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Sago miners have the right to ask for UMWA representation in investigation, Roberts says

date: 
January 18, 2006

United Mine Workers of America President Cecil E. Roberts issued the following statement today:

"The International Coal Group (ICG) has objected to the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) representing the miners at the Sago mine as the investigation into the causes of this tragedy gets underway. What their statements fail to point out is that miners at the Sago mine have a right to designate the UMWA as their representative, and the union has a right to participate in the investigation under federal law.

"Federal regulations developed to implement the Mine Safety and Health Act permit the UMWA to represent the miners at any mine if two or more of them designate us to represent them on safety issues. That has happened in this case. We are not ‘manipulating' anything–we are fulfilling our responsibility under the MSHA regulations and we will continue to do so to the best of our ability.

"ICG may not like the law, and they may not like the fact that their employees have designated the UMWA as their representative in this investigation. But that does not change the fact that the law is what it is. Just because ICG doesn't like the law doesn't give them license to trample it.

"The fact is that the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) recognizes our right to be party to the investigation, as does the state of West Virginia, and they have both said so in writing. They do not view our participation as interference in the investigation. The only party who does is ICG, leading one to ask: Why? What do they fear?

"It's interesting to note that the very first thing ICG did this morning as part of the interview process that is taking place in Clarksburg was to attempt to get the identities of the miners who designated the UMWA as their representative. MSHA did not release their identities, nor will we. But the bigger questions are: Why do they need to know that, and what would they do with that information if they did know it?

"It seems to us that ICG's priorities have shifted from seeking to 'determine the true cause of this accident and means for preventing similar occurrences,' to trying to find out which of their employees had the courage to want representation from an independent organization with 116 years experience of working to improve safety and health in all of America's mines, whether we represent the workers or not.

"This investigation is about finding out the truth. If the company has nothing to hide, it should favor an open investigation with all parties participating fully."

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