March 11, 2008 The Pump Handle 1Comment

A group of state legislators in West Virginia introduced a bill earlier this year to strengthen the State’s laws to protect mine workers who raise concerns about unsafe working conditions.  The lead sponsors were Delegate Bill Hamilton (R) who represents the region where the now-abandoned Sago mine and State Senators Jon Blair Hunter (D) and Randy White (D).  (I wrote earlier about their effort here.)  Several weeks have now passed, and are any of us surprised to learn that the bill was killed in the WV legislative committee?  

Nathan Fetty of Mine Safety Project of the Appalachian Center for the Economy and Environment names names of the State Senators who killed the bill. 

“Senators Don Caruth, Clark Barnes, Frank Deem, Mike Hall, Ron Stollings, Joe Minard, Erik Wells and John Yoder killed a bill pending before their legislative committee that would have better protected West Virginia coal miners who would like to speak up about unsafe work conditions.  Remarkably, these senators seem to believe that current West Virginia law provides coal miners with enough protection from the powerful coal operators for whom they work. These senators made up the majority vote when the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to kill SB166.”

In an op-ed in the Charleston Gazette entitled “Senate Committee Bows to King Coal,” Fetty explains why whistleblower protections are critically important to an effective worker safety protection system.

“Anyone with any experience with West Virginia’s coal industry knows that miners who speak up about workplace safety have a legitimate fear of retaliation from many mine operators. It’s an unspoken understanding among coal miners that you’d best keep your head down if you see health and safety problems. If you rock the boat about these things, it makes the operators angry. You risk getting put on the worst jobs on the worst shifts until they drive you from the workforce. You risk trumped-up charges of insubordination, followed by unwarranted discipline. You risk getting fired outright. You risk getting labeled as a “troublemaker” and being blacklisted from working at other mines.”

“The coal mine tragedies of recent years show that we have a long way to go if coal mining is to be a safe occupation. Coal miners can play a key role in making sure that the mines are safe, and they should be protected when they speak up about problems. After all, miners know their workplace better than anyone, and have every reason to want to make it safe and healthy. Plus, government mine inspectors can’t be everywhere at once, so miners can serve as watchdogs when problems arise.”

Read Nathan Fetty’s full op-ed here, including his final concluding remark:

“Chalk up another victory for King Coal.”

One thought on “No new whistleblower protection for WV miners

  1. I’m not sure where the comments went. But let me repeat the gist of my own. For the record, on-the-job (as opposed to commuting) traffic fatalities MUST be reportable in at least two states: Washington and (since January 2007) Oregon. In at least some cases, we need to investigate these fatalities to more fully understand them, and in some circumstances the “causes” can themselves be prompted by work-related causes (scheduling, etc.) that will not be identified in a traditional law-enforcement investigation.

    Here in Oregon we also are asking employers questions about how they handle driving in the workplace as part of our consultation and enforcement visits — all this is an effort to better understand the issues by gathering as much information as possible.

    Michael Wood, CSP
    Administrator, Oregon OSHA

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