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Monday, February 27, 2012

Federal government helps keep workers safe

For years, so-called "conservative" politicians and their boosters have advocated the wanton abolition of federal regulatory agencies, as if it were a cure-all that will return the nation to prosperity and well-being for all. I'm reminded that the hero of most politicians who self-identify as conservative is Ronald Reagan, who often expressed a desire to abolish OSHA Training, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, as if that somehow would be good for working people.

I wonder whether the survivors and loved ones of the 29 miners killed in the explosion and collapse of the Massey Coal Corporation's Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia two years ago, whatever their politics, would agree. After all, it was the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) that sought justice for the survivors of those killed by that avoidable disaster, which has been proved to be the result of Massey's systematic negligence and disregard for mining safety laws and refusal to follow best-industry practices. The $209.5 million settlement secured by the hard work of federal employees of the MSHA, and the upcoming criminal prosecution of at least one of the Massey executives responsible for the deaths of 29 honest, hard-working employees, should give pause to anyone who would like to believe that all federal agencies and employees are ineffective and redundant. Does anyone really think that local or state officials in West Virginia would have had the wherewithal to take up the case for providing justice to the widows, orphans and other loved ones of those killed in Massey's mine?

How amazingly silent conservative politicians, their boosters and right-wing media outlets have been on this issue! I wonder why. Anyone espousing anti-federal government rhetoric (many of the strident voices of the so-called Tea Party come to mind) might well want to consider how many more would be killed or maimed in dangerous industries nationwide were it not for highly competent federal inspectors in sufficient numbers in our mines, meat packing plants and other dangerous workplaces.

Such vital inspection is in constant danger of being gutted by politicians who look first at the bottom line and not at the human toll of their flailing budget axes. I'm willing to bet that in West Virginia these days, thousands and thousands of people are glad to pay federal taxes that are dedicated to the MSHA and to the federal attorneys whose actions are the best hope of preventing needless deaths in the nation's mines and guaranteeing that there will be no impunity for those who place a corporation's profits above the lives and safety of their employees. Robust protection of the health and safety of any household's breadwinners is a vital federal responsibility to all in this nation and a family value. Just ask anybody who knows a coal miner.

Mark Trafton

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