescue squad on hand at the Sago Mine.

Wilbur Ross. Now there's a man who should be in jail.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Your post shows you know little about mining or the law.