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I am now unable to get any help. The man is an invalid, has not worked a day since September 1931, and is gradually dying. Due to the fact that doctors pronounced his trouble tuberculosis for 3 years, I am unable to get even a small compensation from this company.
My brother was at home attending high school until he went to Baltimore and went to work for the Bethlehem Steel Co.
Anything you may do or suggest that I do will be greatly appreciated. I would appreciate some help in caring for this boy.
Senator Holt. I went to West Virginia before Christmas to discuss with the lawyers who had handled these cases certain aspects of these matters. I tried to get data and information about the cases, and I was informed by the lawyers that the evidence and the data, all facts connected with the cases, had been turned over to the Únion Carbide & Carbon Co. or the Rinehart & Dennis Co. when the compromise was made. In other words, they agreed definitely when they compromised the cases, after they were thrown out by the supreme court, that they would turn over all the data that had been compiled against the contractors. I do not know where that data is.
You realize that these men brought suit in the courts of West Virginia and they finally went to the supreme court of the State with the case of Lewis Scott against Rinehart & Dennis Co. On May 28, 1935, the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia handed down its decision. It was held that the cause of action arises when wrong is inflicted, and mere ignorance of injured party of actionable wrong does not suspend running of statute of limitations.
In speaking of limitation of actions the court said: Employee's cause of action for employer's alleged negligence as a result of which employee contracted silicosis while constructing tunnel through sand rock from April 1930 until September 1931, held barred by limitations where action was not instituted until October 1933, notwithstanding employee did. not ascertain that he had silicosis until 3 months before bringing action.
The syllabus by the court says:
(1) A cause of action under Code 1931, 55–2–12 (a statute of limitations), arises when the wrong is inflicted. Mere ignorance of the injured person of the actionable wrong does not suspend the operation of the statute. (2) The construction of a statute by a court of last resort becomes a component part of the statute.
The lawyers for the plaintiff maintained that action should start at the time the man knew he had silicosis, and they said it should start when he completed his work.
I find in looking over this that there is another particular thing of great interest. All through West Virginia there has been much silence about this particular operation. Whenever anything was discussed in the legislature it was discussed quietly because of the danger of stepping on the toes of some industrialist at that particular time.
I find that when they did go to the Supreme Court of West Virginia they employed the law firm of Brown, Jackson & Knight, of Charleston. That firm is a law firm of the State chairman of my party. Of course, it was a very advisable_thing to do to get his legal advice at that particular time. Also, I find that they had another law firm known as Lee, Dillon, Mahan & White in the case. That firm used to be Lee, Díllon, Mahan, White & Holt. I have found that there has been a general secrecy, a general slowing down because of the political complexion in the legislative sessions of West Virginia. We find there a general coordination and combination of the manufacturers, industrialists, and coal operators, and they feel that if one brings out anything it is inadvisable, because West Virginia has received so much unfavorable mention and publicity due to industrial tragedies of the past.
I want to turn over to the committee all the general information I have about this subject so that members of the committee may examine it. Nobody can thoroughly realize what the situation down there is, and has been, unless he has talked with these workers. Their condition is indeed deplorable, pitiable. They have no place to go; they have no homes; they cannot sue on account of the statute of limitations; and they cannot be compensated because the compensation law does not cover their cases.
I was quite interested in a statement by Rinehart & Dennis as to how must that company had paid out to these people as compensation. That statement is a fraud and a snare. Only yesterday I telegraphed the compensation commission of West Virginia to get the exact amount involved. I find that the premiums paid by Rinehart & Dennis during that period amounted to $98,147.43; and for accidents, aside from silicosis, the compensation fund paid to Rinehart & Dennis employees was $93,069. In other words, there was only $5,000 difference between the amount paid in premiums by Rinehart & Dennis and the amount paid by the compensation commission to Rinehart & Dennis employees on account of injuries, excluding silicosis, received.
I really believe that it is highly desirable and advisable that a thorough investigation be made of past and present conditions there. I realize there is nothing we can do in the State, because of instances about which I have talked. It is hopeful that we may find some way to stop this control by an industrial-political group, which control would not allow such an investigation to go through the State legislature, which they control.
