Most employees hope that their employer, while not omni-benevolent, does not engage in business practices that could intentionally lead to their death. After all, "Working for us could get you killed" would hardly make a compelling recruitment advertisement.
That may not have been true according allegations made against the former head of Massey Coal, who has been indicted for conspiracy to commit mine safety violations and other legal offenses.
For years, he ran the coal company with an iron hand and with meticulous attention to detail, befitting his training as an accountant. And it appears from material uncovered during the case, mine safety violations were not an accident, they were conscious policy, designed to save money.
The violations of the mine safety rules that led to the deaths of 29 miners in the Upper Big Branch mining disaster could generate about six years in prison.
However, he is now at risk of going to jail for a much longer time. Remarkably, it is not for the deaths of those miners, or for others who died directly or indirectly while working for his company. No, the most serious charges he faces are for lying on a Securities and Exchange Commission filing.
For workers in the U.S., the sad fact is that workplace rule violations and discrimination, actions that make the lives of millions of workers miserable and lead to some of them dying, are subject to at most, minor punishment.
Whether a year or two in jail for safety violations or a few hundred thousand dollars in penalties or settlement costs for a discrimination case, many employers see violating the rights of their employees as just one more cost of doing business, like the electric bill.
That they damage or destroy workers lives and emotional well-being is seen as unimportant, as long as the company is making money.
While many companies tout that their "employees are their greatest resource," stories like this remind them of their true value to their employer.
Source: motherjownes.com, "The Fall of King Coal," Tim Murphy, November/December 2015 issue