Richie Robb was West Virginia’s longest serving mayor (of South Charleston) when he left that office in 2007. He was a chair of the state’s Republican Party and criticized President Bush for the war in Iraq. He has now switched parties and is challenging State Senator Erik Wells in the Democratic primary.

This week, a group of labor unions started running ads against Wells. According to the West Virginia MetroNews, the ad focuses on Wells’ 2006 vote against a whistleblower protection bill after an explosion in Sago, West Virginia, killed 12 miners. The ad uses footage of the Upper Big Branch mine explosion and says, "Sometimes miners have to hide in the shadows to speak about unsafe conditions, like after the Upper Big Branch mine explosion. After the Sago tragedy, Sen. Erik Wells voted against giving whistle blower protection to miners who speak up against unsafe conditions."

Wells calls the ad "distasteful." The leader of the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce, Steve Roberts, told that the ad misrepresents the bill Wells voted against. Roberts says this month’s mine explosion, which killed 39 miners, should not be used for political gain.

Whistleblower protection issues pit health and safety against the interests of managers to fire whom they want.  Too often it takes dead bodies to move politicians to take a stand for safety. When a politician still won’t move, after so many dead bodies have piled up, that is an issue of public concern that deserves the glow of media attention. Here is a political tip for Wells:  if labor unions are questioning your vote on a whistleblower protection bill during a Democratic primary campaign, the Chamber of Commerce might not be your best choice for spokesperson.  As the old labor song asks, "which side are you on?" West Virginia’s primary election is May 11.