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Protesters at Massey Meeting Call For CEO to Resign

Tuesday, 18 May 2010 11:39 AM

A mixture of union representatives and anti-mining activists gathered outside a historic Richmond hotel Tuesday morning to protest against a common foe — Massey Energy Co.

Hundreds of people sang songs, chanted and held signs across the street from the Jefferson Hotel, while Richmond-based Massey's board opened its annual stockholders meeting inside. Their protests were focused on Massey CEO Don Blankenship, calling for him to resign or to be prosecuted on environmental and workplace safety issues.

The meeting has attracted increased attention because it comes six weeks after 29 miners died in an explosion at Massey's Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia. The blast is the nation's worst coal mining disaster in 40 years and has prompted an outpouring of criticism of Massey.

At least two people were arrested inside the hotel by Richmond police, which had officers stationed around the building. Hotel officials declined to comment.

The protest did not prevent Massey from starting the meeting shortly after 9 a.m.

Blankenship defended the company and his own record on safety and environmental compliance.

"We reject all accusations that this company is indifferent to safety," he said during a webcast speech to investors. "I receive a report on every lost-time accident at Massey. We want to know how the injury occurred."

Blankenship said the result has been a significant reduction in the company's injury rate during his tenure, which started in 1992. "Last year, the Mine Safety and Health Administration thought so much of our workplace safety record that it awarded Massey three of its prestigious Sentinels of Safety awards," Blankenship said.

This year, the agency has deplored safety conditions at Upper Big Branch. MSHA and the U.S. Department of Justice are now investigating the explosion to determine the cause and whether any crimes were committed.

Criticism has spread among some Massey shareholders, who pushed fellow investors to vote against three incumbent board members in response to the explosion.

"It's long past time for this company and this board to strengthen its oversight, independence and accountability," AFL-CIO official Daniel Pedrotty said during the meeting. Pedrotty was one of several people who spoke in favor of rejecting three incumbent directors.

Despite the objections, the three board members were re-elected. Proposals requiring directors to win a majority of votes and requiring the full board to be elected annually also passed.

The crowd gathered outside the hotel represented miners affiliated with the United Mine Workers, representatives of environmental groups and others who have fought with Massey over the past several years on environmental issues at the company's mines in Kentucky, Virginia and West Virginia.

"They're simply focusing on one of the evils of Massey Energy and we're focusing on one of the other ones," Lacy MacAuley, with Rising Tide DC, said of the union-activist gathering.

Massey is predominantly nonunion and the UMW has challenged the company over worker-safety issues.

"It all comes down to Massey Energy putting profit over people," said Charles Suggs, who traveled to the meeting from Rock Creek, W.Va. "This is not purely a Massey issue. This is a coal-industrywide issue.

"Massey just happens to be the worst at it," he said.

Blankenship likewise dismissed concerns about the company's environmental record, which includes a $20 million fine for federal water quality violations in 2008. He said the company reduced citations for environmental violations 22 percent in 2009.

"Massey is proud of its record protecting the environment in Central Appalachia," Blankenship said. "Environmental stewardship has become part of this company's DNA."

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A mixture of union representatives and anti-mining activists gathered outside a historic Richmond hotel Tuesday morning to protest against a common foe Massey Energy Co.Hundreds of people sang songs, chanted and held signs across the street from the Jefferson Hotel, while...
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Tuesday, 18 May 2010 11:39 AM
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