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UMWA "disappointed" in today's Senate committee vote to approve Stickler as MSHA Assistant Secretary/Roberts calls for full Sena

March 8, 2006

United Mine Workers of America International President Cecil Roberts said today that the vote by the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions to approve the nomination of Richard Stickler as Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health was a "huge disappointment for all miners in America who are looking to their government to stand up for them instead of the coal companies.

"Since 2001, the coal operators have been in charge at MSHA," Roberts said, referring to Dave Lauriski, a coal company executive who was the Bush administration's first appointment to head the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA). "Mr. Stickler would just be another fox guarding the henhouse.

"Career coal company managers and executives like Mr. Stickler spend their time figuring out how to get around safety rules and regulations in order to increase production," Robert said. "That's the last kind of person American coal miners need as our nation's top watchdog for safety."

Roberts noted that in his testimony before the panel in January, Stickler said he didn't think any changes needed to be made in the federal Mine Safety and Health Act to upgrade safety for miners, even in the wake of the mounting deaths in America's mines over the last year.

"There have been 43 miners killed in America's coal mines since February 16, 2005," Roberts said. "MSHA and the companies can say that 2005 was the safest year on record with 22 killed in the nation's coal mines, but the truth is there have been almost twice as many killed in the last twelve months. More coal miners are dying on the job and coal mines are not as safe today as they were just a few years ago. When Mr. Stickler comes to the committee and says that everything's fine, that nothing needs to be changed to improve conditions, that's simply outrageous."

All eight Democrats on the committee voted against Stickler's nomination. "We appreciate their support, and we look forward to having further discussions with senators on both sides of the aisle as this bad nomination goes to the Senate floor and is hopefully defeated there," Roberts said. "We firmly believe that as Democratic and Republican senators learn the full ramifications to coal miners' health and safety of having a coal company executive in charge of MSHA, they'll oppose this nomination."

Roberts also expressed the UMWA's displeasure with the committee's vote to send the nomination of Arlene Holen as a member of the Mine Safety and Health Review Commission to the full Senate. "Ms. Holen's appointment further tilts an already politically imbalanced Commission. We believe it is important for the Commission to be even-handed when it comes to making determinations about company safety violations and we're concerned that her appointment will make that even more difficult than it already is."

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