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Mine featured in TV series votes to go union

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Miners working at a McDowell County mine featured in a television series last year voted this week to be represented by the United Mine Workers of America.

Twenty-three hourly workers at Cobalt Coal's Westchester Mine were eligible to vote in the election supervised by the National Labor Relations Board. The vote was 15-7 in favor of UMW representation, according to the union.

"I congratulate the miners at Cobalt on their decision to join the UMWA," said Cecil E. Roberts, the union's international president. "We welcome them to the union family, and we look forward to sitting down with management and negotiating an agreement that is fair and equitable for both sides."

Miners at Cobalt's Westchester Mine were featured in "Coal," a reality show aired on Spike TV in 2011. The show ran for one season.

The Cobalt mine has valuable metallurgical coal, used to produce steel, in underground seams about 42 inches thick.

National UMW spokesman Phil Smith said that the first few episodes of that television series raised major questions about safety practices at the Cobalt mine.

Based on revelations during the Spike TV programs, the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration and state Office of Miners' Health, Safety and Training both cited the Westchester Mine for several safety violations.

A typical UMW contract agreement includes major sections creating local union safety committees. Union agreements also provide miners protections from any retaliation for pointing out safety problems at their mines.

Today, the UMW represents 105,000 active and retired coal miners, as well as manufacturing workers, public safety workers, municipal workers and health-care workers in the United States and Canada.

Earlier this year, a researcher at Stanford University Law School published a study showing death and injury rates are significantly lower at mines where the UMW represents working miners.

Alison D. Morantz said that her study -- titled "Coal Mine Safety: Do Unions Make a Difference?" -- used more comprehensive data than previous studies comparing safety in union and non-union underground mines. The study focused on the years between 1993 and 2010.

Morantz found unionization leads to "a substantial and significant decline in traumatic injuries and fatalities."

The study concludes union representation led to a drop of between 13 percent and 30 percent in major injuries during those years and a drop of between 28 percent and 83 percent in mining deaths.

Morantz said she also believes accident reporting procedures might be more rigorous and accurate in most union mines.

Reach Paul J. Nyden at pjnyden@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5164.


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