Bipartisan group of Senators introduce COVID-19 Mine Worker Protection Act

February 2, 2021

A group of Senators from several states introduced the bipartisan, bicameral COVID-19 Mine Worker Protection Act. The Act would require the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) to issue an emergency temporary standard requiring mine operators to establish a plan to tackle occupational COVID-19 exposure and provide miners with the necessary personal protective equipment (PPE).

U.S. Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) joined Sens. Mark Warner (D-VA), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Bob Casey (D-PA), and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Representative Matt Cartwright (D-PA) on the act that calls for a framework documenting, reporting, investigating and analyzing COVID-19 data among miners.

“Our miners risk their lives every day to power our nation and during the COVID-19 pandemic, that risk is even greater for our brave miners. The bipartisan, bicameral COVID-19 Mine Worker Protection Act will instruct DOL to create safeguards and provide PPE to ensure our miners are protected from exposure to COVID-19 in the mines,” Manchin said in a release. “I will continue to work with my bipartisan colleagues, DOL and the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) to pass this commonsense legislation to help our miners stay safe during the pandemic as they continue to provide Americans with the power we need every day.”

“For centuries, our miners have worked tirelessly to power America and keep the lights on. It is vital that we take the necessary steps to provide them safety and job security as we continue to battle COVID-19,” said Capito.

West Virginia news station WBOY reported that the COVID-19 Mine Worker Protection Act would direct the Secretary of Labor to issue and emergency temporary standard that requires mine operators to:

• Develop and implement a comprehensive infectious disease exposure control plan to protect miners from COVID-19 exposure at the mines;
• Provide personal protective equipment to miners;
• Incorporate guidelines from the CDC, NIOSH, and relevant scientific research;
• In coordination with CDC and NIOSH, track, analyze, and investigate mine-related COVID-19 infections data in order make recommendations and guidance to protect miners from the virus.

The United Mine Workers of America issued a response commending the bill, saying it will provide the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) a critical and vitally-needed tool to prevent the further spread of COVID-19 among America’s nearly 200,00 miners employed in the nation’s coal, metal and nonmetal mines.

“An Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) at MSHA is long overdue, and should have been issued at the beginning of this pandemic. You would think that the government agencies that are charged with protecting workers on the job would not have to be forced to do it. But that is where we find ourselves today,” said UMWA President Cecil Roberts. “I welcome President Biden’s Executive Order directing MSHA to determine if an ETS should be issued, but that does not mean that the agency will do it. I fear that left to its own devices, MSHA will not take this needed action.

“This legislation will ensure that MSHA will issue such an order, enforce it and then make it permanent. I want to thank the lead sponsors, Senator Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-Pa.), and the bipartisan lawmakers in both houses of Congress who have come to the aid of miners, their families and their communities across America. I urge swift passage of this legislation.”

The release from the UMWA stated that more than 500 UMWA miners have contracted the virus in the past 11 months. UMWA officials said many miners have been hospitalized, and some have died. The extent of infection in nonunion mines is not known at this point, because MSHA is not keeping track. The UMWA represents about 30 percent of all active hourly coal miners in the United States, according to the release.

 

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