Three young widows of Harlan County are taking a stand against incumbentÂ Kentucky Governor Ernie FletcherÂ (R).Â An op-ed by Claudia Cole, Stella Morris, and Melissa Lee appeared in the Lexington Herald Leader,Â with harsh words about the Governor’s record on mine safety and rights for victims’ families.
“Gov. Ernie Fletcher has disrespected our families and has not kept his word.Â …[We] urge all Kentucky coal miners and their families to join us in voting against Fletcher in Tuesday’s election.Â …We refuse to support a politician like Fletcher who stands in the way of protecting Kentucky’s coal miners, and so should you.”
The three women, whose husbands died in separateÂ coal mineÂ accidents**Â have become aÂ formidable voiceÂ for worker safety reforms in Kentucky and at theÂ national level.Â Most recently, they were honored by the Kentucky Justice AssociationÂ for their efforts (previous post here)
Claudia Cole’sÂ husband RussellÂ Sr., 39, was killed in August 2005 from a massive roof fall at the Stillhouse mine.Â Stella Morris’Â husband David âBudâ, 29, bled to deathÂ in December 2005 inside theÂ H&D Mining Company’s operation after a being struck by a coal hauler vehicle, and no one on-site was trained to provide proper first-aid.Â Â Melissa Lee’sÂ husband Jimmy, 33,Â diedÂ in May 2006 at the Kentucky Darby mine, along with four other miners from a methane explosion and carbon monoxide poisoning.
At least 6,000 individuals die in the U.S. each year fromÂ fatal work-relatedÂ injuries (and thousands moreÂ from occupational diseases).Â WhenÂ family membersÂ mobilize, as these three young Harlan County widows have done,Â and fight for improvedÂ worker safety and health protections, theyÂ become the most effective advocates that miners, laborers, and others workers could ever have.Â And, lawmakers and politicians like Governor Fletcher will begin asking themselves “which side am I on?”*
*Note:Â Â Referring to the Florence Reese classic song “Which Side are You On?”Â
**Note: Some readers of The Pump Handle, including family members of workplace fatality victims, dislike the term “accident” when people refer to an on-the-job death.Â I use the word “accident” because of my experience working at MSHA, and the Mine Act’s definition of “accident” which includes the “death of any person” at a mine.Â Some have suggested that we use the word “incident” instead of “accident,” but for me, “incident” sounds to much like “incidental” or is something that is inconsequential.Â I sometimes use the word “disaster” to describe a workplace fatality; even if only one worker is killed in a job-related accident, I think it is probably a “disaster” for their family, friends and co-workers.