Miners say they were told to go to GOP rally
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Workers at a private coal company owned by a major Republican donor are complaining they were directed to attend a Mitt Romney rally in Beallsville, Ohio, earlier this month.
After Murray Energy Corp. closed down mining activity Aug. 14 and mandated that employees attend the political rally -- which targeted Obama administration coal policies -- miners began complaining about it to a Wheeling, W.Va., radio station, saying they missed a day's pay because of the rally.
The company is owned by Robert Murray, a vocal critic of Mr. Obama whose company has contributed more than $900,000 to Republican candidates the past two years.
Miners and their families began anonymously complaining about the directive to conservative WWVA-AM talk show host David Blomquist, telling him they feared losing their jobs if they did not attend. The complaints were further reported by the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
Miners in work clothes stood behind the Republican presidential nominee as he blasted Mr. Obama's coal policies that day.
The coal firm's executive vice president, Rob Moore, responded to the claims on Mr. Blomquist's show on Monday. "Attendance at the Romney event was mandatory but no one was forced to attend," Mr. Moore said. "... There were no consequences or repercussions taken against any employee who did not attend the Romney event."
Pressed on why workers had to miss a day's pay to attend, Mr. Moore said if miners consider "how critical it is that we get someone in [the president's] office that supports coal, to give up eight hours for a career, I just don't believe there is anything negative about that."
The Romney campaign referred questions to Murray Energy.
The Murray Energy subsidiary Ohio Valley Coal Co. announced the layoffs of 29 hourly workers at its Powhatan No. 6 Mine in Belmont County, Ohio, on July 20. "The failed energy policies of the Obama administration and the 'war on coal' that the president and his Democrat supporters have unleashed are the direct cause for this layoff," general manager Ronald Koontz said at the time. "Unfortunately, for us, this is just the beginning of the workforce reductions."
Murray Energy is the largest employer in eastern Ohio. Beallsville, in Monroe County, is 35 miles from Wheeling.
As the Post-Gazette reported Sunday, the political fights over coal come as the industry has been battered by increased competition from cheap natural gas and Environmental Protection Agency decisions that shuttered dozens of coal-fired power plants. Last month, the U.S. Energy Information Administration reported that domestic coal- and natural gas-powered generation were equal for the first time since the agency began calculating the information.
First Published August 31, 2012 12:00 am