Last Friday, Rush Limbaugh demanded to know why a coal miner union didn’t protect the 29 miners who were killed in one of Massey CEO Don Blankenship’s mines. After ThinkProgress reported that there was no union at the mine, Limbaugh claimed yesterday that it was a “fact” that “there were union workers there.” Limbaugh cited a news article that the “National Labor Relations Board has affirmed a decision that Massey Energy must rehire 85 coal miners who alleged they were illegally discriminated against because of their union affiliation.” Limbaugh concluded that “the left” who “are trying to blame the Massey disaster on its union busting” were wrong:
So there were union workers there, and so the United Mine Workers should have been overseeing their safety. United Mine Workers of America. There were union workers at that mine, and the left is trying to say, “You can’t say that, Limbaugh! Why it’s a nonunion shop. That SOB CEO got rid of all the unions!” No, no. He agreed to bring back 85 of them. You people, it’s been 21 years. At some point you are going to learn: If you go up against me on a challenge of fact, you are going to be wrong. It’s just that simple.
On this “challenge of fact,” Limbaugh is wrong once again. The 85 union coal miners were actually at a different Massey subsidiary at a different mine in a different county than the one where the disaster occurred. The coal miners that Limbaugh references were located at Mammoth Coal’s Mammoth (formerly Cannelton) mine in Kannawha County, WV, while the tragedy occurred in Performance Coal’s Upper Big Branch-South mine in Raleigh County, WV.
In fact, Blankenship successfully fought three different attempts by the United Mine Workers of America to unionize Upper Big Branch in the 1990s. After the last union drive failed, Blankenship cut bonuses in half and increased hours by fifty percent.
Andrew Tyndall observed the network nightly news coverage of the disaster and notes:
Not once, in all five days of coverage, did a single reporter mention the organization that has worked hardest over the decades to make sure that mining management does not cut safety corners and that miners can monitor their own working conditions with impunity. The union went unmentioned, as did the fact that the Upper Big Branch workforce went unorganized.
,Phil Smith, Communications Director for the United Mine Workers of America, tells ThinkProgress that Massey Energy is still appealing the NLRB decision, and that the 85 union miners have not been rehired. In fact, Massey Energy has not employed any union miners for over a decade. There are only about 80 UMWA members working for Massey, not in the mines but at two preparation plants in West Virginia.