CHARLESTON, W. Va. (PAI) – Add West Virginia to the ever-lengthening list of Republican-run states that are enacting anti-worker legislation by the carload – but with a twist: The Democratic governor signed it.
In their session, which ended in mid-March, Mountain State lawmakers significantly weakened mine safety and health laws – in the state that annually leads the national list in coal mine accidents and, often, fatalities – and abolished the state prevailing wage statute.
Coal companies lobbied heavily for the anti-safety measure, arguing West Virginia’s tough standards led coal companies to flee to other, looser states. Cut-rate non-union contractors hate prevailing wage laws, which ensure decent wages for construction workers.
The two measures, signed by Democratic Gov. Earl Tomblin, upset workers, unions and their allies. Tomblin also told a state coal mine safety board to draft new rules about moving underground equipment in mines, presumably to make them safer. That didn’t fool Mine Workers President Cecil Roberts, a West Virginian.
“Today marks the first time in West Virginia history that our state officially reduced safety standards for coal miners,” Roberts said of the new mine safety law. “It is truly a sad day for those miners and their families, and once again demonstrates that our beloved state has yet to break free of the out-of-state corporate interests that have controlled the destinies of West Virginia’s working families for generations.
“I have said it before and I’ll say it again: You can’t be a friend of coal if you’re not a friend of coal miners. As the events in Charleston played out over the last month, we got a pretty good idea about just who our friends are and who are not. We will remember.”
Unionists packed hearing rooms in February to argue for keeping the prevailing wage law for state and locally funded construction. It was approved on party-line votes. Contractors split on the issue, with some arguing for keeping the prevailing wage. John Strickland, president of MCS Construction in Charleston, the state capital, told local news outlets that the prevailing wage law lets him hire better workers for his projects.
Photo: UMWA president Cecil Roberts. | Evan Vucci/AP