By Kenny Perdue
Halfway through the documentary film “Upper Big Branch – Never Again,” Martin Hertzberg, a self-proclaimed semi-retired explosives expert, recycles a theory that the fatal explosion on Apr. 5, 2010, that tragically took the lives of 29 coal miners was fueled by an uncontrollable flood of natural gas and not an illegal buildup of coal dust, as established by the Mine Health and Safety Administration. Asked to justify his claim, Hertzberg argues that any “decent miner” would have refused to work in an unsafe mine.
We will never know what choices the 29 workers in the Upper Big Branch mine were forced to make on the day of the explosion, because those miners were killed.
The carefully honed cast of Don Blankenship’s “Upper Big Branch – Never Again” is just the beginning. Produced and paid for by none other than former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship, the “documentary” pushes the limits of the genre with its bold conspiracy theories and creative re-imaging of the tragic events that led to the deaths of the 20 miners, painting a surreal alter-image of West Virginia’s coal industry.
The documentary claims to be “setting the facts straight” yet thanks to liberal editing, snippets of interviews with mine safety experts, MSHA experts, and even Senator Manchin are trotted out with an eye more towards escaping responsibility for the tragedy than accurately representing interviewees’ opinions. Further straining its credibility, the film’s star is none other than Don Blankenship himself.
Beyond a shadow of a doubt, coal is the lifeblood of southern West Virginia, and the brave miners who worked at the Upper Big Branch mine died performing labor that provides stable employment for many West Virginia residents, however, the film glosses over the working conditions of the workers.
Twenty-nine brave miners never came home to their families because an industry executive put his lust for profit and hatred of regulation above the lives of his workers. The movie “Upper Big Branch – Never Again” is a poignant reminder of the lengths that employers will go in order to escape blame for the horrific disasters caused by their negligence.
The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations paused on Apr. 28, 2014, to mark an annual observance of Workers Memorial Day, a day set aside to mourn those who have lost their lives in work place accidents. On that day, to honor those that have died, we re-committed ourselves to work toward stronger legislation to assure safe and healthful working conditions, to protect the living.
The WV AFL-CIO gives Blankenship’s documentary film a four star rating on its original conspiracy theory, based on its pervasive factual inaccuracies and biased reporting. Parental guidance is suggested.
(Kenny Perdue is president of the West Virginia American Federation of Labor – Congress of Industrial Organizations (WV AFL-CIO), a group of more than 575 unions.)