ACLC Clients Featured in Huffington Post Story on Black Lung

The Huffington Post is out with a story today highlighting several ACLC clients in western Kentucky who have been subjected to poor coal dust conditions, mine safety hazards, and workplace intimidation.

The two miners featured in the story, Justin Greenwell and Mike “Flip” Wilson, explain how miners are frequently pressured by their supervisors into “juking the stats” on dust samples by falsely recording that they are in compliance with federal law. The same miners are also pressured to ignore safety hazards, out of fear of losing the only high-paying blue-collar jobs in town.

Wilson in particular is familiar with this strategy. As Huffington Post labor reporter Dave Jamieson writes,

Now at the tail end of his own career, and already in the first stage of black lung, Wilson said he wishes he’d spoken up as a young miner like Greenwell.”I’ve got a pretty decent living,” he said. “I’ve worked hard for it and done what I thought I needed to do for the coal company. But now I’m regretting a lot of it.”

Jamieson also relays how Greenwell has noticed the first symptoms of black lung disease at the young age of 29.

“I already have shortness of breath, and I’m only 29,” [Greenwell] said. “I can tell a difference in my breathing now and five years ago. Just working on the farm I get winded, and I shouldn’t. I’m angry about it. It’s not fair for us miners to have to work in this atmosphere when the law says we don’t have to.”

This is tragically consistent with national data, which has shown that black lung is on the rise in regional “hot spots”, and that it often affects younger miners than traditionally recorded.

Central to the article is that the new coal dust standard – which we wrote about back in April – is not aggressive enough to end black lung disease immediately, and that it may still allow operators to produce coal under excessive dust conditions. This is reinforced by the fact that the rule still relies on the industry to police its own sampling.

I interviewed Assistant Secretary of Labor for MSHA Joe Main about these criticisms, and he offered his response in an audio story for WMMT-FM. He agreed that there is “always more that [MSHA] can do,” but that lowering the dust level was not so important as ensuring correct and constant sampling in the mines. This approach seems to fall short of the stated objective of MSHA’s End Black Lung – Act Now! initiative, especially if there is little science to prove that the above approach will eradicate this preventable disease.

Nonetheless, Dave Jamieson’s report – which should be read in its entirety – echoes a statement made to me by former ACLC client Scott Howard, which is featured at the end of my radio piece:

They get you by threatening your job or making you feel like you have to have this job to support your job to support your family … but I don’t think you should kill nobody to make a dollar.

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