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United Mine Workers of America President Cecil Roberts calls passage of CAFTA "a kick in the teeth for American working families

date: 
August 11, 2005

UMWA says state, federal government and politicians must provide protection and support for MSHA management and ensure that mine operators comply with the law

United Mine Workers of America (UMW) International President Cecil Roberts said today that rising tensions in the anthracite region of Pennsylvania surrounding the enforcement of mine safety and health laws by managers from the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) are "creating an explosive situation that can only be eased when mine operators understand that they must operate their mines safely, just like any other mine operator in the United States.

"Some small, non-union operators are calling for a different, relaxed set of safety rules for anthracite mines," Roberts said. "They have always alleged that the Mine Safety and Health Act passed by Congress in 1969 does not apply to anthracite mines. They are mistaken. It does, and to ignore that is a recipe for disaster.

"Coal mining is a dangerous business, no matter what kind of coal is being mined," Roberts said. "Worker safety must be the first consideration in any operating mine, and the UMWA will continue to do all we can to ensure that coal miners in every part of North America go to work and come home safely."

UMWA International Secretary-Treasurer Dan Kane noted that there has been a recent change in the Coal Mine Safety and Health management in MSHA's District One, which includes the anthracite region. "MSHA put two very qualified individuals, John Kuzar and William Sparvieri, in charge of District One. They understand the law, and understand that it needs to be enforced in every coal mine," Kane said. "They should be getting the support of our elected officials and our government agencies. Unfortunately, that's not always happening, and it's creating a tense situation in the anthracite region that threatens to explode into violence."

In recent weeks and months, news reports have quoted several small, non-union mine operators and others in the anthracite region as saying Kuzar and Sparvieri wanted to "shut down" the anthracite mines through strict enforcement of mine safety laws. Some members of Congress have made several inquiries and written letters questioning Kuzar's enforcement of mine safety and MSHA's support of Kuzar and Sparvieiri.

A program running this week on the CMT Network, "Small Town Secrets," included footage of physical threats of violence being made against MSHA management. "These type of threats cannot be ignored by our elected representatives," Kane said. "They must be acted on, and quickly before someone gets hurt."

"The situation is getting tense, and people are jumping to all sorts of unfounded conclusions about the intentions of MSHA and its management in the anthracite region," Kane said. "Our elected officials should be working to ease tensions and provide strong support for the enforcement of mine safety and health laws that they are sworn to uphold.

"The UMWA strongly supports the continued mining of anthracite coal," Roberts said. "UMWA members have mined coal in that region since the founding of our union in 1890. Thousands of our members have been killed or maimed in the anthracite mines since that time, and we don't want to see any more of them suffer such a fate. Anthracite coal can be mined profitably and safely, but it's not an either/or situation. It's time the mine operators recognize that, and work with MSHA to clean up their act."

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