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House amendments to Pennsylvania mine safety bill critically needed to protect miners

April 10, 2008


APRIL 10, 2008

CONTACT: Phil Smith, 703-208-7241

House amendments to Pennsylvania mine safety bill critically needed to protect miners

Legislation passed by the Pennsylvania House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee by a bipartisan 23-6 vote to upgrade Pennsylvania’s mine safety and health laws is “critically need to protect the safety of miners in the Commonwealth,” United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) International President Cecil E. Roberts said today.

“The legislation passed by the committee includes language that the UMWA believes is essential to creating the high safety standards Pennsylvania miners have a right to expect–language that was missing from the version of the bill that was passed by the State Senate,” Roberts said. “We have consistently said this language is necessary to protect miners and were disappointed that it was not included in the Senate version of the bill. But the House committee did the right thing, and we commend them for standing up for coal miners.”

Amendments approved by the committee include language that will allow for faster evacuation of injured miners; more stringent requirements regarding escape routes from a mine; beefed up inspection rights for miners and enhanced certification standards for mine foremen, examiners and electricians.

“Some are saying these improvements in the law won’t be acceptable to the Senate or to the coal industry,” UMWA International Secretary-Treasurer Dan Kane said. “I’ve even heard some say that these issues should be the subjects of collective bargaining, not legislation. Frankly, that’s just not true. They most certainly are not issues that are subject to mandatory bargaining under the National Labor Relations Act.

“And even if the companies would agree to bargain these issues in a collective bargaining agreement, these are critical safety issues that affect every miner, including those who work at mines which are not yet represented by the UMWA,” Kane said. “Those miners would be left out in the cold. It’s the state’s responsibility to see that all safety laws apply to all miners, no matter where they work.”

One critical issue that was included in the House committee amendments was the right of miners’ representatives to accompany state inspectors underground. “The federal government recognized that miners should have this right all the way back in 1969 after the Farmington disaster in West Virginia,” Kane said. “Miners’ representatives do have the right to accompany federal inspectors when they inspect a mine in Pennsylvania. It makes no sense to us that they be stripped of that right when a state inspector visits the mine.

“I’ve heard some say that the Senate bill was the result of an agreement by all parties, including the UMWA,” Kane said. “That’s just not true, either. The UMWA did not and would not agree to legislation that afforded Pennsylvania coal miners less protection than miners in other states, yet that is the case with the Senate bill.

“The House Committee has corrected the legislation,” Kane said. “We urge the full House to pass it and the House and Senate conferees to accept the House language so that miners in Pennsylvania can be under the protection of the kind of strong and complete safety and health  legislation they deserve.”

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