Within the last 17 months, Kentucky miner Reuben Shemwell got fired from his welding job, sued by his former employer and effectively blackballed from the local mines — troubles that he claims all started when he spoke up about working conditions he considered unsafe.
With the miner now wrapped in a messy legal battle with his former employer, an affiliate of Armstrong Coal, what happens to Shemwell’s case could impact all U.S. miners who claim they’ve been fired or otherwise punished for blowing the whistle in what remains one of the nation’s most dangerous industries.
“I’ve been representing miners in safety discrimination cases for more than 30 years, and this is the first time I know of anywhere in the country where a company has sued a miner for filing a discrimination complaint,” said Shemwell’s attorney, Tony Oppegard. “We think the reason they filed [the suit] was to intimidate him and to intimidate other miners.”
It’s not such a great story.
You may be wondering, though, why Armstrong Coal gets such stellar treatment in Kentucky. Or why everyone in Frankfort just looks in the other direction on this matter. Particularly after all the press releases and such that the Energy and Environment Cabinet has put out over the past couple years about accidents, collapses, deaths and such.
Could it be because of the strong political ties Armstrong maintains in Frankfort?
Recent appointments made by Governor Steve Beshear would have any sensible person wondering just that…
Gov. Beshear has appointed the following members to the Kentucky Commission on Community Volunteerism and Service:
- Daniel Z. Zaluski, of Madisonville, is an attorney at Armstrong Coal Co. Inc. The appointment replaces Martha C. Pressler, who has resigned. Zaluski shall serve for the remainder of the unexpired term ending Jan. 3, 2013.
Gov. Beshear has appointed the following members to the Kentucky Workforce Investment Board:
- Kenneth E. Allen, of White Plains, is employed by Armstrong Coal Company. He represents coal.
Of course, that’s all just speculative. No one would ever question whether or not things like this occur because Steve Beshear is beholden to coal and even defers to coal executives when making personnel decisions.