November 1, 2007 The Pump Handle 3Comment

Three young widows of Harlan County are taking a stand against incumbent Kentucky Governor Ernie Fletcher (R).  An op-ed by Claudia Cole, Stella Morris, and Melissa Lee appeared in the Lexington Herald Leader, 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.  …[We] urge all Kentucky coal miners and their families to join us in voting against Fletcher in Tuesday’s election.  …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 separate coal mine accidents** have become a formidable voice for worker safety reforms in Kentucky and at the national level.  Most recently, they were honored by the Kentucky Justice Association for their efforts (previous post here)

Claudia Cole’s husband Russell Sr., 39, was killed in August 2005 from a massive roof fall at the Stillhouse mine.  Stella Morris’ husband David “Bud”, 29, bled to death in December 2005 inside the 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.  Melissa Lee’s husband Jimmy, 33, died 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 from fatal work-related injuries (and thousands more from occupational diseases).  When family members mobilize, as these three young Harlan County widows have done, and fight for improved worker safety and health protections, they become the most effective advocates that miners, laborers, and others workers could ever have.  And, lawmakers and politicians like Governor Fletcher will begin asking themselves “which side am I on?”*


*Note:  Referring to the Florence Reese classic song “Which Side are You On?” 

**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.  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.  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.  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.

3 thoughts on “Widows Take Aim in KY Governor’s Race

  1. These girls are wonderful and I back them in any decision they make! They have spent their time, money, and much of their grief making a difference for other families. Kudos!

    *Note: Well how dare they…who would do that..haha. I guess there is political correctness in every aspect these days.

  2. And you TAMMY are another one who is making a difference.

    Tammy will be receiving the Tony Mazzocchi Award next week from the American Public Health Association’s OHS Section for her own remarkable transformation of grief into the organization United Support and Memorial for Workplace Fatalities (USWMF). Congratulations Tammy for this well-deserved recognition for your work (all volunteer, no less)!!

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