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Ohio miners say they were forced to attend Romney rally

August 29, 2012|By Neela Banerjee | This post has been updated.

Blomquist said his callers chose to stay anonymous from the radio audience for fear of dismissal, but that he had not spoken to anyone who suffered retribution for veering from Murray Energy’s politics. The mine worker’s wife said her husband did not attend the rally and so far hasn’t faced any repercussions.

Blomquist said his callers mainly wanted an end to the overt politics. “They just want the feeling of pressure and the rhetoric to stop,” he said.

During his interview with Moore on Monday, Blomquist pressed the executive about the logic of stripping workers of a day’s pay despite the fact that the work day was lost due to management’s decision. Moore responded that such a decision was Murray Energy’s prerogative and small sacrifice for workers to make.

“We’re talking about an event that was in the best interest of anyone related to the coal industry in this area or the entire country,” Moore said. “Put it in perspective: When you think about how critical this next election is and how critical it is that we get someone in this office who supports coal, to give up 8 hours for a career, I do not believe there is anything negative about that.”

While employees often serve as a backdrop when candidates of either party rally at their facilities, making attendance mandatory and withholding the pay of those who do is considered highly unusual. Century is not a union mine, so workers lack protection from such measures.

[UPDATED at 6:34 p.m.: Murray Energy gained attention during the August 2007 collapse of a mine it co-owned in Utah, Crandall Canyon Mine, during which six miners were killed and three other men perished in the rescue effort.  The media at the time revealed that Murray Energy had a far worse safety record at some of its mines than other coal companies of similar size. Robert Murray blamed the collapse on an earthquake, a theory scientists later discredited.

Robert Murray has also spoken out against further regulation of the coal and power industry and called climate change “elitists' ill-conceived ‘global goofiness' ” campaign.

Coal jobs have risen in Ohio during most of Obama’s tenure, but mines all over mid-Atlantic have been laying off people this year, said Phil Smith, spokesman for the United Mineworkers of America, which endorsed Obama in 2008 and has so far not endorsed a 2012 presidential candidate.  Smith said although many coal companies talk to employees from time to time about developments in the industry, Murray Energy stood apart.

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“He holds frequent meetings with employees letting folks know his views with respect to politics and trashing Obama and trashing us for supporting Obama in '08,” Smith said of Robert Murray. “They’re weekly, maybe biweekly.  So, in tone and amount of activism, he is unique.”]

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neela.banerjee@latimes.com

Twitter: @neelaeast

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