August 31, 2007 The Pump Handle 12Comment

by Celeste Monforton 

Yesterday in “MSHA Spokesman Parrots Bob Murray,” I wrote about MSHA’s rejection of a request by the families of the six trapped Crandall Canyon miners to have the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) serve as the miners’ representative during MSHA’s investigation of the disaster.  As usual for me, about two hours after hitting the “print post” button, I realized I should have said this and I should have said that.  Oh the glories of blogging!  Here’s what came to me after hitting the “print post” button:

I was irked by MSHA’s spokesman Dirk Fillpot saying the agency had spent ‘untold hours’ briefing the families of the missing miners.  Your point is?  

Is he suggesting that MSHA has already gone above-and-beyond what’s expected (all those ‘untold hours’) so the families shouldn’t demand anything more?  The fact that MSHA was (or has been) keeping the family members apprised of the ongoing rescue effort has nothing to do with a representative participating in MSHA’s investigation.  

Briefing family member during a rescue or recovery effort is a way to keep them informed about the immediate emergency response.  Allowing a representative to participate in the post-accident investigation serves a completely different purpose.  The investigation seeks to identify the cause of the accident, and the representative can provide guidance, advice and oversight to ensure the investigation is thorough.  The former is done because it is what any of us would want if we were in the same situation (and is now legally required in Section 7 of the 2006 MINER Act.)  The latter is a statutory right provided in Section 103 of the 1977 Mine Act.

The second point I should have made yesterday is about the “miners’ rep” itself.  In the legislative history of the 1969 Coal Act, it’s clear to me that Congress intended for miners themselves to have a say in all aspects of the law’s administration.  The rights extended by Congress include everything from directing MSHA to mail a copy of all agency written notices and proposed regulations to every miners’ rep, to allowing worker reps to participate in accident investigations.  Indeed, the spirit of the law was to have either miners themselves or a workers’ representative actively involved in federal mine safety and health.

In the Crandall Canyon situation, The Huffington Posts’ Max Follmer says  

“the miners’ families — rather than the miners themselves — signed the documents requesting the union’s participation” but

MSHA rebuffed the six family members, indicating that the miners themselves needed to designate the representative.  

What if the six men were not trapped underground, but instead, let say, were all in critical condition in a hospital.  For example, they were all in injury-caused or medically-administered comas and unable to sign a letter expressing their desire for a miners’ rep.  Would MSHA deny the men’s next-of-kin to designate a miners’ rep on their behalf?  Is it different because the six trapped men are presumed dead?  Is it different because all of the other miners employed at Crandall Canyon have now been  laid-off by Murray Energy?

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, MSHA should show some compassion and allow the widows, daughters and sons to speak on their lost miners’ behalf. The situation may be unprecedented, but tell me, what’s the harm?  Congress intended for a workers’ representative to be involved in the investigation, and the families have expressed their desire for the UMWA to serve that role. 

The Solicitor of Labor should err on the side of protecting miners’ rights, instead of hiding behind a shield of legal caution.  So what if they allow these six families to make this designation?  So what if it is unprecedented?  

These families have suffered for 26 days.  That’s more than 600 hours with nothing but the agony of waiting, and the dread of fearing the worst.   Please Mrs. Secretary Chao, Please Mr. Solicitor Snare, show some compassion.  If Big, Bad Mr. Murray takes you to federal court to challenge your decision, at least you’ll be on the miners’ side.   It’s never to late to change your ways.  “Which side are you on?”

Which side are you on?     (c.1930, Lyrics by Florence Reece)

Come all of you good workers
Good news to you I’ll tell
Of how that good old union
Has come in here to dwell

My daddy was a miner
And I’m a miner’s son
And I’ll stick with the union
Till every battle’s won

They say in Harlan County
There are no neutrals there
You’ll either be a union man
Or a thug for J.H. Blair

Oh, workers can you stand it?
Oh, tell me how you can
Will you be a lousy scab
Or will you be a man?

