Assistant Secretary Main explains the workings of the continuous mining machine to Secretary Perez.

Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez got a taste of the coal miner’s life on Dec. 1, when he descended 1,000 feet below the earth’s surface for an underground tour of a Cumberland Coal Resources LP mine in Waynesburg, Pennsylvania.

After a brief greeting and safety presentation, Perez strapped on his gear and headed to the elevator for the underground tour. He was joined by Assistant Secretary for Mine Safety and Health Joseph Main (a native of the area), Dennis O'Dell of the United Mine Workers of America, federal inspectors and several Cumberland workers.

Led by General Manager Doug Conklin, a Cumberland employee for more than 35 years, the group traveled roughly 30 minutes on the "mantrip" — a diesel-fueled trolley — to reach the mine's work areas. Perez spoke with several miners, learned about their equipment, their vigilance about safety, and the pride they took in their work.

After returning to the surface, Perez hosed down his boots, wiped his face and joined Main and Alpha Resources (Cumberland's parent company) President Paul Vining for a conversation with local reporters. Before leaving, he greeted miners preparing for the 4 o'clock shift, and saluted the strong partnership between the company and the union: "Always working together, never compromising safety." He added: "The success of this company is a function of the fact that you've rejected false choices" and recognized that "we are at our most productive when we are safest."