April 5, 2011
Washington, DC--On this, the one-year anniversary of the terrible and tragic explosion in the Upper Big Branch (UBB) Mine in West Virginia, which killed 29 workers, the National Consumer League (NCL) is calling upon Congress to enact the Mine Safety and Health Act. This bill was introduced last year as HR 5663 and contains many important provisions that have yet to be enacted by Congress.
HR 5663 would close loopholes that allow mine owners to delay addressing egregious safety problems. No longer will they be able to file multiple appeals after their mines have been closed or federal officials have issued fines. Today, dangerous mines, like the UBB Mine, continue to operate. UBB’s explosion resulted in the totally preventable deaths of 29 West Virginia miners. Many of these men knew there were safety problems in the mine but were afraid to speak up for fear of losing their jobs. NCL and the DC Triangle Fire 100th Anniversary planning committee invited one miner who survived the UBB mine disaster, Stanley “Goose” Stewart, to speak on March 21st at a symposium on Capitol Hill. Stewart spoke eloquently about the danger that he and others knew they confronted at UBB.
Today, miners who recognize safety problems are afraid to speak up. The Mine Safety and Health Act will protect whistleblowers who seek to help federal officials identify problem mines. The legislation will protect workers who refuse to go to work in unsafe conditions and ensure that workers receive full pay if they believe that it is too dangerous to go into the mines. Going to work should not cost an employee his or her life.
The bill also increases civil and criminal penalties for violations of safety standards. The death of an employee, currently only a misdemeanor, would be changed to a felony and would extend to any responsible party, including a corporate officer. With increased fines and imprisonment, reckless behavior by mine owners would have stern consequences.
The Mine Safety and Health Act would allow the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) to assign a “pattern of recurring noncompliance or accident” status to repeat offenders and give the agency stronger enforcement powers, empowering officials to prosecute dangerous and irresponsible mine operators and employers who carelessly endanger the health and safety of their employees
As we mourn the loss of these hardworking miners and stand in solidarity with their fellow miners and their families, the best way to ensure they did not die in vain is for Congress to move forward quickly to enactthe Mine Safety and Health Act.
About the National Consumers League
The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America's pioneer consumer organization; its mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad.