CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A group told delegates at the West Virginia AFL-CIO's annual meeting on Thursday about efforts to complete a memorial for 119 coal miners killed in the third-largest mine disaster in West Virginia's history.
The explosion at the Benwood Mine in Marshall County, owned by Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel Corp., happened on April 28, 1924.
"The miners went to work that morning at 7 a.m. By 7:10, they had all died," said miner Josh Bates, a member of the Benwood Mine Memorial Committee.
Delegate Michael Ferro, D-Marshall, said the state Legislature has donated $15,000 to the memorial fund. "We need to raise $60,000 more to build the memorial," Bates said.
The only larger mine disasters in the state happened at Monongah, Marion County, in 1907, where at least 361 miners died, and at Eccles, Raleigh County, in 1914, where 183 miners died.
The Marshall County Historical Society, based in Moundsville, is overseeing fundraising efforts for the memorial.
Also at Thursday's meeting:
* Ted Hapney, coordinator of the United Mine Workers political action committee, criticized Patriot Coal for cutting off health benefits for retired miners, most of whom previously worked for Peabody Coal or Arch Coal.
Peabody and Arch transferred their union mining operations to Patriot Coal, a company created in 2007 that filed for bankruptcy in July 2012. Arch's first sold its union mines to Magnum Coal, which transferred them to Patriot.
UMW President Cecil Roberts has said ending health coverage for Patriot Coal miners "takes a tremendous amount of money of out of communities," cutting back payments to pharmacies, doctors and medical clinics.
"It might be legally correct, but it is morally corrupt ... to do this to workers, retirees and widows," Roberts said.
Hapney said 22,000 beneficiaries recently lost health care coverage. "But last year, Peabody made more than $4 billion in profits and Arch made more than $300 million....
"We need to focus on changing our bankruptcy laws in this country," Hapney said.
* Debby Ellmore, who works with the Reconnecting McDowell project, spoke about the group's efforts to improve life in McDowell County.