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