Kentucky miners fight suspensions
Oct, 23 2006
(BIRMINGHAM, Alabama) — Nearly 60 coal miners in Kentucky have lost their mining certificates, and their jobs, as a result of a new drug-testing law that went into effect July 12 in that state. Because these miners no longer have valid mining papers they cannot be hired by another company.
According to press reports, half of the miners have appealed the state and company actions. All but three of the 31 appeals are by miners who were taking prescribed medication, like pain killers. Four miners have succeeded in reversing their suspensions so far.
“It's an attempt to shift the blame away from the companies onto the miners themselves for safety problems in the mines,” Tom Moak told the Militant. Moak is an attorney based in Prestonsburg, eastern Kentucky, who represents coal miners who have been injured on the job or dismissed due to drug testing.
Fourteen coal miners in Kentucky have been killed on the job this year. Only West Virginia, with 20 deaths, has had more fatalities in 2006. In all, 37 coal miners in the United States have died in the first nine months of this year, almost twice the 22 killed in 2005.
“The state is really putting these miners through hoops to get their certification back,” Moak said. Miners must travel three hours to Frankfurt, the state capital, with a clean drug screen that they've acquired at their own expense. Once they've gone through that process the miners who are recertified and can go back to work are put on probation by the Kentucky Office of Mine Safety and Licensing. They must pass follow-up drug tests in 60 and 90 days.
Kentucky officials say that miners who inform their employers they are taking prescription drugs, and are “within therapeutic levels,” will have their suspensions rescinded. “But many miners work hurt and take prescription drugs for pain,” said Moak. “They don't necessarily want to let companies know they are on medication and jeopardize their jobs. If they are doing their work, and are not a danger, they shouldn't lose their mining certificate.”
According to the Associated Press, Mike Haines, general counsel of the Kentucky Department of Natural Resources, which oversees mine safety, acknowledged that a number of the miners involved tested positive after taking pain killers for back and knee pain.
“There is also a privacy issue involved,” said Moak. “Each miner who is suspended has their name published over the Internet on the state's Mine Safety and Licensing web site. That has consequences for employment, custody battles, and many other things.”
BY PAUL MAILHOT
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