Twenty-nine miners were killed by an April 5 explosion in Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia.  The miners were not represented by a union.

Nine fire fighters were killed in a June 18, 2007 fire at the Sofa Super Store in Charleston, SC.  The fire fighters did not have collective bargaining rights.

Sadly, the deaths in the Massey mine were a heartbreak waiting to happen.  The employer was a massive rule violator, and the workers had no recourse because they didn’t have a union.

In Charleston, investigation after investigation found that a command that answered only to itself, created a dangerous and deadly state of affairs within that department.  And, tragically, it took the deaths of nine brave men to prove it.

When those who perform the work have a voice, increasing the life expectancy of our members is something over which we can take some measure of control.

Whether it’s a local fighting for better training, safe staffing levels and good PPE, orimplementation of a seatbelt initiativewellness fitness program, or fighting to makeNFPA 1710 and other critical NFPA safety rules the law of the land for fire fighters, having the right to collective bargaining truly is a matter of life and death.

We will have to wait and see if the rogue CEO of Massey energy, Doug Blankenship, is held responsible for his clear negligence in keeping the Upper Big Branch Mine safe for its workers.

And in the case of our fallen in Charleston, it was heartening to see last month that state law enforcement officials in South Carolina are taking a second look at whether the clear negligence, inadequate training and exposure to excessive risk can be prosecuted in Charleston.