If there are any questions by members of the committee, I shall be glad to try to answer them.
Mr. MARCANTONIO. As I understood you, the lawyers down there informed you that the surrender of data and information in connection with these cases was a part of the compromise reached?
Senator Holt. Yes; it was part of the compromise reached. They paid the men so much. The lawyers realized that they had no cases, since the decision of the court was against them, and in order to get something for the men they felt they should compromise rather than lose everything. Therefore, the data was turned over to the company.
Mr. MARCANTONIO. As I understand, surrender of the data was made upon insistence of the company:
Senator Holt. That is absolutely right.
Mr. Dunn of Pennsylvania. Senator Holt, I want to thank you for the interest you have shown and are showing in behalf of those worthy unfortunates in your State. I have no doubt that if the resolution before this subcommittee passes the House that you will do your utmost to see to it that it passes the Senate.
Senator Holt. I certainly shall do everything I can to see that it passes the Senate. This is a tragedy of which I am truly ashamed. I am very sorry that anything like this should have happened in the State of West Virginia. I am sure that the majority of West Virginians feel that way about it. I do hope that citizens of the State of West Virginia will not be held responsible for the actions of these absentee landlords.
Mr. Dunn of Pennsylvania. No doubt if we should go into the record of every State in the Union we could find the necessity of improving conditions for the working people.
Senator Hout. The present compensation law of West Virginia provides, in connection with silicosis, that the workers must have been exposed to silicosis a certain number of months—17 months, I believe, before they may be compensated. That means in this case that they cannot be compensated. Probably only a few of them worked steadily as long as 17 months.
Mr. GRISWOLD. Do you mean to say that the West Virginia Compensation Act provides that men must be in contact with the conditions that caused silicosis for 17 months before they may receive compensation !
Senator Holt. The article about workmen's compensation in West Virginia which Mr. Marcantonio has just handed me provides that a worker must have been employed for 2 years in the same employment.
Mr. GRISWOLD. The workers must be employed 2 years in contact with this silicate dust before they may file a case before your compensation board and get judgment ?
Senator Holt. This article provides that if a worker has worked for 2 years in the same employment, if he presents his claim within 1 year after leaving his job, if he has given his life's history in all detail to the employer, if he has never broken any safety rules, he may recover $500, perhaps $1,000, but no more though he should later be dying of silicosis. In other words, a man may get $500 for sacrificing his life for these people.
Mr. GRISWOLD. Provided he has worked 2 years.
Senator Holt. Yes. This tunnel was started in 1930 and not many men worked in it 2 years.
Mr. DUNN of Pennsylvania. If one worked there a year and 11 months, he is outside the benefits.
Senator Holt. Yes; he is beyond the reach of this help.
Mr. Dunn of Pennsylvania. "Man's inhumanity to man makes countless thousands mourn.
Senator Holt. Some of those from the industrial sections will not understand some of the remarks I have made, but the remarks are true nevertheless.
Mr. RANDOLPH. In connection with the proposal to make silicosis compensable under our West Virginia statutes, how did the agitation come about in the legislature?
Senator Holt. The final passage of the bill was effected by the activities of the West Virginia Federation of Labor. The Federation of Labor there became very active in support of this proposal, and it checked up the men who were for and against the proposed law. That law, however, was passed 5 years after the tunnel was completed. They wanted to right a wrong that had been done.
Mr. RANDOLPH. I understand that only 11 States of the Union definitely made silicosis as a compensable disease.
Senator HOLT. That is right, as I understand.
Mr. RANDOLPH. Do you feel that our statute in this regard in West Virginia needs revision; do you feel that it properly covers this situation?
Senator Holt. No; I do not. I think it does not properly cover the situation which affects so importantly the fellow who works. On the other hand, I do not know whether Federal law can help. I very much doubt it. A Federal law in that regard would probably be termed an invasion of State's rights.
Mr. RANDOLPH. Do you charge negligence on the part of the contracting firm, Rinehart & Dennis?
Senator HOLT. I do.
Mr. RANDOLPH. Do you charge negligence on the part of the State bureau of mines?
