Not long after a miner who maintained a dust collector machine at a cement facility in San Bernardino County, California, contacted the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) about safety hazards, he was suspended and then terminated, in April 2014. MSHA filed a motion for temporary reinstatement of the miner, and the mine operator, Riverside Cement Co., agreed to temporary economic reinstatement. Ultimately, the company agreed to fully reinstate the miner and pay back wages in the context of a settlement. In December, an administrative law judge with the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission approved a settlement resolving the discrimination complaint brought by MSHA.
Last year, MSHA filed 49 complaints – more than in any previous year. These complaints, filed with the FMSHRC, involved allegations of discrimination made by miners in the form of a discharge, suspension or other adverse action. Additionally, MSHA filed 45 complaints in 2014 requesting temporary reinstatement of miners, the second highest number ever filed.
Section 105(c) of the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977 states a miner cannot be discharged, discriminated against or interfered with in the exercise of statutory rights because he or she has engaged in a protected activity such as filing a complaint alleging a health or safety violation, or refusing to work under unsafe or unhealthy conditions.
“The Mine Act provides miners the right to a safe and healthy workplace and protects them if they suffer unlawful retaliation for exercising those rights,” said Joseph A. Main, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health. “These – along with unlawful interference in the exercise of their rights – are critical protections for miners, and MSHA will not hesitate to see those rights are enforced.”
After intensified efforts to educate miners about their rights under the Mine Act, MSHA received an increased number of discrimination and interference complaints starting in fiscal year 2010.
A Guide to Miners’ Rights and Responsibilities Under the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977, affirms miners may not be fired, demoted, harassed, intimidated, transferred, refused employment, suffer any loss of wages, or discriminated against for exercising their rights under the Mine Act. They are entitled to make a complaint of an alleged danger or safety or health violation to a federal or state agency, a mine operator, an operator's agent or a miner’s representative. Miners may participate in proceedings under the Act such as testifying, assisting or participating in any proceeding instituted under the Act, or filing a complaint with FMSHRC. Certain miners have the right to a medical evaluation or to be considered for transfer to another job location because of harmful physical agents and toxic substances. Miners may withdraw themselves from the mine for not having the required health and safety training, and they may refuse to work in conditions they reasonably believe to be unsafe or unhealthy.