FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Tuesday June 30, 2020

Media Contact: Rebecca Shelton, (859) 893-0543, rshelton@aclc.org

Courtney Rhoades, (423) 262 -6154, courtney@aclc.org 

Black Lung Association supports UMWA and USW suit against MSHA

Note: Officers of the National Black Lung Association and members of the Black Lung Association are available for interviews. 

On Friday the National Black Lung Association (BLA) appealed to the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) to issue emergency temporary standards to protect miners from COVID-19. The BLA signed a resolution and filed an amicus brief in direct support of a petition filed by the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) and United Steel Workers (USW) in the United States Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit on June 12, 2020. 

“As a former miner and as a father of a miner, I think MSHA should come up with a program to protect our miners, to protect our sons…” said Harold Sturgill, a member of the Fayette County chapter of the Black Lung Association.  

Coal miners work in close proximity to one another. They pile on to small shuttle cars to go underground. They breathe recycled air below the surface. All of these conditions make it easy for a contagious disease like COVID-19 to spread. And miners with impaired breathing due to black lung disease are especially vulnerable. “We’re gathered up in a bunch and we’re taken back out in a bunch…MSHA should be doing more” said Jimmy Moore, President of the Black Lung Association. 

The Department of Homeland Security designated coal mining as critical infrastructure to remain in full operation during the COVID-19 pandemic. The UMWA and USW petition to the court asks for emergency standards to protect miners from COVID-19 spreading in their workplace. The amicus brief filed on behalf of the Black Lung Association, asserts that the working conditions and prevalence of black lung disease among active miners make miners particularly susceptible to contracting and developing severe cases of COVID-19.

Unions, legislators, health professionals, and Black Lung Associations have urged MSHA as well as the President to direct MSHA to issue emergency temporary standards to protect working miners from contracting COVID-19. This lawsuit follows many previous attempts to press for emergency standards and is the second time that the Black Lung Association has weighed in on the issue. On April 23rd, several leaders from 12 chapters of Black Lung Associations in Kentucky, West Virginia, and Virginia sent a letter to congressional leaders urging that congress direct MSHA to protect working miners. 

Background

On March 24th, the UMWA wrote a letter to Assistant Secretary Zatezalo urging that MSHA issue emergency standards and on March 30th the National Coalition of Black Lung and Respiratory Disease Clinics wrote a letter to MSHA in support of the UMWA request.  Following a lack of action by MSHA, on April 17th, U.S. Senators from many coal producing states, Joe Manchin, Sherrod Brown, Richard Durbin, Robert Casey Jr., Tim Kaine, Doug Jones, Tammy Duckworth, and Mark Warner wrote to President Trump asking him to exercise his authority and direct MSHA to protect miners. On April 23rd, several leaders from 12 chapters of Black Lung Associations in Kentucky, West Virginia, and Virginia sent a letter to congressional leaders urging that congress direct MSHA to protect working miners. On May 13th, U.S. Senators Joe Manchin, Shelley Moore Capito, Richard Durbin, Tim Kaine, Sherod Brown, Robert Casey Jr., and Mark Warner introduced the Covid-19 Mine Worker Protect Act. This bill, if passed, would require MSHA to issue emergency protective standards as well as forbid mine operators from retaliating against miners for reporting COVID-19 infection control problems. The petition filed by the UMWA and USW is the latest of many actions taken to force MSHA to do their job and protect working miners.

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