Obrázky stránek
PDF
ePub

if a little water could not be used in the hole when the bit got hung up, and the foreman's reply was, "Hell, no."

Milledge Venson said that the foreman stopped the dry drilling while the mine-safety inspector was in the tunnel. And Sam Butner testified that he was stationed at the scaling tower, which was several hundred feet—600 I believe—from the heading, and directed to hurry information to the heading foreman of the approach of the mine inspector so that the dry drilling could be stopped before the inspector reached there. Not only Sam, but Laird King and others told how they had acted as lookouts and warned the foreman when they saw the inspector coming.

Rinehart & Dennis, builders of the tunnel, tried in vain to deny that the workmen were forced to drill "dry” holes. Albert Young, a Negro worker, originally testified for the contractors saying that there was no dust and that drills were operated by water, but later he appeared in court as a plaintiff's witness-a witness for the man who was suing—and changed his story. There was "considerable dust” in the tunnel and that drills were operated when dry, he said; he had been praying since he gave the first testimony and now wished to tell the truth. Before he told his story the first time, he said, he was promised a job and pay by an official of the contracting company if he would testify for the company, and "threatened with the penitentiary” if he did not do so.

Another witness for the contractors was Robert M. Lambie, former chief of the State mines department, who said that the tunnel was practically dust-free when he made inspections in 1930 and 1931. He told the jury that the men were easily distinguishable from 500 to 700 feet away, and that drills were operated with water.

Why did he say this now when in 1931 he had written letters to the contracting company instructing them to remedy the dusty conditions in the tunnel, the plaintiff's lawyer asked him. Lambie said he had been misinformed by his inspectors concerning conditions in the tunnel in 1931. He admitted that he had recommended the use of masks—respirators—at the time; but he said later he withdrew this recommendation after a conference with the contractors when he decided that masks were not necessary.

Throughout the court trials the witnesses for the contractors gave the flimsiest testimony. O. M. Jones, chief engineer of the New Kanawha Power Co., “never saw dust, or at least enough to say it was dusty.” He saw fog and mist in the tunnel; but “the air was as clear as it was in the courtroom, except on foggy days.

Under cross-examination, Owen Jones admitted that he had received a letter from Lambié, mine safety inspector, on May 18, 1931, saying that the heavy concentration of silica dust in the tunnel was highly dangerous and giving orders that respirators be used by the workmen.

The contractors tried to show in court that they had not been negligent in making arrangements to care for the safety of men on a construction job of this sort. Engineers from other contracting companies were called to testify that their companies made a practice of drilling “dry”; that respirators were not necessary; but, regardless of the legal facts, many hundreds of West Virginia miners who contracted to push the 334-mile bore through the mountain are paying for their jobs with their lives.

Last year the first 167 lawsuits filed against the Rinehart & Dennis Co. were settled out of court when a payment of $130,000 was made to the lawyers of these 167 men suing; but there still are more than 200 damage suits that were brought by workmen or workmen's widows against the contractors which have not been settled. They will come to trial later.

It came out in court proceedings that the company doctors were not allowed to tell the men what their trouble was. A Dr. Mitchell, of Mount Hope, a company doctor, testified for the plaintiffs, saying that he had told the men they had “tunnelitis."

It was a Mrs. Jones who first discovered what was killing these tunnel workers. Mrs. Jones had three sons—Shirley, aged 17; Owen, aged 21; and Cecil, aged 23—who worked in the tunnel with their father. Before they went to work in the tunnel, Mr. Jones and Cecil and Owen worked in a coal mine; but it was not steady work, because the mines were not going much of the time.

Mr. GRISWOLD. Can you give us the Christian name and address of Mrs. Jones?

Miss ALLEN. Mrs. Charles Jones, Gamoca, W. Va.

Then one of the foremen of the New Kanawha Power Co. learned that the Joneses made home brew, and he formed a habit of dropping in evenings to drink it. It was he who persuaded the boys and their fathers to give up their jobs in the coal mine and take on this other work, which would pay them better. Shirley, the youngest son and his mother's favorite, went into the tunnel, too.

Mrs. Jones began to be suspicious when she saw the amount of sediment that was left on the bottom of the tub after she had washed the clothes of her menfolk. She asked the foreman about the dust, and he said it was just ordinary dust and would not hurt anybody. Then one day Shirley came home and complained, “Ma, I'm awful short-winded.” She said to him, "Well, if you never feel no better, you'll not work no more.” That was in September of 1931, and he died in June 1932.

