“Actions Speak Louder Than Words”

Assistant Secretary of Labor for MSHA Joseph Main (left) discusses the landmark coal dust rule as Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez looks on.

Assistant Secretary of Labor for MSHA Joseph Main (left) discusses the landmark coal dust rule as Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez looks on.

An Introduction to the REAL WORLD:  Yesterday, I travelled with two MC students and a busload of coal miners and their wives to hear an important an important announcement in Morgantown, Wet Virginia at NIOSH.  The bus was packed with miners and oxygen equipment so only two students were able to accompany me.  They drew two names of out our dirver, Artie’s, hat.  Sascha and Nadege won the two available seats on the bus.

The ride was transforming even before we arrived.  The men and their wives were satisfied with their decision to be coal miners; even with the progressive and ultimately, fatal diagnosis of black lung they said that being a coal miner gave them and their families a good living in addition to excellent benefits.  These people were not angry.  The trip and actual time meeting at NIOSH was part of their experience; a part of the coal mining community which, was dedicated to making the coal mines safer for miners working there now.

The man sitting next to me was disappointed that he had to stop smoking at the coal mines due to his condition.  He was too ill to work.  There was a woman on the bus whose husband had died of black lung.  There was a very thin, frail man who had a nasal cannula attached to a small oxygen compacter.  There was a very warm and accepting attitude towards us on the ride.  We were offered biscuits as well a homemade fudge on the way to the meeting.    We ate with great enthusiasm, many offers of cold bottled water and a pit stop to use the restrooms half way to our destination.

One of the men also brought us bottled water, who invited me and Monroe College students on the bus, Mr. Cline, has been an important part of the struggle for safety in the coal mine.  He received a Pulitzer Prize for Journalism for his investigative reporting that uncovered unscrupulous practices of coal mining companies and the need for better safety regulations.

When we arrived at the NIOSH in Morgantown, there was an introduction by the Secretary of Labor about the new work law that would reduce exposure of coal mine workers to coal dust by half.

The next phase was the formal announcements,  Jay Rockerfeller, the soon to retire Senator of West Virginia, was very apologetic to the audience of coal miners, spouses and activists that Congress was unable to vote on more comprehensive regulations.  There will be better monitoring and he will be active in this fight in his retirement. For myself, I know that I plan to stay on top of this health problem which continues to occur more frequently than ever before due to newer technology, lack of comfortable face masks, and shoddy work practices and competition by both union and non-union coal mines.

– Dr. Helen Werner

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