UMWA sues MSHA to force action to protect miners from COVID-19

WASHINGTON, D.C. (WOAY) – The United Mine Workers of America International Union (UMWA) and the United Steel, Paper and Forestry, Rubber, Manufacturing, Energy, Allied Industrial and Service Workers International Union (USW) today jointly filed a petition for a writ of mandamus forcing the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) to issue an Emergency Temporary Standard protecting miners from infectious diseases.

“We have been asking MSHA to step up and do its job to protect America’s miners from the beginning of this pandemic,” UMWA International President Cecil E. Roberts said. “But so far, the agency has refused. You would think that those who are charged with keeping miners safe would want to actually do so. It is very disappointing that they have turned their backs on these critical workers.

“Working in a mine is very different from working in any other workplace,” Roberts said. “The air is circulated throughout the mine, meaning an airborne disease like COVID-19 can spread among workers who are far removed from one another. A six-foot social distance is meaningless in an underground environment.”

“MSHA’s sole purpose is to keep miners safe, and COVID-19 poses a grave risk to workers’ health,” said USW International President Tom Conway. “It’s time for our federal agencies to start taking their responsibilities to workers seriously. We needed an emergency temporary standard for infectious diseases at the beginning of the pandemic, and we still need one now.”

“The situation confronting miners is urgent,” the petition states. “Miners have largely been designated as ‘essential’ workers and thus are currently working at mine sites across the country.  Further, as government-imposed stay-at-home orders are lifted and demand for mine-produced resources increases, more miners will return to work at pre-pandemic levels.

The petition goes on to say “if MSHA fails to issue an ETS to address this unprecedented crisis, the life and health of tens of thousands of miners will be placed in grave danger as a result of the miners’ increased exposure to COVID-19.”

The petition for a writ of mandamus has been filed in the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, and asks for an expedited hearing process with a ruling to be issued within 30 days of the Court granting the writ. The court filing is available here:

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