Mrs. Jones tried to get Dr. Harloss, private physician at Gauley's. Bridge, interested in the youngest boy's condition right at the start. Harloss was the only doctor in their neighborhood whom she had confidence in. He had been the company doctor when her husband worked in a Kopper's mine, but now he would not examine Shirley, because he did not know where his money was coming from. Mrs. Jones told Dr. Harloss that if he would work to get compensation for Shirley, she would give him half of it; but even then he would not do anything. Mrs. Jones had to go out on the road and beg the money for an X-ray. As soon as she had enough money, Dr. Harloss took the money and had the boy's lungs X-rayed and became interested in his case. Three weeks after the X-ray was made Shirley died. She told us that the boy's last wish was that, “Mother, after I'm dead, have them open me up and see if I didn't die from the job. If I did, take the compensation money and buy yourself a little home.” Within 13 months of Shirley's death, Cecil and Owen also died.

Shirley Jones' case was the first of a long line of lawsuits to be filed against the Rinehart & Dennis Co., of Charlottesville, Va., contractors to whom the New Kanawha Power Co. had allotted the work of drilling the tunnel.

Although the workers testified that the dust was thick in the tunnel headings the company officials dared to deny it. How many workers do you think took the company's side when called to the witness stand? One foreman, who has since died of silicosis, and one colored worker, who later changed his story because his conscience bothered him. Two men too many, don't you think?

When suit was instituted in Fayette County, W. Va., it was decided, on appeal, that silicosis was not compensable from the State compensation fund, and that Mrs. Jones was therefore entitled to sue. That applied to all other victims and their kind.

When I first went up to Gauley Bridge, Harless Gibson told me to find out about the whole situation of the tunnel work. People would not believe it. He told me, “You look at that tunnel and you think it is a fine thing when you do not know how many men died in building it. You cannot say anything too bad about the tunnel work; but people will not believe it.”

Living conditions of the men were as bad as the conditions of their work. As high as 25 to 30 Negroes used to sleep in a shack no larger than 10 by 12 feet. They were made of Jerryline stripping with a half window in the side and a home-made door. There were two bunks stretched across the side of the room, and he said, “I have observed as many as 15 men piled in a heap on the bunk.”

When we said we would like to talk to some of the men who had worked in the tunnel, Mr. Gibson called to a colored man who was passing, “Come here, George, and tell these ladies your story.And George Houston, a hard-muscled, strongly built man of 23, came up to us walking very slowly and breathing with effort. He is in what the doctors call "the third stage” of silicosis, which means that he has not much longer to live. There were dark rings under his redrimmed eyes, and when he climbs stairs, "It gets me to breathing so hard I have to lay down”, he said. George worked only 48 weeks toting water, shoveling muck, or operating a drill in no. 1 heading of the Gauley Junction-Hawk's Nest tunnel, yet in that short time he breathed so much silica dust in the badly ventilated heading that the disease is rapidly destroying his lungs.

We asked George how much rent he had paid for sleeping space in one of the box-like hovels Mr. Gibson had described, and this is what he said:

Fifty cents a quarter (a week). They furnished only a little, old shack. We paid shack rent every Friday. There was nothing in the shack. The men had to buy bedclothes, coal, a stove. They used to bring the old dynamite boxes up from the workings to set on. Men, women, and children were crowded up together. Some of the women were married, and some wasn't. Families had four, five other men sleeping on the bunks with them. Some men couldn't stand the conditions of the shacks. You could see they was lousy if you looked in. I went to stay at the Jungle, at Gauley Junction between the railroad and the river, but I had to pay to stay over there. They took shack rent from anyone who had a working ticket.

The well went dry. “They had a tremendous spring up at the camp which dried up”, George said. “Then we had to walk 2 miles for water."

How much was coal? “At first we had to pay 25 cents a quarter for coal, then they raised it to 50 cents. Every year they raised it.” Each man who worked paid for coal, whether or not he used it.

Wages were cut from the 50 cents an hour that men were paid in 1930, to 40 cents and then to 30 cents an hour.

They made the men work whether wanted to do so or not. If the men were sick they made them work. They had a shack rouster named McCloud, who carried a gun. He was a deputy sheriff licensed by Fayette County, the license having been given on recommendation of the New Kanawha Power Co., and every morning he went up to the shacks and made the men to go work. McCloud threatened to jail men who would not work. When George's partner in the drill had his head cut off by falling rock, George did not want to go back into the tunnel, therefore, Deputy Sheriff McCloud arrested him.

Mr. RANDOLPH. How many hours a day do those men work?
Miss ALLEN. Ten hours for each shift.

Mr. MARCANTONIO. Who is Gibson, of whom you have been talking?

