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Coal mining takes physical courage—it's a dangerous job, especially if you work in a non-union mine—but Dave Jamieson at Huffington Post profiles the efforts of a miner who is even more remarkable when it comes to the courage to speak out about unsafe conditions. (It's a profile that's worth reading in full.)

Charles Scott Howard "has lost his job twice—both times because of his safety advocacy, his lawyers have maintained—and he has twice been reinstated at work by a federal judge." What kind of safety advocacy? Little things like this bombshell testimony at a Mine Safety and Health Administration hearing on mine seals, which "are meant to keep certain atmospheres within mines separated from one another in the event of a blast":

Howard was the only working miner to appear before officials that day. His testimony came in the form of a video he'd shot in his own mine, which was run by the Cumberland River Coal Company, a subsidiary of the second-largest coal producer in the U.S., Arch Coal. Before Howard aired his video in front of a packed room, his attorney, Tony Oppegard, noted repeatedly for the record that what Howard was about to do should be considered protected whistleblower activity under federal law. Indeed, what Howard's video showed were mine seals so fractured that water spurted out through their cracks. (The video can be viewed here.)

He has called anonymous MSHA tip lines to report his mine—and then let everyone know it was him who called—he has filed complaint after complaint, he has filed freedom of information act requests demanding to know the safety plans of the mine he was working in. Then there's this:

...when Howard felt the mine wasn't ventilated as needed, he saw to it that the mine wasn't producing coal.

Howard was assigned to drive the ram car, which hauls the coal from inside the mine to a conveyor belt that then carries it outside. Whenever he deemed the ventilation insufficient, Howard started blocking the roadway with his car to stop production, according to court documents. It was an exceptionally gutsy move, given that every minute a mine doesn't run coal is a minute the mining company doesn't make money. Howard was literally standing in the way of profits.

"You give me air," he'd say, "and I'll give you coal."

This is a brave, stubborn, heroic man who almost has to be considered slightly crazy for stepping so far outside what's safe and normal and doing it so many times. Mine safety should not rely on one man being just crazy enough to do the right thing no matter how much it costs him, but this is the political landscape:

Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.), chairman of the House committee on education and the workforce, has voiced his opinion that the industry doesn't need new regulations -- it instead needs enforcement of the regulations already in place.

Speaking as a witness at a Congressional hearing on May 4, a representative of the coal lobby went a step further, arguing that the industry should instead be allowed to police itself, through voluntary safety programs.

Without tougher regulations and more meaningful enforcement, it comes down to how willing miners are to call their employers to account and demand safer working conditions. In union mines, they at least have strength in numbers and a contract behind them when doing that, which is why union mines have fewer traumatic injuries and fatalities and at the same time more overall injuries reported—because minor injuries are more likely to be reported rather than covered up. But in non-union mines, all too often it comes down to someone like Charles Scott Howard being brave enough to complain or to just plain stop production. And when there's an industry in which dozens can be and are killed in a single accident, and safety rests on one worker standing up to their employer, that's a sign of a broken system.

Originally posted to Daily Kos Labor on Fri Sep 16, 2011 at 02:09 PM PDT.

Also republished by ClassWarfare Newsletter: WallStreet VS Working Class Global Occupy movement and Daily Kos.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Riddle me this, how is it with 2 Dem Senators (6+ / 0-)

    in West Virginia we are blowing the lids off our mountains and selling the coal to the Chinese, India and ourselves while THAT state is ranked in the top 5 poorest states in the country?

    I am no fan of the GOP, but our house is a wreck when it comes to coal.

    Can we start with Rockefeller and Manchin on the pyre? I am down with burning the rest, but how can our voice matter when our own house is guilty as shit and not saying a single WORD ABOUT IT?

    The crime that is taking place in Appalachia is not partisan.

  •  All of the recent mining "accidents" (8+ / 0-)

    occurred in non-union mines.  The United Mine Workers takes safety seriously and the union means that the mine owner can't harrass, threaten, or fire workers that report safety violations.  And this is generally unnecessary since the unions specifically look for those violations and demand immediate correction.

    Card Check legislation would give non-union miners a better chance of unionizing and getting better complaince with existing regulations.  Better enforcement, more inspectors, and more safety regulations would be nice, but our problems have mostly been in non-union mines with mine owners ignoring existing regulations.  If existing regulations aren't being enforced (except for post-mortum enforcement), new ones won't help.

    Additionally, mine owners are asked to pay small fines as their only punishment.  They should be prosecuted for homicide as mine accidents occur because they place profits over compliance with health and safety regulations.

