Monday, March 09, 2009

And Now, A Word From Cecil Roberts....

Cecil Roberts is the International President of the United Mine Workers of America and is one of my personal heroes. If you have ever heard him speak, you know why. You will never forget it. The following letter to the editor was printed in this morning's Courier-Journal:

It's open season on coal miners in the Kentucky legislature all of a sudden. Just two years ago, the state was among the leaders in the nation in upgrading state mine safety and health laws. But today, a concerted effort to roll back critical elements of those improvements is under way in Frankfort.

One bill would reduce the availability of fast medical care for injured miners. Another would allow dangerous levels of explosive methane to build up in mines. A third would virtually eliminate actual inspections of mines by real inspectors to ensure they are being operated safely.

Supporters of these attacks on miners' safety say they are taking these steps to help smaller mine operators, who apparently don't have the business acumen to sell coal in the current strong coal market and make money.

One thing you can say about these folks: at least they aren't trying to hide the truth of their greed. They are willing to be quite up front about their desire to put profits and production ahead of safety in Kentucky coal mines -- even if those extra profits amount to just a few bucks a month.

And those profits could come at the cost of miners' lives.

An argument in favor of these changes might be made if Kentucky mines had become completely safe all of a sudden. But that's not the case.

Despite the enhanced safety laws the state enacted in 2007 Kentucky is still among the nation's most deadly states for coal miners.

Last year, eight miners were killed on the job in Kentucky, tied for the most of any state in the nation. Since 2006, 25 miners have been killed in the state, including one this year. So far in this decade, 79 miners have died in Kentucky mines -- 26 percent of all the coal mine fatalities in the nation.

That's not a record to be proud of. You would think the state government would be doing all it could do to beef up mine safety even more than it did in 2007. Instead, some in the legislature would have the state slide backwards, and put more miners' lives at risk than even before 2007.

And that's just fine with the coal operators, who are loudly chafing at the new laws and regulations put in place at both the state and federal levels after the tragedies that struck coal mining in 2006 in Kentucky and West Virginia -- laws and regulations the UMWA was a leader in getting passed in Frankfort and Washington, D.C.

The head of the Kentucky Coal Operators Association, Bill Caylor, even went so far as to spout some nonsense about how the UMWA's insistence on safer mines means that the union somehow wants to put small mine operators out of business.

What a crock. The UMWA's only goal is to keep all miners alive and in one piece when they are at work. If a mine operator in this day and age can't or won't do that, then the truth is they shouldn't be in the coal business, whether they operate small mines or big mines.

Taking Mr. Caylor's statements to their logical conclusion, one could reason that he believes a miner working in a smaller mine doesn't deserve as much safety and health protection on the job as a miner in a larger mine. Mr. Caylor appears to be saying that putting miners' lives at greater risk in smaller mines is just another part of doing business. The UMWA rejects that view.

We have been and will remain the only voice miners have in the halls of power, standing up for better safety and health for all miners, whether they enjoy the benefits and protections of a UMWA contract or not. That's what we did after the Sago disaster in West Virginia and the Darby tragedy in Kentucky, even though the miners at both those mines were not UMWA members. We will continue to fulfill that role.

Kentucky took a bold and positive step when it upgraded mine safety and health in 2007. To roll back that legislation now will increase the risk to miners' lives and limbs. If that's a step the state's political leadership ultimately decides to take, then they must be prepared to live with the consequences. What's most scary about this is that some of them already are prepared to do just that.


International President

United Mine Workers

of America

Fairfax, Va. 22031

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