MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- The United Mine Workers of America says a notice the new owners posted at a Raleigh County mine where 29 men died in an explosion last year is a standard industry tactic aimed at discouraging attempts to unionize.
The union knows about the memo that Virginia-based Alpha Natural Resources posted at the Upper Big Branch Mine, discouraging unionization on the day it bought Massey Energy, UMW spokesman Phil Smith said Tuesday.
Mine Safety and Health News, an independent newsletter, obtained the memo and posted the text online.
"Signing a Union Authorization Card is like signing a blank check. You will not know what it is going to cost you or your family in the future," the memo said, reminding workers of their legal right to refuse to sign.
"Unions are a business. They need monthly dues and assessments from employees to survive," it continued. "We believe you need to keep all of your take home pay and not share it with any union."
The memo also pledged management would listen to any worker with a complaint, concern or question.
"It's not uncommon for the mine management to post these policies so as to inform people of the rights they're entitled to under labor laws," said Alpha spokesman Ted Pile. "It's standard practice."
The UMW agrees.
"This is standard union-avoidance language straight out of a union-busting consultant's playbook," Smith said. "I suspect that something similar is posted at just about every one of the larger nonunion mines in America, no matter who owns it."
Still, he called the presence of such a notice at Upper Big Branch "sadly ironic," given the tragedy that occurred April 5, 2010, and a new study suggesting a correlation between union representation and a drop in coal mine injuries and fatalities.
Investigators have cited disregard for the industry's most basic safety standards as an underlying reason for the methane- and coal dust-fueled blast that ripped through Upper Big Branch in the deadliest mine disaster in four decades.