A firestorm has erupted over the issue, with the mine’s owner staunchly defending the move and blasting media reports.
In an interview with regional radio talk show host David Blomquist in West Virginia, a group of unnamed miners complained they were told that attendance at the August 14 visit by Romney to the Century mine in Belmont County was both mandatory and unpaid, and they attended because they feared for their jobs.
Murray Energy chief financial officer Rob Moore said managers “communicated to our workforce that the attendance at the Romney event was mandatory, but no one was forced to attend” and that the producer did not penalize those who did not attend.
Moore told Blomquist, who has in the past been critical of the coal executive, the mine was shut down the day of the visit for safety and security reasons.
He confirmed the workers were not paid for that day because federal election laws did not permit companies to compensate workers for attending political events.
Moore, according to the Cleveland Plain-Dealer, said he found nothing negative about the campaign appearance.
“We are talking about an event that was in the best interest of anyone that's related to the coal industry in this area or the entire country,” he said.
Murray Energy spokesman Gary Broadbent echoed Moore’s statement that no one was forced to be at the complex for the Romney appearance.
“All participation was, and always has been, completely voluntary," he said.
Blomquist carried the topic from his show over to a Plain-Dealer interview this week, stating that no individual should be pressured into attending a political event.
“If they shut the mine down, why should they lose a day's pay? There are some guys that just want to go to work, feed their family and go home,” he said.
Murray told the Plain-Dealer that news reports that his company had forced attendance was “a lot of ridiculous nonsense”
“What you people are suggesting is that I pay somebody to attend a political function that they attended voluntarily,” he said.
“You don’t pay somebody to attend a political function, and that is what you are advocating by making an issue out of this.”
Murray said more than 3000 miners and their families attended the event and everyone enjoyed it.
“You people in the media are trying to make something negative out of it because some radio personality tried to make an issue out of it,” he told the newspaper.
“My people have their own minds. They have their own desires. Nobody was ordered to attend.”
Murray said there was no record of who attended and who did not, and the families went to the event because the existing administration was “destroying their lives” and livelihoods.
“These people are scared, and they came out in droves to see Mitt Romney, and that’s what it was all about,” he said.
Murray also confirmed that the mine was closed for one shift on August 14, but that it was a decision made jointly by staff and the Secret Service.
“It’s a security issue. Yes, we closed the mine for one shift. We could not have men working underground at the same time we had all this security going on outside.”
According to records obtained by the Plain-Dealer from the Center for Responsive Politics, Murray has given more than $US900,000 to Republican candidates over the past two years.