Coal miners in southeastern Ohio are blasting an ad from President Obama that claims they were forced to "be props in (Mitt) Romney's commercial."
Romney appeared at an Aug. 15 event in Belmont County surrounded by 500 coal miners, and claimed that unnecessary regulation by the Obama administration's Environmental Protection Agency amounts to a "war on coal," and has helped put thousands of miners' jobs in jeopardy. The Obama campaign countered with an ad charging the miners were forced to attend the Romney rally, and that they lost a day's pay.
That ad followed a mining company official's acknowledgement that workers were told attendance was "mandatory" -- though he claimed they weren't really "forced" to attend.
A group of 500 miners has now penned a letter and released a video insisting that no one was forced to attend the rally and demanding that the Obama campaign disavow the ad. The workers at Century mine, in Beallsville, Ohio, which is operated by Murray Energy subsidiary American Energy Century, said they "voluntarily and enthusiastically" attended the event.
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"These ads state that we were forced to attend this rally, and that is blatantly false," coal worker Mitch Miracle said on the video, reading from a letter sent to the president's campaign. "Since your approval is attached to these ads, you may not wish to support these mistruths. Why would you lie about the 500 working miners who have signed this letter? We, the employees of Century mine, would request that you immediately stop these false ads."
Footage from the video is now part of yet another anti-Obama ad from nonprofit PAC Checks and Balances for Economic Growth.
The Obama campaign did not respond to a request for comment about the ad or the miners' claims. Coal is a key issue in the southern part of hotly contested Ohio, and Murray CEO Robert Murray has been a vocal critic of Obama's energy policies and a big contributor to Republican politicians, including Romney.
Accusations that the miners were forced to attend the Romney rally started when a group of employees who feared they'd be fired if they didn't attend reportedly complained via phone calls and emails to WWVA radio host David Blomquist, who questioned Murray Energy Chief Financial Officer Rob Moore on the air. Moore acknowledged that some employees were told the event was mandatory, but insisted that they were not "forced" to attend.
"There were no workers that were forced to attend the event," Moore told Blomquist. "We had managers that communicated to our workforce that the attendance at the Romney event was mandatory, but no one was forced to attend the event.
"We had people that did not show up that day and there were no consequences or repercussions taken against any employee that did not attend the Romney event."
Workers were not paid for the day's work, whether they attended the event or not, Moore acknowledged. He said the mine had to be shut down for "safety and security" reasons during Romney's visit, and likened the no-pay policy to times when weather or power outages shut down the mine.