UMWA's Roberts Demands Action

DENVER -- Two keynote speeches in succession here have mentioned West Virginia and mining safety, a direct response to the Upper Big Branch Mine fatalities in West Virginia.

Tuesday's speaker, United Mine Workers of America President Cecil E. Roberts Jr., spoke passionately about the role of labor unions in fashioning America's workplace safety laws and raising the living standards of workers throughout the nation. He left no doubt about his view of current laws and enforcement.

"The laws don't work, the laws are inadequate, the laws are not enforced. And we need new laws," Roberts declared. "What is the most precious resource the employer has? The worker. And we ought to act like it."

Later in the speech, he called on Congress and his audience to do more. "Congress, you bailed out everybody else. You bailed out the millionaires.... Why not bail out the worker, at least [to] have a safe place to work?

"We need your brain power," Roberts told the audience of industrial hygienists. "We need your innovation. We need your thought process."

Roberts pointed out about 14 workers die on the job every day in the United States, roughly 5,100 per year, and thousands die from occupational illnesses annually. Black lung deaths are down from 1,500 per year a few years ago to 900 now, but only because so many older miners with the disease have died, he said.

When he finished, they gave him a standing ovation.

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