The decision was related to cases that were brought before the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission by a number of miners at five mines owned and operated by MEC pursuant to section 103(g) of the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977 (the Mine Act), which gives miners the right to file an anonymously complaint, and the interference provisions of section 105(c). According to the case file, the issue in each of the cases was a mandatory “awareness meeting” that was held at each of the mines where Murray discussed complaints that had been made by the miners to MSHA.
The five mines involved are large West Virginia longwall mines MEC acquired from CONSOL Energy, including the Marshall County mine, Ohio County mine, Harrison County mine, Monongalia County mine and Marion County mine. Shortly after MEC acquired the mines, a number of 103(g) complaints were filed regarding alleged safety hazards and violations. From December 2013 to July 2014, MSHA conducted inspections to investigate the complaints and issued 42 citations.
According to the judge’s decision, beginning in April 2014, Murray held a series of awareness meetings where he gave a speech along with a PowerPoint presentation at all three shifts of all five mines. A recording of one of the speeches was offered as evidence. During the speech, “Murray asks the miners to ‘take a moment to think about your job being suddenly gone’ and reminds them that ‘there are no jobs in this area that pay anywhere close to what is paid’ at the mine,” the document stated.
Having established that the miners had a protected right to make anonymous complaints to MSHA regarding health and safety violations, the question before the judge was whether Murray Energy and its CEO interfered with that right. Murray’s tone as evidenced in the recording was serious and at times threatening, Judge Miller wrote in her decision. “Throughout the two-hour presentation, miners were repeatedly reminded that their jobs, futures and family livelihoods were at risk,” Miller said. A reasonable miner, Miller said, would have concluded that management at the mine was hostile to the 103(g) complaint process, especially as it was currently being used at the mine.
Miller ordered MEC to cease and desist from violating section 105(c)(1). MEC was further ordered to rescind the rule announced at the awareness meetings requiring miners to give notice to management of the 103(g) complaints. She also ruled that any discipline resulting from that rule be rescinded immediately.
The court ordered Murray to hold a meeting at each mine in which he shall read a prepared and approved statement notifying miners that they are not required to contact management when making a complaint to MSHA. She assessed a $30,000 penalty for each of the violations at the five mines, totaling $150,000. Readers can view the entire decision here.