Presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump will attend a fundraiser hosted by coal industry CEO Robert Murray, who has pressured and even allegedly fired employees for political gain and has repeatedly fought against health benefits, safety protections, and labor rights for coal miners. Media covering the event should contrast Trump’s claims of staunch support for coal miners with his willingness to raise money with Murray.
Trump To Attend Fundraiser Hosted By Coal Magnate Robert Murray After Expressing Support For Coal Miners
Coal CEO Robert Murray To Host Trump At June 28 Fundraiser. Robert Murray, CEO of Murray Energy Corp., the largest privately owned coal mining company in America, is hosting Trump at a private fundraiser on Tuesday, June 28, The Hill reported. Murray formally endorsed Trump after meeting with him in May. [The Hill, 6/21/16; Bloomberg, 3/14/16]
Event Comes After Trump Repeatedly Claimed To Strongly Support Coal Miners. Trump has professed support for coal miners several times on the campaign trail. After winning the GOP primary in Indiana, he said he would get miners in West Virginia and elsewhere “back to work,” adding: “Believe me. You’re going to be proud again to be miners.” And in a recent keynote speech at an oil industry conference in North Dakota, Trump asserted: “We’re going to bring back the coal industry, save the coal industry … I love those people.” His empty promise to “bring back” the coal industry has been debunked by fact-checkers and panned, as Time’s Justin Worland put it, for “defy[ing] common understandings of the workings of the energy industry.” [Charleston Gazette-Mail, 5/5/16; The New York Times, 5/27/16; Media Matters, 5/11/16; 5/27/16]
Murray Has Bullied And Fired Coal Miners Over Presidential Politics
Former Employee: Murray’s Decision To Fire Workers Around 2012 Election Was “All For Politics.” In the summer leading up to the 2012 presidential election, “Murray [Energy] announced that it was going to shut down” a mine in Ohio that employed 56 workers, a move that the New Republic noted generated headlines that were “not helpful to [President] Obama, who dearly needed to win Ohio.” However, a former Murray Energy employee told the New Republic that operations picked back up at the mine following the election, leading the employee to say of the layoffs: “In my opinion, it was all for politics. … It was just a show of politics to try to scare people, to get votes for [Murray's] candidate.” Additionally, just after the election, Murray “announced that Obama's reelection was forcing him to lay off another 150 or so workers at mines in Utah and Illinois,” but a former Murray employee in Utah told the New Republic that workers were “being hired back at the Murray operations there, too, just a couple months after the big post-election layoffs.” [New Republic, 1/24/13]
Murray Subsidiary Required Workers To Attend Romney Rally Without Pay. During Republican Mitt Romney’s presidential run, a Murray Energy subsidiary in Ohio required workers to attend a Romney campaign event without pay. Several workers contacted a radio station in Wheeling, West Virginia, saying that they “feared they'd be fired if they didn't attend the campaign rally.” The Cleveland Plain-Dealer reported:
The Pepper Pike company that owns the Century Mine told workers that attending the Aug. 14 Romney event would be both mandatory and unpaid, a top company official said Monday morning in a West Virginia radio interview.
A group of employees who feared they'd be fired if they didn't attend the campaign rally in Beallsville, Ohio, complained about it to WWVA radio station talk show host David Blomquist. Blomquist discussed their beefs on the air Monday with Murray Energy Chief Financial Officer Rob Moore.
Moore told Blomquist that managers “communicated to our workforce that the attendance at the Romney event was mandatory, but no one was forced to attend.” He said the company did not penalize no-shows.
Because the company's mine had to be shut down for “safety and security” reasons during Romney's visit, Moore confirmed workers were not paid that day. He said miners also lose pay when weather or power outages shut down the mine, and noted that federal election law doesn't let companies pay workers to attend political events. [Cleveland Plain-Dealer, 8/28/12]
Murray Pressured Workers To Donate To His Favored Politicians. The New Republic obtained documents showing how Murray personally pressured employees to donate to his company Political Action Committee (PAC) and candidates he supported. During the 2012 election, Murray Energy employees donated more than $120,000 to Mitt Romney, but a review of internal memos and two anonymous sources suggested that “coercion” could “explain Murray staffers’ financial support for Romney.” The New Republic reported that, in a 2010 letter pushing for contributions to his PAC, Murray wrote: “We have only a little over a month left to go in this election fight. If we do not win it, the coal industry will be eliminated and so will your job, if you want to remain in this industry.” And in a 2011 letter ahead of a fundraiser for Republican Sens. Roger Wicker (MS) and Bob Corker (TN), Murray told managers to “rally your salaried employees and have them make their contribution to our event as soon as possible,” adding, “Please see that our salaried employees ‘step up,’ for their own sakes and those of their employees.” From the New Republic:
Murray, it turns out, has for years pressured salaried employees to give to the Murray Energy political action committee (PAC) and to Republican candidates chosen by the company. Internal documents show that company officials track who is and is not giving. The sources say that those who do not give are at risk of being demoted or missing out on bonuses, claims Murray denies.
The Murray sources, who requested anonymity for fear of retribution, came forward separately. But they painted similar pictures of the fund-raising operation. “There’s a lot of coercion,” says one of them. “I just wanted to work, but you feel this constant pressure that, if you don’t contribute, your job’s at stake. You’re compelled to do this whether you want to or not.” Says the second: “They will give you a call if you’re not giving. . . . It’s expected you give Mr. Murray what he asks for.”
