February 19, 2006
NO END IN SIGHT
In the wake of the mine disasters, controversy is likely to rage about miner and worker safety issues for some time at both the national and state level. The national AFL-CIO has opposed the confirmation of Richard Stickler, a former coal company official, as head of the national Mine Safety and Health Administration.
Photo: mourners gather outside Wesley Chapel at the Jan. 15 Sago Miners' Memorial in Buckhannon, WV
Stickler was proposed by the Bush administration to replace acting assistant secretary David Dye, who has been in charge of MSHA since the resignation of the controversial and industry-friendly Dave Lauriski. According to a story in today's Charleston Gazette by Ken Ward, by Dec. 2001, Lauriski "began the process of halting work on more than a dozen proposals to toughen mine safety regulations. Among them were efforts to improve mine rescue teams and provide miners with additional oxygen supplies underground."
In a letter to the U.S. Senate, AFL-CIO president John Sweeney said "MSHA is full of former mining company executives, some of whom spent years opposing any regulatory efforts by the agency, who continue to be influenced by their friends in the industry. We cannot expect a regulatory agency to carry out a mandate of protecting miners when it is run by the very mine operators it was designed to regulate."
GOAT ROPE ORWELLIAN LANGUAGE LESSON: When public agencies entrusted with protecting the lives of workers speak more of "compliance assistance" for employers than they do of "enforcement" of safety laws and procedures to protect the workers in question, we have a problem.
WEST VIRGINIA ISSUES. Meanwhile, controversy is likely to continue over the recent state policy to cut off workers compensation benefits to widows of workers killed on the job when the decedents would have reached retirement age (see previous post). On a different front, state officials have tentatively scheduled a public hearing on the Sago Mine disaster to begin in Buckhannon on March 14, according to the Associated Press.
CREDIT WHERE IT'S DUE. For readers interested in these issues who don't ordinarily follow the Charleston Gazette, I would suggest checking out the website www.wvgazette.com, particularly the writings of reporters Paul Nyden and Ken Ward. Nyden has been covering the workers' compensation controversy while Ward has written extensively about issues related to the recent mine disasters.
FROM THE GOAT ROPE MUSICAL ARCHIVES. In 1908, a song called "We Have Fed You All A Thousand Years," published in the Industrial Workers of the World (I.W.W.) press by "an unknown proletarian" pretty well sums it up:
There is never a mine blown skyward now
But we're buried alive for you.
There's never a wreck drifts shoreward now
But we are its ghastly crew.
Go and reckon our dead by the forges red
And the factories where we spin.
If blood be the price of your cursed wealth,
Good God! We have paid it in!
GOAT ROPE ADVISORY LEVEL: ELEVATED
by El Cabrero