Last week a local radio person made disparaging comments about the coal mining industry, coal miners and their loving wives who pray for the safe return of their husbands every day they go to work. The attorneys and staff at Fitzsimmons Law Firm find these remarks offensive, crude and ignorant. Fitzsimmons Law Firm respects and admires the coal miners who jeopardize their life and safety for our benefit, and their loving families who sacrifice so much.
West Virginia's mining industry is critical to the economy and well-being of our state and nation. West Virginia leads the nation in coal production and our coal industry and utility companies account for two-thirds of all of our business taxes. Each year, $24 million of a coal severance tax is paid into an infrastructure bond fund and $3.5 billion of our state product is generated by coal energy producing companies. More than 50 percent of the nation's electricity is generated from coal.
None of this would be possible if it were not for the hard-working and dedicated miners, who literally risk their lives each working day. These workers are engaged in one of the top ten most dangerous jobs. Our coal miners are a special breed. They quietly accept the risks inherent in their job in order to provide a good living for their families – families who in turn worry daily whether their loved ones will be injured or killed or develop a disabling disease, like black lung.
Most people were unaware of this fact but coal was discovered right here in West Virginia in 1742 in Boone County. In the beginning of the coal mining industry, coal operators paid minimum wages which were recycled through company stores. In 1890, the United Mine Workers of America was founded in Columbus, Ohio, in order to take up the fight to promote mine safety, create independence from the company stores, and to provide for fair wages and benefits. The UMWA has done an outstanding job in accomplishing these goals through excellent leadership and the strength and unity of all coal miners.
Despite these advances, miners and their families still face an increased risk of injury and death.
On January 2, 2006, thirteen miners were trapped in the Sego Mine in Upshur County, West Virginia. Twelve died and the survivor suffered severe brain injuries.
Thirteen days later, two miners died of carbon monoxide poisoning and many more were injured at the Aracoma Mine in Melville, West Virginia.
On April 5, 2010, a little more than two years ago, 29 men lost their lives in the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster in Boone County. The families of these brave men lost a husband, a brother, a son, a dad, and a friend. The loss they experienced was devastating and the men whose lives were taken were honorable, hard-working, intelligent, caring, and many were highly skilled and educated.
One of our attorneys, Robert Fitzsimmons, had the honor and privilege of meeting many of the families of the miners killed in the Upper Big Branch mine explosion and learning about their loved ones in that he was appointed by the Judge as one of the mediators to help settle the wrongful death claims for the miners' families. As if it were not already obvious, this experience reconfirmed for us that the work done by our miners is demanding, both physically and mentally; requires skill and training; and, above all, the risks and dangers encountered by our miners are real.
We find it disgusting and pathetic to criticize any working person's occupation but especially the hardworking miners and their families who work tirelessly so that West Virginia's economy thrives and our nation has power.
We thank all of the miners and their families for their hard work and sacrifices. As residents and citizens of West Virginia, Fitzsimmons Law Firm is proud to say that West Virginia is the home of coal miners.