Former Massey Miner Files Whistle-Blower Complaint
Posted: Thursday, July 15th, 2010 at 8:33 am
A former coal miner who worked for Massey Energy has filed a federal whistle-blower complaint, alleging that he was suspended and then fired after talking to a newspaper reporter about unsafe conditions at two of Massey’s mines.
Ricky Lee Campbell, 24, worked as a roof bolter and shuttle car driver at the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia—the site of an explosion that killed 29 miners in April—before being transferred to the Slip Ridge Cedar Grove mine, just a week before the disaster. Two days after the accident, he returned to the Upper Big Branch office to pick up a paycheck; while there, he was approached by two reporters for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Campbell told the reporters that he had complained to supervisors repeatedly that the brakes on his coal shuttle car were faulty, that a stuck pedal made stopping the cars more difficult, and that two accidents had occurred as a result of brake failure. Both of those accidents in turn caused equipment damage and production delays.
Campbell later testified, at a hearing before an administrative law judge with the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission, that his supervisors assured him the problems with the brakes and other equipment would be fixed, but that they never were.
“This mine was one of the worst I’ve ever been in,” Campbell told the reporters. “This place, it was real bad. …I actually told my family, ‘You know, somebody is going to get killed up here.’”
The videotaped interview with the Post-Gazette, portions of which were posted on its Web site, took place on April 7, two days after the blast. Campbell was placed on a five-day suspension “subject to discharge” the next week. He was fired on April 23.
A preliminary investigation found merit in his claim, and the Labor Department has asked that Campbell be reinstated to his position pending the resolution of the whistle-blower claim. The judge in the case, L. Zane Gill, will decide this week whether or not to force Massey to give the miner back his job. Massey does have the option of granting an “economic reinstatement” in which Campbell would be put back on the payroll, but not actually report for work.
Massey Energy has come under fire since the Upper Big Branch mining disaster, which is the deadliest mining accident in the United States since 1970, for repeated safety violations and citations. The FBI has launched a probe into possible criminal wrongdoing, including negligence and bribery, that may have also contributed to unsafe conditions at the coal mine.