Miss ALLEN. Harless Gibson was then what they call down there a runner for a firm of lawyers of the name of Townsend, Bock & Moore, and he was taking care of their cases. From 1928 to 1932 he was deputy sheriff of Fayette County, W. Va., as I am reliably informed. Mr. Gibson told us more of this “shack rouster.

In no. 1 camp for colored people McCloud ran a club for men, a place where they could drink and gamble. "It was a skin game", Mr. Gibson said. “The cut” for the house was 25 cents when betting on cards. He chased the "niggers” in from the hills if he found them throwing dice and made them gamble in the clubhouse so that he would get a percentage of their winnings. He would take all their money away from them and give it back to the company.

What had become of McCloud, we asked. The religious people in Gauley Bridge complained about the gambling, and C. A. Conley, head sheriff of Fayette County, after he had warned McCloud several times to stop the gambling, went up and closed the clubhouse. He took McCloud's commission away from him at the same time. McCloud, his usefulness to the New Kanawha Power Co. being over, is now trying to get a job with the Koppers Coal Co. The majority of the men working on the tunnel,

who died when the work was first started, were colored men. Perhaps because negroes catch lung diseases more easily than white men do. Mrs. Jones, who lives at Gauley River, told us that, “They buried them like they were burying hogs, putting two or three of them in a hole. The men were buried in what they got killed or died in."

The story of the treatment of the colored men on the job at the tunnel is the same old one of discrimination against them as a race. Look at how much they were docked each week for the company doctor, 75 cents, which was 25 cents more than the white workers paid. They paid 75 cents weekly for the services of a doctor who never came to see them. “I sent in a call for the doctor for 4 weeks and he never came”, George Houston said, "and I was still paying for him.”

We heard of instance after instance of brutal treatment and discrimination. "They was treated worsen if they was mules", Mrs. Jones told us. “The foreman would cuss at them bad and run them ragged. He would run them right back into the powder smoke in

the tunnel after a shot, instead of letting them wait 30 minutes like the white men do."

Why did the Rinehart & Dennis Co., contractors, dare to treat the colored “worsen if they was mules"? Simply because these poor, ignorant men had no standing in the community and there was no friendly organization to which they could protest. Most of them were far from home. They had come in droves from States up and down the Atlantic seaboard, from Pennsylvania, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, and from States as far inland as Alabama, Kentucky, Ohio. Most of them had been recruited by scouts of the company who went through the States giving glowing accounts of "steady work” in Fayette County. In this way, a steady stream of cheap labor kept pouring in, enabling the company to reduce the hourly wage until it reached a low of 25 cents. Unorganized workers everywhere are an easy prey for the large companies who rob working men.

This greedy company of contractors, Rinehart & Dennis, not only robbed its workers by a ridiculously low wage scale, but purposely doomed them to die when they neglected to furnish men respirators (masks) which would have kept them from inhaling the deadly silica dust in the tunnel headings.

Kies, purchasing agent for Rinehart & Dennis, was overheard to say to a respirator salesman, “I wouldn't give $2.50 for all the niggers on the job. Kies was voicing the hatred and greed of this large company for which he worked. Ernest Lyes, a white man of 26, testified in court that he heard Kies say this. I have an affidavit covering this matter.

Why do you think the contractors from Charlottesville, Va., dared not furnish their workers with safeguards of masks and wet drills? Because they thought they would finish the job and be out of the State before the men began to die. Silicosis usually takes from 10 to 20 years to devolop in one's lungs. Kies spoke again for the company when he said to Hawkins, the assistant superintendent, "I knew they was going to kill these niggers within 5 years, but I didn't know they was going to kill them so quick.". George Houston made an affidavit saying he heard Kies say this in the company commissary where George had gone to buy a can of tomatoes.

Almost as soon as work was begun in the tunnel the colored men began to die like flies, because the percentage of silica in the dust they inhaled was so large.

The ambulance was going day and night to the Coal Valley Hospital. As soon as a man died they would bury him, we were told. One colored boy died at 4 o'clock in the afternoon and he was buried at 5 o'clock the same afternoon without being washed. Why? Because the company did not wish an autopsy made, which autopsy would have uncovered the cause of his death. Had word of the terrible disease killing the men reached their ears, do you think they would have stayed on the job? The tunnel must be finished quick, quick, quick-we want our profits, profits, was all that interested the company. We heard of cases where mothers took the clothing of their husbands to bury their sons in.

Mr. DUNN of Pennsylvania. Can those statements be verified; can we get those facts; can it be shown authoritatively that the col

« PředchozíPokračovat »