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Friday, January 6, 2006

January 6, 2006

On behalf of the seven unions and six million working men and women who make up the Change to Win Coalition, I wish to send our condolences to the families and friends of the 12 miners who lost their lives in Sago, West Virginia. We are deeply saddened by this senseless tragedy.

The Sago disaster is tragic on many levels - and likely never would have happened had the workers been protected by a union contract. A Mine Workers contract would have given them the right to speak out and protect themselves from working under the kind of conditions that prevailed at Sago.

The Sago mine is owned by a corporate profiteer who preys on failing companies. Wilbur Ross bought the company last year after the former owner went bankrupt. The company became attractive to Ross after it used the bankruptcy court to shed its retiree health care obligations and had its pension plan bailed out by the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation. Ross has done the same thing at LTV and Bethlehem Steel. There are reports that he is now eyeing Delphi.

More and more, corporations today are turning to bankruptcy court as a way of breaking their promises to workers. There are now 150 major corporations in some stage of bankruptcy reorganization, including four of the major airlines. Federal bankruptcy court has become the method of choice for dismantling union contracts and eliminating benefits. And people like Ross are making millions by breaking those promises.

Under Ross' ownership, the mine has had numerous safety violations. There have been three cave-ins at the mine since late November. As a result, the company was issued three citations in December for serious violations. Another December inspection led to six more serious violations. The mine has received 270 citations in the last two years.

With a record like that, it's a wonder that the mine was still open for business. Unfortunately, we live in an age where corporate profits come first and nothing else, not even workers' lives, matters.

The Bush Administration has cut funding for safety inspections and is not enforcing the law. When it does, the fines imposed for serious safety violations are far too small to get violators to stop. The Administration owes the American people an explanation as to how a mine that was so egregious in its failure to follow basic safety requirements was able to stay open.

The mission of the Change to Win Coalition is to restore the American Dream, to renew hope, opportunity and prosperity for American workers and their families. Only by uniting millions more workers in a strong and innovative union movement can we ensure that work is valued and rewarded in America, hold global corporations and elected public officials accountable to working people, improve the services we provide to our communities and create hope for a better future for our children and grandchildren.

The miners in Sago should still be alive today. It is our job to create a lasting legacy of workplace safety and workers' rights in their memory.

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