Monday, March 23, 2009

“Please save our lives...”

This plea was contained in a letter written to Illinois Governor Dwight H. Green by miners working in the Centralia Coal Mine No. 5. The letter was dated March 3,1946. Three of the four men who signed the letter were killed in the Centralia mine disaster on March 25, 1947.

Below is a transcript of the letter, copied from the minutes of the Senate subcommittee which investigated the mine disaster.

Centralia, Ill.,
March 3, 1946.

Hon. Dwight H. Green,
Governor, State of Illinois,
Springfield, Ill.

Dear Governor Green:
We, the officers of Local Union No. 52, U. M. W. of A., have been instructed by the members of local union No. 52 to write a letter to you in protest against the negligence and unfair practices of your department of mines and minerals. But before we go any further, we want you to know that this is not a protest against Mr. Driscoll Scanlan, the State mine inspector in this district. Mr. Scanlan is the best inspector that ever came to our mine, he is honest, of good character, and a good mining man, he writes his reports just as he finds the mines. But your mining board will not let him enforce the law or take the necessary action to protect our lives and health. This protest is against the men above Mr. Scanlan in your department of mines and minerals.

In fact, Governor Green this is a plea to you, to please save our lives, to please make the department of mines and minerals enforce the laws at the No. 5 mine of the Centralia Coal Co. at Centralia, Ill., at which mine we are employed, before we have a dust explosion at this mine like just happened in Kentucky and West Virginia.

For the last couple of years the policy of the department of mines and minerals toward us has been one of ignoring us; when we write complaints to Springfield it will sometimes be several weeks before we hear from them and then sometimes we have to write the second letter to them before they will answer us.

In December 1945 we preferred charges before the mining board against the mine manager and the superintendent of our mine and requested that their certificates be revoked for operating the mine in violation of the State mining laws and for ignoring the recommendations of the State mine inspector.

A special investigation commission was sent to the mines; they were very unfair toward us; on the commission was Robert Wier, a boss for our coal company. The commission did not inspect all of the mine, they did not stay at the machine that our main complaint was on long enough to fairly see the actual conditions at this machine. They let the superintendent of the mine lead them around the mine. They rode out of the mine in a mine car, so could not see the dirty and dusty and unsafe conditions on the main haulage roads. And they ignored the officers of this local union, they did not talk to us or give us a chance to call their attentions to unsafe conditions or listen to our complaints.

If we understand the law right, the mining board should have held a hearing and we should have been allowed to come before the board and press our charges. After the commission went through our mine we waited several weeks and did not hear from them and we wrote the director a letter. He then wrote us that the commission found insufficient evidence to revoke the certificates of the mine manager and mine superintendent. Then a few days later a report of the commission was posted at the mine making eight recommendations. Any one of these recommendations should be sufficient to revoke the certificates of the manager and superintendent and to remove them from the mine.

For your information as to the conditions at this mine, we are sending you copies of the State mine inspector’s report, also a copy of the report of the investigation commission, which you can check against the State inspector’s report and see the unfairness of the commission. Then please check these reports with the last Federal inspection report of July 1945, which you can get from the director of your department or from our district president, Hugh White. After reading these reports, if you doubt our word and the reports of the State and Federal inspectors, we kindly invite you to make a personal inspection of this mine yourself.

We are writing you Governor Green, because we believe you want to give the people an honest administration and that you do not know how unfair your mining department is toward the men in this mine. Several years ago after a disaster at Gillespie we seen your pictures in the papers going down in the mine to make a personal investigation of the accident. We are giving you a chance to correct the conditions at this mine that may cause a much worse disaster than the one at Gillespie or the one in Kentucky. If your mining board does not enforce the laws at this mine and back the State mine inspector, then we are going to go to the State’s attorney, and to the public and newspapers.

We will appreciate an early personal reply from you, stating your position in regard to the above and the enforcement of the State mining laws.

Very respectfully yours,
Jake Schmidt, President
Wm. E. Rowekamp, Recording Secretary
Thos. Bush,
Elmer Moss,