Don’t scab for the bosses
Don’t listen to their lies
Us poor folks haven’t got a chance
Unless we organize

12 thoughts on “Still Irked at MSHA’s Response to Families

  1. Unfortunately, we know whose side Chao, Stickler and the others are on. And it ain’t the miners! But thanks for pushing.

  2. Yeah! Love that Natalie Merchant rendition. Thanks for providing the link.

    You’re very cool LeftistMoon whoever you are!

    P.S. I am really at my desk right now working on the infamous doctoral dissertation.

  3. P.S. I am really at my desk right now working on the infamous doctoral dissertation.


    Now, just keep in mind that Elaine Chao’s husband thinks “Mr. Bad, Bad Murray” is one of the ‘five finest men in America.’ Jezzus….

    I’m finding my niche. I have a background in radiology as a tech with the required education in biology, but after getting clean & sober some years ago, got my degree in religious studies from a women’s college in Pepper Pike, OH. Know who ‘lives’ there? Miner Bob! Following the 2004 elections, I just couldn’t….just could not TAKE IT. However, Alberto Gonzales showed up here (Boise) practically unannounced (as in the day before) next door to the very hospital where I work to talk about gangs – something snapped – to talk about gangs. That was the end of June.

    I’ve been ambling around trying to figure out what to do with all my education and experience and with the mine collapse at Crandall Canyon, I started getting an idea. I caught it probably because it’s regional and I’ve been all over Utah. But that first news conference where frickin’ Bob Murray rambled and rambled for 10-12 minutes before mentioning the miners, I was in. I don’t know that much about Richard Stickler; I kinda found his accented monotone almost comforting. One of the news conferences he was at with Murray, I could tell Stickler was overwhelmed with Murray or by Murray. Murray made reference to something that insinuated that MSHA was 100% behind Murray Energy and Stickler’s reaction was telling. It was unexpected, he was taken aback, and didn’t know how to respond – plus, his eyes about blinked out of his head.

    I’m all about worker rights, very much pro-union, and I’m sick of the incongruity that passes for logic, especially within this administration, and the people who have been appointed to protect and support the people of this country.

    Ya know, just think of Dorothy Day with a penchant for cussin’ and diet Coke.

  4. is it useful to require that all miners have a communications device and there be a communications system to the surface for catastrophes like Crandall Canyon?

  5. Dear Humbly,
    It would not only be useful, it should be made MANDATORY! I’ve heard all kinds of reasons/excuses why communication devices can’t be made to work in underground mines. Well, if we told the power companies and the mining companies that by XYZ date, miners will not be allowed to work underground unless there are robust, redundant and first-rate communication systems from the surface to underground, I think the technology would develop at lightning speed.

    What ever happened to American creativity and the will to make things happen? Yes, it will cost some money, but our miners’ lives and security are worth the price.

  6. I recently read that the trapped Chinese miners even had two way communication devices. Now I know they don’t have much and don’t even have a union or any safety measures that US miners have but they even had a communication device. The story didn’t say what type but it did say the batteries went dead after a few days.
    My question is why can’t US miners have them?
    If we can communicate with people in outer space and then we hear they can’t use those underground? Something stinks!
    Its all about the profits.

  7. Um, Patty and Celest- are you aware how far below ground mines are in Utah? 2,000-3,000 feet + a mountain! The technology does not exist to communicate with miners that far below ground!!!!!!!

  8. Miranda,
    I indeed understand that there are many mines around the world, including in Utah, that are deep mines surrounded by solid ore. In my mind, all the more reason that in today’s day and age of technology, that men and women who work in these settings should be provided with tools and equipment that will allow them to communicate with the surface. There is technology available that can tackle the communication challenges of deep mines, but the mining industry (as individual operators or as a collective) has not invested the dollars in developing this communication technology. I don’t buy the coal companies’ line that it just can’t be done. I’d like to see the mining industry spend less money on their adverstising campaigns to promote themselves, and more on R&D to improve safety for the miners.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.