    There already is class warfare in America. Unfortunately, the rich are winning.

    by Puddytat on Fri Sep 16, 2011 at 02:34:21 PM PDT

  •  I'm so glad to see a diary on this story (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Please read the whole story. Charles Scott Howard-what a hero!

    Two questions:
    1. Is it just me but was his traumatic brain injury not an "accident" (I hope someone comes forward or burns in Hell).

    2. Who plays Howard in the movie? I vote for Matt Damon. ;-)

    'We can make the trains run on time but if they are not going where we want them to go, why bother?' Neil Postman

    by history first on Fri Sep 16, 2011 at 04:05:12 PM PDT

  •  We need a death penalty for coal CEO's who kill (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:


    First on my list: Don Blankenship.  He killed 29 workers.

    And don't give me any of this sissy-liberal "death penalty is bad stuff".

  •  Are these the same people who haven't yet (0+ / 0-)

    recognized that trickle down economics was voodoo, that tax cuts to the rich do not result in jobs, that Iraq did not attack us on 9/11 and that there is no tooth fairy?

    Speaking as a witness at a Congressional hearing on May 4, a representative of the coal lobby went a step further, arguing that the industry should instead be allowed to police itself, through voluntary safety programs.

    And if they are, what makes them so sure that the rest of us don't have at least one foot firmly planted in reality?

  •  speaking of dog whistles. V for vendetta. (0+ / 0-)

    there is a rec diary about the wallstreet protests that is using imagery of V for vendetta with the violent revolution quote by JFK.  V kidnapps, tortures and brainwashes a girl into triggering a bomb that blows up the british house of commons.  either the diarist is a kid who doesnt realize what he promoting using that imagery or the diary is a dog whistle for political violence.  

    Since when has any fanatic been held back by the improbability of their righteous mission? - Bill on True Blood

    by Anton Bursch on Sat Sep 17, 2011 at 01:25:39 PM PDT

  •  Ah yes, John Kline (0+ / 0-)

    who "represents" my district.  In reality, he represents huge corporations like the Kochs.  I'm hoping that redistricting gives the DFL a fighting chance in 2012.

  •  Not enforcing safety and emissions regulations... (0+ / 0-)

    ...on Coal makes it artificially cheaper compared to alternative energy.

    If we could force Coal producers and electrical suppliers to account for just 50% of their current externalities, the "Coal is the most inexpensive way to produce electricity" assertion becomes debatable...ON WALL STREET.

    And once Wall Street decides that non-Carbon is as viable an investment as Carbon, it's game over.

    The so-called "rising tide" is lifting only yachts.

    by Egalitare on Sat Sep 17, 2011 at 01:31:07 PM PDT

  •  Laura, (0+ / 0-)

    I know you are covering labor, but I am sure you are hearing about the Oct. 1 cutoff for cash assistance for welfare recipients in MI.
    My friend was on drugs and lost her kids. She has worked her life out, got her kids back and lives on 400.00 monthly from the state plus food card.
    She is being cut and will lose her house and any ability to pay utilities with winter on it's way.
    11,000 families , 30,000 children are about to be thrown to the wolves. No one is speaking up. They only got a one month notice. Most can't work because of illiteracy, past felony or misdemeanor charges, lack of transportation or no work history.
    Could you or someone write a diary to try to shed light on this and try to help these families? It is cruel and unusual punishment.

  •  Rep. John Kline supports increased enforcement? (0+ / 0-)

    Well great!  This means he favors better funding for mine safety enforcement programs, more mine inspections and more punishments for naughtiness, right?  Why not ask him to cosponsor a bill on just this issue?

  •  How will MORE regulation help? (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    MSHA doesn't enforce the existing ones. Until MSHA does that, any talk of more regulations is living in a fairytale fantasyland.

    If liberals want to win this argument, focus on that and you will. Otherwise you're wasting everyone's - especially the mineworkers' - time.

  •  A huge Thank you to Mr. Howard for his Courage (0+ / 0-)

    and being a Hero to those Miners and to us.

    Mr. Howard deserves a Profile in Courage Award.

    and Thanks always to Laura for supporting and informing us about the need for a strong Labor Movement.

    No more Hope and Change -- I lost Hope when I could no longer find a Good Paying Job -- and I don't want Change - as Cuts to Social Security, Medicaid or Education.

    by PAbluestater on Sat Sep 17, 2011 at 06:59:24 PM PDT

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