Every day on the job, hundreds of miners descend deep into the earth. And every time they go down, each of them wonders: “Will I make it back to the top today?” These days, though, miners and their families are wondering if federal prosecutors will make it to the top — wondering whether justice will catch up to top honchos of Massey Energy who’re responsible for killing 29 mine workers in a horrific methane explosion deep inside the corporation’s Upper Big Branch mine two years ago.
So far, no — but even the odious former CEO of Massey, Don Blankenship, must now be having some sleepless nights, for the Justice Department has steadily been climbing up the corporate ladder.
Prosecutors have gone from indicting a couple of lower-level Massey managers to now nailing Gary May, who was superintendent of Upper Big Branch when it blew.
The charges against May show a corporate-wide, careless culture of “profit over safety” and a deliberate policy of deceiving mine safety inspectors. May allegedly directed workers to falsify official safety record books, and he used codes to warn workers that inspectors had arrived, calling out, “Bringing in a load of blocks” and “There’s a hailstorm outside.”
So warned, workers were expected to act quickly to hide such violations of safety laws as rigging the ventilation system to make the air in the mine seem better than it really was. May is also charged with such deadly practices as ordering the rewiring of a methane monitor to keep miners working, even as levels of explosive methane rose dangerously.
But Superintendent May is not likely to be the Justice Department’s final rung on its climb up Massey’s corporate ladder, for he appears to be cooperating with prosecutors. I think we’ll find that the conspiracy to subvert safety laws ran all the way to the top.
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