Internal Murray documents show just how upset Murray becomes when employees fail to join the giving. In missives, he cajoles employees to attend fund-raisers and scolds them when they or their subordinates do not. In cases of low participation, reminders from his lieutenants have included tables or spreadsheets showing how each of the eleven Murray subsidiaries was performing. And at least one note came with a list of names of employees who had not yet given. [New Republic, 10/4/12]
Murray Has Long History Of Attacking Protections And Benefits For Coal Miners
Murray Sued To Block Protections For Miners From Dangerous Coal Dust. On April 23, 2014, the U.S. Labor Department announced a long-awaited rule to limit miners’ exposure to coal dust, which causes black lung disease. Black lung disease has reportedly killed over 76,000 miners since 1968, and in 2014, rates of the disease returned to dangerous levels “not seen in 40 years,” according to a study conducted by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. The new rule would restrict exposure to coal dust to 75 percent of the prior limit, a move that is estimated to provide millions of dollars in net annual economic benefits. Later that day, Murray Energy announced that it would file a federal lawsuit against the regulation. Murray Energy stated that by putting forth this rule, the Mine Safety and Health Administration “clearly seeks to destroy the coal industry and the thousands of jobs that it provides." A federal appeals court upheld the coal dust rule and rejected Murray Energy’s lawsuit in January. [U.S. Department of Labor, 4/23/14; The Hill, 4/22/14; United Mine Workers of America, accessed 6/27/16; The Courier-Journal, 9/15/14; MSHA.gov, 5/1/14; The Hill, 4/23/14; 1/25/16]
Murray Attacked Miners’ Right To File Safety Complaints. Murray has come under fire for his efforts to prevent workers from filing safety complaints with the federal government. In April 2014, he reportedly criticized miners at five West Virginia mines for “filing too many anonymous safety complaints with the federal government” instead of with management, International Business Times reported. These anonymous complaints triggered inspections that “turned up a number of violations, according to regulators,” the Times added. The Times reported further that Murray “threatened to retaliate by closing down operations,” and a slide from a PowerPoint presentation delivered to miners and obtained by the Times read: “Now, let us take a moment to think about your job being suddenly gone.” In November 2015, the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission fined Murray Energy $150,000 for interfering with miners’ rights to file anonymous safety complaints, and ordered Murray to personally deliver speeches at mines “informing workers of their rights.” The Times quoted from the decision against Murray in a November 19 article:
“I find interference with the right to make anonymous complaints to be a very serious matter that undermines the safety of the mine,” Judge Margaret Miller, of the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission, wrote in her decision, released Wednesday. “The negligence is high.” [International Business Times, 11/4/15; 11/19/15]
Murray Wrongly Denied His Company Was Responsible For Deadly Utah Mine Disaster. Murray denied his company bore any responsibility for a cave-in at Utah’s Crandall Canyon Mine in 2007, which killed six miners and three rescue workers. However, The New York Times reported that a congressional investigation found senior staff at the mine, which is owned and operated by Murray Energy, hid information “that could have prevented the disaster.” From the Times:
The deaths were avoidable, the 150-page report said, because five months before the August disaster in the north section of the mine, a similar collapse had occurred in a southern section, offering clear “red flags” indicating that the mine was unstable.
Rather than informing federal mining officials about the March collapse, the report said, the mine operator cleaned up the site and went on with work in a nearby section.
This conclusion about the cause of the disaster contradicts Robert E. Murray, the chief executive of the Murray Energy Corporation, which owns and operates the mine. Mr. Murray has adamantly insisted that the initial fatalities were not foreseeable because the collapse was caused by an earthquake rather than by mining operations.
In 2012, the Murray Energy subsidiary operating the Crandall Canyon mine was charged for willfully violating safety laws, and Murray Energy was fined $1.34 million. [The New York Times, 5/9/08; Deseret News, 3/9/12]
Murray Has Long History Of Negligence On Coal Miner Safety. Multiple reports have documented Murray’s companies recording higher-than-average health and safety violations. According to a January 15, 2006, article in The Columbus Dispatch, Murray owned Ohio's two largest mines at the time, which “recorded injury rates about one-fourth higher than the national average last year while being cited for serious violations by the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration [MSHA].” International Business Times reported in 2015 that five West Virginia mines owned and operated by Murray Energy have rates of “significant and substantial” health and safety violations greater than the national average. And Investigative Reporting Workshop, a project of the American University School of Communication, found that between 2000 and 2009, Murray Energy was fined $18,192,186 and received 7,747 “significant” violations. [Columbus Dispatch, 1/15/06, via Nexis; International Business Times, 11/4/15; Investigative Reporting Workshop 11/22/10]
Murray Cut Off Health Benefits For Coal Retirees. In April 2014, Murray Energy announced that it would cut health benefits for over 1,000 retired workers from five West Virginia coal mines. In a press statement, the company blamed the Obama administration, stating: “Murray Energy’s inability to provide these benefits is, in part, due to the destruction of the coal industry, including our markets, by the Obama administration and its appointees and supporters.” However, Murray Energy’s effort to blame the Obama administration for the cuts was not credible, as ThinkProgress explained:
CEO Robert Murray has warned of dire consequences from the “War on Coal” for years. These warnings usually have little relation to the actual level of employment or the full economic picture contributing to coal’s decline. Experts agree low natural gas prices and a sluggish economy contribute the most to coal’s shrinking market share, not government regulations. [Charleston Gazette-Mail, 4/17/14; ThinkProgress, 4/19/14]
Murray Threatened To Fire Workers For Supporting Unions. The National Labor Relations Board’s Pittsburgh office issued a formal complaint against Murray in 2001 because Murray Energy “[t]hreatened Union officers and its employees with reprisals for publicizing the labor dispute between the parties," "[t]hreatened its employees with the loss of jobs, and the loss of wages and benefits if they failed to select new Union officers and because of their support for the Union," and “[d]isparaged its employees for participating in Union activities,” among other complaints, according to a 2002 United Mine Workers Journal article. [United Mine Workers Journal, January-February 2002]