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Vol. 76/No. 47      December 24, 2012

Illinois miner tells story
of fight for safety on job
When workers stand up for safety on the job, they often find the only people interested in really doing something about it are fellow workers. Such was the case when Joshua Walls and a coworker quit their jobs at the American Coal New Era mine in Galatia, Ill., over hazardous conditions.

The mine is owned by Murray Energy, which also was part owner of the Crandall Canyon Mine in Utah, where six miners were fatally sealed in after the mine collapsed in August 2007.

Walls was working as a contract miner for Big Buck Construction Company doing roof bolting and repair work to keep the mine slope, a secondary escape way, from collapsing. The slope also had a belt line that brought coal out of the mine.

After being denied unemployment nine months ago, he appealed the decision to the State Board of Review and was denied again.

“The state said I voluntarily quit the job. I said that I didn’t voluntarily leave, but quit because of the conditions of work,” Walls told the Militant. “My conscience made me stand up. I could not allow myself to sit by and endanger coworkers. You shouldn’t have to work in conditions like this. You don’t have to die to work.”

Walls filed another appeal with the Saline County Circuit Court and has a court hearing Jan 4. In his appeal he wrote: “There is a list of things wrong in that slope. Most of the structure is over 30 years old and beyond repair; simply put you can’t weld to rust. Add rusted-out roof bolts above the decaying structure which are giving way, creating major falls in the slope and you got a recipe for disaster.”

When Walls and other workers voiced their concerns in company safety meetings, the bosses’ response was “there is a stack of applications to replace you,” Walls explained in the appeal.

After Walls and a coworker quit, Walls called the Mine Safety and Health Administration to report the situation “thinking MSHA would do a proper investigation and support my allegations,” said the appeal.

But the MSHA report said the slope was safe and states they inspected it after the crew had gone home. Walls explains that MSHA could not see the working conditions and did not interview any workers.

“I would hate to think that our government discourages its working-class people from standing up for their rights in regards to safe working conditions,” he states in the appeal. “Our government should stand by the people that decide to make a stand against unsafe companies, encourage safe working environments for all and never allow safety to take a backseat to production ever.”
Related articles:
S. African farmworkers’ strikes end, but wages fight is not over
Tunisian unions strike, answer attacks from pro-gov’t Islamists
Bosses ‘didn’t want union,’ close mine after worker killed
Factory fires in S. Asia show need for union in safety fight  
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