Senator Holt. No; I do not. I am doubtful whether it had the legal right to afford protection or to attempt to afford it.
The law creating the bureau of mines in our State gave it control over coal mining and gas-well operations but it did not cover tunnel construction. There was, though, probably an implied power.
Mr. RANDOLPH. It has been testified here that the West Virginia Bureau of Mines knew of the conditions and warned the officials of the contracting company of those conditions, and the bureau later knew that the warnings were not being followed, that there was a defiance of the bureau's orders after the bureau had sent its inspectors into that section. Had you any knowledge of that?
Senator Holt. I will reread from the letter I mentioned a little while ago. It says:
The utility company kept the State department of mines away from the construction on the premise that it was a tunnel that was being cut, and not coal being mined, and that as the State department of mines had to do only with coal mines, it could not interfere with this tunnel bore. But the department persisted in interesting itself in the tunnel job, and finally the company erected a canvas duct 2 feet in diameter with an 18-inch suction fan in it. This canvas duct was in 50-foot sections, and it was moved ahead as the work progressed.
I have been informed that men came out of that tunnel looking like that they had flour sprinkled all over of them, whereas they were covered by dust from the tunnel.
Mr. MARCANTONIO. The court records will show that the Bureau of Mines of the State of West Virginia sent various notices to the contracting company asking it to correct certain conditions found there, which notices were apparently completely disregarded. That is testimony brought out in one of the trials in West Virginia.
Senator Holt. That is the same company that is before the Federal Power Commission wanting the Commission to protect its rights as an artificial citizen. They feel that those rights should be protected by the people, because we are infringing upon water-power control. Actual citizens are different.
Mr. GriswoLD. Your assumption, Senator, is that in this instance the corporation having charge of that work meets the ancient definition of a corporation, namely, “A corporation is a body without a soul.”
Senator Holt. Yes. This is the most barbaric example of industrial construction that ever happened in this world. That company well knew what it was going to do to these men. They brought in those transients, especially from the South, and treated them worse than dumb animals should be treated. The company openly said that if they killed off those men there were plenty of other men to be had.
As I have said, I have hundreds of letters from people in my State who ask that this deplorable condition be remedied.
Mr. RANDOLPH. You have told us that the compensation law concerning this matter was written on the statute books largely as the result of the initiative taken by the union organizations of West Virginia.
Senator Holt. Definitely so. That is the only way the law got there. For a while the Union Carbide & Carbon Co. and the Rinehart & Dennis Co. were in favor of that law, when they could be sued, but when the Supreme Court decided they could not be sued they were no longer interested in it.
Mr. GRISWOLD. We thank you very much for appearing before the committee, Senator. Your presentation has been very interesting and informative.
Senator Holt. I thank you gentlemen for the privilege of being
STATEMENT OF HON. JOHN W. FINCH, DIRECTOR OF THE
BUREAU OF MINES
Mr. GRISWOLD. We have before us now Mr. Finch, Director of the Bureau of Mines of the United States. Mr. Finch, we shall be glad to have you make a statement if you care to do so, or we will proceed in any other way that suits you.
Mr. FINCH. I have a statement that does not relate definitely to the situation in West Virginia which you are investigating, but it covers our knowledge of the disease of silicosis.
Mr. GRISWOLD. The committee is very much interested in obtaining same data on the disease itself.
Mr. Finch. This will cover somewhat the history of our study of that disease and the work that the Bureau of Mines had done in connection with it.
Mr. GRISWOLD. Please proceed.
Mr. Finch. The health hazards from dusts produced in the mineral industries exceed in true significance the health hazards from gases. The action of gases is usually acute and well recognized, and accordingly considerable attention is given them with the result that fewer workmen as time goes on are exposed to atmospheres of an unhealthful nature. On the other hand, the response to dust exposure is very slow and several years' exposure are required to produce disablement.
The signs of harm, particularly in the early stages, may pass unrecognized by the workmen and his employer. The advanced stages may be attributed to a general failure of health, especially since dust exposure may predispose the worker to other affections not specifically connected with his occupation. Furthermore, the concentrations of dust required to produce harm are not discomforting or