West Virginia Miner Says Alpha Fired Him for Enforcing Safety

May 24, 2012

A coal miner who says he was fired for enforcing safety standards that slowed down both production and the sealing of the Upper Big Branch mine in southern West Virginia is suing Alpha Natural Resources.

The State Journal said Glen Farley accuses Virginia-based Alpha and its Performance Coal Co. subsidiary of wrongfully terminating his $79,000-a-year job last month.

Performance has until June 10 to file a response in Raleigh County Circuit Court.

Alpha spokesman Ted Pile couldn’t comment on the merits of the case but said Alpha “has a “no reprisals” policy when it comes to the identification of unsafe conditions or behaviors.

“In fact, our Running Right culture actually encourages employees to take action to avoid an accident or injury,” he said, “and that’s even if it means stopping production until the situation is corrected.”

Farley, of Clear Fork, says he held many jobs at Performance and other former Massey Energy subsidiaries for 11 years.

Alpha bought Massey last summer. Farley accuses Alpha of following Massey’s old habits, punishing workers who identify safety hazards and slow down production.

“The same persons who operated the Massey Energy subsidiaries, specifically Performance Coal Company, are still operating those subsidiaries,” the lawsuit contends, “and old habits die slowly, if at all.”

The lawsuit says Performance ostensibly fired Farley because he borrowed a tractor for personal use. Farley says he had permission.

Farley also maintains he was fired despite an outstanding evaluation of his performance.

The lawsuit says a decision he made in March cost Performance “substantial money” because it forced the relocation of a natural gas line. Farley says he shut down a job at a Workman’s Creek mine because he discovered that a road crew had uncovered the line.

On April 1, he shut down a washed-out road that led to an Upper Big Branch Mine portal because he considered it unsafe for vehicles with rubber tires.

That decision slowed down the sealing of the mine where 29 men died in an April 2010 explosion.

The action also created more work for management because it required modification of a federal order closing the mine, the lawsuit said.

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