Ward Harkavy on Wilbur Ross’s Union Busting

Illustration by Ward Harkavy, Senior Editor for the Village Voice who writes the “Bush Beat” (used with permission)


In his January 5 column Harkavy he wrote about Wilbur Ross, principle owner of International Coal Group (ICG), pictured above as a vulture, substitute for the proverbial canary in the coal mine.

The billionaire consolidation expert previously had been involved in the steel and textile industries.  He buys bankrupt companies that have already been stripped of union and pension agreements. For instance, in the coal industry, he bought Horizon coal’s holdings, which had voided its union contracts on September 24, 2004, to make the sale more “more lucrative for a buyer”, according to Jennifer Bowen writing in the October 17, 2004 issue of the Belleville News-Democrat.

Sago mine’s sole survivor, Randal McCloy, Jr., was  was transferred  to  HealthSouth Mountainview Regional Rehabilitation Hospital in Morgantown yesterday afternoon, where his was responsive, could eat, but was still unable to talk.

Also yesterday, the federal inspection finally began after U. S. Circuit Judge Robert E. Maxwell  in Elkins ordered ICG to allow United Mine Workers (UMWA) officials to participate. UMWA is representing several of the miners employed at the Sago mine, as well as families of two of the twelve killed.

Said Judge Maxwell, “There’s no question that the public interest is best served by a complete and thorough investigation into the occurrence of the problems at the Sago Mine….There is a strong public interest in allowing miners to play a role in this investigation, as it is their health and safety that is at issue.”

On January 18,  ICG had objected to the UMWA’s participation, saying in a press release,. “The UMWA is attempting to manipulate a provision of the federal regulations,  [It]  does not represent the employees at the mine…[and has] no familiarity or knowledge….that will benefit the investigation…[It] seeks to interfere with the investigation inorder to exploit the tragedy…for [its] own purposes…to revive organizingefforts that have floundered for more than a decade.”

UMWA’s International President, Cecil Roberts, had already decried the lack of progress in mine safety in a release issued January 17.  “The fact is that in the wake of several accidents, including tragedies like that at Sago dating back a decade or more, investigations done by the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) have identified causes of these accidents and recommended many solutions to them that have never been implemented. Other proposed regulations that could perhaps have prevented this tragedy, or at the very least helped get a rescue operation underway faster, were discarded by the newly-installed MSHA leadership in 2001.

“In addition, advancements in communications technology that could have helped speed the rescue effort and a new generation of oxygen-generating personal rescue devices have been languishing for years because of inaction and a lack of direction by the policy-makers at MSHA.”

Roberts responded to ICG’s actions on January 18. “We are not manipulating anything…we are fulfilling our responsibility under the MSHA regulations and we will continue to do so to the best of our ability….Just because ICG doesn’t like the law doesn’t give them license to trample it. It’s interesting to note that the very first thing ICG did this morning as part of the interview process that is taking place in Clarksburg was to attempt to get the identities of the miners who designated the UMWA as their representative. MSHA did not release their identities, nor will we. But the bigger questions are: Why do they need to know that, and what would they do with that information if they did know it? “

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